Sometimes marketers seriously overstep their boundaries

An open letter to the marketing team at Similac:

My mother sent me a text. “Is there something I should know?” she asked. (Hopefully, I think.) Why? Because you guys at Similac decided to send a box of infant formula – totally unwanted and unrequested – to me, care of my parents’ home address, where I have not lived in over a dozen years. I guess you stalked me on the internet enough to determine that I might be a woman, in my mid-thirties, and married, therefore potentially a child-bearing consumer profile, and you decided to send me a little “gift.”

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Review: Brand Seduction

Brand Seduction is an entertaining, well researched and highly readable spin through how our brains work, how we process messages and how we project our thoughts and aspirations into brands. To create a brand people will identify with and truly love, companies must strive for utter consistency of message. These days, marketers must also understand some basic neuroscience. Consider this a vital crash course.

As a marketing and branding pro I’ve read stacks of books on the subject; this one is worth keeping around.

Book review: Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands, by Daryl Weber, 4/5 stars

How to Fail at Instagram: McDonald’s

McDonald’s recently attempted to appeal to millennials with a bunch of ads featuring some bacon covered sandwich. The ads clumsily attempted to use slangy phrases (“That glow tho”), other ads used soccer references to appear relevant and friendly. They were all roundly mocked, and they deserved it, but not for the reason that AdWeek suggests.

AdWeek wonders if “consumers aren’t ready” for ads in their Instagram feeds. This question completely misses the lesson here. I have no doubt that consumers are absolutely ready and willing to view ads in their Instagram feeds – IF the ads are attractive and relevant.

Millennials are used to seeing a ton of ads everywhere they go online. What distinguishes this class of consumer from previous generations is the expectation that ads will be relevant and targeted. For the modern and web-savvy consumer, the baseline has changed. An informal survey of my 20- and 30- something friends reveals a pervasive belief that it’s actually straight-up rude to advertising something that isn’t personally relevant, the equivalent to butting in to a stranger’s conversation.

We share an incredible amount of data online, we know it’s being collected and mined, and we expect that in part, we’re feeding all of our locations, preferences and purchases into the vast machine because all of this will make our lives better, faster, smarter and more convenient. I live in a world where Facebook knows exactly what bathrobe I was viewing on a clothing website and what hotel I was looking at while planning a trip, and can serve ads for those things to me as soon as I switch tabs. Sometimes I’m even pleased by the ads I’m served, because they remind me of something I wanted to look at again, or they offer me a discount on something I was going to buy, anyway. This is the best case scenario – a symbiotic, helpful relationship between the customer and marketer, enabled by social data and sharing. The key word is helpful!

McDonald’s Instagram campaign, on the other hand, reveals the worst kind of advertising as obnoxious, unwelcome interruption. Instead of targeting, for example, only customers who follow food-related accounts, or customers who previously tagged #McDonalds or even #bacon, the Instagram campaign is an untargeted bomb, detonated in a place where many image-conscious consumers are openly hostile to things like fast food. I follow a bunch of accounts on Instagram related to fitness, outdoor sports, health and beauty. I don’t think I’ve made a Facebook, Instagram or Foursquare checkin at a McDonald’s more than once in the last 2 years. I’m probably the last person on earth who should be seeing an ad for a McDonald’s sandwich in my feed, and the ability to figure that out already exists if brands care to use it.

On the flip side, some brands seem to hit it out of the park on Instagram. SPG (the official account of the Starwood Preferred Guest program) comes to mind. With 27,000+ followers, they aren’t nearly as popular as McDonald’s account, but a quick perusal of the comments has me convinced that they have a better understanding of how to use Instagram to evangelize the Starwood brand. While more than half of the comments on an average McDonald’s post are negative, angry and/or related to how terrible and unhealthy the food is, all of the comments on SPG’s posts are positive, happy, and aspirational. Fans love SPG’s peeks into luxury hotels, well-appointed rooms and picturesque views from around the world. The photography is top notch and the chosen images represent the brand in positive ways that are especially popular on Instagram, where great light, pretty views, sunsets and aspirational lifestyle images rule.

Sure, Instagram doesn’t offer advertisers the ability to target their ads in the ways I suggested above. Yet. So, how about admitting that Instagram just isn’t the right advertising avenue for McDonald’s right now? Not all brands are destined for success in all social ad venues. That’s OK! It’s really worth considering before wasting a ton of money on campaigns that invite consumer hostility – and there are a ton of other places out there to spend it.