Advertising that’s really on a roll.

Toilet Paper Roll Advertising
Here’s advertising that’s really on a roll — in more ways than one.

One definition of good advertising is how effectively it reaches the most people and engages its audience for longer periods of time.

According to that definition, placing advertisements on toilet paper rolls is a brilliant move that should “wipe away” competing promotional tactics, correct?

[On the other hand, you might think this advertising idea “stinks.”] 

But it’s just what two young entrepreneurial brothers are up to. They’ve formed a business – Star Toilet Paper – that supplies toilet paper to public bathrooms.  And the TP features advertisements printed right on the roll.

According to brothers Bryan and Jordan Silverman, Star’s toilet paper is made from environmentally friendly materials, with coupons and ads printed on them using a soy-based ink.

Their company sells space on the rolls for a half-penny per ad.  Coupons printed on the TP can be redeemed through the company’s own website.

Reportedly, some big-name advertisers like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream have signed on … as have some smaller businesses like physicians offices.  (No word on whether the doctors specialize in gastroenterological medicine.)

How are the Silverman brothers enticing restaurants, bars and other venues to stock their toilet paper? They’re providing the ad-filled rolls to these establishments at no charge.

Not surprisingly, this idea came to the brothers while they were students in college.

After patenting the concept in 2010, they’ve since formed their company, developed a business plan, and have already lined up approximately 50 advertisers.

How successful is the endeavor so far? No official word on whether the brothers are “cleaning up” in the business and “flush” with cash yet.

But Jordan Silverman notes that bathroom stall visitors are the very definition of a captive audience. “It’s an unmatched active audience. A person looks at the average advertisement for two to five seconds. People will look at ours for a lot longer,” he notes.

One of the customer segments considered to be highly lucrative for the company is movie theaters.

Come to think of it, this newfangled TP would be perfectly suited for the next Star Trek movie.

… You know, the one where the Starship Enterprise circles Uranus and wipes out the Klingons …

Outdoor advertising that’s really “out” there.

Adzookie House
Adding a lot of class to the neighborhood: Adzookie puts the "outré" in outdoor advertising.
There’s an interesting story that’s been swirling around the past few days about out-of-home advertising. Evidently, mobile ad network firm Adzookie is on the prowl for using someone’s house as an advertising placard.

As in “the entire house.” Or nearly all of it; Adzookie plans to place its logo, marketing messages and social media icons along with highly visible hues on every inch of surface save the rooftop, windows and awnings.

And what’s in it for the homeowner? Adzookie is claiming it will pay the mortgage on each house it selects for the honors.

Already, well over 1,000 applications from property owners have been received. The vast majority involve houses, but there are also restaurants, other businesses, and even a house of worship that have been submitted. You can click over to Adzookie’s Facebook page to view many of the pictures and pitches received.

How will Adzookie make its decision? Key, of course, will be traffic density; homes in sleepy sub-divisions or cul-de-sacs won’t have much of a chance. Then there’s also the issue of restrictive homeowner associations or the howls of protestation over “eye pollution” from nearby neighbors. That’ll knock quite a few more out of contention.

But here’s another tidbit that may turn out to be a deal-breaker for most of the remaining applications: CNNMoney magazine is reporting that Adzookie’s budget for the entire program is only ~$100,000 … and that includes the cost of painting the home(s) in question.

Even in this depressed real estate market, there aren’t too many houses that have a mortgage that low – unless you’re talking about a home in the City of Detroit, perhaps.

This capricious initiative proves yet again that in today’s world of advertising and promotion, pretty much anything goes. And if the idea is quirky enough, it’ll generate publicity in and of itself – thereby helping to bring about the desired awareness and interest even before the first slaps of the paintbrush ever hit the house.

Good going, Adzookie.

Celebrity endorsements in advertising: All that glitters is not gold.

David Duchovny - Baume & Mercier Celebrity EndorsementWe love our celebrities, don’t we?

Christina Applegate takes motherhood … to celebrity status.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is a fabulous celebrity … and a panel of experts has been commissioned to find out why.

 His very existence … makes Prince William a celebrity.

Because the public goes so (Lady) gaga over celebrities, celebs have been used to hawk products and services for decades. Often, they can add pizzazz to what is otherwise a pretty routine advertising campaign. But how effective are the added glitz and glamour in ringing up additional sales?

I’ve long suspected that the value of celebrity endorsements might be over-hyped. Now we have some quantifiable proof. Ace Metrix, a California-based ad measurement firm, evaluated ~2,600 television ads shown during 2010. The company tested 263 unique national ads featuring celebrity endorsements, spanning 16 industries and 110 separate brands. All ads were tested within 48 hours of breaking nationally in order to capture immediate rather than “cultivated” ad effectiveness.

The celebrity ads were then evaluated against a control group of non-celeb ads in order to determine their comparative effectiveness in generating ad “lift” (better performance).

What the Ad Metrix analysis found was that only ~12% of the ads using celebrities showed more than 10% lift over average advertising norms in their respective industries. Even more startling, ~20% of the celebrity ads yielded 10% or worse (net negative) performance over the average advertising norms.

Here are some of the celebrities who had a “net negative” effect on their clients’ TV advertising effectiveness during 2010 – worst listed first:

Tiger Woods (Nike) – I guess this hardly comes as a surprise!
Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack)
Kenny Mayne (Gillette)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Nationwide Auto Insurance)
Donald Trump (Macy’s)

Which celebrities managed to generate better-than-average scores? Queen of the heap is Oprah Winfrey for her 2010 spots for Liberty Mutual and Progressive Insurance. Ed Burns (iShares) and Carl Weathers (Bud Light) took the other top honors in positive lift.

Peter Daboll, head of Ace Metrix, had this to say about the findings: “This research proves unequivocally that, contrary to popular belief, the investment in a celebrity in TV advertising is rarely worthwhile. It is the advertising message that creates the connection to the viewer in areas such as relevance, information and attention, and this remains the most important driver of ad effectiveness.”

Interestingly, Oprah’s ads weren’t pitching products per se, but rather addressing current issue topics – in this case, warning against texting while driving. So one way to get through to the consumer via a celebrity is if the content is informational rather than a sales pitch.

But if the goal of the advertising is product sales, chances are the more the celebrity is truly “connected” to an advertiser’s product or service, the more successful he or she will be in engaging the target audience beyond simply the “curiosity factor.”

You can read detailed findings from the Ace Metrix analysis here.

Third-Party e-Mail Lists: Clicks to Nowhere?

Clickthrough fraudOf the various issues that are on every marketing manager’s plate, concern about the quality of third-party e-mail lists is surely one of them. It’s a common view that the effectiveness of a purchased e-mail data file is worse than a carefully crafted in-house list based on input from the sales team plus opt-in requests from customers.

Part of the reason is that there’s less likelihood for recipients to be interested in the products and services of the company, which only makes intuitive sense. But there may be other, more nefarious reasons at work as well.

Ever heard of a click-o-meter? It’s the way some e-mail lists are made to look more effective than they actually are. In its basic form, this is nothing more than people paid to open e-mails with no other interest or intention of further engagement. The more technical way is to have an automated click setting, usually done through a rotation of IP addresses.

To the casual observer, this gives the impression of recipients who are interested in a company’s offer, but the final analysis will show something quite different: near-zero purchases or other relevant actions. The problem is that for many campaigns, ROI will be slow at first, so the grim reality that the company has been punked comes later.

The growth of the autobot click-o-meter phenomenon tracks with the growing interest in purchasing third-party lists based on cost-per-click (CPC) performance rather than on the traditional cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. Not surprisingly, when list vendors started being asked to sell lists based on a CPC versus CPM basis, for some of them the temptation to “juice the numbers” was too great. And since many of the databases come from other sources and are private-labeled, the problem is perpetrated throughout the system.

Many purchasers have wised up to this issue by settling on one or two list brokers that they know and trust, by asking about the data source, and by asking for client references for the lists in question. If an e-mail database has suddenly changed in pricing from a CPM to a CPC basis, that may be another cause for concern.

Another option is to hire a third-party traffic monitoring service to assist with back-end analyses of e-mail campaigns to see what’s working or not working in specific campaigns and nip any problems in the bud before they do too much damage to a marketing effort.

But like anything else, self-education is critical. Most companies who are victims of fraudulent e-mail practices become so because their staff members are unaware of the potential problems. But the information is out there for the asking, and that knowledge will soon become “intuition” – usually the best predictor of ROI!

Social couponing: Big idea … but big profits?

Groupon logoThe rise of the Internet has changed the way the couponing business operates. Not only are people logging online to find coupons rather than searching for them in the local paper, so-called “social couponing” has also entered the scene. This is where online coupon offers become active only after a minimum number of registered users sign on to them.

Groupon is probably the best-known of these couponing platforms, although there are others active in the field including MyCityDeal, Half Off Depot, BuyWithMe and LivingSocial. [Interestingly the idea of social couponing originated in the People’s Republic of China.]

The concept, as Groupon does it, is pretty simple. It offers one “Groupon” per day in distinct market segments. If a predetermined specified number of people sign up for the coupon offer, the deal then becomes available to all; otherwise, the offer doesn’t take effect.

Groupon makes its money by getting a percentage of the deal from the participating retailers.

In theory, social couponing reduces the risk for retailers, who can treat the coupons as brand promotion tools in addition to offering discounts or freebies. But research carried out recently by the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University throws a bit of cold water on this hot idea.

The Rice research, which included ~150 businesses, found that the Groupon campaigns were unprofitable ventures for one-third of them. Furthermore, ~40% of the companies studied stated that, based on their experience, they don’t plan to run another social coupon promotion.

The Rice study measured program success based on two criteria: what portion of customers spent more than the coupon amount … and to what degree did customers subsequently make follow-up purchases without the coupon offer. Those companies that reported their campaigns had not been profitable also reported that only ~25% of the coupon redeemers spent more than the face value of the coupon.

Beyond that, fewer than 15% made a subsequent purchase at full price.

In contrast, firms that reported having profitable promotions stated that about half of the coupon redeemers spent more than value of the coupon, and ~30% of them made follow-up purchases at regular prices.

But even some of these firms were wary about conducting another campaign, believing that the Groupon offer did not attract the “right” kind of customers.

What types of offers did well? The Rice study found that foodservice offers performed best in terms of the quantity of offers redeemed. Other categories that scored relatively well were tourism offers, educational services, salons and spas – but each of these drew less than half the response level that restaurants achieved.

Utpal Dholakia, an associate professor of marketing at Rice and leader of the research study, concluded, “There is disillusionment with the extreme price-sensitive nature and transactional orientation of these consumers.” Dr. Dholakia went on to point out that “they are not the relational customers that they had hoped for, or the ones … necessary for their businesses’ long-term success.”

What’s the caveat for businesses thinking about jumping into social couponing? Such a program may well contribute to a surge in business. But many of these new customers will be price-conscious in the extreme, holding a bargain-hunting agenda above everything else.

Hmmm. Just like the real world.

Updating the Marketing “4 Ps”

The Four Ps of MarketingIn business, we like our checklists and concise bullet points. It’s all part of our impulse to distill ideas and principles down to their essence … and to promote economy and efficiency in whatever we do.

In marketing and communications, it’s no different. Most everyone who’s studied business in school knows about the “4 Ps” of marketing: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

Today, that listing seems woefully incomplete and inadequate – even quaint. Stepping in to fill the void are additional attributes that have been proffered by marketing specialists. Several of these newer lists — one coined by Robert Lauterborn, a professor of advertising at the University of North Carolina, and another from technology marketing specialist Paul Dunay — consist of a group of marketing “Cs”: Consumer, Cost, Convenience, Content, Connection, Communication, and Conversion.

But I like a new group of “Ps” as popularized by Jennifer Howard of Google’s B-to-B market group. She offers up five new “Ps” of digital marketing, and they go a long way toward filling the yawning gaps in the original list.

These new digital marketing attributes are Pulse, Pace, Precision, Performance, and Participation.

Beyond the fact that fair dues should be given to anyone who manages to come up with an additional set of five new attributes that likewise begin with the letter “P,” they happen to be worthwhile additions to the original list, and they help bring it into the interactive era.

The new set of marketing “Ps” can be further described like this:

Pulse – active listening and attention to customer, brand and competitor insights.

Pace – the speed at which marketing campaigns are carried out is critical. “Slow and steady” usually doesn’t cut it.

Precision – assuring that marketing messages are delivered to the right customers … at the right time … and place (e.g., PC or mobile device).

Participation – creating conversations with customers via rich media ad formats and social media platforms to enable them to “join the conversation.”

Performance – meeting expectations for results that notch ever higher, via measurable and accountable marketing and media tactics.

In the world of digital marketing and e-commerce, marketers like to borrow a term from the realm of traditional retailing. It’s the “moment of truth,” and it was first coined by Procter & Gamble executives to describe those critical 10 to 20 seconds when someone is standing in a store aisle and making decisions on what to purchase and what to pass by.

In the online world, Google refers to this phenomenon as the “zero moment of truth” (ZMOT) – when a potential buyer interfaces with a brand or a product on a computer, smartphone or other digital device. Why zero? Because instead of 10 or 20 seconds, many people take only a split second to decide whether they’ll stay and engage … or whether to ditch and switch.

Changing the Subject (Line)

One of the reasons e-mail marketing has become so huge is because it’s so darned cheap. Compared to postal mail, e-mail costs just pennies. That means most marketers can achieve a better ROI for just a mediocre e-mail campaign compared to even the most successful direct mail effort.

However, a common complaint about e-mail versus postal mail is visibility. Since most viewers choose not to have their preview pane feature turned on, they must physically open an e-mail before they can view any of its contents.

This “one-step removed” dynamic means that many people never get to see and read a marketing message that would otherwise stand out if it showed up in someone’s postal mail delivery as a postcard or self-mailer promo piece.

In this scenario, the e-mail subject line becomes a huge “gatekeeper” element. What the subject says and how it’s said can make a difference in e-mail open and clickthrough rates. But just how much?

A new E-mail Marketing Metrics Report from MailerMailer, a firm providing e-mail marketing and newsletter services, provides some interesting clues. MailerMailer has been producing these reports since 2003. This report, the tenth one issued, was developed by analyzing a sampling of ~900 million e-mail messages sent through MailerMailer throughout the year 2009.

Among the elements tracked were the words used in e-mail subject lines. MailerMailer found that the most popular terms contained in the subject lines were:

 Coupons
 Daily
 Free
 News
 Newsletter
 Report
 Today
 Update
 Week (weekly)
 Year

Notice how each of these terms conveys a sense of WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) and/or a sense of time sensitivity. Interestingly, despite a prevailing concern that using the word “free” in the subject line risks more spam filtering, MailerMailer found that this term was one of the ten most popular terms used in subject lines during 2009.

And what about subject line length? The report found that shorter subject lines (containing less than 35 characters) outperformed longer ones. That’s generally just four or five words along with the corresponding spaces between them.

And the difference MailerMailer observed was significant: E-mails with shorter subject lines experienced an average open rate of ~17.5%, while those with longer subject lines had an open rate of only ~11.5%.

The same differential was found with clickthrough rates. For the e-mails with shorter subject lines the average clickthrough rate was ~2.7% … versus ~1.6% for e-mails with longer subject lines.

The MailerMailer report concludes that while composing shorter subject lines may be difficult to do (well), going through that exercise is well worth the extra effort. The results from ~900 million e-mails prove it.