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Marketing Idea No. 278: Technology. If you can’t beat it, embrace it August 22, 2014

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The technology industry has often been a source of envy for other industries. They are dynamic, exciting, full of exciting start up stories, has the power to change the world and in the process earn a lot of money for shareholders. To compete with that, other industries did what any smart organization would do. They understood that since you can’t beat them or be them; embrace them.

MasterCard has always been an “also ran” to VISA, with less global presence and $8.3 billion revenue, compared to VISA’s $11.8 billion. Credit card is a tricky business because at the end of the day a credit card company is nothing but a payment processing company; a middleman between consumers, merchants and issuing banks. When you are just a coordinating payment processor, not to mention the highly regulated nature of the category, how can you add value and differentiate yourself?

To do that, MasterCard decided to reinvent themselves as a technology company. Like Google, they created an in house innovation house called MasterCard Labs. Also they are betting big on its digital wallet business competing head on with Google there.

MasterCard is not alone in this game. Jeans companies are also embracing technology. Wrangler recently launched a denim that moisturizes your legs. Levi’s launched “Liquid Shaping Technology” denim which allows better fitting. Heineken created a limited “Cool Can Edition” where the ink of the can reacts with the chilled temperature of refrigerator to change the can design. In fact the world is embracing its first “Smart Gun” where the gun wont fire if you are not wearing a special watch which triggers the gun switch.

This is smart thinking. Rather than getting swept by technology, adopt it.

Marketing Idea No. 277: Cause and Effect, baby! February 5, 2014

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Instead of doing simple observation, case study or survey based research, scientists all over the world spend millions of dollars to do “Experiments”. And there is a reason behind that. Sometimes its just easy to establish that two phenomenon are inter-related. What is difficult to establish is out of the two; which is the cause and which is the effect. That’s what experiments can do.

There is a concept called “Swimmers Body Illusion”. Professional swimmers dont have perfect body because they train extensively. Rather they are good swimmers because of their physique. Lets take the case of swim demon Michael Phelps. A man’s arm span equals his height but in his case it’s 6’7″-three inches more than his height. Naturally his arms work as powerful propulsive paddles, giving him a clear edge over others. His lower body, interestingly, is shorter than that of an average man of his height. His relatively short legs result in less drag or resistance. In short, Phelps has an upper body of a 6’8″ person but his lower body seems to be of someone who is only 5’10”, which also make the perfect plane in water.

London business school is not the best school at producing  the best talents. Maybe, the most talented individuals choose to study there. What’s the cause and what’s the effect? Who knows for sure?

Without this illusion, half the advertising campaign in the world will not work. Through the attractive models used in cosmetics branding, many women tend to believe by using those cosmetics they would also be like those super models. But actually its because these models are like that which is why they are chosen to advertise those beauty products. What is the cause? And what is the effect?


Marketing Idea No. 276: How to use Magic Kingdom to manipulate Middle Kingdom January 12, 2014

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It’s a cliché that for long term sustainability of your business, you have to focus on young people. Some companies like Disney have developed whole new meaning for that cliché. They define young as toddlers and they define market creation for their Disneyland and merchandise business as creating English language Kindergarten school.


Learning English is seen as a ticket to better life in China these days and that market is growing at 12% per annum. Since opening its first branch in Shanghai in 2008, Disney has used mermaids, ducks, mice and other Disney icons to teach 2 year olds English at a tuition fee of $1800 which is no small sum at all. The footnote benefit of course is these toddlers will not only consume Disney benefits for years to come. As of now it’s a risky venture, since it opens Disney up to more counterfeit toys of their expensive merchandise. And costly too, since they already have more than 20 schools and plans to double that number in a year.


But there is no denying of the sheer audacity and ingenuity of this long term strategy.


Marketing Idea No. 275: Elementary, like Sherlock Homes January 2, 2014

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It seems the whole world is going crazy with the question: How did Sherlock homes fake his own suicide in the popular BBC series “Sherlock”? Now, it seems is an appropriate time to learn from the super sleuth a thing or two about branding.


One of the tricky parts of building a powerful brand is creating a verbal and visual identity that is unique and compelling at the same time. In that measure, the creation of Sherlock Homes the brand excels in all levels. The “bowler hat wearing shadow with smoking pipe” and the “221 B Baker Street” address are some of the most recognizable visual icons in entertainment industry. Moreover, through words and catch phrases like “Deduction” and “Elementary, My Dear Watson”; it also created a unique verbal identity that can easily build on the lure of Sherlock brand.


However like every brand that has to go through a period of refreshing after existing for a 100 years, Sherlock Homes also transformed for the digital generation. And what a transformation that was!


First, the new Sherlock Homes is more contemporary and lives in modern day London and has more real life, mundane problems to deal with. The pace of the show is break neck, not the leisurely detective stories that we come to expect, which is partly because of refining this show more as an action thriller rather than the traditional “Whodunnit” and also because the attention-deficit Millennials are the target audience for this, not the nostalgia seeking oldies. The new Sherlock is dark, flawed and moody, a sort of Dark Knight-ish anti-hero. Nowadays, he fights terrorism, not hounds in a dark, foggy water body. And with Watson, he is defining the 21st century bromance, which is not only about binge drinking or trading midlife crisis secrets.


But the biggest trick that the creators used to make this show a global phenomenon is building hype at the same time limiting supply; a classic marketing trick. Every season has 3-4 episodes and even the seasons come after every alternate years. Compare that with the typical American series which runs every year and  has 12-23 episodes every year. By limiting the supply, they keep the fans craving for more. And then of course ending last season (Two years ago) with the mother of all cliff hangers where Sherlock committed suicide in broad daylight only the audience finding out in last frame that he is still alive and then creating a two years gap; you can imagine the buzz in the internet and forums; which only got bigger and louder with passing time. As of now, the unveiling of Sherlock Season 3 in BBC One on January 2, 2014 has truly become a global mega event.


But none of this of course would happen if you didn’t have an outstanding actor like Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead. This again stays true to the age-world marketing wisdom: you may have the best marketing trick in the world, but it always come down to how good your product actually is.


Marketing Idea No. 274: The Big-Daddy of all technology megatrends December 29, 2013

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Although 2013 will probably be more remembered for making words like “Selfies” and “Sexting” in to mainstream as well as new found interest in “Twerking”, the megatrends that are shaping up the future has nothing to do with that. It has more to do with “Predictive computing or analytics”.


In short, predictive analytics is all about capturing consumer data through multiple touch-points and vehicles, analyzing them to get key consumer insight, predict what consumers want even when they themselves are not aware of them at times and presenting attractive value propositions in front of them in exactly the customized way that he or she wants in the right time and place.


There are companies who are already doing that, and none does it better than Target, the retail giant. Target stores each transaction and piece of consumer data under a “Guest ID” for each consumer and then their group of statisticians go through those data to try and predict what you might be interested to buy next, so that they can send you coupons for those customized offers.


One of the most successful experiments they have ever done is by going through consumer purchase history, to predict which of the consumers are pregnant. Pregnant women are a gold mine. The new parents are willing to spend a lot more that your regular “Joe” and hence the source of target for everyone from P&G to baby food giants. That’s why Target found this ingenious way of targeting women even before childbirth (Preferably even before second trimester) to create undivided attention and lifelong loyalty. The process does have its setbacks, as a lot of women don’t want the world to know that they are pregnant. However, the project was deemed very successful in Target.


To support this “Predictive Analytics/Computing” mega trend, there are four trends which will also be massive in coming years.


  1. Mobile: It maybe a cliché, but it’s a      billion dollar cliché. In future, everything will move to mobile. So the      business who will dominate mobile (Microsoft, please note), will dominate      the future
  2. Sensor: More and more items will have      sensors that will capture consumer data: from camera to watch to glass to      your innocuous looking TV in bedroom. Hence, smart gadgets (i.e. Smart TV,      Camera, furniture) and wearable electronics (i.e. Smart watch, Good Glass      etc.) are going to be a big thing in no time.
  3. Cloud computing: With such massive      capture of data, will come the question: how to store them. Enter cloud      computing.
  4. Big Data: The billions of terabytes of      data are worthless unless there are companies who can crunch them to make      actionable insights from them.

Marketing Idea No. 273: Look sideways October 30, 2013

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In a world where we are always asked to be focused, keep our heads down and “eye on the ball”, sometimes the best thing we can do is to look sideways. Best not to do while standing in a men’s latrine though.

Take social problems for example. There are thousands of NGOs in the worlds spending millions of dollars against a range of social problems like global warming, hunger, poverty, sanitation etc. But despite the presence of regulatory bodies, smart minds and a large war chest, the best we can show for these problems in incremental improvement. In short, the spread of the problem over the years out weigh the incremental solutions provided.

That’s why Micheal Porter suggested that maybe the best way to have sustainable solution of social problems is not by social organizations, but by business organizations who have a profit motive. Its counter intuitive and quite controversial. But it also makes sense. As economic human animal, what makes a large problem (Which we think as other people’s problem that doesn’t bother us) seems do-able and relevant is finding a strategy which helps us to gain something out of it. Hence it should be less “charity” and “social marketing”. Its also not your typical “Corporate Social Responsibility” which organizations do out of obligation, not out of business objective.

Same principle applies in business ventures like health food. A lot of money and focus has gone into making health food appear “Healthy”, where the prevailing assumption is we all like to be healthy. The problem with making health conscious decisions is that it looks more “fun” thinking about it than actually doing it. That’s why, health food is still very much a micro-niche segment. This is where health foods can learn from its nemesis, Fast Food. Fast foods live by the code of bringing comfort and pleasure in everyday life. So by looking at how fast food companies do that and applying them in their health food marketing, health foods can finally break into mainstream. A few healthier options who have gone mainstream like “Vitamin Water” and “Innocent”  have both done so by making healthier options looking “Cool”.

And they are both owned by Coca Cola, so I guess there is no shortage of “sinful marketing experience” there!!!



Marketing Idea No. 272: Size that matters October 23, 2013

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The average western world woman is about 25 pounds heavier than she was in 1960. Yet women’s plus-size clothing, generally defined as size 14 and up, still makes up only about 9 percent of the $190 billion spent annually on clothes.

What’s wrong with this equation? It’s not that plus-size women aren’t into fashion. Rather, thefashion industry doesn’t seem interested in them.

The fashion industry has long spent more time, money and marketing on clothing for taut bodies than for curvier ones because it’s easier and more profitable to do so. But retail analysts and plus-size women say there’s something else at play: Stereotypes about larger women not wanting to dress fashionably keep companies from making clothes that are flattering to them. And in turn, that discourages them from spending more.

There is still an interesting stigma attached to plus-size fashion and the woman who wears it  and many think  ‘Oh, she doesn’t want to draw attention, live life, date, be confident, wear fitted clothes with bold colors and patterns,’ when the exact opposite is true.

In the 1930s, retailers began adopting even-numbered sizes commonly ranging from 14 to 24. But those sizes bore little resemblance to those used today — a size 24 back then, for instance, would be a size 14 today — so the issues of not having enough plus-size fashions likely was not as pronounced.

The sizes stayed the same but the numbers decreased gradually, about 1 size a decade. This is known as “vanity sizing” because it gives women the impression that they’re fitting into a smaller size.

Some retailers have started to do just that.H&M, a European-based retailer that sells trendy clothing in the U.S. equivalent of sizes 1 through 16, last summer featured plus-size model Jennie Runk, who is a size 12 or 14, in itsswimsuit ads. “Our aim is not to convey a certain message or show an ideal, but to have a campaign which can illustrate the collection in an inspiring and clear way,” said Andrea Roos, an H&M spokeswoman.

But for every chain adding to their plus-size offerings, there are many others that continue to cater to smaller sizes. Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance, has been criticized for only offering sizes 0 to 10 and its CEO’s comments that the chain caters to “cool” and “attractive” kids.

The company says it is an “aspirational brand” which targets a “particular segment of customers.” The comments received widespread backlash online and Abercrombie has since begun anti-bullying initiatives. But it has not started offering bigger sizes.


Marketing Idea No. 271: Will the real “Nosy Parker” please stand up? September 30, 2013

Posted by shahriar amin in Uncategorized.

The hottest development in marketing over the last few years has been neuro-marketing as well as sensory branding, where a brand appeals to all five senses instead of just one (eye) which all brands used to aim. Soon, marketing will be using terminologies like share of senses (instead of the now dated share of voice and share of mind).  

Is there any real life practical proofs that already exist?

Ever wondered why restaurants always play more soothing and melodious tunes whereas fast food chains place more upbeat music? That’s because research shows that if music can slow down our heart beat, we can actually eat more.

Lets talk about one of those four previously unexplored senses: the nose. How important is that small little organ?

  1. 75% of our emotions are generated from what we smell
  2. 80% of what we taste is because of what we smell
  3. Research shows that by increasing the pleasant aroma around it, the consumers spending in a Las Vegas slot machine increased by 44%

All of a sudden the snooty wine tasters and food critics who complain about a “hint” of woody smell or slight “burst” of citrus flavor; starting  to make sense (pun intended). Not only that, the perfume brands of this world really go beyond traditional storytelling and try to create fragrances and a smell profile that will transport the consumer to a particular state of mind connected to a hidden corner of a brain neuron or a memory.

Here’s whats so important about nose. Nose is the only sensory organ which can directly evoke feelings among us without those emotions being filtered by brain. No other organ or sense has that direct unfiltered link. Therefore if you want to evoke a certain emotion or imagery from exposure to your brand, where you want the rational like price, color and shape to play a reduced role, triggering a smell is probably the quickest route to that!

No wonder Singapore Airlines use a distinctive perfume inside its aircraft which they wanted to patent. No wonder when you think of Rolls Royce; you think of that wonderful classic car smell of mahogany+leather+ motor oil (Which Rolls Royce sprays through a diffuser underneath the car in the factory). No wonder Starbucks at one point stopped serving eggs in the breakfast because it interfered with the strong aroma of coffee.

And the latest to join the smell wagon is Pepsi. According to a new patent filed by the soft drink manufacturer, PepsiCo Inc. is looking to develop a “scent capsule” under the cap of its plastic bottles so that each time the bottle is unsealed, a refreshing smell wafts over as you consume the sugary goodness.

Marketing Idea No. 270: How to use super heroes and music videos to change the way Islam is perceived September 19, 2013

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Much of what we perceive of the world is enforced upon us by this excessive force called mass media. Thats why Ethiopia for us is eternally poor (not a beautiful country which is right now in thr middle of a telecom boom and improving GDP) and America is a land of freedom and opportunity (not a country of failing family values system and ever increasing unemployement). Perceptions can be misleading. And sometimes it takes something as radical as Arabic super heroes to change the current perception people hold about the Arab world and Islam in general.

Now, even if you try your damn hardest to dream up the least probable superhero ever to walk the world, it’s unlikely that you’d manage to come up with a character as mind bending as Batina the Hidden. Batina is a superhero of a kind the world hasn’t seen, until now. It’s not just that she’s a Muslim woman, from a country best known for harbouring al-Qaida operatives – Yemen – but that she wears an altogether new kind of super-person costume: a burqa.

She, along with her fellow crime-fighters, a vast team of characters from around the world, including Jabbar the Powerful from Saudi Arabia and Hadya the Guide from London, collectively known as “The 99″, are the world’s first islam inspired superheroes. And in what is perhaps the ultimate comic-book accolade, they will join forces with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics, the US publishing giant, will publish the first of six special crossover issues in which The 99 will be fighting crime alongside the Justice League of America, the fictional superhero team that includes Superman and Batman.

What’s even more remarkable is that The 99 only came into being in 2007 with some remarkable firsts: the first comic book superheroes to have Muslim names and be directed at an international audience and the first to come out of the Middle East. Crossovers don’t happen often and even less often with characters that are just three years old. Even The 99’s creator and mastermind, a Kuwaiti-born, American-educated psychologist and entrepreneur called Naif al-Mutawa, seems to be having some trouble believing the Superman link-up.

It’s his conviction that has seen him so far raise in excess of $30m in three rounds of funding from private investors, fight off a ban in Saudi Arabia (he’s subsequently been re-banned but he’s fighting it again), and persuaded Endemol, the company behind Big Brother, to produce a multimillion-dollar, 26 part animated mini series which will be shown on Hub, the US network previously known as Discovery Kids that goes into 60 million American homes

The 99 is not the only piece of progressive news coming out of the Arab world. There is a new channel called 4Shbab which is taking the Arab world by storm. Dubbed as the MTV for Arab world, 4Shbab is aiming at changing the way people perceive of Islam and reaching out to young people with a very effective vehicle: music videos. Headquartered in Egypt and running out of Bahrain this channel is airing different Arab pop music videos with religious themes but very progressive cinematography and is fast becoming a source of liberal congregation in Arab world.

Marketing Idea No. 269: Why porn sites are good media and homeless people are not September 12, 2013

Posted by shahriar amin in Uncategorized.
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The trick of being innovative in your media choice is where you want to draw the line and how accepting are you of controvercy. And recently we found out that its ok to use porn sites for advertisement purpose, but not homeless people as human billboard.

California based food delivery service Eat24.com wanted better ROI and better targeted placement of their ads in terms of right people and right time. 

The answer, of course, was porn.

An industry leader like Pornhub brings in 14.9 million unique visitors monthly, according to the tracking site Quantcast. That’s more than the websites for Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal combined. “A whopping 30% of ALL web traffic is dedicated to adult sites,” the company claims.

The catch is that a brand that advertises on Bloomberg is probably unlikely to put their name beside X-rated content. In fact, Eat24 found that the only companies that advertised on porn sites were other porn sites and “natural male enhancement” sellers.

As a result, Eat24 said the advertising rates were dirt cheap. The company capitalized by pairing sexually suggestive banner ads (“BLT with your BDSM?”) alongside video landing pages. The viewers that saw the ads were, naturally, not dressed appropriately to go out in public, and likely to have worked up an appetite. In short, they were the perfect customers to order delivery from the comfort of their own homes. 

The campaign wound up being a whopping success. Eat24 said its adult site banner ads were able to get three times as many impressions as the ads they posted on Facebook, Google, and Twitter combined. And they did it at just 10% of the cost. What’s more, the company said 90% of the visitors the banners generated were coming to Eat24 for the first time.

From such insane experimentation, you would gather doing something simpler like using human as billboard would be ok. It didnt turn out to be quite so.

An “experiment” which involved using homeless people as mobile wi-fi hotspots has attracted criticism, forcing the advertising agency behind it to defend itself.

A division of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) equipped 13 homeless people with 4G wifi devices in Austin, Texas.

It suggested the public pay $2 (£1.30) for 15 minutes’ access to the net.

Comments posted to the BBH’s site accused the project of being “unseemly” and “wrong”.

Members of Twitter asked “what has this world come to?” and accused the project of being a “gimmick”.

However, others praised the idea as being “inspirational” and a chance to create a “positive interaction between the public” and homeless people.

It was noted that “there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villainises us, in many ways is good for the homeless people we’re trying to help”.

So next time you choose between porn sites and homeless guys, the rule of thumb is……

There is none.


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