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Watch Neil DeGrasse Tyson educate Richard Dawkins on the importance of understanding context when “teaching” others. Tyson makes a wonderful point about the difference between information and persuasion.



recent USA Today article brings to light the growing trend of referring to food products as “artisan, ” with the number of “artisan” products in store shelves having doubled in the last four years. The word “artisan” implies that a product has been created with care by a craftsperson, yet these seem to be mass-marketed and -produced products. (Nevermind the fact that the  “artisan” refers to to craftsperson, while “artisanal” refers to the product itself.)

Now, when a company sub-brands its product as “artisan,” as is the case with Tostitos chips or Domino’s Pizza, what does that say about the rest of their products? Seems to me that the flip-side to going up-market with a sub-brand is that you’re admitting some sort of deficiency in the rest of your products. At the very least, it raises questions…

– Are “regular” Tostitos not as tasty as their “artisan” counterparts?  
– If my “artisinal” Domino’s pizza is hand-crafted, what about the rest of their pizzas? 

Like “organic” and “natural” before it, “artisan”seems to be the next ill-defined food buzzword.

As a food enthusiast I’ve become addicted to watching the Food Network as well as following which chefs make it out alive on Bravo’s Top Chef. What still amazes me though, are the personal brands these chefs have created. Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, and of course the original celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck, have all engineered successful food product lines or cookware franchises. When do these chefs find time to cook between multiple TV shows, books, endorsements, product lines, and appearances?

Today, the mark of a celebrity chef seems to be more about their branded merchandise than their restaurants. As more and more consumers turn to celebrity chefs not only for recipes, but for nutritional and lifestyle information as well, their credibility and brand equity continues to grow. The secret ingredient in the celebrity chef recipe however, is personality. Each chef has a signature style that sets them apart, from the “Domestic Goddess” Nigella Lawson to the hot-tempered Rocco Dispirito. The identities they create are often more important than the food they cook. Take for example, The Food Network’s series, The Next Food Network Star. The candidates are hardly professional chefs, and many are self-taught. Instead of culinary expertise, they compete for their own cooking show based on their unique personality and point of view.

“Celebrity” is no longer an adequate term for these culinary moguls. Their new name is “super chef”. Just look at “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver’s empire. His show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, aims to educate kids and parents about healthy eating. He also has five restaurants, fourteen cookbooks, and an entire collection of products ranging from cookware and tableware to product lines including spices, meats, and everything in between. He even endorses his own line of wood fired ovens. Food critics are bothered by the lack of time these chefs actually spend in the kitchen, but fanatic followers clearly could care less, myself included. I’ve been coveting Giada de Laurentiis’ Target cookware line for weeks. Now, not only can I watch my favorite celebrity chef’s show, but I can emulate her in the kitchen as well. According to Nielsen, celebrity chef branded products and restaurant sales increased 12.6% in 2010. Additionally, cookbook sales rose by 5% in 2010, despite a 4% decline in total book sales. By defining not only their culinary style, but personality, charm, and authority, these chefs have risen to the status of movie stars and athletes. Forget Brad Pitt, I’ll take Bobby Flay any day.

Here is a clever infographic depicting the progression of marketing and advertising through time, from its origin to…the future. My favorite is 1864: “earliest recorded use of the telegraph for unsolicited spam.”

We must understand fully from whence we came in order to plan for the future.

Click on the photo to experience more detail.

Jeff Ely, economics professor at Northwestern University and contributor to the Cheap Talk blog, recently wrote a great article about titles, or names.  His examples focus on bank names, and how they engender trust, and the names of legal documents, which could perhaps be simply skimmed to get a sense of utility or relevance. But the article is an interesting reminder and idea spark, for researchers and marketers.

There are varying degrees of scope and sophistication in our wildly different projects and initiatives. Our work is passed to our clients, to internal teams, to executive management, to various partners and outside parties. The names of studies, reports, presentations, tools used in the process, task force teams, strategic plans, products in development, etc. do matter.

Names should be clear and communicative – presenting the topic but also the considering the audience. Names should not be overly technical or detailed. Names should be intuitive, parsimonious, and should be readable (and intelligible) “out loud.” But names should also hold up over time, regardless of how related issues change or evolve. Future researchers should be able to refer back to your work, referencing a name that still communicates something to them. It’s somewhat a lofty challenge, if you think about the implication of the choice of title. The goal is to strike a balance between communication and brevity – if the name simply “fits” in these terms, it will likely carry and communicate as desire.

Heuristic psychologist, behavioral economist, and professor of marketing Dan Goldstein first published his article, “How to be a better improviser” in 1996 and updates the content on occasion, most recently in 2009.  The tips are customized for stage acting, but many of the essential messages can be applied to decision-making approaches and behaviors in the marketing world, the business world, and other interpersonal communications. Check it out for some creative inspiration.

Kadinsky "Improvisation 28 (Second Version)"

Kadinsky "Improvisation 28 (Second Version)"

I gave up reading books that can be found in the business/advertising/marketing section of the bookstore a while back. Most of the books you find in that section should have never been written in the first place: authors rehashing their previous work, self-help for the cubicle crowd, and whatever flavor of behavioral psychology is cool this month. I also posit that the original, interesting books in this section are likely to be rambling, 300 page tomes that would work better as 8 page articles in the New Yorker.

So, with few exceptions, the New York Times Business Bestseller List is dead to me. One of those exceptions is Rework, from the founders of 37signals (and the masterminds behind the best blog in the world, signal vs. noise).

Rework is essentially a collection of a hundred or so brief essays on how they do business. Anyone who has read their blog knows that they are feisty, irreverent, critical, and, in the end, brutally honest and usually right. The essays are no different. From advice on how to nurture office culture, to their thoughts on the futility of meeting and conference calls, they lay it all out there for the reader to do with as they please.

I have a strong suspicion that anyone who read this book and tried to follow their lead word for word would fail – miserably. Taken with a level head and grain of salt, however, the book is filled with provocations that will change the way they go about their life at work.

Here is a brief PDF excerpt from the book. Enjoy.