Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Apple’s latest ads are lame, but at least they communicate something

So about the ads for Apple that debuted during the Olympics…you hate them, right?

They’ve been responsible for (just about) as much social media chatter as the games themselves.

In case you haven’t seen them:

Feels a little off brand, doesn’t it?

Of course it does! Why after years of being convinced via Justin Long that Mac is the hip/cool PC alternative are we suddenly being subjected to his polar opposite?

A fidgety, whiny “Mac Genius” who can’t seem to get a single articulation out of his mush mouth – who is this kid supposed to convince that a Mac is the right way to go?

But at least the ads are trying to communicate something

Ease of use. If you can get beyond the initial culture shock, you’ll see that the new ads are designed to: 
  1. Promote/reaffirm software exclusivity: in the wake of non-Apple imitators, we’re reminded that there is only one iLife. 
  2. Showcase intuitive UI and ease of use: to quell the fears of PC loyalists who feel converting to Mac will leave them less tech savvy then they already are.  
I don’t know about you, but I had about all I could take of Apple’s go-to creative style prior to last week.

You know, the formula:
Hi-res, larger-than-life shot of iProduct + Caucasian finger manipulating product + ample white space
It feels like we’ve been staring at these images for years.

It’s become white (on white) noise.

But in Apple’s defense, dominating the market affords a little laziness in creative exposé  

While Apple owns the portable music, tablet, and, to a lesser extent, mobile markets – when it comes to desktop computing, they’ve still got work to do.

A market in decline, no doubt – but still a vital component to Apple’s rounded portfolio. While gadgets like the iPod, iPhone and iPad have acted as gateway drugs to fuel Apple IT addiction, it’s not enough. Year-on-year growth has only delivered Mac 21% of the PC market (Jan 2012).

That’s what the new commercials are (trying) to do, and we applaud Apple’s efforts.

We can’t help but wonder though if they might have been able to score the “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” guy. Talk about converting a “PC loyalist” - THAT would have made for some kick-ass spots!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

cityTarget concept ushers in new era of Big-box Retailing

CHICAGO - The doors on the historic Sullivan Center at the corner of State and Madison are back revolving.

Shuddered since Carson Pirie Scott’s exit in February 2007 – Target announced its tenancy early last year, spending much of the past 16 months rehabbing 124,000 square feet of floor space.
"Hello" right back at cha!
It’s the company’s first store in the Loop and first inside a national landmark – added to the city’s historic registrar in 1975, the 113 year-old Sullivan Center is a staple along the loop’s retail corridor.

With a grand opening date set for Sunday, I had an opportunity to sneak inside cityTarget - State Street’s NKOTB - yesterday afternoon.
::trying to conceal giddiness::
small is BIG (again)

Scaling back on the Big-box concept is all the rage right now.

Let’s face it; the balance between brick-and-mortar and online sales has reached maturity. In the physical realm, multi-channel retailers face slowed foot traffic and mounting overhead.

Urban (return) flight

Latest US Census data reveals urban living is up 12% since 2000 – faster than its suburban and rural counterparts with a combined growth rate of 9.7%. Not only are more people opting to live downtown but more attractive people.

We’re of course not referring to physical beauty – we’ll leave that observation up to you – rather, the notion of growth in key demographics – college-educated and well-paid, sophisticated next-gen families who are tired of spending weekend afternoons in the ‘burbs carting up essentials.

Here to stay

The Chicago store joins two other premier cityTarget concepts opening this week (LA and Seattle). With two more slated to join the fold in October, (San Fran and a second in LA), it’s more than a pet project for Target.

The retailer is hoping to join other industry pioneers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Home Depot already on the shrink-to-fit, urban-bound bandwagon.

Now for our take –
Target was my first employer, so I like to give ‘em a hard time.

1st vs. 2nd floor balance feels a bit off

Twenty years ago retailers liked to put the detergent in the back corner of the store.


It forced interested parties to traverse the entire floor; increasing the likelihood of impulse buys.

Well those tricks don’t fly today and they certainly don’t fly downtown.

The urban shopper is pressed for time (or at least he pretends to be). Shopping lists are for spur of the moment one-offs; their collection needs to be quick and easy.

She may be Target’s little sister but cityTarget is still a big girl (not ‘fat,’ as my mother would say, just ‘big’). Product organization needs to better promote efficient shopping.

It’s perfectly understandable to have greeting cards on the first floor – bath essentials and pharmaceuticals, too.  But candles and school supplies? Men’s and women’s activewear!?

Take a note from your neighbor just up the block – the first-in-class Walgreen’s flagship at Randolph and State. The bulk of cosmetics and home accents have been pushed upstairs, dedicating much of the first floor to grab-and-go food items, MTO counter space, and liquor.

cityTarget needs to implement two (more) distinct shopping tracks:
  • Floor 1 – quick and easy essentials organized and stocked for shoppers that are looking to get in and out on their lunch breaks. 
  • Floor 2 – intended for the casual, browsing shopper – all home décor and clothes, wider ranges of the essential product lines.
Are people going to buy bikes and free weights downtown?

By no means does this store feel cramped (and I walked the sales floor for the first time among herds of lethargic, starry-eyed gawkers). Still, with a wall of bikes and shelves of free weight barbells, you’ve got to wonder if some departments could stand to be scaled back further.

It’d be interesting to learn the breakdown of shoppers who drive vs. walk vs. arrive via public transit. I can’t imagine many patrons walk out with a bike, free weights or big screen TV’s.

No doubt still testing the product portfolio, it will be interesting to see how/if the product mix of the cityTarget concept changes much in the next few months/year.

cityTarget hits the next-gen retailing Bullseye.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t close with an accolade that overplays the obvious.

All in all, cityTarget is awesome. It’s the best of Target where you need it. The interior feels familiar but strives to pay homage to the architecture and unique needs of the people it surrounds. We’ll be regular patrons.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shut up, Dunkin’ Donuts. Didn’t you hear about last night’s shooting?

It’s Friday – hooray, another work week is (almost) behind us!

Dunkin’ Donuts, with its 6.7M+ member Facebook following, wishes to take part in the excitement universal to 9-to-5ers everywhere. They craft this cute (maybe corny) mobile upload:

What’s their intent?

To trigger a fleeting smile with the slim portion of followers that, as part of their morning routine with social media, happen to scroll passed the image.

Barely even a soft-sell, the picture is a hardly salient marketing tactic designed to simply reinforce brand appreciation among followers.

What do they get?

Should a global coffee chain be expected to lead the charge of mourning over an isolated incident?

Absolutely not.

Why do certain people idiots feel compelled to attack brands when they carry on with business as usual?

Perhaps it’s because as a marketing channel, social media affords brands unprecedented flexibility. Unlike traditional print/TV ads that are planned, shot and submitted days/weeks in advance, social media messages can be altered up to a moment’s notice.

And we get it – as you scroll through a newsfeed comprised primarily of friends and family’s expressions of shock/reposts of the news article – a smile devised from boxes of DD merchandise may feel a bit callous and out of place.

But don’t tell me you subscribed to a global franchise that earns its keep slinging donuts so you could hear their take current events.

The only groups that should “care” and subsequently adjust their social media campaigns are:
  • Colorado-based businesses (because it’s “home”) 
  • Anti-Violence / relevant cause-based organizations (because it reinforces their missions) 
  • The Dark Knight Rises franchise and its public-facing financiers (because the incident directly involved their brand)
People need to stop levying the expectation of raw human emotion onto a brand.

Target experienced similar upheaval (although it seems here others share my frustration and realistic approach to the matter).

A retailer’s mission within the confines of social media is to solely promote/communicate news around the brand. They cannot be expected to suspend promotional efforts every time something bad happens in this world.

To my opposition, I ask: do you intend to spend the entire day in a somber state of mourning? Will you not crack a smile the whole weekend through?

Why would you levy a similar expectation upon your favorite coffee chain?

Conversely, wouldn’t you rather have them there to lift your spirit and take your mind off things?

::blogger steps down from his soapbox::

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Target and Neiman Marcus to share a cart this Holiday

Black Friday Door-busters Beware!

Move over $5 toasters and $20 blu-ray players – Neimans owns a piece of Target’s sales floor this holiday.

The two merchants from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum announced their Q4 partnership earlier this month.
At first, the pair seems a bit ill-fit.

What can a purveyor of $3,000 handbags have in common with a retailer who earns much of its keep off staples like laundry detergent and food?

But this is Christmas; a time as good as any to put aside our differences and celebrate!
And maybe they aren’t so different?

“The same” in all the right places…

While Neiman-Marcus specializes in designer exclusivity and (ultra) high fashion and Target strives to deliver affordable style onto the masses – both appreciate design.

And with no pre-existing, over-lapping SKUs – the two retailers can both win by playing off the synergies inherent in their respective brand positioning.

For Neimans Exposure to next-gen affluence.

NM’s affluent consumer base might finally be back to splurging this holiday season, but they aren’t getting any younger. There’s no question that Target’s 20-, 30-something audience skews more fashion-forward and affluent when compared against key competitors in the same space.

The joint-collection will introduce the Neiman nameplate to consumers on the up-and-up – young, urban-bound professionals who are yet to establish loyalties in the high-fashion retail world.

For Target – reaffirmation of “most luxurious by comparison.”

Like last year’s collection by Missoni and this spring’s by Jason Wu, Target is always looking for new ways to boost its fashion-forward image.

As Wal-Mart continues to clamor its “low price guarantee,” Target holds its own, differentiating with store-exclusives that remind customers to “expect more.”

For both – a coal-free Christmas!

More on the line:
Expected to hit both retailers in early November, the holiday collection will boast more than 50 exclusive products designed by 24 key logos from within the Neiman-Marcus portfolio (including Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg, and Derek Lam).

The assortment will have dedicated space on both stores’ floors and, like Target’s Missoni line last fall, are expected to be in short supply.

We can’t wait to see it! (And despite the shake-up with creative agencies, we remain hopeful that Target’s Christmas Champ is back as head promoter)…

Friday, July 13, 2012

Special Character Subject Lines – Blip of Flip?

Screw Friday the 13th and superstition, we’re kicking off a new series today!

Technology and the internet have made it easier than ever before to test radically new marketing tactics.

Some have endurance and change the rules of the game. Others prove mostly hype – dying off as quickly they arrived.

Here, will assess the potential longevity of the latest tactics – will they flip the world of marketing upside down or wind up just another blip on the radar?

Today’s subject:
Special Character Email Subject Lines

Emoticons, wingdings, emojis – call ‘em what you like, they’re headed for your inbox!

As the smartphone market continues to grow, so does the proportion of people who send and receive email via mobile. While the icons still render on traditional web browsers, they are most impactful and visually-stimulating within a mobile UI.

So, what do you think?
Marketing FLIP or Tactical BLIP?

We say blip. 
Basically, it’s eye-candy only until everyone starts using it – then it’s white noise and your lead in the fight for attention over the competition’s message is back to zero.

So, if you’re considering an emoticon test, do it now.

Strike while the (emoticon) iron is hot.

This type of thing is eye-candy only until everyone starts using it – then it’s white noise and your lead in the fight for attention over the competition’s message is back to zero.

But first, vet for business fit.

There are only so many characters available. If one doesn’t logically fit with your brand or a campaign don’t force it.

Words (still) matter!

While these icons may (temporarily) attract more eyeballs, opens STILL require a compelling offer.

If you’re going to devote precious subject line real estate to little hearts or suns, you better tighten your point so it still gets across before running off the screen.

Finally, remember to isolate.

Don’t send your carefully selected wingdings out to everyone – you won’t be 100% sure of incremental lift without performing a split A/B test!

If you’ve included special characters in a recent campaign – we want to hear about it!
Share your insights and results!