Green Companies Need to Promote Satisfaction, Not Endless Desire

Posted by Jonathan Tannenbaum on July 11, 2008

'You can't eat just one.' As a kid, I would think of this slogan whenever eating potato chips. I found it to be happy-go-lucky in its attitude towards our natural cravings. It seemed to exclaim, 'This is who we are; let's love ourselves!'

However, I now view it differently. Today, it reminds me of the way our culture always leaves us discontent, setting off a level of consumption destructive to the environment. Green companies should take this fact to heart by marketing goods and services that leave us wanting less. In doing so, they would improve our well-being, and also that of the planet.

If companies want to practice social responsibility, they should help people alleviate their desires. I’m not saying we should give up all enjoyment. Rather, I think we should eschew a value system that encourages people to relentlessly indulge their impulses. In terms of business, it’s fine for companies to make money allowing people to give in to certain kinds of immediate gratification, but they shouldn’t help people go overboard.  It’s one thing to sell cookies; it’s another to encourage customers to eat the entire sleeve in one sitting. We all love Oreos, but too many can give you a stomachache.

Not only does supporting consumer restraint and satisfaction improve people’s lives directly, it also helps the environment. It’s a simple fact that by consuming as much as we do now we go through the earth’s resources at a rate that will be impossible to sustain. It’s easy to rationale our habits with the justification that what we’re doing now will have no impact on us, and that future generations can adopt different lifestyles in order preserve the earth.

However, this overlooks the fact that sustainability will take an enormous undertaking over a long period of time, and if people don’t act now it might be too late for future generations, or put them in a predicament where they’ll have to forfeit almost any quality of life.

It’s Personal!

Posted by Avi Nimmer on July 08, 2008

Have you ever casually been perusing a Web site when, after pressing a link, you are prompted to become a member and provide your personal information? Do you ever wonder why these companies want to know where you live, what your phone number is, and what your social security number is? Maybe they just want to be able to send a card and gift certificate to your house on your birthday, but I am a bit more suspicious.

Out of a combination of sheer boredom and remote curiosity, I took an online IQ test the other day. I completed the entire test, often devoting minutes to single questions and scribbling down numbers and words on my scratch paper. Upon completion, the Web site asked me for typical personal information, which, as typical, I lied about. Well, let me tell you: I was quite angry when the pop-up informed me that my test results had been sent to my cell phone—phone number (310) 123-4567—in the form of a text message.

A recent article from analyzed just this phenomenon, concluding that people were less likely to divulge personal information to official-looking Web sites when terms of confidentiality were raised. While that may sound slightly counterintuitive, the article provided the example of a group of students who were less likely to admit copying others homework to an official school Web site than they were to a Web site entitled, “How BAD are U??” Makes sense.

From a business perspective, I don’t think making your site look like a teenage girl’s personal Web page is the key to acquiring clients’ coveted personal information. On the contrary, businesses need have professional sites and assure confidentiality if they are to expect to receive anybody’s private info.

There is another crucial factor, though—a factor that the IQ testing website, along with many other companies, fail to recognize and obey.

Let’s provide an analogy: the IQ test was like a blind-date to me, and asking for my personal information—home address, phone number, e-mail address—was the equivalent of being brought over to meet my date’s parents on the first date. Completely unacceptable! Is there any better way to scare someone off? I was thinking, “I’ve known you for about 5 minutes, and you want me to tell you what?!?

I understand that companies want all of the information they can get out of us—any little piece of information that gives them the slightest edge is significant. What companies need to understand, though, is that there is a time, a place and a way of going about that.

Give me time to get familiar with your site, to get to know and trust you a little bit better (sticking with the analogy, wine-and-dine me a bit before trying to get into my…uh…wallet).

Also, it is imperative that companies don’t ask for personal information before the customer feels that it is relevant. If I was ordering a product to be delivered, I would understand needing to provide my address. But when an IQ company wants my home address, you better believe I’m not going back for a second date.

Caught on Tape!

Posted by A.E. Smith on December 11, 2006

Following up on my post earlier this month about the recent obsession with consumer-generated ads, an article in the New York Times looks at how marketers' creative messages go farther with the help of camera-happy tourists:

As a result of the growing popularity of consumer-generated pictures, videos and e-mail messages on Internet sites like YouTube and Myspace, advertisers are getting consumers to essentially do their jobs for them.

Having consumers who are willing and able to share their marketing experiences with the world can be a blessing or a curse. That unsolicited publicity can work to a brand's favor if service is exceptional (take this video of the first-class cabin experience on Emirates Air, which has been viewed 163,000 times since being posted) or can be disasterous if an unpleasant interaction is caught on tape (as with this video of a Comcast cable technician asleep on a customer's couch, which has been viewed over 834,000 times). The bottom line: customers have more power than ever to make or break a company, and they are becoming wise to that fact.

There a number of blogs out there spotlighting bad (and sometimes good) customer service. Check out This is Broken, CRM Blog and Customers Are Always.

Now Filming: Your Customers

Posted by A.E. Smith on December 01, 2006

Heb_adAs Incentive reported in November, more companies are using customer-driven reviews and events in their marketing campaigns to rope in consumers who are more likely to trust their peers than a corporate message. The frequency of incorporating consumer content into commmerical appeals can only increase as more digital video recorders fall into the hands of a mass audience, many of whom seem eager to serve as unpaid brand representatives.

Some companies are already making the jump to the next logical step: Why pay an agency to make your ads, when your customers are willing to do so for much less money? Texas grocery store chain H-E-B launched a new ad campaign in November with TV spots starring real customers (and the San Antonio Spurs) and plans to kick off a contest during the Super Bowl inviting consumers to submit their own ads highlighting their H-E-B shopping experience. Frito-Lay, Chevrolet and the NFL are all  running similar contests that solicit consumer contributions.

National sandwich-chain Quiznos partnered with iFilm to run a contest inviting customers to film their own commercial pitting Quiznos against rival sandwich-makers Subway. The winning submission will be aired on national television and will earn its armchair director $10,000 and a gift card for a year's supply of their toasty sandwiches. Runners up will win Video iPods. Quiznos has a history of experimenting with amateur, "edgy" ad designs, not always successfully; their infamous "spongemonkey" spots (which this writer happened to love) repelled and confused many viewers and critics. Let's hope their choice this time around is more appetizing.

This mania for consumer-created content is driven by two suppositions: One, that consumers are more likely to be swayed by content created by people like them, and two, that those same amateur marketers are willing to hand over their creative efforts for nothing more than an iPod and a moment of TV glory. I predict that the novelty status of these promotions will wear off quickly as consumers  become as numb to these messages as to the slick corporate-produced ones and as the creative types realize they deserve a portion of the profits earned by their efforts. Expect the stakes to go up and the reward processes for these contests to become more creative.

But for now, jump on the bandwagon (or the camera dolly, as it were).

Joey the Booth Babe

Posted by Leo Jakobson on October 04, 2006

The practice at many trade shows of hiring scantily clad women to pose for pictures with attendees and otherwise incentivize (male) passers-by into the promoter’s booth came in for renewed criticism in January when the E3 Expo, a huge Los Angeles–based video game conference, announced it would begin enforcing a ban on Booth Babes, as they are known in the industry, with $5,000, on-the-spot fines.

I was reminded of those headline at the Motivation Show last week. While the Chicago trade show is hardly known for booth babes—and certainly not excessively scantily clad ones—the Tourism Australia booth had people lined up six deep to be photographed with an attractive young model they brought along.

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Incentives Take Center Stage

Posted by Donna Airoldi on September 18, 2006

Loyalty programs are heading to Broadway.

Top_banner_logoAs reported in this article from today's New York Times, the Nederlander Organization, one of the biggest theater owners in the country and the second biggest on Broadway, is launching a loyalty program.

Audience Rewards, as the nascent program is called, will reward frequent theater goers -- not just for Nederlander-housed productions, but for shows at competing company houses as well, including Shubert and Jujamcyn. Perks will include discount tickets, special events and merchandise. Though still in the planning phases, interested parties can visit the program's Web site,, for more information.

The new executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, Charlotte St. Martin -- a noted hospitality leader who was formerly the executive vice president for sales and marketing for Loews Hotels -- recently proposed a similar loyalty program, and according to the article, is willing to work with Nederlander on the idea.

I, for one, am thrilled. I've been an avid Broadway (and Off-Broadway) fan for more than 25 years. My first show was the original Chorus Line -- a revivial of which opens tonight! -- in June 1980. We had orchestra center seats, for the surprisingly low price of $25. I still have that ticket stub and Playbill -- as well as those to every single show I've seen since.

Coffee Wars II

Posted by A.E. Smith on September 12, 2006

Drink_upCaribou isn't the only company taking shots at Starbucks' latte culture.  It looks like Nestle and Coca Cola want their own piece of the big green. According to Ad Age, each is launching a new specialty coffee brand that will bring the gourmet coffee experience to those without, well, any experience in making gourmet coffee. The idea is to offer "goof-free superpremium brews that can be served up by ordinary coffee-counter jockeys rather than highly trained drink masters."

Coca-Cola's system, called Far Coast, is being first introduced in Canada this month, with Singapore and Oslo, Norway, to follow. Nestlé, meanwhile, is quietly developing Nescafe Specialty Solutions, a gourmet-coffee system that allows upscale foodservice customers to mix concentrate with water to create hot or cold mocha, latte, French vanilla and chocolate drinks.

This post is worth reading, simply because they use the phrase "land-grab in coffee."

Having been a barista myself (though not at Starbucks) and having tried many machines that claim to make a "latte", I'm a little skeptical at the promises of these new coffee systems. Starbucks' success is based on the whole luxury culture it oozes, not the quality of its coffee, and its real triumph has been in creating a worldwide network of semi-public spaces where consumers can tap into an ideal: that of the plugged-in, urban professional with enough time and money to spend on an overpriced beverage. The art of coffee sales is about more than perfect foam. Unless these instant imitators can whip up a couch, WiFi and pretty people watching opportunities just by adding water, they've got nothing on Starbucks. Lose the coffee house, and you've lost the war.

G.I. Joe: Caribou Declares Coffee War

Posted by Maggie Rauch on September 07, 2006

Caribou Coffee declared war on Starbucks last week, offering to honor voided Starbucks coupons for free iced coffee. The e-coupons had been distributed to employees in the Southeast, to share with friends and family, but Starbucks turned off the tap when the coupons were forwarded “beyond the original intent.” Caribou will honor the coupons tomorrow from noon to eight p.m., in all of its 416 locations. Included are 53 stores in the southeast (Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia).

The promo is being used to publicize Caribou’s process of cold-brewing the coffee, rather than pouring hot coffee over ice as Starbucks does. The coupon announcement followed by three days a press release stating that Caribou was rolling out a program to offer free Wi-Fi in select locations. The free Internet access and the swipe at Starbucks’ promotional misfire together beg the question: Is Caribou a simple imitator or is it poised to improve on elements of the Starbucks model?

Interestingly, Minneapolis–based Caribou’s stock is up today, at $8.16 a share, an 8.4 percent increase over its price on Sept. 1, when it made the Starbucks announcement.

Snakes charm the blogosphere, but not the box office

Posted by A.E. Smith on August 21, 2006

SnakeI'm not much of a film buff, and actually I find the whole movie-going experience creepy and manipulative (That's a rant for a different blog), so the percentage of my income spent at the box office is probably much smaller than the average for the young, urban, 20-something demographic that the studios assiduously court. I am, however, a sucker for bad movies. Which is why on Friday night, I happily dished up my $9.50 and attended a crowded opening-night showing of Snakes on a Plane, the Samuel L. Jackson camp/horror vehicle that has enjoyed a lot of foreplay on the Internet.
    The movie was everything I had hoped for, and nothing more. There were snakes, there was a plane, there was absurdist, wooden dialogue, there were plot holes bigger than [warning: plot spoiler, not that it matters] the one they shot through the plane to suck out the titular snakes (but that somehow did not suck out passengers). I laughed, I cheered, I jumped out of my seat. It was stupendously, magnificently bad.

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Promotional Products that Stay Ahead of the Curve

Posted by Maggie Rauch on August 03, 2006

The overwhelming majority of promotional products, while often useful, are not items likely to elicit oohs andDucttape_4 aahs from fashion-conscious friends. But an item I was recently sent surprisingly managed to have that effect. It’s very simple, a little edgy, and produced from some of the cheapest material around. It’s a wallet made entirely of duct tape, created for the “truth” anti-tobacco-campaign. I receive compliments regularly on this wallet, and last week one friend (a very well-dressed twentysomething) asked me where she could get one like it.

I had to tell her that she can’t— not unless she hunts down the orange “truth truck” at an event like the AND 1 MixTape Tour or the Vans Warped Tour. The wallet—as well as items like sweatbands, custom-designed T-shirts, caps and shorts—is only available as a giveaway to people who visit the truck at one of these events and participate in some kind of interactive game that teaches them about the effects of smoking. The giveaways, sourced by marketing firms Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Arnold Worldwide, are custom-designed for the campaign. Every item carries a message about tobacco as a product or a business (my wallet says: "In 2002, tobacco companies made over $1 billion in revenue from under-aged teens.").

All this is part of an interesting promotional effort—to get people, especially teens, not to use a product, as described in Incentive magazine two years ago. The truth brand, which recently began airing the offbeat "Whudafxup" commercials, balances coolness and admonition with surprising success. It's a hard row to hoe— we all know that "don't" messages are tough to sell, especially with teenagers newly establishing their independence. While I don't know what truth spends on its promo products, I do know that it commissions unique designs and gets its T-shirts from American Apparel, which is hardly a discounter. And as an organization that exists entirely to market its message, it's a good one to watch for smart promotional strategies.