Are Consumers Dumb? Yes, and Advertisers Love It!

Dopey, copyright Walt Disney Productions

Dopey, copyright Walt Disney Productions

Companies and their marketers rely on consumers to be dumb—or at least momentarily dumb. You hear a lot about how smart consumers are, but really, that’s a bunch of bull. We still fall for the same tricks and are attracted to shiny objects. Otherwise, JCPenney’s Fair and Square campaign might have worked. (I’ll get back to that in a bit.)

First, before you think this is some sort of attack, I’ll use myself as an example. I consider myself a smart shopper. I read labels, read reviews, compare specs, etc., but I am still a sucker for endcaps and bright designs.

In case you don’t know, a store’s endcap is the product shelving at the end of a row that faces the main aisle. It’s valuable space where they put all the bright, shiny objects they want to sell most. And it works. I just bought a pack of “Dark Side” Skittles because they caught my attention and I was curious enough to throw them in my cart—even though the only “candy” in my cupboard is usually chocolate.

Watch for Red Flags

Right now, one industry trying to take advantage of these sorts of random bouts of stupidity is the auto insurance industry. I got this in the mail from Allstate:

Allstate DriveWise postcard

Allstate wants your reaction to be: “Ooh, look honey, we’re safe drivers, we can finally save more money just by putting this little doohickey in our car.”

But look closer. This is what it does (Progressive has the same thing.)

  1. Call to get your device. You’ll get a 10% discount just for signing up (red flag!).
  2. Plug it in under your car’s dashboard.
  3. Drive safely.
  4. The device collects your car’s driving data (red flag!). You can then track your data and savings online. (Distraction: Wow! We can see how much we’re saving.)

Notice the wording too. The device “collects”—a harmless-seeming verb—while you “track.” They were very careful to put the focus on what you can do, and even smarter to make it seem like they’re helping you. But yes, of course, their device is tracking you. That’s how they’ll determine pricing, by your monitored behavior.

People complain about “big brother” and the government intruding on privacy, but many companies are making much more inroads on mining private data than the government. Allstate’s DRIVEWISE device and Progressive’s Snapshot device are essentially monitoring tools.

All companies need to do is get you hooked—who doesn’t want to save 60 percent, right? (But you’re not going to save that much.) Then later, they can add more and more restrictions until you’re stuck—until we’re all stuck really, as the other types of plans fade away and become more pricey. This is how industries change (like health insurance did), all under the guise of giving consumers more control.

Don’t fall for it. Yes, we will probably always be drawn to fun or fancy designs and bright colors. But take a few moments to read the fine print.

Back to JCPenney

They began with two great ideas:

  1. Let’s do something different from our competitors.
  2. Let’s be straightforward with our pricing and save customers time and money.

Fabulous! Except, we consumers like to be tricked. We need visual reminders we’re getting a good deal. That’s why we clip coupons and shop sales (even on holidays and when we have to line up at 2 a.m.). As much as we hate haggling over the price of a car, we love it too, because ultimately when we walk away, we feel like we won.

Now we have “loyalty” cards that track all our shopping habits and now have these devices for our car that will send all data about how we drive to our car insurance company. All because we don’t want fair pricing—we want gimmicks, prices that end in “99” and sales to make us feel like we win.

Stop being the sucker advertisers want you to be. We have smart phones, smart appliances and smart TVs—isn’t it time we have smart shoppers too?

Restoring the Brand of a Fallen Superstar

You probably thought this was going to be yet another article about Lance Armstrong. No. Amidst all the hubbub over Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey and the questions of will he or won’t he be able to come back, another fallen superstar has quietly (and arguably) completed his brand restoration.

Tiger Woods is back—the old, likeable, marketable Tiger.

Nike Golf smartly paired their newly signed superstar Rory McElroy with Tiger Woods in this fun “No Cup is Safe” ad. And Tiger looks as relaxed and friendly as ever.

Nike is the “too big to fail” behemoth of the marketing world. They remain pretty much untouched by scandal by knowing when to drop an athlete and when to hold on. They dropped Lance once he admitted to doping.

With Tiger, Nike didn’t waver. They were one of the few sponsors not to drop the big-name golfer after the embarrassing sex scandal that ended his marriage and left his career as one giant question mark.

Tiger, at the time, was Nike Golf. So, you can say (and I did in my 2010 blog post) that Nike didn’t really have a choice. They had to stick with their moneymaker.

They released a creepy commercial that featured Tiger’s father speaking while we were left looking at the golfer’s grim face. It reeked of “feel sorry for me” and had people all over the Internet talking. A risky move, but one that ultimately paid off.

This latest commercial is Nike’s smartest move yet on Tiger’s brand comeback journey. Pairing Woods with one of the most likeable players out there—Rory McElroy—was a flat-out genius move.

Watch the ad, and notice the old Tiger moves—the flashy smile, the bouncing of the golf ball on the club and then launching it, the trick shots and sly “you can’t touch me” look—are back.

Even if the two top golfers weren’t actually together when filming this ad, this pairing is one we will all look forward to seeing again and again—on the course and in commercials.

What Marketing Tactic is Most Important to Prioritize in 2013?

At the start of a new year, many businesses assess their marketing efforts and decide what they will do differently this year. Small businesses especially don’t always have the marketing resources they need, so I’ve asked some local marketing experts to give you advice, by answering this one question:

Considering your limited resources, what marketing tactic is most important to prioritize (or learn more about) in 2013?

Answer #1 by Skip Shuda

Photo of Skip Shuda, Philly Marketing Labs

Skip Shuda is co-founder and marketing strategist at Philly Marketing Labs. He practices Aikido (the art of harmony) on the mat, in his business and in his life. Follow him on Twitter at @skipshoe.

Know your target buyer and walk in their shoes.   By creating a detailed marketing persona (a description of your typical buyer), you can better position all of your marketing to serve them and meet them where they are.

Answer the questions:

  • What does my typical buyer look like?  Knowing typical demographics of your buyer can help you identify potential clients faster.
  • Where does my audience hang out?  Whether digital or real world, you can meet buyers in their preferred venues.
  • What is the mindset of my typical buyer when they are ready to buy?  Position your offer to maximize value to them given how they think.
  • What are the values of my audience?  Your prospective buyers will look for community service, activities and values that resonate with theirs. Make sure your brand and website reflect those values.

Answer #2 by Natalia Morais

Natalia Morais photo

Natalia Morais, social media manager at Moving Targets, and presenter and organizer of the Bucks-Mont Online Marketing Meetup. Originally from Brazil, Natalia is a lover of arts and crafts, visual communication and advocate of great customer service. Follow her on Twitter at @NatMoraisBR.

I have to say social media and email marketing. These two channels not only allow business owners to reach a very targeted audience – customers who already like their services/products and will be more likely to buy – but also give businesses the chance to build a personal relationship with them. With so many options to choose from nowadays, having a great relationship with customers has become a very important part of running a business and the best way to stand out from the competition.

Answer # 3 by Liam Dempsey

Liam Dempsey, LBDesign

Liam Dempsey, director + designer, LBDesign. Liam is a strategist, graphic designer and copywriter. He also likes quirkiness, as evidenced by Follow him on Twitter at @liamdempsey.

Consistency and patience are two key factors often overlooked in marketing campaigns of limited resources. For 2013, small businesses should focus on consistently implementing their marketing strategies for the entire duration of the campaign. Don’t get distracted, overwhelmed or disappointed by initial results! A developed sense of patience will ensure that small businesses give their marketing efforts time to root, germinate and grow. Business development takes time; patience enables small businesses to give that development an opportunity of success.

Answer #4 by Carla Wilson

Carla Wilson, Wilson Media ServicesCarla Wilson, owner of Wilson Media Services, is a self-proclaimed digital media junkie.  She helps her clients strategize ways to repurpose their existing content into audio and video for their Internet marketing efforts. Follow her on Twitter at @WilsonVA.

Even with limited marketing dollars, consistently creating short video (like a “tip of the day” or “2 minutes with a coach”) is a great way to extend your reach and expand your marketing efforts.  Typically, folks already have the equipment they might need to create video – a smartphone or web camera on a computer – to produce content that educates, engages and builds rapport.  Video can be added to a YouTube channel, website, and pushed out on social channels. And, here’s a tip: the shorter the video, that easier it is to produce.  The easier it is to produce, the more likely you are to continue the effort.  Also, short videos are more likely to be shared.

My Two Cents

I think we’ve gotten some terrific answers here. If you’d like to add more, feel free to comment below. And, also, know that these four marketers are all great at what they do. So, use the links above if you want to contact them.

Red Robin Proves a Culture of Kindness Starts with Empowerment

Random acts of kindness are nothing new, especially not for Red Robin employees.

“Our team members, day in and day out, will bestow these random acts,” said Kevin Caulfield, a Red Robin spokesperson (as quoted in this ABC News article). “They’re empowered to do special things for our guests to make the experience a great one for our guests.”

The key word there is “empowered.” Empowering your employees to act on behalf of your brand to help consumers is key to building a great company culture and a well-loved brand.

What did Red Robin do this time that put them in the news?

The manager of their Apex, North Carolina restaurant, after a friendly chat with a very pregnant customer, took the charges for that customer off the family’s bill.

Receipt showing charge deleted and good luck wish

The husband told the story to ABC News with the goal that it would “make businesses see the value of being more personable.”

Businesses, customers are telling you what to do. Pay attention!

Stories like these are nothing new for Red Robin. In fact, they even have a special section on their website called “Unbridaled Acts” dedicated to these acts of kindness.

Unbridaled Acts web page

Caulfield said, “I can’t say enough that it’s just part of our culture.” And, really, it’s not that hard to do.

However, as much as it’s about empowering your employees, a customer-focused culture all starts with leadership that genuinely lives this culture everyday.

In the era of layoffs as regular practice for multi-million and -billion dollar companies, it’s hard to find CEOs who understand caring about people actually translates into creating profit.

And that’s exactly why I’m sharing this story. It’s time we change OUR culture and give more attention—and more business—to those companies that put people first.

So, please, share away!

The Marketing of Violence in America

No, this is not an article on gun control. It’s a look at how we spend way too much time and money marketing violence to our children and not nearly enough time or effort marketing consequences.

Are we creating these monsters that shoot up malls, movie theaters and, yes, even schools?

Yes, I’m sad to say. We are all responsible and a big part of it comes down to marketing. We sell violence—all sorts of violence—to kids everyday.

Drop your politics for a second and think about it. I’ll even start you off with some easy examples—NASCAR, NHL, and NFL. What images come to mind when I mention these sports?

Crashes. Fights, Hard, bone-rattling hits.

Bloody fighting between Bruins and Sabres hockey players

Contrast this with the NBA, and what’s the first image that comes to mind? Probably an awesome dunk or a sweet three-pointer with time running out. You don’t see basketball highlighting footage of hard fouls.

What are we doing to boys in our culture?

Bushmaster at with automatic rifle "Consider this your man card"

We make violence sexy. We equate gun size to manhood. Fathers across the country spend hours playing Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo and other violent video games with their sons or with their sons nearby.

Borderlands video game scene, cartoon-like

This kind of constant exposure to violence desensitizes many kids to violence and obliterates the moral compass in some as well. Yes, some kids can play these games and turn out fine. Others clearly cannot. Do you know which category your child falls into? You won’t know for sure until he’s older. Are you willing to take that risk?

The average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18.

I would venture to say that number from Nemours KidsHealth keeps rising. Note these points Nemours makes and see why you should be concerned:

Kids may become desensitized to violence and more aggressive. TV violence sometimes begs for imitation because violence is often promoted as a fun and effective way to get what you want. Many violent acts are perpetrated by the “good guys,” whom kids have been taught to admire. Even though kids are taught by their parents that it’s not right to hit, television says it’s OK to bite, hit, or kick if you’re the good guy. This can lead to confusion when kids try to understand the difference between right and wrong. And the “bad guys” on TV aren’t always held responsible or punished for their actions.

Movie trailers are filled with explosions, gunfire and physical violence. Crime shows on television seem to compete to air the most heinous acts and goriest scenes. And these shows are on at all hours of the day. The news channels and programs love violence so much they lead with it and give you as many details as they can. Killers’ photos are plastered on the covers of national magazines and front pages of newspapers and websites.

Parents don’t have as much help as they used to shielding their kids from it. Violence is everywhere. But nowhere is the marketing of consequences.

War: Video Games and Reality

Let’s talk war for a second, as an example.  War-related video games are unbelievably popular. Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield and more repeatedly dominate the best seller list. Everyone loves shooting things up, right?

What would happen if we marketed the consequences?

Imagine if we saw more footage of the real-life injuries the weapons shown in these games produce? See the soldiers bleeding in the battlefields, their brothers frantically trying to get them to safely and tend to the wounds at the same time. We don’t even see the flag-draped caskets being flown into Dover. That’s how averse we are to showing consequences.

Games like Call of Duty and other war-related games advertise on TV with loads of gunfire and explosives. Check out the (relatively tame) Call of Duty Black Ops 2 trailer below. It’s one long string of weapons, gunfire and explosions, with real people inserted and being blown up. They take a casual, humorous approach and then end with “There’s a soldier in all of us.”

Really? That’s not a true depiction of soldiers at all. Let’s look at real soldiers. How does the real military advertise?

The majority of military advertising, across all services, emphasizes honor, strength and service. These guys are charged with the most violent duties around, yet they know that not focusing on that violence is much more powerful. Why don’t the rest of us understand that?

Marketing Consequences

Consequences should be marketed along with and in place of the proliferation of violent images and news. At least in one case, we’re starting to see that.

The NFL and sportscasters who entertain us with replays of the hardest tackles have been talking more and more about concussions. It’s still not enough.

The NFL and NHL should advertise much more with highlights of excellent plays. We do love those just as much, but we’ve been trained to respond to the violence. We’ll enjoy what they give us, as long as what they give us is entertaining enough.

As human beings, we’re highly impressionable. Everything we see and hear, everything we take in—whether we realize it or not—affects who we are and how we act as human beings.

The gun lobby, starting with the NRA, should lead the way setting a better example and calling for common sense changes that bolster their reputation and make us all safer. Your kids are listening to you and the way you talk about guns. Most people who own guns are law-abiding citizens and will never use their gun on another person. Market that!

Video game manufacturers should boost marketing of their kid-friendly games—look at the success and excitement around Just Dance and before that Guitar Hero. And they should take a hard look at how they market the “war” games and get creative—and more responsible.

News programs and channels should focus less on sensationalism and market real news more, stop glorifying killers and focus on the victims. Look at People Magazine’s __ December 31st issue. They did a fantastic and moving tribute to the ones who died at Sandy Hook. Something we’re not used to seeing. They spent many more words and pages on the victims than the killer.

Sports channels and leagues should promote the talent, the moves and scores that make use jump up and cheer. Major League Baseball should follow the NBA’s example and eject or suspend any player who comes off the bench to join a fight.

Our Responsibilities

Parents need to pay more attention to what their kids are seeing every day on TV and online and provide that balance. And the television industry and computer world need to give parents more tools to set protective limits.

Maybe I should’ve mentioned this before, but I love football and enjoy the hard hits—the clean ones, anyway. I find the crashes in NASCAR strangely spectacular and you will often catch me watching ultimate fighting—a brutal, bloody sport.

I’m not saying outlaw these things. What I am saying is we all need to be much more responsible in how we sell them. Violence is too easy and has become too abundant. Stop appealing to the base levels of society and let’s appeal more to civility and humanity. Take time and be more creative in figuring out how to appeal to different audiences in better ways.

And remember, kids everywhere are watching. As adults, by default, we lead by example. Let’s set a good one that we’d be proud of having the next generation follow.

Forget Resolutions, Choose Three Words for the New Year

Now that we’re in a new year, let’s forget about resolutions, which often end up being disappointments, and focus instead on goals–in three words. What are three things you want to be, do or attain this year?

A Little Background

Two years ago, I decided to start the year with three words that summed up goals I wanted to reach. My words were: healthy, secure and fulfilled.

I had no idea that Chris Brogan has been doing the same thing for even longer and has built a “Brave New Year” motivational program around the concept. (Not a surprise that Chris took this such a big step further. That’s what he does.) So, in the same spirit, I decided to share my three words.

Anyway, this year I wanted to go bolder, brighter even. And I encourage you to do the same.


My first word was inspired by this photo I saw the other day:

The earth without "art" is just "eh"

All my life, I’ve been a writer and an artist (of sorts). As a kid, I was always writing stories and poems and drawing pictures. The art eventually fell away while I was in college. I didn’t have the time to squeeze in studio classes. I write for a living, but there’s so much more I still want to do–and I haven’t been pursuing it.

What have you always wanted to do but aren’t taking any action toward? That could be your first word.


Fun at Longwood

One favorite trait of mine is that I remain a sort of child at heart. But I haven’t set aside enough time to play. I don’t take enough vacation, explore enough of the world or spend enough time with friends.

Instead of putting pressure on myself and framing this as a resolution, I’m opening up my options by simply saying I want to “enjoy.” Enjoy my work, enjoy my time, enjoy my hobbies, enjoy my friends, enjoy my family–the list goes on and on. And, as long as I’ve spent more time enjoying myself by the end of the year, I have succeeded.

What resolution of yours can you turn around and open up like this?


Boy and dog looking out window, with boy's hand on dog

This word is all about continuing to improve relationships and approaching every day and every person with love in my heart. I worked for a CEO once who used to say, “Always assume positive intent.” Sometimes in the stress of a hectic workweek, tempers can get short and relationships with coworkers and customers can be strained. It’s easy–too easy–to go negative and assume the worst.

Note, in the photo above, the simple gesture of caring. It’s often the smaller, simplest things that mean the most.

Making sure that I’m always acting from a good place takes the power away from any external negativity and gives me a better chance to improve outcomes. Those outcomes can include a better work product, stronger working relationships, more long-lasting relationships with customers. And, of course, it applies to my personal life as well.

You might not choose “love” as your word, but I’m guessing you could probably use more positivity in your world too. What word would that be for you?

Three words…that you could do anything with. Three words that could help you in your personal and professional life. Three words that open up far more options that any limited resolutions could do.

So, in 2013, what do you think? Are you going to cling to the same old resolutions or go for the power of three and choose three words?