The Pizza That Cried Wolf: Backlash Marketing

Let’s pretend that you run a pizza business. A big home-delivery organization, like Dominos or Papa John's. Let’s also--for the sake of this hypothesis--assume that all pizzas are created equal, and there’s no quality or taste-based reason to purchase one brand over another. While your competition is trying to figure out how to make money on a three-topping pizza for $10.99, you announce that you’re going to start selling three-topping pizzas for $5.99.

How did you do it? You simply cut costs by doing away with the cardboard. No pizza box. The delivery guy just hands the customer a pie. His bare hands to theirs.

Are you thinking now that maybe that isn’t the best business decision? That perhaps the cost-cutting measure isn’t worth the return? The best- case scenario sees consumers terribly burned by molten cheese and boiling sauce. The worst case is some Jabroni in an ‘02 Ford Taurus is getting his man-mitts all over somebody’s sad-ass dinner.

So comes the inevitable backlash. Offices the pizza-eating world over are abuzz with the question, “Would you order a pizza that didn’t come in a box?” Sure. There are a few pretend tough guys who say they wouldn’t care, but really, we’re all pretty much universally disgusted by your company’s cost-saving strategy.

A few day’s later--and this part is important--before you even sell a single pie sans box, you retreat on your position. You say that the cost savings isn’t worth it, that the allure of the $5.99 price point was too great, that you flew too close to the sun, that you're sorry, and that from now on all your pizzas will arrive in a standard cardboard box.

In the hands of a company that doesn’t know what it’s doing this would be a bold and stupid move, one that would cost them dearly in the press. But to a savvy company in a very tight situation, this could be an example of Backlash Marketing (my term, feel free to spread it around).

Backlash Marketing is the act of intentionally doing something publicly unpopular, so that the inevitable repercussions create a desirable byproduct.

Your nasty raw-dogging pizza company is an allegory of the greatest Backlash Marketer of all: Ryanair. The Irish airline has, in the past, put out press releases claiming that its planes will be standing room only; that they will remove the lavatories from their aircraft; and that they will do away with the excessive luxury of a copilot (claiming that in the event of an emergency, a knowledgeable passenger could be pressed into service).

Ryanair never actually intended to go through with any of these measures--many aren’t even legal--but by dropping these incendiary press releases it stirs up mud, gets people talking and, even if it’s in a semi-negative light, intrinsically links its brand to the idea of cost savings. It may look like burning the house down, but it's a very strategic, controlled burn.

Reading the Numbers on Reading

Are we reading as much as our parents did?

Well, are we? It’s a question that keeps librarians and magazine publishers up at night with cold sweats. The off-the-cuff answer is no, we are not, given the nosedive book and newspaper sales have seen in the past decade. We are all far to distracted by social media to really read, right? I mean honestly, when was the last time you saw a kid under 18 reading a newspaper?

But is that a fair assumption? Let’s take a look at some numbers:

58% of the US maintains (ie, has and regularly checks into) a social media profile. Let’s drill that down to Facebook’s stats, shall we, as that’s by far the most popular active social network (and the one I have the most data for).

• The average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 pages/events
• 55 million status updates are made every day
• 35 million people update their status ever day. Ergo, a little more than half of the people making status updates do so less than once a day.

That means that there are (very) roughly 204 new status updates in a person’s feed every day.

Now there’s no data on the length of the average facebook status update; at least not that my crack research team* could find (if you troll up some hard numbers on that please leave me a comment, I’m very curious) but there is a hard and fast 420 character limit. If we assume that the median of that 420 character limit is roughly the length of an average status update, then we’re looking at 210 characters per update. I realize that I’m making a pretty big guess here and that these numbers are rather suspect. We’re estimating**, that’s the nature of the beast.

Point of info: Facebook formerly limited it’s users to a 160 character update, but I think a reasonable conclusion can be drawn from their increasing the upper limit that many users were needing more room to explain themselves.

So, 204 updates per day at 42 words per update (give or take) comes out to 8568 words in facebook status updates alone. That doesn’t even take into account comments on those updates. That’s roughly 30 pages of a novel or about 3-4 pages of your average newspaper.

Actively using twitter? Using the same kind of math as we crunched above, the average user is reading 3000 words per day, or another 1-2 newspaper pages.

And that's just barely scratching the surface. That's just what numbers are easy to crunch. Don't forget about all those texts we're sending, the blogs we're reading, the bottom-of-the-screen news crawls, the growing omnipresence of textual advertising.

We are surrounded, inundated, subsumed in words. Are we reading more or less than our parents did? It's honestly a nearly impossible question to answer, but from where I stand we're probably breaking even. Is it all Hemmingway or Mailer or Woodward and Bernstein? No, but it never was, and it isn't all trash either.

So fear not librarians, we're still reading, it's just how we're reading that's changed.

*My research team in this case is myself and the social media engagement specialist at the ad agency I work for googling and trimming abstracts for valuable nuggets of Internet info when we should be doing real, paying work. All this for you, my adoring followers.

**We are not, it should be noted, “ballparking.” Ballparking is for baseball players and stuffed shirts working at mid-90’s dot coms.

Who's ready for more?

I'm going to get back into the swing of this blog. I make no promises that it will last forever, or that I won't miss a week here and there, but I'm going to try to keep good on it.

Same idea as before, Kevin Allen Jr's opinions on media, marketing, and advertising culture. A little bit of business philosophy, a little bit of "hey check out this radical link! Cowabunga/awesome/dude!"

Also there's gonna be some new stuff (still in the same vein as the old stuff) that I know I'm going to have a good time producing, and that I figure has an audience here.

So welcome back, I'm glad you could come.

PS - Tell your friends.

The Gamification Tide

“Gamification” is a word that’s getting bandied about quite a lot lately, generating a lot of buzz. To define it simply, gamification is the act of taking game mechanics (usually reward structures like achievements, leaderboards, or experience points) and glomming them onto non-game applications. Some folks see it as a way to solve social problems, and I totally respect that. But gamification has also been held up by some as the new hip thing that will save advertising in the internet age.

Gamification starts with a powerful premise, that people are now more than ever engaged by gameplay, and that the language of that medium has become a common tongue. But gamification so often totally misses the point of that premise and assumes it’s the social technology powering games and not the actual act of play itself that appeals to people. It’s like assuming that people enjoy travel because they get to carry around suitcases.

When the advertising world gets into gamification it often leads to awkward, ugly, poorly implemented applications; concealing boring, mundane interactions with a thin veneer of joyful recreation.

If you want to engage your audience with a game –and I realize this may be a revolutionary idea– maybe you ought to stop going through the motions and ACTUALLY MAKE A GAME. You obviously believe your target demographics are interested in them, so why are you faking them out?

Advertising and marketing shouldn’t be trying its darnedest to interrupt our fun; be it with commercials, intrusive banner ads, or confusing us with the hope of a game and dashing our hopes with the same old lame banking application.* This isn’t an insurgency against consumers. You don’t need to install sleeper agents around every corner.

So how do we do it right? Surely there is a lesson to be learned by taking the things we know work in one medium and applying them to another. One solution is particularly elegant:

A company called Kiip (pronounced "keep") works sort of like a media buyer, placing promotional content into games (mobile and web). When a player reaches an achievement point in the game, a window pops up and offers to send them a real world reward; like a free a soft drink, or some make up, or any number of other targeted promotions (no strings attached, advertisers don't even get your email address).

See what they did there? They took the aspects of games that interest people and they made advertising a part of that experience, instead of the other way around. Reverse gamification. A new, better spin on a not very old idea. Will it save advertising in the internet age. Who cares? It's better than what you're already doing, and that's a step in the right direction.

*I’m looking at you PNC bank. A piggy bank isn’t a game, digitizing one and putting it on my iPhone isn’t going to change that fact.