Monthly Archives: November 2009

Christmas carols = increased purchasing

If you’re like most people in the US, you’ve no doubt been aurally assaulted by holiday music already. As retailers push for an extended holiday season, and the corresponding increase in revenues, Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier every year.  In most major cities, some radio stations start their “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” cycles as early as November 1. Enter any retail store after Thanksgiving, and you’re sure to hear those familiar saccharine tunes over the PA. Of course, this begs the question, does this music entice shoppers to open their wallets, or is it merely for ambiance?

Several studies in the past have shown the relationship between shoppers and music (link). Findings of these studies have found that volume, tempo and even playlist can all affect shoppers’ behaviors. A common finding is that  fast tempo music at high volumes encourages people to spend less time in a store (the opposite also being true),  stores that play age-specific music identifiable to their target demographic tend to have greater appeal to said demographic.  And not surprisingly, people are more inclined to purchase product that they associate with music they enjoy, thus the use of classic rock in truck ads, hip hop in youth ads, etc.

But what about holiday music? Not particularly age, gender or race-specific, they seem to appeal across the board to consumers, provided they are Christians (or at least celebrate Christmas). But is playing seasonal music an effective marketing tool?

It seems that it is. Many music psychologists have pointed that the link between seasonal music and gift-purchasing is a strong one, even if the it’s only September.  Adrian North, a music psychologist in the UK points to the general appeal of music to shoppers in general in an article from the Living Scotsman.
“Music usually fits the product so people can remember it and will come back. If the shops plays classical, opera or New Age-style music, often the shoppers seems to be prepared to spend more money, they regard the product as more upmarket and exclusive.”

Evidence seems to show that while the music may be jarring to some (especially the staff), holiday tunes have a beneficial effect on overall sales. And it need not be a familiar song to reap the benefits of the season. In particular, Budweiser has been running Christmas ads for years featuring a distinctly holiday-feeling song that is merely an interpretation of their traditional jingle.

It appears that that sales benefit simply by association with the holidays. And the best way to create this association? Why music, of course.

This theory is suppported in an article by Daniel J. Levitin in the Wall Street Journal:
“Holiday tunes are supposed to get us feeling at least a bit religious or spiritual, aren’t they? Historically they have worked well in this way. Music’s role in religious and spiritual ceremonies may be as old as religion itself. Although human religions differ markedly from one another, all religious rituals are characterized by a demarcation of time and place — on this day we stand here in this special spot, or interact with sacred objects that we don’t normally interact with — and by the reciting of music or text that is designed to take us out of ourselves, out of routine, and uplift us with higher thoughts. Ritual and religious music helps to differentiate this day or activity from the rest of our secular activities. Because we tend to hear these songs only during this season, they serve as a unique memory cue, unlocking a neural flood of memories related to the holidays.”

This theory indicates that on a sub-conscious level we associate Christmas with gift giving and receiving. Thus, when we hear Christmas music, it subliminally encourages shopping.

So keep this in mind the next time you’re at the mall, and feel like jumping from the escalator after hearing “White Christmas” for the eleventh time. It’s just another marketing tactic, and one that has proven to be very effective.


How NOT to use the Internet

For those of you unfamiliar with the Kurt Greenbaum saga, it is a textbook example of Internet usage gone wrong.

Here’s the condensed version of the story:

Kurt Greenbaum is a social media expert for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He writes a blog for them called “Talk of the Day”, which is essentially a personal-type opinion blog used to discuss a variety of topics. Recent topics include usage of BC versus BCE, and a discussion of the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten. It was this last post that has caused quite a bit of uproar. It seems that a poster to the site, confident in the anonymity of the Net, decided it would be funny to answer with a bit of sophomoric humor (in the words of Naughty by Nature “It’s another way to call a kitty a cat”). Surprise, surprise, right?

Anyway, Greenbaum promptly deleted this post, but upon its re-posting from the same IP address, took the matter into his own hands. Using  analytic software (we’re watching you!), he determined the IP address originated from a St. Louis-area school. He then called the school and informed them of the situation. The school’s IT administrator traced the IP address back to a certain school employee, who was then confronted. The poster then resigned on the spot.

Since this incident took place, Greenbaum has been skewered online, everywhere from Reddit and Digg, to the Huffington Post, not to mention countless Tweeters, have picked up this story, most reacting unfavorably towards Greenbaum. Perhaps worst of all, an Internet vigilante has taken Greenbaum to task, hijacking his own name, to create a flame site, (warning: site contains vulgar language).

This situation shows how the Internet brings out the worst in people, as well as demonstrating how not to react to a situation online. First of all, the commenter, is obviously someone with a juvenile sense of humor. Like most trolls, he no doubt felt secure behind the black veil of anonymity that the World Wide Web provides. Of course, as he now knows, that veil is primarily a facade. Any web master worth his or her salt has analytic software in place that tells you exactly who is looking at your site.  Thus, troll or flame at your own risk.

Secondly, if you’re going to be the online idiot that everyone hates, do it from home or the library, or basically anywhere except your place of employment. Almost every business has some form of Internet policy, and posting vulgar comments to Web sites is generally not accepted practice.

Of course, the worst decision in this entire saga was Greenbaum’s knee jerk reaction to tattle. Now I understand the impulse. I’ve dealt with trolls and idiots. It’s a common reaction to call them out for their behavior. But the comments in question were not attacking Greenbaum or the Post-Dispatch, they were just immature. And they surely didn’t warrant a call to the poster’s place of employment.

Additionally, it seems that part of the Post-Dispatch’s Web site privacy policy states: “We will not share individual user information with third parties unless the user has specifically approved the release of that information.” To my mind, this is sort of a gray area. It’s not directly solicited user information like an e-mail address, but at the same time, user information is user information, and seemingly covered under the above statement.

By taking the law into his own hands, Greenbaum has unwittingly brought about the wrath of the online community. Almost universally, his actions have been decried in message boards, forums and comment sections.

Personally, I don’t think it was Greenbaum’s intention to villainize himself this way. Had the IP address in question not linked back to a school, I wonder if he would have had the same reaction. Unfortunately, his actions set a precedent, one that reflects very poorly on his own employer. All in all, this further shows the power that an online presence can wield, whether for good or bad. The Internet is not your living room. Please consider what you are doing, because it does reflect back on you.

Refreshingly different

This is one of the coolest videos I’ve seen in a long time. Sour, a Japanese band, tapped their fans from around the globe to use their Web cams and help make the video for “Hibi No Neiro”, off of their EP “Water Flavor”.

I speak exactly seven words of Japanese, so I couldn’t begin to guess what this song is about, but it aurally pleasing, and the video is really amazing.

Check out Sour’s Web site here.

Baiting the hook

UbiSoft is a brilliant company. For those of you who aren’t up on the latest trends in video games, they’re the company that developed and published such titles as the Myst series, Prince of Persia, and Assassin’s Creed.

Today, November 17, marks the North American release of the sequel to that last game, Assassin’s Creed 2. Following the adventures of a young Renaissance-era Italian man named Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who takes over the family assassination business,  Assassin’s Creed 2 features a dynamic storyline and amazing graphics.

Additionally, UbiSoft did something revolutionary in video game marketing; they took the marketing to consumers directly with a series of short films. By utilizing trailers, UbiSoft provides a prologue to the action of the game itself, creating a viral buzz among gamers on the net. Featuring brilliant cinematography and an intriguing plot, these videos would provide a very intriguing series of movie trailers. As promos for a video game, they’re amazing and extremely effective. Who doesn’t want to play the game and find out what happens next? I know I do.

Inside the mind of a mad man


Jim Carrey’s new Web site
is one of the coolest things I’ve seen lately. Interactive and creative, it really mirrors his personality.

(I stole this from Aaron Cathey over at Wordarific.)

Another Twitter casualty

There have been a rash of negative repercussions from the use of social media here in the Kansas City area in the last few months. First it was the Kansas Jayhawks football vs basketball scuffles, with a blow-by-blow narration from sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor. Then it was the Larry Johnson fiasco.


Johnson, best known as a middle-of-the-pack talent who benefited from a Chiefs offensive line studded with All-Pro talent, finally let his mouth write a check his modest talents couldn’t cash. After several Tweets in which he lambasted Chiefs coaches, with a few gay slurs thrown in for good measure, he received a two-week suspension. While he only missed one game due to a bye week for the Chiefs, his continued unpopularity led to a 32,000+ signature petition demanding he not be allowed to become the Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher, a mark he was within 75 yards of reaching. This morning, the Chiefs announced his release.

Personally, I think he should have been given his walking papers following the second incident, but that was under a different coaching and management staff. Rookie head coach Todd Haley no doubt had to assert his authority in this matter.

Interestingly enough,though,  it wasn’t the problem of him attacking women that finally led to his release, it was his reckless use of social media, demonstrating yet again the real power of these platforms. Johnson clearly didn’t understand the ramifications of his tweets, and as a result he now finds himself unemployed (albeit still incredibly wealthy).

Where social media and conventional marketing meet

I’ve seen a lot of posts out there on the Web discussing the marketing implications of social media and how companies can utilize tools like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to their advantage. The general consensus seems to be that while social media and marketing strategies can at times overlap, there is a line dividing the two.

According to Chris Brogan, author of Trust Agents:
“Marketing is a discipline with lots of emphasis on channel thinking, on campaigns, on message shaping, on control and covering all the bases. Social media is a set of tools that permit regular people access to potential audiences of shared interest.”

Both of these are important part of a company’s public image strategy, and each plays an important role. Brogan stresses that marketing is used primarily to influence consumers, whereas social media provides a forum for consumers to give and receive feedback.

But what about that middle area where the two overlap? While it’s easy to define some things as either social media or conventional marketing, there seems to be a gray area as well. With that said, what is acceptable marketing for social media platforms?

Much like social media provides a platform for people to find one another, it also provides a platform for marketers to find consumers. Of course, most people don’t join Twitter to be sold to, but if company’s social media specialists are effective, they understand this. It has been demonstrated that people will follow corporations if it proves to be beneficial. That is, if the company provides significant value, whether it be through improved customer service or online only specials, people will pay attention.

A good example is @pizzahut. Utilizing Twitter to their full advantage, Pizza Hut uses its corporate account to inform more than 21,000 followers of specials and promotions, as well as directly address customer dissatisfaction. Business sense says that a redressing of grievances is good for placating unhappy customers. Plus letting followers know about specials is an effective nudge towards some of them opting for pizza tonight.

Another good example is Chipotle. With a Facebook following of more than 500,000 followers, the burrito chain has mastered the art of marketing using social channels. They allow fans to post to their wall, start discussions and share their experiences. While it’s not marketing in the conventional sense, I dare you to read that page and not crave a Chipotle burrito.  It’s extremely subtle, yet incredibly effective. Constantly updated, with rapid feedback from the company, this is how other companies should approach social media.

In summation, all marketing is a conversation. Whereas traditional marketing is a one-way conversation, social media is a round-table discussion with potentially millions of participants. As such, it’s oftentimes necessary to completely rethink marketing strategies when utilizing these platforms. On the other hand, there is definitely something to be said for conventional strategies. Each has their place, but that’s not to say they can’t overlap. The best strategy: keep an open mind. Keep an eye on what other companies are doing, and note their successes and failures.  And above all, don’t be afraid to experiment. This entire approach to marketing is so new, not even the so-called experts know how things will shape up. All any of us can do is offer our best guess.