Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Advertiser vs. consumer

By Mrinal Khullar

This is a great clip that captures the issue we IMCers are battling regarding our approach to marketing communications. I think it accurately and hilariously depicts how out of touch with consumers mainstream advertising can be. It also points to the importance of having a dialogue with consumers versus a one-way relationship. Other than the humor, I think this clip truly emphasizes the importance of what we’re studying here at Medill. Understanding consumers as more than demographics or psychographic descriptions is critical to our process. Certainly, database information on purchase behavior is imperative to our understanding. But so is getting to know consumers as people first, consumers second.

Mrinal Khullar
is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School. She can be reached at

Friday, March 11, 2011

Marcom this week: From A to zinc – 3/11/11 edition

Coming together in crisis
Millions of people watched in disbelief this morning as footage of the devastation from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami aired. In the aftermath, the Internet served as an invaluable resource to provide victims and concerned parties with warnings and real-time updates. Google quickly responded by launching a Crisis Response page. The page serves as a one-stop resource for live updates on the situation, emergency phone numbers, advisories, and blackouts. Google is also connecting victims with their families using its People Finder tool. Millions of first-hand accounts of the destruction have been posted on Twitter (#japan, #tsunami, #prayforjapan), YouTube and Flickr, making the Japanese earthquake and tsunami one of the most documented natural disasters in history. You can also watch live updates of the destruction in Japan and updates as the Pacific-coast cities experience the tsunami. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families, and anyone else affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Charlie Sheen, media mogul?
The week’s new roundup would be amiss if we didn’t touch on Charlie Sheen’s media blitz. We all watched in awe as Sheen unraveled before our eyes (there has been no escape!). Although his mental state is far from 100%, Sheen is capitalizing on his own misfortune. This week he took the Internet, radio and television by storm. Sheen broke records when he opened a Twitter account, @charliesheen, which gained over one million followers in a day. SiriusXM Radio launched a dedicated channel, “Tiger Blood Radio,” to provide listeners with 24 hours of coverage surrounding the actor. Sheen even has his own UStream channel and each netcast totals over one million views. Now there are talks of a reality TV show, apparel sponsors, social media interns and a stand-up tour. In just two weeks Sheen transformed from a sitcom star to a media mogul, something that would take years (or even a lifetime) for other to accomplish. What’s next?

Starbucks New Look: 40 and fabulous
If you walked into your neighborhood Starbucks this week you probably noticed something a little different. Coinciding with its 40th anniversary, Starbucks rolled out the much-anticipated new logo—cups, sleeves and merchandise now all carry the new Siren. The campaign, seen in-store, online and on television, is aggressively focused on getting customers into the store. This week customers get a free petite treat with any coffee purchase. If you are into mobile, customers who check in at Starbucks on Foursquare between now and Saturday will randomly be awarded a $40 gift card. These promotions are enticing even to Starbucks haters!

Next week tune in for news from SXSW!

Marcom This Week: From A to Zinc is compiled by the Vitamin IMC editorial team. They can be reached at Miss your vitamins last week? Visit the “Marcom this Week” archive.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's time to move beyond stereotypes

By Diana Lopez Negrete

Kraft Foods recently debuted a series of television ads for its Athenos Hummus line that are not only sexist but also blatantly racist. However, according to a Chicago Tribune online poll, people are not offended by the ads. In fact, the Chicago Sun Times gave the ads a B+, saying that they are “creative” and “provocative.” To which I wonder, did someone receive a big box of Athenos Hummus to try?

I find this type of marketing to be not only irresponsible, but also dated. Relying on cultural stereotypes and sexism as sources of humor is offensive and, frankly, boring. Ads in this vein are not “provocative” or “creative,” but rather, unoriginal in developing ideas and provoking a media response. Not only that, they lack an ability to connect with the audience on a deeper level.

Call me crazy, but the "Yiayia on Fashion" ad really does not have me running to the store to purchase Athenos Hummus. In fact, it's trite and sexist. I certainly do not want my hummus purchase to remind me that my grandmother thinks I look like a "prostitute." Typically, when I host a party for my friends, money is not exchanged for sexual favors. Rather, we laugh and tell jokes over wine, cheese, and maybe some hummus. However, I might re-think that purchase at this point.

As for the "Yiayia on Parenting" ad (above), why is being called “wife” emasculating? Is it because a man’s place is in the office and a woman’s is in the home? What is this, 1955? Should I wear an apron to class as well? As more and more women choose having a career over staying home, someone has to raise the children, be it their father, a family member, or a nanny. If a man chooses to stay at home with his children, more power to him.

In 2011, it's sad to see that cultural and gender stereotypes continue to be perpetuated in ad campaigns. We live in an incredibly diverse world with so much rich material to draw from. Racism and sexism have been done. If I could insert an eye roll here, I would.

What Kraft should have done is eschew these stereotype-laden ads for something more creative. To those people who think they are “provocative” I must ask: why do you consider racism and sexism provocative? A little more creativity on Kraft's part would have gone a long way.

Diana Lopez Negrete is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School. She can be reached at

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Marcom this week: From A to zinc – 3/4/11 edition

Although Charlie Sheen’s rants made more than enough headlines this week, marketers managed to squeeze in a few of their own. From the announcement of Apple’s iPad 2 to the latest research on what consumers want from brands online, here is a look at what happened this week in the integrated marketing communications industry.

iPad 2 raises the bar for marketers
In case you missed it, Apple announced its next-generation iPad on Wednesday. The lighter, thinner, faster tablet arrives March 11 with a price tag of $499 for the 18GB Wi-Fi version. More important than its new software and front- and rear-facing cameras is the fact that the iPad 2 is driving the post-PC conversation forward at full speed. Just a day after Apple’s announcement, Gartner lowered its growth forecast for worldwide PC shipments in 2011. Looks like the iPad is well on its way to bridging the gap between laptops and tablets, which means it’s time for marketers – who haven’t done much to test the tablet waters – to take notice. Faster browsing means a host of new apps are probably already in development. However, if PC alternatives are the future, then how do marketers get on board in a meaningful way?

For brands, it’s all about being "liked"
Take note marketers: consumers want to hear from you when online – if you’re offering discounts. This is the latest finding of a new Ad Age/Ipsos Observer survey of digital-media habits. Facebook was a clear winner, with 41 percent of respondents preferring to receive communication from marketers via this platform. The runner up was Twitter, which received 18 percent of the vote. Coupons are the most sought-after item, with 65 percent of respondents hunting for online discounts. In fact, for most respondents, this was the reason why they “liked” a brand on Facebook. Not surprisingly, only 22 percent of respondents cared about customer news, a reminder that pushing self-promoting content won’t win a brand many friends.

Taco Bell: Where’s the beef?
This week, Taco Bell debuted a series of commercials in response to a lawsuit claiming its beef isn’t beefy enough. According to the ads, Taco Bell’s beef is comprised of 88 percent premium ground beef and 12 percent signature recipe. Viewers are encouraged to visit the fast-food chain’s website to view the entire ingredients list. Overall, the ads aren’t very interesting. We probably would’ve dismissed them with a shrug had it not been for the commercial’s inopportune airing on Sunday evening during a repeat of Fox’s new animated series, "Bob’s Burgers." Titled “Human Flesh,” the episode is about a misunderstanding surrounding the beef content of Bob’s Burgers signature hamburgers. (Sound familiar?) The first ad to air during the commercial break? Taco Bell, of course. Bad timing for the brand, and a big “oops” for Fox.

Marcom This Week: From A to Zinc is compiled by the Vitamin IMC editorial team. They can be reached at Miss your vitamins last week? Visit the “Marcom this Week” archive.

Friday, February 25, 2011 should not have approved this message

By Shakerra Grays

This billboard reads: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

Since seeing a tweet of this billboard the other day, I’ve found it hard to get it off my mind. I find the statement inflammatory, irresponsible, offensive and shortsighted. Upon researching this organization, I found that was created by The Radiance Foundation, a pro-life/pro-adoption organization founded, run, and supported by African Americans.

This billboard (which is one of many) does nothing to communicate the organization's mission or to move it forward. As a marketer I understand that need to get immediate attention and the inclination to use shock value to break through the advertising clutter. However, this is a cheap trick to get attention. Is it worth it? I don’t think so.

I clipped this directly from

VISION: We seek to eliminate the destruction of Life by focusing on solutions that empower women, men and children (born and unborn).

MISSION: educates the public about abortion’s impact on the African-American community via accurate and documented statistics, historical perspectives, thought-provoking videos, and personal testimonies. We strongly encourage adoption and provide connections to local resources. Through speaking events and media campaigns, we expose the distortion and destruction of Planned Parenthood and its abortion advocates.

Fine. Fair enough. Pro-lifers have a right to their opinion. I’m also quite aware of Margaret Sanger’s views, eugenics, and the shady history of Planned Parenthood’s agenda for poor women of color. It is not my intention to debate the morality of abortion here. I am purely interested in the message.

I question what black woman would see this billboard and know that this organization seeks to help her. The statement on this billboard makes the mother the villain. It perpetuates the idea that black mothers are irresponsible, negligent, or somehow unable to responsibly carry a child, much less raise one. This billboard is judgmental and hurtful., you missed the mark here. And I suspect that in the process, you’ve alienated the very population that you seek to educate. should be more thoughtful about the messages they send out and be clearer about who they are. If they continue with messages like these, they will degrade their cause, erode their credibility, and be seen as part of the very problem that they seek to solve.

Shakerra Grays is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School. Follow her tweets at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Marcom this week: From A to zinc – 2/25/11 edition

The Huffington Post: AOL’s big ad format will force a redesign
The Huffington Post’s cluttered, ad-laden pages may soon change. Following months of negotiations, signs of AOL’s takeover of The Huffington Post are starting to show. This week the website giant began to roll out a new ad format called “Project Devil,” which is a larger ad format that demands high rates but guarantees fewer ads per page. The program may require The Huffington Post to redesign in order to accommodate the format. AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong claims “Project Devil” is an effort to provide a better experience for users in the form of less ads. While fewer ads may be good for users, another reason for this big ad push is revenue. After another year of decreased revenue (down 25% from 2009 to $2.41 billion), this project seems to be another push by AOL to monetize its online businesses.

The Super Bowl’s social long tail
It is no secret that social media has changed the way consumers interact with advertisers. But in the case of Super Bowl advertisers, viewer engagement with brands is at an all-time high. Two weeks after The Big Game, advertisers continue to see returns on their investment. According to a study conducted by Visible Measures, Volkswagen’s “The Force” tops the list with 3.5 million views, followed by Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” with 11.7 million views. The study not only tracks YouTube views, but also how consumers are engaging with the brands, including sharing with friends, copying, reposting, commenting or rating it. This study shows that the brands are engaging consumers in conversation and interacting with them on an entirely new level. With its ads topping out at $3 million per 30-second spot, the Super Bowl may have found a new incentive to pull in advertisers.

Miracle Whip: Lovers or haters
In a campaign developed by mcgarrybowen, Miracle Whip is embracing the polarizing debate between “lovers" and “haters” of its sandwich spread. It asks the questions: “We’re not for everyone. Are you Miracle Whip?” The YouTube campaign features an interesting lineup of everyday people and celebrities, including Pauly D from "Jersey Shore," political commentator James Carville and comedian Amy Sedaris. Each of them takes a stance on his or her favorite sandwich spread. In the battle of Miracle Whip versus mayonnaise, which do you choose?

Marcom This Week: From A to Zinc is compiled by the Vitamin IMC editorial team. They can be reached at Miss your vitamins last week? Visit the “Marcom this Week” archive.

The efficiencies of a perfect pizza

By Kate Hellman

As an IMC’er, I try to stay abreast of technological trends and advances. IBM has developed a computer that detects nuances in language and meaning. Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland have succeeded in re-creating the conditions that developed shortly after the Big Bang. Google is developing a car that starts, steers, and stops on its own.

And yet none of these developments flabbergast me quite as much as recent technological developments in the greasy pizza industry. A few weekends ago on a frigid Chicago night, some friends and I ordered in Dominos. What I discovered on that night blew me away, admittedly more so than news of recreation of the Big Bang.

When you order a Domino’s pizza online, you can now track it in real-time. Want to know if your pizza is still being prepped, or whether it’s in the oven yet? Pizza Tracker has the answers for you. There’s really nothing quite as satisfying as watching a terrible TV show while simultaneously checking on your pizza every 45 seconds on your computer. Now that’s what I call synergy.

Similarly, Papa John’s (which happens to be my all-time favorite pizza, this coming from a native New Yorker) has stepped up its game in the ever-exciting online world of pizza creation. On, you can personalize your pizza exactly how you want it. Thin or thick crust? Jalapenos or anchovies, three-cheese blend or banana peppers? And do you want those toppings on the left or right side of the pizza? Watch as animations of each topping you select fall onto your virtual pizza like delicious confetti. You can even choose to have your pizza cut in squares. I chose this option last weekend, and was disgruntled to discover that my pizza came sliced normally—not exactly a tragedy, but I was pretty excited about the squares. Of course, if Papa offers all of these options, he should deliver (literally). The risk of disappointing customers given such an array of options must be managed.

The best of all of these websites is Chicago’s own Homemade Pizza Co., where you can even specify a whole wheat crust. The website is as chic and good-looking as the pizzas themselves.

These developments have several critical marketing implications, and apply to far more categories than just pizza. If a brand has a marketing objective to lower costs, driving customers to websites that grant them as much (or more) control over the desired product as they have by phone can significantly decrease calls and other expensive methods of interaction.

That’s great news for companies and stores like Domino’s and Papa John’s, which have only a few employees working at a time. An effective website frees employees from being tied up on the phone and enables them to focus on the product; this is pivotal during busy times, such as Superbowl night for pizza chains. Customers, meanwhile, are more satisfied with the product, given their increased control over everything from amounts of cheese to shapes of slices. In fact, they may even discover options that they didn’t know existed. It’s a win-win for all.

Most importantly, all three pizza websites appear to reflect serious collaboration between IT and marketing. On each page and at each step, brand character is clearly evident. The Domino’s site emphasizes its high-quality ingredients, in line with its recent TV campaign. Papa John’s site makes abundantly clear that it’s the perfect pizza for football games (this aligns with the company’s sponsorship of the NFL). Homemade Pizza Co. has a sleek, earthy-feeling website design for its upscale, health-conscious customers.

In an age of technology with seemingly limitless possibility, collaborations like this, especially in consumer-centric organizations, will move from “strategy” to what Harvard Professor Michael Porter calls “operational effectiveness.” That is, in-house silos will be broken down and collaborations between marketing and IT (and other groups) will become more commonplace. Porter argues that operational effectiveness is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for organizational success. Companies that are not operationally effective make themselves vulnerable, even if they have sound strategy.

That anyone can create their vision for a perfect pizza and have it delivered to their door in 30 minutes proves the pronounced benefits of convergence of marketing communication and IT activities. Companies should take a hint from the Papa and learn that in order to be operationally effective and thus stand a chance of surviving intense competition, these collaborations become as necessary as practices like quality management and benchmarking. Companies with good strategies but that lack partnership among marketing and other groups threaten their own viability. In other words, there’s no other way to go but forward—or, as we like to call it at Medill, towards Integrated Marketing Communications.

Kate Hellman is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School and can be reached at

Friday, February 18, 2011

Marcom this week: From A to zinc – 2/18/11 edition

From Pepsi’s controversial new can to a positive outlook on marketing jobs in 2011, here is a look at what made headlines this week in the integrated marketing communications industry.

Diet Pepsi Slims Down for Fashion Week
Diet Pepsi’s new “skinny” can got some rough reviews when it debuted at New York Fashion Week this week. According to PepsiCo Inc., the “tall, sassier” version of its traditional can celebrates beautiful, confident women. Pepsi, what are you trying to say? Beautiful, confident women don’t come in “traditional” sizes?

Before we hate on Pepsi, let’s look at this from another perspective. Yes, Pepsi’s positioning of the new can is a surefire way to draw negative attention. However, this new attribute does have its benefits. Skinny cans are more ladylike than wide-mouth traditional cans and add a bit of glam to the otherwise mundane activity of drinking a diet cola. We may not love the messaging, but we’re up for throwing a case of these cute cans in our fridge. We’re betting others will too, which begs the question: will this negative publicity hurt or help the brand?

Marketing Jobs on the Rise
Good news for integrated marketing grad students: marketing jobs are on the rise. According to a survey conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association, CMOs plan to hire 50 percent more marketing pros in 2011. Gains in revenue and profits are fueling the new hires, with 69 percent of respondents saying they are more optimistic about the U.S. economy, up from 26 percent the previous quarter.

Couple this news with information about the hottest hiring sectors and you should be heading down a bright career path. As CNBC reported earlier this year, industries promising the most growth include IT, healthcare, transportation and financial services. In fact, according to, 24 percent of hiring managers report plans to hire full-time workers in 2011, up from 20 percent in 2010 and 14 percent in 2009.

Harley Debuts First Crowdsourced Ad
It’s arguable that Harley Davidson has created one of the strongest brand communities of the last century. Now, the motorcycle manufacturer has turned the creative reins over to its customers, asking them to help develop an ad campaign around Harley’s new HD1 program, which allows customers to go online and design their own bike. “No Cages” is the first crowdsourced spot to air. Inspired by Kentuckian Whit Hiler and produced by Boulder, Colo.-based Victors & Spoils, the TV ad pays homage to the freedom felt by Harley riders and owners. So which brand will jump on the crowdsourcing bandwagon next? In addition, while it seems like crowdsourcing and ad agencies are playing nicely, is this technique a threat to creative agencies?

Marcom This Week: From A to Zinc is compiled by the Vitamin IMC editorial team. They can be reached at Miss your vitamins last week? Visit the “Marcom this Week” archive.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 Brand Bowl Showdown: Groupon vs. LivingSocial

By Carrie Griffith

The battle between the online deal websites Groupon and LivingSocial was one of the most anticipated Super Bowl commercial match-ups this year. Both start-ups used controversial humor in pre-game and Super Bowl spots to get the word out about their daily deal sites. In the aftermath of eyebrow raises and social controversy, did the humor pay off?

From rainforest deforestation to mountainous Tibet, Groupon’s three 30-second spots seemed to have questionable (not to mention controversial) starts. Although the introductions seemed inappropriate, they stayed true to Groupon’s brand personality, known for its quirky lead-ins to deal descriptions. Groupon’s spots also gave non-users a good idea of how the daily deal service works. In the pre-game spot, Cuba Gooding Jr. says: “…since 100 of us bought on, we’re each getting an $86 whale-watching cruise for just $49.”

Groupon definitely flexed its new funding muscles—$377 million to be exact— and spent $3 million to produce and air its three Super Bowl spots. For its first offline advertising effort, the start-up partnered with big-name agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky. In addition to Gooding, the spots featured stars such as Elizabeth Hurley and Timothy Hutton.

Living Social
From golf to go-karts to facials, LivingSocial’s pre-game spot depicted the wide range of deals that consumers can find on the website. In the campaign created by The Martin Agency, one man describes how his life has changed through his addiction to the online daily deals website. The man starts out macho and bearded, but through LivingSocial’s daily deals, ends up dressed as a woman. In the wake of social media backlash, it is obvious that LivingSocial made a big mistake in its choice of humor. Stuart Elliot, writer for The New York Time’s Media Decoder, said it best: “Yes, in 2011, advertisers still believe that transsexuals or cross-dressing is something to laugh at.”

The last time these two start-ups faced off, LivingSocial walked away victorious with the title of “Biggest Daily Deal” by selling over 13 million in the $10 flash deal. In fact, LivingSocial used some of the earning from this deal to fund their Super Bowl pre-game debut.

Who do you think won the offline match-up? Let us know in the comments!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tobaccowala kicks off 2011 IMC Professional Speakers Series

By Courtney Uchytil

Rishad Tobaccowala is a marketing innovator, business leader, the chief strategy and innovation officer of Vivaki, and CEO of Denuo. And this Monday, Rishad will be the kick-off lecturer for the IMC Professional Speakers Series for the Northwestern Medill community.

In anticipation of the event, Rishad was kind enough to give us a little insight into his thoughts on social media, the blogosphere and Twitter

As a guest speaker for the Integrated Marketing Communications program, what does IMC mean to you? And how to you see IMC fitting into the marketing world?

RT: IMC to me is the future of how marketing will be done. In a digital age the old silos of marketing, from promotion to PR to advertising, etc., are collapsing and what matters is planning/measuring across all connection points of paid, owned and earned media driven by consumer insight and business metrics. I see IMC as ideal for this hybrid/mongrel marketing world, which combines data and insight, science and art.

I believe the biggest thing IMC should plan and plot about is how to measure and plan across paid, owned and earned media. Today database marketing and understanding a person’s media usage and the context in which it is used is critical and will remain critical. But over time instead of marketing types (above line or below line) or forms (analog or digital) it will be about paid, owned and earned connections.

How effective are blogs and other social media as a form of word of mouth?

Hugely effective especially when used in combination. Blogs are where your content is written and stored and discussed, while social media like Twitter and Facebook are where they are promoted and to a certain extent discussed.
As you know I have a blog, which I promote on Twitter (@rishadt) which is connected to my Facebook page and LinkedIn page. If I post a blog there is little traffic until I tweet about it. If people like it they retweet. So for instance, when I blogged about the four trends of 2011, I tweeted it to my 3,800 followers. Now at any time only a fraction will see my message and a fraction will click on the link. But because those that did liked it, they tweeted and retweeted it and so within a week I had nearly 10,000 visitors. Social media is the new discovery engine.

In one interview you referred to Twitter as a “great discovery engine.” How do you see the role of Twitter evolving over time?

As noted I believe social media (not just Twitter, but Twitter is the most effective in promoting discovery) is a discovery engine. I see Twitter evolving in the following ways:

A) It becomes a place where you discover things in real time.

B) It becomes a place where you search for things and perspectives (which is why Twitter made $140 million in advertising because brands are now promoting tweets, promoting their accounts and promoting trends). It is an addition to Google.

C) It is where you eventually will have curators. For instance, I make lists of people who are very good at pointing things in art or film, and I look at these lists almost like a magazine article by a critic pointing me to important things.

Faculty and students, make sure to RSVP to the event to reserve your spot and to hear more of what Rishad has to say. The lecture starts at 4p.m. in the MTC Forum, Monday, February 7.

Courtney Uchytil is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School and can be reached at