Tag Archives: promotion

A Legend in Its Own Mind

Apple (née Apple Computer) has been doing some high priced promotion to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its Macintosh computer. Double page ads with pictures of original and contemporary Macs recently ran on successive days in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and many other vehicles. The commemoration took over Apple’s home page. Apple acolytes can watch an infomercial featuring almost famous-like types, whose lives were made richer, fuller, deeper, and more transcendent when they got a Mac.

The promotion has all the trappings of a major new product launch, but without the new product. Reruns of greatest hits do not equal great marketing. Taking a trip in the Way Back Machine to 1984, was the original trans-luggable Mac such a success that it should be celebrated today?

In 1984, Ronald Regan was in the White House, but computers were not in the houses or offices of most people. Personal computers, even “portables,” were heavy and expensive. They made up for this by doing relatively little. Out of the box they did nothing but show a blinking cursor on dark screen of a CRT monitor. If you wanted apps with that, an extra $500 or so would get you a spreadsheet or a word-processing program. For some hundreds more, you could get a dot-matrix printer to make an ugly printout of an ugly screen. In other words, the bar for a superior product was none too high.

Even compared with this modest baseline, the early Macs were works in progress. Their implementation of graphical computing ideas borrowed from Xerox PARC was slow. Drag the mouse, and wait for the system to catch up. The original Mac was underpowered, overpriced, and not positioned toward a market, which valued its potential enough to pay a premium for it.

Apple had the graphical computing field essentially to itself at least until mid-1990 and the release of Microsoft Windows 3. With the Microsoft two button mouse, Windows became the first viable mass-market graphical computer system. By then the Mac was a more robust product, but could not sell enough in either the home or business markets to avoid losses. The company suffered near death experience in the mid-1990s, when it fired Steve Jobs.

Apple rallied and survived, yet its later dominance was based on its consumer electronics – music players, tablets, and phones – not computers. This is not to say that Apple isn’t doing well in computers. Gartner estimates that Apple achieved a share of 13.7% of US PC shipments, though in a shrinking market.

In its most recent quarter, Apple derived more than five times the revenue from phones as from computers. This shift has been happening for some time such that in 2007, the company formally changed its name from “Apple Computer” to just “Apple.”

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The contemporary Mac is a good, if rather expensive, computer. I’m writing this post on one. Moreover, Apple’s OS X software is arguably superior in a number of ways, such as less prone to crashes and viruses. Yet this is old news. Over the last, say, half dozen or more years Macs have not improved significantly, though they have gone through a number of cosmetic changes – all in silver, a bit lighter and thinner, and slightly sharper graphics.

Rather than celebrating a thirty year old footnote, Apple might better use its resources to reinforce what they have done for us lately – even if that means actually doing something for us lately.

Bull Reaches New Heights

On October 14th, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner set several records including:

  • the highest balloon ascent
  • the longest skydive
  • the first man to break the sound barrier in free fall

Baumgartner didn’t float silently into the Guinness World Records on his logoed parachute. The feat garnered front page mention in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and leading world newspapers. It was featured on major broadcasts, while some 8 million viewed the jump streaming live in some 50 countries. In PR speak, it got a lot of ink.

Don’t try this from home:

Felix Baumartner about to jump

The big jump was more than the work of a stuntman and a few of his buddies going for bragging rights. It was the joint effort of a sizable technical and scientific team, which has been working on the project since 2007.  Who funded this effort? Fellow Austrian company, Red Bull, the maker of the caffeinated and sugared “energy drink,” seen in skinny 8.4 oz. cans.

Privately held Red Bull, won’t disclose the cost of this project, but from the roster of equipment and experts, it would have had to been eight figures. Whatever the budget, it could have bought Red Bull could have bought a lot of traditional advertising and sales promotion.

Red Bull sponsors sports and games such as skate boarding, BMX biking, and surfing. Events it believes will appeal to its aspirational target – young, , cool, active, male. In this case, it both connected with core customers and transcended conventional marketing to creating a phenomenon. The positioning and messaging were as on target as Baumbartner’s flawless landing. No amount of advertising alone could have done so.

We may never have the resources to stage such an event. Instead of being yet another sponsor at yet another show, we can still strive for promotions, which are relevant and remarkable.


Yodeling in Purple

An advantage of direct mail, still unmatched online, is the ability to grab a customers attention with real stuff, as opposed to information, pictures, sounds, etc. Unlike the virtual world, direct mailers deal with atoms rather than bits. This can work, despite the increased cost, if you choose the right stuff and, of course, test your campaign.

These solid mailings usually get opened unless you’re expecting a bomb or your company’s mailroom intercepts them. The appeal of getting attention is not lost even on such a web centered company as Yahoo. I was reminded of this recently, when I received an unsolicited small plain brown square cardboard package.

The minimal label did not proclaim its contents – principally a circular purple plastic device perhaps 4″ in diameter and 21/2″ high. It looked like a large button. Press it and it would play Yahoo’s signature yodel sound. The video below shows it in action.

The box also contained a note and small brochure proclaiming the benefits of search engine advertising through Yahoo. These were similar to other mailings I’ve received from Yahoo.

That’s it. Not wishing to irritate my office neighbors or in need of a paper weight, I dumped it in the trash.

Questions left for the reader:

  • What does this have to do with search engine marketing?
  • Did the inclusion of the button significantly increase response rates?
  • Did Yahoo choose this tsatske because they thought prospects would like it or because it was not selling well on Yahoo’s company store?

I am not making this up! You can actually buy one of these for only $19.00 plus shipping at the Yahoo company store.

I guess I should have sold mine on ebay.

Fries With That Book?

Clients of The Threshold Group and regular readers of this blog, know that we are not big fans of mass media advertising. This is not an aesthetic judgment. Rather it is because that 30 second spot on the local news is difficult to evaluate.

Of course, any marketing campaign in any medium can be problematic to track if we fail to add both tagging and defined goals.

Case in point – MacDonald’s campaign to defend its share of lunch and extend its share of breakfast with the launch of “southern style chicken sandwich” and “southern style chicken biscuit for breakfast.” As usual, there is significant mass media support. What’s not usual is a massive distribution of coupons for free sandwiches in purchases form Amazon.com.

Amazon has a broad market in categories such as consumer electronics, fashion goods, home furnishings, watches and CDs/DVDs as well as books. The three packages received from Amazon this week all contained coupons for the sandwiches. Although Amazon has excellent database marketing capabilities, this is not a targeted promotion. There is nothing about our demographics, psychographics, or purchase history to flag us as prime McDonald’s prospects, other than that our office is within half a mile of a McDonald’s outlet.

Incredibly, the coupons are not coded. There are no barcodes, key codes, or other ways, which would enable McDonald’s to at least gage the redemption rate from the “Amazon channel”. More interesting tracking would be to tag coupons by product category, geocode, purchase volume on many other attributes. McDonald’s might then, to take a simple example, buy banners on Amazon’s pages for the most successful categories.

Without coding, it can only determine how many of the coupons were ultimately redeemed. Such a measure won’t even tell, if the promotion recruited new customers. Come to think of it though, the coupons make fair bookmarks for the new books from Amazon.