musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
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So-called native advertising is ad content designed to look like the editorial content it's surrounded by. We used to call it "advertorial" long before "native" became the current buzzword.
By its very nature, native advertising is deceptive, since it is intended to make the viewer think it's real news, coming from the media outlet's reporters or writers. As such, it tries to pick up the implied credibility that would come with a legitimately reported news or feature story.
Not so. Native ads are, after all, ads paid for and written by an advertiser. You shouldn't expect native ads to be fair, balanced or even, unfortunately, totally accurate.
For years, advertorials in newspapers and magazines usually were labeled as ads or paid content, although often in small lettering that could easily be missed.
Then, as media went digital, the lines became blurred or disappeared altogether. Online media, including widely-read blogs, went for the money, posting paid content without disclosing it was sponsored.
The Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that all paid content had to be clearly identified. I'm not sure if anyone has been fined or prosecuted for breaking that rule, but most legitimate media seem to have become more careful.
Despite this and perhaps proving that more noticeable identification as an ad is needed, a new study by a university in Georgia shows the vast majority of us don't recognize native advertising as a paid ad. The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, found that only eight percent of people surveyed identified native advertising as paid marketing messages. So 92 percent were fooled into thinking what they had seen in print or online was real news or information.
No wonder native advertising has become the hot thing.
Consumers really shouldn't believe advertising, said Suzanne Vranica, longtime advertising and marketing reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
She made the comment during an interview this morning on CBS This Morning, talking about news that artisnal chocolate maker Mast admitted it had used melted-down chocolate from other brands in its early days as a high-end chocolatier.
It's possible Suzanne may have intended to say something like you can't always believe everything in ads, or consumers should be careful and try to do their own research into claims made in ads. Live TV can do that -- catch you in a sentence that doesn't come out exactly right.
But if many people -- including one of the leading national journalists who covers the ad industry -- are skeptical of what they see and hear in ads, then maybe marketers need to look at other methods of getting the word out about their products and services. Word-of-mouth often comes up as the most trusted source of information, and it is often fueled by Public Relations.
The idea behind it is PR seeks to get exposure through media, which have an obligation to do their own vetting of claims made by marketers. So if a story in a trusted newspaper, magazine or broadcast or online outlet talks about a product in a positive way, consumers give it more credibility than a straightforward ad. Advertising, with its repetitive nature, creates awareness. Stories in the media via PR, which are tougher to gain, generally have more credibility.
That, in a longer explanation, may be what Suzanne Vranica was trying to say in a quick interview soundbite.
A good part of what we do in Public Relations is about impacting behavior. Publicity helps create and reinforce awareness to, hopefully, convince the consumer to purchase a product, buy a company’s stock, support a cause or vote a certain way.
One of the challenges I’ve been facing over the years as I’ve done work for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the non-profit National Road Safety Foundation has been to change behavior so drivers buckle up their seat belts, don’t speed and don’t drive while impaired or distracted.
Reaching teen drivers is especially challenging. They’re not big newspaper readers. Many don’t watch the news on TV and, these days, even their radio-listening doesn’t necessarily include tuning in to local radio stations. Instead, they have their own playlists or they listen online to Pandora or IHeartRadio.
For The National Road Safety Foundation, we’ve taken a different approach to teen outreach. We still use news releases and e-mailings to get our message out via traditional media as well as social media. But our most powerful tool, we have found, is the kids themselves, talking to their peers, their families and to others in the community.
We’ve teamed up with youth advocacy groups, most notably SADD, which used to be known as Students Against Drunk Driving but now goes by Students Against Destructive Decisions. We work with them on various initiatives including one where they are trained how to lobby their legislators on road safety issues.
Another way we’ve engaged young people is through contests where we invite them to help us create messages on various issues including impaired driving and now, the hot topic, distracted driving.
I just returned from Los Angeles, where we tied-in with the Los Angeles Auto Show for a contest inviting teens to submit ideas for a PSA on distracted driving. The winner was announced Sunday at the first Teen Safety Sunday at the Auto Show, an event we organized and ran. Teen leaders from southern California were invited to the auto show for a special program that included presentations by teen groups and also by victims of distracted drivers.
We did a similar contest with the Chicago Auto Show last February, and it’s being repeated in 2016.
Engagement is a key to successful marketing, especially when the message is about safe driving behavior.
Click here for a look at the winning PSA, created by the kids from the Friday Night Live California Partnership.
Tuning through the channels a few days ago, I happened to land on C-SPAN. I caught the very end of a campaign speech by Carly Fiorina. She’s a good speaker, but what she said wasn’t what caught my interest. It was what happened after her speech that was telling.
After her talk, she did what most candidates do. She came off the stage and walked into the audience to work the crowd. And this is what struck me as most interesting.
Not too long ago, she would have been shaking hands, exchanging a few words one-on-one with people, and signing autographs. But as I watched her in the crowd, which was mostly younger, only two people asked for an autograph. She shook a few hands… but only a few. It looked like she had a brief conversation with one person. But with all the others – perhaps 40 or 50 people – the only words that were exchanged seemed to come from audience members, saying something like “Would you..” and “Thank you.”
They were asking the candidate to pose with them for a selfie. And she happily complied, as each person put his or her arms around Fiorina or put their face pressing right up against hers. Kind of close-up and personal, it seemed. It was a selfie assembly line, and the candidate adeptly moved from person to person, cell phone to cell phone without missing a beat.
At first, I scoffed. But as I thought about it, I realized that the selfie actually IS much more personal than an autograph, even one written to the autograph-seeker by name. And unlike an autograph, which most of us don’t frame and put on a shelf in our living room, a selfie with a celebrity can be blown up, framed and displayed prominently.
And it’s a chance for the person to throw it out there immediately on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et al, showing the world their brush with fame –or actually, touch with fame, smiling check-to-cheek, arm wrapped around the celebrity. It can be shared instantly with dozens or hundreds of friends and online acquaintances, which is a lot more than the than couple of dozen friends or relatives who might happen to spot it in your living room.
For the candidate, it’s a windfall, expanding the reach of her appearance to perhaps thousands more than the attendance of her live audience.
Some marketers have found ways to capitalize on “the new autograph” – putting a brand mascot or logo in places where people will take selfies and share them, for example. It’s opening up entire new ways for brands to engage with consumers and share the branded experience with all their friends.
We’ll be seeing more of it, I’m sure, as we surf our Facebook and Instagam feeds.
Television is still, by far, the dominant mass medium in the U.S. But it's light years away from what it was 30 – 40 years ago, before cable took hold and before everyone was hooked up online.
It’s a different world, for sure. With literally hundreds of channels to choose from, plus on-demand and streaming programming, there's a dizzying array of program content. Some programming on cable and, lately, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon rivals feature films in terms on content quality and production value. In response, the broadcast networks have finally stepped up their game with some quality shows. Yes, broadcast still has plenty of lowest-common-denominator drivel led by mindless comedies and "reality" shows, but many are now calling this the new Golden Age for TV, based on content quality.
Nielsen says the hard-to-reach Millennials (18-34), highly coveted by advertisers, are spending 17 percent less time watching TV than a year ago, but it still averages nearly 22 hours a week. Across all age groups, adults spend an average of 36 hours a week in front of the tube. Boomers (ages 50+) watch much more TV -- 47 and a half hours weekly.
Probably the biggest change – and the biggest challenge for advertisers -- is how we watch TV. Even Boomers are now frequent DVR users, watching programs at their own convenience. But Millennials in particular are getting their TV across a spectrum of platforms, and traditional TV is quickly losing out as the primary way they watch TV. Increasingly, they watch TV on laptops, tablets and smartphones, usually with an absolute minimum of ads.
Radio, which doesn't get much attention in media circles, comes in a strong second. Across all age groups, we spend just under 13 hours a week listening to radio. Millennials listen less at 11 hours.
Smartphones account for 7-1/4 hours a week across all age groups. Millennials use their smartphones a lot more -- nearly 10 hours/week. Tablets account for 3-1/2 hours across all age groups and 3-3/4 hours for Millennials.
Yet another challenge for advertisers, of course, is how much their ads, regardless of the medium, are actually viewed.
At the annual Governors Highway Safety Association conference
The annual Governors Highway Safety Association meeting is wrapping up in Nashville. This year, some 700 traffic safety people from the states and the Federal government gathered in Music City to share info and ideas. I've been attending on behalf of client The National Road Safety Foundation.
One thing that comes through clearly at these meetings is that people in traffic safety are passionate about what they do. We hear people say, over and over, they love what they do and they know they are making a difference… saving lives and preventing tragedies and heartbreak. I feel that way too. It’s hard not to.
The Federal and state people in this field are the antithesis of civil servants. They go way above and beyond, no matter their pay grade.
The people here representing non-profits and advocacy groups, like SADD and NOYS (National Organizations for Youth Safety) and RADD (Recording Artists Against Drunk Driving) and many others are equally passionate about their work. There are others who use their own resources and time to travel to schools to speak about safe driving, like Tim Hollister, who lost his 17-year old son Reid in a crash. It’s a good group of people to be a part of.
Things I’m working on now for The National Road Safety Foundation are exciting, and they are helping build awareness among teens of the dangers of bad driving behavior. We’re putting together a program in conjunction with the Los Angeles Auto Show – a contest for teens inviting them to submit their ideas for a public service message on distracted driving. We’re also producing a teen safe driving day at the show, on Nov. 21.
We’re in the second year of a similar project with the Chicago Auto Show, which takes place in February. And we’re creating a teen traffic safety day at the big New York Auto Show next April. And in October we launch the sixth annual Drive2Life PSA Contest, with Scholastic Publications. You can view our winning PSA from last year, done by 17-year Julia Huuki from Michigan, by clicking here.
The object of all of this – the National Road Safety Foundation projects as well as all the programs and initiatives being done by the hundreds here at the GHSA Conference – is to drive down the number of people killed and injured on our roads and highways. In 2013, the latest year available for statistics, 32,719 people died. This year so far, it’s very troubling that we’re heading toward the first year-to-year increase in many years. Texting and cellphones are a big factor in crashes that are totally preventable. Drinking and driving remains another big factor, and drugs – especially prescription drugs like opioid painkillers – contribute significantly to the toll.
I’m leaving Nashville charged up and anxious to keep helping create positive change to make our roads safer.
Perhaps appropriate as one of the "dog days of August," the unofficial holiday was started in 2004 by an animal advocate. It's been picked up as a marketing opportunity by several companies that signed on as official sponsors. One is a bit of a stretch, but Autotrader.com is using it to release their list of best cars for dogs. Loew's Hotels is tying in with a "Yappy Hour" event tonight at their Loew's Regency in New York.
Nextdoor, a social media network, used the occasion to release a list of the most popular dog names. The top name this year is Bella, with other most popular names that include Max and Charlie --names of two dogs that I know.
For most of us who are dog owners or dog lovers, it's just another excuse for us to do something special for our pups -- an extra biscuit or toy, or an extra-long snuggle.
I wish I could give a snuggle with my doggie pal Loki, who left us at the beginning of this year. He will always be my puppy-love.
We keep hearing how Print in dying. Newspapers are struggling, that's for sure. And many magazines are not having an easy time.
But tell that to the publishers of 60 new magazines that launched during the first half of 2015, as reported by MediaFinder. That number is down about a third from the 93 new titles during the same period last year, but people are still trying to make a go of new titles.
Of the new launches, five were business-to-business magazines, down from 15 new B2B books a year ago.
The number of magazines that shut down during the first half of the year was 23, which is ten less than a year ago. So there's been a net gain of 37 new magazines so far this year.
Why do people keep trying with new magazines in print? They're costly to print and distribute -- much more so than digital publications with no printing cost and very little distribution expenses.
It probably comes down to advertising. Ads in print generally command much higher rates than their digital counterparts, even when digital can reach many more readers. Many advertisers still prefer the glossy printed page for their ads, especially for products that rely on strong visuals -- food, fashion & beauty, travel, cars. Print still gets a higher ad readership, while research shows most of us totally ignore ads that run in digital media.
Digital does offer some benefits that print doesn't -- mainly, the ability for readers to click through for more info, sales pitches and even place an order and make a purchase. Print can offer that via QR codes, but the process isn't seamless since it requires extra steps and a smartphone.
Launches this year have been mainly specialty titles rather than general-interest books. Most, I'd bet, also have online components. Maybe once they've established themselves in print -- and as the gap between print and online ad readership and rates narrows -- they'll try to convert to digital only. But until that gap is much smaller, there will still be a place for print magazines.
That's good news for newsstands, printing companies and the Post Office.
I remember as a teen hurrying home from school to check the mail, hoping it would contain a large parcel from the Columbia Record Club. Inside would be ten or eleven records that had cost me only a penny (plus shipping and handling). What a deal!
And then, every so often, I'd get another package with more records I had bought at discount prices (plus shipping & handling).
It was a fun and exciting way build a music collection. The ads in magazines and Sunday newspaper supplements had dozens of album cover photos (or tape cassettes, as in the ad at the right), and all you had to do was check the ones you wanted. A whole world of music was right there on the page. And after you got your free records, you only had to buy a few more at full price (plus shipping & handling) in order to qualify for a free record of your choice.
Part of the fun was the anticipation. It usually took 7 - 10 days between placing the order by mail and actually receiving the records. I suppose I paid with a check -- I can't recall. This was before the days of Pay-Pal or online credit card payments.
Members would get a catalogue every few weeks with pictures of all the hot albums of the day. If you didn't respond by a certain date, you'd automatically get the monthly album pick, along with a bill. This was called a negative billing option, which ran into some controversy in the 1990s.
Those memories came back to me today as I read that Columbia House (the current name of the old Columbia Record Club) filed for bankruptcy yesterday. It was formed by CBS Records in 1955 and in its glory days, they probably had a membership in the millions. Today, according to the story in The Wall Street Journal, they are down to about 100,000 members, and they only sell DVDs. No LPs, cassettes or CDs -- no music downloads.
Today's teens have no idea what the Columbia Record Club was. Many probably don't know what a record was. And imagine kids today -- or anyone for that matter -- waiting a week for music. We're used to getting it immediately, for 99 cents or less.
Journalists being manipulated by political candidates and elected officials is nothing new. The term "pack journalism," in fact, goes way back to the early 1970s when Timothy Crouse published "The Boys on the Bus" in 1973, detailing the reporters covering the most recent Presidential campaign. Hunter S. Thompson touched on it the year before in his "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail."
I've come to expect the tabloids and the "Access Hollywood"-type gossip shows to pander the to the exploits of crazy wannabe politicians. Look at all the coverage Sarah Palin got a few years ago. As unqualified as she may have been for the VP job, she at least had some experience as a governor. But Trump... come on.
I was disappointed to see his planned visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas as one of the lead stories on today's CBS This Morning, the one morning news show that touts "real news." This is just another campaign stop for a loud-mouthed candidate, but even CBS News is giving it coverage (and thus credibility) over what so many of the other candidates are doing and saying.
It's truly a shame that the media are letting one kooky candidate hijack the campaigns and important discussions of real issues by other real candidates.
Even conservative Rupert Murdoch has said he doesn't like Trump's style and self-aggrandizement. But he's not above using his name and antics to sell papers and get ratings on his TV stations.
I thought some of the other major media were above that, but hysterics get eyeballs on the page and on the screen... and that translates to money.
If I were advising any of the other candidates, I'd say to simply ignore the ranting and taunting of the crazy rich New Yorker and stick to the issues and platforms that you've identified as important. Don't get drawn into the fray, because it only validates and brings more exposure to the crazy one.