Marketing's Revenge

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Now that we’re starting to see the first class of major brand CMOs who embraced the inanity of non-marketing marketing via social media bite the dust, their former employers are acknowledging the fundamentals of smart marketing…albeit with new twists and technologies.

Call it the Revenge of Marketing, or a Return to Reality. It’s good news for brands, whatever you call it, as long as you take note and apply the lessons learned to your business before your sales and profits crash, too.

Burger King delivered quarters of hilarious and memorable viral marketing stunts courtesy of its fav agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky — Eastern European peasants being dumbfounded by humburgers was a personal favorite, along with a flame-broiled cologne (and the incessant appearances of its creepy mascot in weird places, including peoples’ bedrooms) — and saw its sales tumble as it lost its ranking to competing brand Wendy’s…and got regularly blown out of the water by McDonald’s.

Then BK figured out that all the praise it got from the marketing industry didn’t have the purchasing power of real currency, so it lost its CMO and last year started to attend to the blocking-and-tackling qualities of menu and store quality (McDonald’s had been it doing all along). It announced its second consecutive quarter of sales growth earlier this month, which outpaced McDonald’s percentage gain. Its marketing? Celebs hamming it up a tagline “Exciting things are happening at Burger King,” which is about as new media-enabled as a stubbed toe. Funny thing is that consumers like better food and nicer restaurants in which to eat it.

Best Buy was another early adopter with its Twelpforce — a program which encourages its employees with no authority or credibility other than desire to tweet answers to folks with electronics questions — and it earned it high praise from new media watchers, including a headline in Fast Company that read “Twelpforce: Marketing That Isn’t Marketing.” The praise was spot on: Sales tanked, the CEO and CMO both left the company, and the brand had to announce aggressive firings and store closings to make a profit (it didn’t help that its national TV ads were embarrassingly uninspiring).

Now the brand is upping its investment in its cadre of real technical experts, otherwise known as The Geek Squad, and unleashing them throughout their stores to help customers figure out how their devices work and work together. This is a huge need — think Apple Genuis Bar, only focused on the zillions of non-Apple products and services that are about as inter-operable as matter and anti-matter — so it gives people a real, compelling and perhaps unique reason to give Best Buy their business. I haven’t seen ads for this strategy but my guess is that they won’t be overly cute or socially hip. Maybe celebs and a lame tagline will work for them, too.

Pepsi got headlines in 2010 for nixing its Super Bowl advertising and spending $20 million on a crowdsourced micro-giving social platform (phew, that’s a lot of new media buzzwords in one sentence). This year it was voted as one of America’s Most Connected Companies by U.S. News for its myriad social media efforts, and gurus reference it as a case history to emulate.

The only problem is that its non-marketing marketing inspires few people to drink soda pap. Sales have cratered, and the brand slipped from second to third place behind Coke and Diet Coke last year, even though it outspent its diet rival by almost 3 to 1 in 2010. In July of this year, it announced a 7% decline in earnings per share for the quarter. So it turns out that all that new media conversation about every possible topic other than buying Pepsi-Cola doesn’t translate into people buying Pepsi-Cola. Duh.

Now the company is going to spend $500 million+ extra this year on marketing and advertising, including returning to the Super Bowl. None of those campaigns have been particularly viral or socially useful, but they’ve effectively promoted new products the company has developed, such as Pepsi Next. Looks for lots more traditional media buys and selling messages…maybe even another round of celebrities a la the Starlet Wars of the last century?

There are other leading brands that are well on their way to embracing the thinking and tools that they’d willingly thrown away on their new media odysseys, but they haven’t arrived yet.

Procter & Gamble is still spending mucho bucks on social campaigns and touting the brilliance of using multiple platforms to tell consumers absolutely nothing useful, but the company has had to roll back prices to support sales (not a good sign of the value of the brand equity all that conversation is supposed to create), and it’s committing more money to old-fashioned ideas like product innovation and advertising intended to promote it. I wonder sometimes if it waxes poetic about all the new rules of marketing simply because that’s what the industry and stock analysts have told it to do (even though it knows it’s not what drives sales).

Ford  is another early adopter that hasn’t realized the damage it’s doing to its brand. The company’s CMO was voted man of the year (or something) for his leadership even though its socially-driven Fiesta launch lost out to Chevy’s Aveo (which did nothing new media-worthy) and the brand is losing ground to its less-inspired Japanese rivals. This is particularly troubling considering Ford is making great cars these days, but seems to have forgotten how to sell them.

Of course, there are lots of new media ROI arguments that various made-up qualities are up (likeability, engagement, etc.), and equations that prove beyond a doubt that the campaigns are incomprehensibly successful if you just take the 1 and put it under the 7, flip the ratios, multiply it by pi, and then drop the decimal point a few places. Another claim will be that all the crappy sales results would have been crappier had they not been touched by the grace of social media.

But what if the truth is simpler than that: Namely, people buy things when you give them reasons to do so. No happy non-marketing marketing engagement with content can replace it. The actions at some brands that relied on social theories speak louder than those buzzwords.

Just give it some more time. I say marketing’s revenge is underway. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we chatted about it?

Image via flickr

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