How Advertising Helps Amazon Change the World

Amazon is an advertising powerhouse.

The company is the third-largest digital advertising platform in the United States and the fifth-largest ad spender. But as CNBC noted in a recent article, Jeff Bezos wasn’t always a believer in advertising. Ten years ago, he said, “Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” Why the change of heart? Because Jeff Bezos wants to change the world. And changing the world costs money.

How Amazon Is Changing the World

Jeff Bezos is a market maker. As I wrote in Fast Company in 2013, market makers do more than sell products. They influence beliefs and behaviors. Jeff Bezos is changing how people live and businesses operate through voice and cloud computing.

Voice First

Amazon is ushering in a voice-first world along with Google. With astonishing speed, Amazon has unleashed products such as AI-powered smart speakers that rely on voice commands to manage our homes, search for things, purchase goods and services, and navigate our cars.

In the United States, 74.2 million people will use a smart speaker in 2019, according to eMarketer, up 15 percent over 2018. The Amazon Echo smart speaker, introduced in 2014, owns anywhere from 63 percent to 70 percent of the market depending on which source you read. In addition, according to Amazon’s January 31 fourth-quarter earnings announcement, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant continues to make inroads in the home and the automobile. Meanwhile, Amazon is extending Alexa aggressively into the workplace. Here’s how Bezos’s vision for a voice-first world is playing out:

  • In the home: per Amazon, the number of devices with Alexa built-in more than doubled in 2018. More than 150 products have Alexa built in, ranging from headphones to smart home devices. Consumers can choose from 28,000+ Alexa-compatible smart home devices from more than 4,500 brands.
  • On the go: more than one million customers requested an invitation for Echo Auto, Amazon’s new Echo designed for vehicles, shortly after Amazon announced its availability. Several automotive partners announced support for Alexa at CES 2019. For example, Telenav, a provider of connected car and location-based services, announced a relationship with Amazon that makes it possible for drivers to use the Telenav Alexa-powered navigation system to do the same kinds of functional tasks that they can do with Google Maps.  
  • At work: in 2017, Amazon launched Alexa for Business to begin a voice-first transformation inside enterprises. Amazon wants employees of businesses to rely on Alexa to schedule meetings, manage their personal calendars, and handle a host of other tasks. Brooks Brothers and Conde Nast are among the companies that use Alexa for Business to manage meetings according to Amazon. In addition, businesses are creating Alexa skills to manage several functions. To wit: financial services firm TIAA recently announced a new Alexa skill that helps its customers get financial information and obtain customer service. And now that Amazon has made it easy for anyone to create Alexa skills, I predict that so many more businesses are going to adopt Alexa that the creation of an Alexa skill won’t be news. 

Jeff Bezos is so enamored with voice that he mentioned Alexa six times in Amazon’s fourth-quarter earnings announcement. In fact, Alexa is about all he talked about in a prepared statement:

Alexa was very busy during her holiday season. Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, and customers purchased millions more devices from the Echo family compared to last year . . . The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear. In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20% through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017. We’re energized by and grateful for the response, and you can count on us to keep working hard to bring even more invention to customers.

Typically in earnings announcements, CEOs don’t dive into the details of how their products are evolving. But not so with Jeff Bezos. His words demonstrate his belief in the power of voice.

Bezos’s comments about making Alexa more accurate might make him sound a bit geeky, but accuracy matters. Amazon needs to make Alexa more effective at recognizing human speech to make us comfortable using the voice interface to buy things — which is what Jeff Bezos wants us to do while we are on Amazon. Right now, for the most part, people use their smart speakers to check the weather and listen to music. Jeff Bezos’s vision for voice is all about commerce, not checking sports scores. The question is not whether, but when, Amazon will realize that vision.

Cloud Computing

Going hand in hand with voice computing is Bezos’s ambition for businesses and people to manage their lives on a virtual network known as the cloud. Amazon founded its cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS), in 2006. Today AWS provides the backbone of Amazon’s entire voice ecosystem. When you use Alexa in your home, on the go, or at work, you use AWS.

Bezos envisioned the rise of cloud computing long before voice came along, though, and the cloud powers more than Amazon’s own voice ecosystem. In his 2007 letter to shareholders, he wrote of people using their Kindle e-books to read and record margin notes “on the server-side in the ‘cloud,’ where they can’t be lost.” Eight years later, in his 2015 letter to shareholders, Bezos spoke of the cloud in much more grandiose terms:

Whether you are a startup founded yesterday or a business that has been around for 140 years, the cloud is providing all of us with unbelievable opportunities to reinvent our businesses, add new customer experiences, redeploy capital to fuel growth, increase security, and do all of this so much faster than before.

And he was not exaggerating. By 2015, AWS was providing the backbone for businesses to adapt to the cloud. Today, AWS powers so many companies that it made $25.7 billion in 2018. For example, if you use Airbnb to book a room or Slack to send a message, you’re relying on a business that uses AWS. And Netflix famously relies on AWS to keep its 24/7 content stream going.

Meanwhile, cloud computing, led by AWS, Microsoft, Google, and Alibaba, continues to change how businesses operate – helping them provide services faster and more efficiently around the clock by freeing them from the confines of physical infrastructures. It’s the cloud that makes it possible for Lyft to provide ride-sharing services or Instagram to operate. According to Gartner, the global public cloud services market will grow by 17 percent in 2019 to total $206.2 billion. As with voice, Amazon faces plenty of competition, but Amazon commands the greatest market share.

Where would cloud computing be today without Amazon Web Services?

Vision Costs Money

But building voice and cloud-based products and services costs money. In 2018, Amazon increased its marketing and advertising costs considerably. As noted in CNBC, Amazon reported a $13.8 billion marketing expense for 2018, up 37 percent from the prior year. Nearly 100 million viewers of Super Bowl LIII saw some of that spend in the form of a number of 30-second spots promoting Alexa. Those spots cost $5 million each.

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And here is why Amazon’s advertising services, bundled under Amazon Advertising, are so valuable. Amazon Advertising gives Amazon a way to recoup its costs though an increasingly lucrative revenue stream. Through Amazon Advertising, businesses on Amazon promote their products through various forms of display advertising and sponsored product displays that appear in a consumers’ search results on Amazon, similar to how advertising on Google works.

Amazon Advertising is the result of Amazon becoming an increasingly powerful search platform. More people begin their product searches on Amazon than they do on Google. It was only a matter of time before Amazon realized it could monetize that search traffic as Google has done. Businesses are responding. According to a recent study by Nanigans, about one in three marketers are shifting their ad spend from Facebook and Google to Amazon. Amazon Advertising generated $10 billion in 2018.

Amazon’s ambitions for advertising go beyond serving up ads on Amazon itself. As the New York Times reported, Amazon also targets ads to people across the digital world by tapping into the data it has amassed about consumers’ purchases made on Amazon itself. Since Amazon knows exactly what you’ve searched for and purchased on the site, Amazon can advertise for other brands with pinpoint accuracy, as these examples from the New York Times article illustrate:

When a chain of physical therapy centers wanted new patients, it aimed online ads at people near its offices who had bought knee braces recently on Amazon.

When a financial services provider wanted to promote its retirement advisory business, it directed ads to people in their 40s and 50s who had recently ordered a personal finance book from Amazon.

And when a major credit card company wanted new customers, it targeted people who used cards from other banks on the retail site.

The advertisers found those people by using Amazon’s advertising services, which leverage what the company knows better than anyone: consumers’ online buying habits 

Just the Cheese, a brand run by Specialty Cheese Company in Reeseville, Wis., makes crunchy dried cheese bars that have taken off as a low-carb snack. By using algorithms to analyze how Just the Cheese’s search ads performed on Amazon’s site, the ad agency Quartile Digital noticed that people who searched for keto snacks and cauliflower pizza crust, both low-carb diet trends, also bought a lot of cheese bars. So Quartile ran display ads across the web targeting Amazon customers who had bought those two specific product categories. Over three months, Amazon showed the ads on websites more than six million times, which resulted in almost 22,000 clicks and more than 4,000 orders.

That 20 percent conversion rate — a sale to one out of five people who clicked on the ads — was “amazing,” Mr. Knijnik said. “That is the kind of powerful granularity for building the target audiences that just Amazon can give you.”

Like other ad networks, Amazon uses cookies and other technical tools to track customers from its site onto other websites. They let the company know that a person who recently bought a diet book is now reading news on CNN and could be targeted on that site with an ad for a protein bar. Amazon does not tell the advertisers who that user is, but it does serve her ads on the brand’s behalf.

And, just like that, Amazon is upending the digital ad industry while creating a mini-industry of companies such as Quartile Digital that offer services related to Amazon’s advertising products. And herein lies an undeniable reality: Amazon giveth, and Amazon taketh. With advertising, Amazon takes business away from established players like Facebook and Google while spurring the launch of new companies that capitalize on Amazon. 

“Amazon Is Not Too Big to Fail” 

Advertising has helped Jeff Bezos pull off a feat that is extremely hard for a publicly traded firm to do: invest for the long haul while rewarding shareholders in the short term. He also does not take Amazon’s success for granted. As he told employees recently, “Amazon is not too big to fail. In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.” 

Whether Jeff Bezos is correct about Amazon’s future remains to be seen. In the meantime, he has helped unleash technologies whose impact is incalculable.

Why Ariana Grande Doesn’t Need the Grammys

The old music institutions are losing their grip. The Super Bowl LIII halftime show February 3 was a bust because of a musicians’ boycott. And now musicians who matter are blowing off the Grammy Awards. Childish Gambino, Drake, Ariana Grande, and Kendrick Lamar have turned down the chance to perform at the 61st Grammy Awards on February 10. What’s going on?

The Super Bowl halftime show boycott was a matter of principle. Musicians such as Cardi B, Jay Z, and Rihanna boycotted the Super Bowl halftime show as a show of solidarity with embattled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Grammys are about relevance.

The Grammys, run by the Recording Academy, call themselves the music industry’s highest honor. But the Grammys have demonstrated an astounding lack of relevance year after year. This is the institution that once awarded Best Rock & Roll Recording to “Winchester Cathedral” over the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” among other notable gaffes.  In recent years, the Grammys have been taken to task for failing to recognize progressive music from women and people of color in its nominations and choice of performers during the telecast. In 2018, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow came under fire for making a condescending remark about women while at the same time the Recording Academy snubbed Lorde as a performer (even though she was up for Album of the Year), and Alessia Cara was the only solo female Grammy winner.

The lack of musical and cultural relevance has always earned the Grammys scorn from music and pop culture critics, and a number of musicians have skipped attending the ceremony in recent years. Turning down the chance to perform raises the stakes. In addition, Ariana Grande has torched the Grammys on Twitter, accusing show producer Ken Ehrlich of lying about her reasons for not performing.

Who can blame the musicians for skipping the Grammys? Artists build their fan bases on their own digital platforms, not at the Grammys. On digital, they can reach a more relevant audience that listens their music, attends their concerts, and buys their merchandise. Consider Ariana Grande. She dropped her new album, thank u, next, two days before the Grammys. You’d think a televised appearance before millions of people would be the perfect opportunity to promote her new music. But instead she just gave the Grammys a very public middle finger.

Ariana Grande doesn’t need the additional exposure. Her 294 million combined followers on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and YouTube alone do a powerful job promoting thank u, next, and to a more relevant audience (compared to the 19.8 million who watched the Grammys on TV in 2018). She’s already dropped two singles from the album, one of which was her first-ever Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. She was the top-streamed female artist in 2018. Ticket sales for her Sweetener tour, launching in March, appear to be strong based on her adding shows. She’s headlining Coachella in April. 

What would the Grammys do for Ariana Grande except associate her name with a stodgy, out-of-touch brand? 

It will be interesting to see if more musicians avoid the institutions of yore such as the Academy Awards. But I wouldn’t count on any of the old-guard television events adapting. They’re using a playbook created last century. Meanwhile, the artists are creating a new game.

The Super Bowl LIII Halftime Debacle: What Will Be the Fallout?

My how things have changed.

The Super Bowl halftime show used to feature marching bands and harmless American cheese such as Up with People. Then the show became a high-profile global stage for big-time musicians such as Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. This year, it’s a lightning rod for controversy and an embarrassment for the NFL. 

For the Super Bowl LIII halftime show occurring February 3 in Atlanta, the NFL has struggled to find performers to land a gig so prominent that stars are usually willing to perform essentially for free. That’s because a number of musicians have staged an unofficial boycott of the halftime show to express their solidarity with embattled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The Colin Kaepernick Factor

In 2016, Kaepernick triggered a national culture war and a public battle with NFL owners when he took a knee during pre-game national anthems to protest oppression of people of color. He became a free agent before the 2017 season, but no team signed him. In the wake of his not being signed, he filed a collusion suit against the NFL that is expected to move forward in 2019. 

Over the past two years, Kaepernick has become transformed from an NFL star into a social activist. His public profile received a major boost when a Nike ad in September 2018 positioned him as a leader who transcends sports. And now the NFL Super Bowl halftime show has done the same although certainly not by design.

The Rihanna Factor

Normally, artists jump at the chance to perform at the halftime show, and it’s easy to see why: since 2010, Super Bowl viewership has ranged from 103 million to 114 million, giving halftime show performers a gigantic stage to promote their music and elevate their personal brands. But when the NFL approached Rihanna to appear at Super Bowl LIII, she reportedly turned down the gig to support Kaepernick. And when someone with Rihanna’s clout acts, others follow. Musicians joining the unofficial boycott include, reportedly, Cardi B, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lauryn Hill, and Nicki Minaj. The NFL finally confirmed Maroon 5 on January 13, and then Big Boi and Travis Scott agreed to join them. By contrast, the NFL confirmed Justin Timberlake, last year’s headliner, five months before the Super Bowl.

In the days leading up to Super Bowl LIII, Big Boi, Maroon 5 and Travis Scott have faced criticism on social media and from other artists. For example, Roger Waters has challenged Maroon 5 to take a knee onstage as Colin Kaepernick did before the national anthem. T.I. has called Travis Scott selfish for agreeing to perform. Black Twitter has spoken out as well. The show has now become a racially charged PR fiasco for the NFL, an especially embarrassing situation given Atlanta’s prominence as a burgeoning hip-hop center and its reputation as the black mecca of the United States. 

Two Big Questions

In the aftermath of the media storm surrounding the controversy, two questions remain:

  • Will all the drama hurt Big Boi, Maroon 5, and Travis Scott? Yes and no. They’ve lost credibility with other musicians for crossing the unofficial boycott line. But fans are another story. An artist has to try really hard to alienate their fans to the point where they stop buying their music. If anything, the media exposure will help Maroon 5 and Travis Scott sell more tickets for their tours, which are in progress. Big Boi just released two new songs in advance of the Super Bowl. He’s banking on the controversy to help him.
  • Will the NFL be affected? Not on Super Bowl Sunday. Fans are not going to boycott the game because of the halftime show. But it says something that musicians were willing to skip a show that should have been a no-brainer decision to do. The NFL can be wounded (especially when Rihanna wields the sword). The unofficial boycott has called attention to Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem controversy just when it seemed as though the issue had become dormant. The NFL would prefer that the Super Bowl buzz focus on football, not on racial injustice. But the artists have stolen the narrative. They have collective power that they could exercise in other ways in the future, such as turning down Super Bowl ad spots.

Meanwhile, the halftime show mess has probably helped the man at the center of the boycott, Colin Kaepernick, by keeping his name in circulation as his grievance against the NFL goes to trial. The graphic below shows the volume of searches for Colin Kaepernick in the United States within the past month. Searches for his name spiked on January 16 when a story broke about Travis Scott reportedly meeting with Kaepernick before Scott joined the halftime show lineup. Interest is climbing again on the eve of the Super Bowl.

I doubt that Colin Kaepernick’s protests have had any impact on NFL viewership. NFL fans, like music fans, are very good at compartmentalizing. Viewership ratings have dipped and then increased over the past few years, and the quality of the play on the field has made the difference. But Colin Kaepernick never said he was protesting the NFL when he took a knee. He was, and is, calling attention to oppression of people of color in the United States. He has succeeded. Musicians have helped him keep the conversation about racial injustice in the public eye. And this conversation is bigger than the Super Bowl.

When Voice Assistants Peddle Potato Chips

The Pringles brand is returning to Super Bowl LIII 2019 on Sunday, Feb. 3.

Now I know we’re really living a voice-first world.

Pringles has released three teasers for its Super Bowl LIII spot. The star of the ad will be a  — wait for it — voice assistant. At a time when advertisers are loading up on celebrities such as Chance the Rapper to hustle products, Pringles is relying on a faceless, Alexa-like voice assistant to sell us on the emotional power of Pringles flavors.

The ad, which will play during the second quarter of the Super Bowl February 3, will sell the viewer on the appeal of “flavor stacking,” or combining Pringles flavors in interesting and tasty stacks. The teasers depict an “emotional smart device” (in the words of a Pringles press release) that laments not being able to taste Pringles. In one teaser, the device sighs, “I cannot taste Pringles. I can only order them.” 

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The ad will also supported by “a fully integrated marketing campaign including PR, digital, social media, e-commerce and product sampling.”

Whether a depressed voice assistant will inspire Super Bowl watchers to start stacking Buffalo Ranch, Wavy Applewood Smoked Cheddar, or Screamin’ Dill Pickle Pringles remains to be seen. But the fact that a well-known consumer packaged goods company would shell out $5 million (the approximate cost of a 30-second spot for Super Bowl LIII) for an ad that makes a joke involving a voice assistant shows just how rapidly the voice-first economy is evolving. 

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Last year’s Super Bowl featured an ad using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, but the point of the ad was to playfully sell Alexa itself. Pringles is banking on the likelihood that people are so familiar with voice assistants that an ad can incorporate the voice metaphor to sell its own product. Here’s what the number say: According to Accenture, half of online consumers globally use digital voice assistants, up from 42 percent one year ago. Accenture also notes that smart speakers are among the fastest-adopted technologies in U.S. history. In the United States, most consumers are aware of Alexa even if they’ve not used it.

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The risk, though, is that the joke becomes dated as technology evolves. But if the ad helps Pringles move product in the near term, perhaps it won’t matter. 

Now let’s see if an Alexa knock-off can get us to start stacking chips. 

Keep Your Paws off Lady Gaga

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Never underestimate Lady Gaga.

The viral effect of digital has made it possible for artists to experience meteoric rises, falls, and rebounds within a matter of a few short years. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Lady Gaga demonstrates this reality. She exploded in popularity in 2009, but by early 2013, the critics were asking, “What Happened to Lady Gaga?” because her album ARTPOP didn’t match her previous efforts in terms of sales and critical reception.

The criticisms continued. For example, in 2014, Kat George wrote of “The Slow and Bitter End of Lady Gaga’s Career” in Noisey, and in 2015, Lauren Duca of The Huffington Post asked, “Lady Gaga was the biggest pop star in the world. What happened?” as her music seemingly lost its luster for no other reason than the critics said so.

Then, just as suddenly as they were vilifying her, the critics began singing a different tune throughout 2015. After a stunning performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, and after winning a Grammy for Cheek to Cheek, her collaboration with Tony Bennett, the critics spoke of a “Lady Gaga comeback.”

But Lady Gaga never went away. From 2013-15 — supposedly years of living in the wilderness — she was ranked consistently among Forbes‘s highest-earning musicians. For the past three years, she has earned $172 million according to Forbes, with most of her money coming from touring as well as commercial ventures such as her Fame fragrance. That’s what happened to Lady Gaga.

It isn’t just the money that matters.

She continues to set the standard for fan engagement. She is all over social media, celebrating her Little Monsters on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. But, being Lady Gaga, she takes engagement to another level: her LittleMonsters website now boasts 975,000 members worldwide and is the most vibrant of any celebrity-run communities.

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And if you have ever been to a Lady Gaga concert, you understand that her shows are not one-way performances. She involves her fans, whether inviting them up onstage, calling them on the phone, or simply celebrating them. Not surprisingly, marketers cite her as an example of building customer loyalty. I think community love is more like it.

She continues to expand her artistic reach. She has always understood the power of theater, as her over-the-top appearances at public awards ceremonies demonstrate. In 2015, she channeled her knack for drama into her appearance as the Countess on American Horror Story: Hotel, for which she won a Golden Globe. Her American Horror Story performance has been lauded as “her greatest invention yet” by Daniel D’Addario of Time. What’s next for Lady Gaga on the drama front?

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Image credit: FX

She is culturally relevant like no other artist. She is, of course, noted for being a champion of LBGT rights and youth empowerment in ways that go beyond the scope of my blog post. She is, quite simply, a champion of human rights. She is involved in so many philanthropic efforts that it’s easy to overlook the many times she has risen to the occasion to help people, whether donating concert proceeds to victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake or donating $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. During the height of her fame and the depths of the critical backlash, her commitment to human rights has been unwavering.

Finally, at her core, Lady Gaga reminds us that she has the soul and talent of an artist. For casual fans, Cheek to Cheek, and her performance at the 2015 Academy Awards, was an introduction to her powerful yet tender voice that sometimes gets overlooked amid her theatrics. Oh, and the critics are falling all over themselves to find the right words to describe how awesome her performance was at Super Bowl 50 February 7, when she turned the National Anthem into a soul standard.

And there’s more to come: she will perform a tribute to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards February 15, will perform at the Academy Awards February 28 (which will make her the first artist to perform at the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards, and Oscars in one year), and reportedly has a new album on the way.

In fact, Lady Gaga is the first artist to win the Super Bowl, making the actual game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers look small.

Any questions?

Real-Time Marketing Is More Than an Oscars War Room

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The Academy Awards, Grammys, and Super Bowl constitute the peak of real-time marketing season. Throughout February, brands ramp up their efforts to generate instant buzz by capitalizing on the unexpected and exciting drama that unfolds throughout the course of these high-profile events. But as my recently published Gigaom report indicates, real-time marketing is more than a brand tweeting from a social media war room during the Oscars. Real-time marketing has become more influential across the entire marketing funnel, from awareness building to customer retention. To maximize the value of real-time marketing, brands should stop treating it as a one-off tactic and instead connect real-time marketing to their strategies across the customer lifecycle.

Real-Time Highs and Lows at the Oscars

The widespread perception of real-time marketing consists of companies building brand awareness by creating content that capitalizes on a time-sensitive event, such as a news development. Oftentimes, brands rely on social platforms, especially Twitter, to engage their audiences in real time. The popular definition might be limited, but it’s one that marketers can understand intuitively, and it has taken hold.

In 2011, David Meerman Scott’s Real-Time Marketing & PR helped trigger the adoption of real-time marketing as we know it today, although many thought leaders such as Regis McKenna and Monique Reese paved the way for Meerman Scott. By 2013, brands were experimenting widely with the insertion of real-time content into current events, with spectacular successes and failures resulting.

The Oscars have encapsulated both the rewards and drawbacks of event-related real-time marketing. The 85th Academy Awards in 2013 saw many businesses dropping real-time duds. As Jay Baer noted on the Convince & Convert blog, brands such as New York Life, Special K, and Bing used Twitter to spread content that ranged from the confusing to the ham-handed. The real-time content that night was so bad that David Armano asked whether real-time marketing had jumped the shark. But at the 86th Academy Awards a year later, Samsung pulled off a real-time marketing coup when the brand supplied Ellen DeGeneres with the camera that she used to snap the star-studded selfie that shook the world, a joyous image that depicted stars ranging from Bradley Cooper to Jennifer Lawrence hanging out together. Within 45 minutes, her selfie became the most reweeted content ever, and Samsung was enjoying 900 mentions a minute on social media.

But the Academy Awards constitute just one night for creating real-time content — albeit an important one, as are the Grammys and Super Bowl. What are some ways brands create real-time marketing beyond a single event?

Real-Time Marketing Across the Customer Lifecycle

Brands continue to swarm around major events such as the FIFA World Cup to generate impressions and social followers by sharing real-time content. But brands, agencies, and merchants are using some of these same techniques for multiple marketing objectives across the customer journey, influencing marketing tactics ranging from website development to media buying.

Continue reading

Heroes and Villains: Why Deflategate Is Good for the NFL

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Photo source: Wikipedia

NFL CMO Dawn Hudson should be pinching herself right now because the “deflategate” controversy is a godsend for the league. Allegations that the New England Patriots knowingly provided underinflated footballs for the AFC championship game have created more conversation about the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX than the NFL could have ever dared to manufacture with its own marketing and PR. Deflategate has also elevated Super Bowl XLIX to a battle between good and evil, injecting an element of much-needed drama on the field at a time when the league has reeled from off-the-field controversy. Casual fans who have zero loyalty to New England or Seattle may now be motivated to watch the game in order to see whether the Guardians of the Galaxy from Seattle have what it takes to defeat Darth Vader and his New England minions.

The 2014 Super Bowl was the most-watched television event in history. But between then and now, a number of ugly incidents involving NFL players have damaged the league’s image. (According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, consumer perception of the NFL has dropped by half in one year’s time.) Obviously, fans of the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are going to watch Super Bowl XLIX February 1, anyway, as will die-hard NFL fans. But the game needs to attract casual fans to match or exceed the 2014 TV-viewing numbers, and the shaky public perception is a cause for worry — which is where deflategate could play an important role.

Casual sports fans might not appreciate the finer points of an NFL game, but they do appreciate drama and spectacle, especially battles between good and evil. Hence, movies as strikingly different as Saving Private Ryan and Raiders of the Lost Ark do great box office by catering to our desire to see the good guys defeat the bad guys (especially World War II era villains who are so cleanly drawn). Sports are no different. For instance: Continue reading

Bruno Mars Brings His Own Brand of Cool to the Super Bowl

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Is there anything that Bruno Mars cannot do? During a spirited Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show, the Grammy-award winning pop star sang, danced, did the splits, played the drums, and for 12 minutes made us forget we were watching an overhyped, tedious championship game. He also may have provided a blueprint for future Super Bowl halftime shows: a performance by a young, energetic star who evokes curiosity and relies on charisma instead of a predictable catalogue of hits to engage a global audience.

Usually, watching the Super Bowl halftime show is like watching a manic televangelist on late-night cable desperately beg for your attention. In fact, the show is engineered to fail, sandwiched inside a larger rock concert known as the Super Bowl. The big pop stars, who are used to owning the stage, invariably try too hard to make the most of their brief moment, the Black Eyed Peas being an egregious example in Super Bowl XLV (although sometimes the stars don’t bother at all, as we saw with the Who in 2010). To make matters worse, the NFL shoehorns too many performers into a desperate medley of poorly choreographed music. Just when you’re about to warm up to Aerosmith play “Walk This Way,” out pops Britney Spears to throw the moment off kilter.

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To be sure, there have been some notable exceptions, such as U2’s tribute to those killed in the September 11 attacks and Beyoncé’s sensual tour de force in Super Bowl XLVII.

However, for the most part, the NFL plays it safe and trots out classic rockers who perform hits we’ve all heard a million times before, only in a ridiculously amped up setting chock full of useless pyrotechnics. But most certainly in an attempt to court the increasingly important and sizable female audience, this time around the NFL gave us an intriguing star with sex appeal to burn. With Bruno Mars, we got a glimpse at a refreshingly young voice who channeled James Brown with his dazzling bouffant hairdo and evoked the young Michael Jackson with his dance moves and athleticism. He commanded the stage by dint of his smile and energy.  He even managed to integrate the appearance of the Red Hot Chili Peppers into his own natural energy flow — although frankly I would have preferred he fly solo.

The NFL still has a lot of work to do in order to overcome decades of mostly crappy productions. Giving us a hungry young artist with something to prove is a step in the right direction. Bruno Mars has opened the door to many other possibilities — say an adventurous artist like Lorde or perhaps an emerging international artist from Latin America. Meantime, between Beyoncé in 2013 and Bruno Mars, the Super Bowl halftime show is actually showing flashes of cool.

Why the NFL Needs Richard Sherman

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Welcome to the new modern-day NFL, where athletes are also entertainers and celebrities who cater to every personal taste. Two high-profile athlete/brands will take the stage February 2 to compete in Super Bowl XLVIII. On the one hand, the Denver Broncos feature Quarterback Peyton Manning, who caters to fans of the strong, silent earnest persona — the Harrison Ford of pro football.

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And as even non-football fans know by now, the Seattle Seahawks feature Cornerback Richard Sherman, the cocky, loudmouthed Kanye West of pro football.

Within hours, Sherman’s emotional, self-aggrandizing interview with Fox Sports triggered an explosion of chatter and harrumphing not seen since Miley Cyrus twerked on the VMAs. As my blog post for Jermaine Dupri’s Global 14 community points out, Sherman’s post-game interview was just the latest in a series of outbursts and stunts that have built his controversial brand. And the Richard Sherman brand is good for the NFL.

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“Hey Kid, Catch”: How Coca-Cola and Mean Joe Greene Launched a Legend

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The Super Bowl is the quintessential American pastime. No other event captures the essence of American culture so perfectly: our love of sport, our admiration of spectacle, and our devotion to capitalism. How else do you explain why the Super Bowl advertisements have become as famous as the game itself? I’ve been watching the game for as far back as I remember, including the year I wore a replica Miami Dolphins uniform (including helmet and knee pads) to watch the Dolphins vanquish the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. And I have enjoyed the advertisements closely over the years. Even though the ads have become increasingly slick and high-concept, my favorite remains one that graced our TV screens 33 years ago during Super Bowl XIV: the Coca-Cola “Hey Kid, Catch” spot featuring Pittsburgh Steeler “Mean” Joe Greene and a little boy who adores him. In 2011, Advertising Age readers voted “Hey Kid, Catch!” as their favorite all-time Super Bowl ad.  I believe the ad’s enduring power is a testament to the power of storytelling and the appeal of Greene’s personal brand.

A Compelling Story

The ad, created by McCann-Erickson, endures because partly it contains a tightly constructed story arc, written by Penny Hawkey: after a hard fought football game, the hulking Defensive Tackle Joe Greene limps into a stadium tunnel to lick his wounds in the locker room. He is tired and bloodied. His Pittsburgh Steelers jersey has been ripped off his shoulder pads. A young boy timidly approaches the football star and offers him a bottle of Coca-Cola to soften the blow of what has obviously been a hard day.

“You want my Coke?” the boy asks.

Greene, obviously in pain, shakes his head no.

“Really, you can have it,” the boy insists.

Finally, Greene relents, offers the boy’s Coke, and takes a long swig while the boy turns away, muttering, “See you around.”

Then comes one of the greatest payoff scenes in advertising: Mean Joe Greene, refreshed by a long swig from the Coke, turns toward the boy and gently calls out, “Hey Kid.” The boy turns around, his face revealing that universal Continue reading