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Word Association Ads at Starbucks

Is this new, or have Starbucks and Google been running these silly-question ads for a while? I just logged on to the free wifi at a Starbucks location in San Francisco, and it served up a quick word-association quiz. When I say salsa, do you say dancers or tacos? After I picked tacos, I was served a taco-oriented video ad (provided by Google) for my viewing pleasure.

Word Association Ad at Starbucks

I wonder how this format is working. I participated in Part I (I answered the quiz question), but skipped Part II (watching the video ad). Anyone have experience with this kind of campaign? Are people other than me tuning in to the ads?

Starbucks Steams Up the Huffington Post

I didn’t get enough of Ricky Gervais last night on the Golden Globes, so I started my day at the Entertainment section of Huffington Post. Starbucks was today’s sponsor. The page started out looking like this:

Starbucks ad on Huffington post without steam

And then soon after my arrival, steam emerged from the coffee cup in the Starbucks banner, hiding Mr Gervais behind a veil of noxious vapors.

Starbucks ad on Huffington Post with steam

Normally I don’t like expanding rich-media ads that cover the content, but this one didn’t bother me. Kind of added to the fun of Golden Globes post-morteming.

What do you think?

NBC Content Running on Starbucks Ad

Starbucks Ad on

Today turned its site into a coffee sack sponsored by the Facebook page for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. I’m a big fan of clever, eye-catching advertising. But, sheesh. The ad-to-content ratio here is out of whack.

Hand-Drawn Social Media Logos, Part of Editorial Series at Mashable Sponsored by Ben and Jerry's

This Mashable post caught my attention with the fun, hand-drawn social media logos:

Hand-drawn social media logos

Then I noticed the story is part of a Mashable dev and design series sponsored by Ben and Jerry’s new free-trade coffee line, Joe.

I like it. A “sponsored editorial series” on coffee, sponsored by Starbucks or Ben and Jerry’s Joe, would be fishy. As would be Mashable, all of a sudden, deciding to cover coffee news. But I see nothing wrong with corporate sponsorship of editorial content, provided the topic is far enough away from the sponsor’s product offering and still close enough to the publisher’s editorial beat.

What do you think — is Mashable selling out or is it building a better editorial product through creative advertising partnerships?

The Uncertain Value of Facebook Brand Pages

Brands with most Facebook Fans

There was much excitement last week over AdAge’s piece on brands that have built bigger Facebook fan bases than monthly visitors to their websites. Most observers applaud the brands who have taken early initiative to follow their customers into Facebook. If your customers spend their digital time reading, commenting and liking stuff that flows through their Facebook newsfeeds, get yourself into the newsfeed, right?

“For many marketers, their Facebook fan bases have become their largest web presence, outstripping brand sites or e-mail programs either because a brand’s traditional web-based ‘owned media’ is atrophying or because more consumers are migrating to social media.”

James Gross (Federated Media) and Scott Rafer (Feedster, MyBlogLog, Lookery), however, both argue that the race to rack up Facebook fans brings with it a new danger for brands: Namely, the race to sign up fans comes at the expense of creating compelling content assets to distribute to and engage with those fans. First Rafer:

“It’s tough to take brands and their agencies seriously when they complain about their dependence on Google SEM. When they have new options, they make the same old mistake: underinvestment in their own Internet assets. It’s easier for marketing managers and agency account messengers to become dependent on dominant third parties than to fix their own accounting practices and IT organizations.”

Here’s the root problem according to Gross:

“Short term marketing goals along with agency and publisher relationships that create a scooby snack world around results like FB [fan counts].”

In other words, because buying ads to drive up fan counts is easier than executing a content strategy, marketers and their agencies are prioritizing the former. Boosting quantity is easier than delivering quality.

There’s also the issue of the black-box logic that Facebook uses to determine how many of your fans will in fact see your updates — your brand’s story packaged up into Facebook-sized nuggets — in their newsfeeds. Facebook, like any rational company, will put growth of its own businesses ahead of the growth of partners’ projects. What happens, for instance, when Facebook needs to promote a major new product initiative like Places? They might just bump your status updates from your followers’ feeds to make room location updates using Places. From Inside Facebook:

“Reports from Page administrators and data from our PageData service indicate that the launch of Places has decreased the prominence of official Page updates in the news feed. Significant decreases in impressions-per-post and new Likes per day for Pages coincide with the introduction of Places stories. This suggest an alteration has been made to Facebook’s algorithm that determines what users users see in their news feed. We suspect that the weight of Page updates has been decreased while Places stories have been temporarily given a relatively high weight.”

Here’s the impact on Nutella’s fan page:

Nutella fans since launch of Places

Starbucks may have nearly 13 million fans of its official Page in Facebook, but those 13 million fans are apparently seeing more updates these days from friends checking in on Facebook Places than status updates from Starbucks.

Starbucks Dabbles with Corporate Democracy

In a piece for Business Week Jeff Jarvis, author of BuzzMachine (among other things), profiles Starbucks’s concept — an initiative Jeff calls a foray into corporate democracy. The site allows Starbucks customers to offer advice on improving its customer service, products or business practices. Starbucks (the retail chain) benefits from good ideas it may soon implement, and Starbucks (the brand) benefits by connecting with customers at higher, more emotional level — through a conversation in which customers have a voice, and Starbucks listens and responds.

“‘If [an idea] fails,” says [Starbucks CTO] Bruzzo, “our customers who are on MyStarbucksIdea ought to participate in being accountable for it.’ Whether an idea is accepted or not, customers get only the satisfaction of participating; there are no payments or other tangible rewards.”

What an excellent example of a brand-as-conversation, or what we at FM call (and Jeff often criticizes!) conversational marketing.

Starbucks Splash Stick

Green Campaigns Get Noticed, Though Some Backfire

Nielsen numbers analyzed by Ad Age suggest that consumer do prefer green brands, products and services, but that brands that push too hard on the theme — GE and Starbucks are called out — invite scrutiny that may bring with it an online backlash.

Starbucks Fair Trade

Alex Frankel's New Book, Punching In

My friend Alex Frankel is out with his second book, Punching In. (His first, Word Craft, is also worth a read, if you’re interested in how products get named.)

Frankel’s Punching In

In Punching In, Frankel joins on with the “brand armies” — the platoons of rank and file front-end staffers — at UPS, Starbucks, Gap and Apple Stores to better understand how brands express themselves through the uniforms, trained behaviors and scripted speech of their entry-level employees. From the introduction:

“The new ‘retail environments’ and ‘store experiences’ that increasingly surround us and draw us into daily interactions demand more of workers than the mechanical work that [19th Century industrial theorist Frederick Winslow] Taylor studied to develop theories on work efficiency…. Beyond studying workers’ movements, some companies had come to study their minds, to find better ways to win them over, to make them believers.”

For brands like Starbucks to capture the premiums they charge, they need their retail employees to convince us that the premium is worth it; service brands need to start their brand marketing efforts right there in the HR department.

Influx Ideas: Ad Age's Jonah Bloom On Wants Vs. Needs

Last Friday at Butler Shine’s Influx Ideas conference, Jonah Bloom presented his take on the future of advertising. One point in particular resonated for me (among many, many interesting points): A generation ago, there was no such thing as an industry serving our personal storage needs. In 2006, storing the stuff we don’t use is a $23 billion business in the US alone.

Jonah Bloom

There are two ways to make sense of this development. One, an extrapolation of Barbara Ehrenreich’s argument in Nickel and Dimed, would be that housing costs have inflated more quickly than the rest of the stuff that goes in the house — so we all have more stuff than house to keep it in. Or two, Bloom’s perspective, is that our material needs in this country are more than fulfilled, we literally have more goods than we need or use. (I’m guessing both would agree that the non-material needs of the US population — say affordable health care or good public schools — are yet a long way from fulfillment for most.)

To an audience of marketers and agency folks, Bloom’s message was pointed. Successful brands need to move beyond pitching their products and services as goods to fulfill existing customer needs — the rational, direct-response side of marketing. They need to move into the emotional arena of creating “wants” that their brands fulfill. The desire, say, to be seen as hip or fashionable or smart or innovative. In West Coast media circles, this demand-creation concept is often dismissed as irrational, and the people who encourage it (brand marketing departments, agency execs, publishers and, of course, New Yorkers) as the “friction” that technology should eliminate.


I wonder what Starbucks, with their $4 lattes, and Porsche, with VW parts hiding beneath a premium brand and price tag, would say to a future of advertising based on rational thinking?