April 13, 2010
 

The AAAA's Diversity Crash

ck is on assignment this week and will be back next week with Mad Ave's Marketer "Hot...or Not" poll. Meanwhile, she'd love to hear from you while she's on the road, so give her a shout and vote on this month's current "Olympic-sized" topic.

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Is there a connection between last night's best picture award going to "Crash" and today's cover story in AdAge.com dealing with discrimination in Madison Avenue's ad agencies? We believe so.

Ad Age reported: "Madison Avenue's white management ranks are about to be exposed in public hearings on ad agencies’ minority-hiring practices that could drag industry stars such as Andrew Robertson, Kevin Roberts and Shelly Lazarus--and their clients--into an unflattering spotlight".

Mr. O. Burtch Drake has been president and CEO of AAAA since 1994. Many of today's cutting edge thinkers leading the business were still in puberty back then. For an association supposed to be leading the 21st century communications business, its site has does not even have a blog. Other than the normal industry committee news releases and conference dates, is it any surprise that Madison Avenue's site focuses more content on the incredibly pathetic "Advertising Week" than it does on "diversity"?

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And The Award For The Most Embarrassing Industry Association Site Of The Year Goes To: www.aaaa.org

It's unfortunate that the AAAA management continued to focus on one of the most laughable events in the history of Madison Avenue and thus ignored and exposed itself to an indictment of one of the most disgraceful and politically charged issues within the United States if not the globe.

The AAAA puts much effort to produce "Advertising Week" an embarrassing "pat on our back" hoopla conference which "celebrates" the power of advertising just as record numbers of American households purchase new technology to block it out of their lives.

And The Nominee For The Next AAAA's President & CEO is George Clooney!

Meanwhile, on a strict business level, Hollywood continues to eat Madison Avenue's lunch on a daily basis, with record deals that take large chunks out of ad production and media buying budgets and into branded entertainment.

Last night's Academy Awards acceptance speech from George Clooney acknowledged that "I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing," he said in his acceptance speech. "We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects."

He also called attention to the fact that in 1939 the Motion Picture Academy gave Gone With the Wind's Hattie McDaniels "an Oscar when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theatres."

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"O., It's time to get that tuxedo dry-cleaned one last time; for your retirement awards dinner, Buddy"

Tangentially related, last year, right after Hurricane Katrina, The MadAve Journal editors published the following article on behavioral marketing which used the film "Crash" as metaphor for the issues facing Madison Avenue as it relates to behavioral marketing.

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Who is more out of touch: Hollywood or Madison Avenue?

We congratulate Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman, the producers of "Crash," and believe their message of racial bias has symmetry to our theme of behavioral marketing. With today's AdAge news, "Crash's" message not only applies to consumer marketing, it also does to industry association marketing.

The Editors

Does Behavioral Marketing Have A Social Responsibility? originally published on 9/20/05

Have you seen "Crash" a provocative and disturbing flick, produced in the last cycle? It's one of the more thought-provoking films to come out of Hollywood in some time. Though on the surface it has nothing to do with Behavioral Marketing, if you look at it from a contrarian view, it very much raises the issue of Behavioral Marketing's social responsibility.

It begs us to ask ourselves just how much responsibility Behavioral Marketing has in society? Other than established legal elements like the COPPA kid guidelines, is there a line we should not cross as it relates to targeting a person's personal "preferences?"

Behavioral marketing in fact doesn't try to change a person's view of things. Rather, it reinforces them. It says, "Hey, since you're "like this," this product or service will fit right into your lifestyle and view of things." Is there anything wrong with that? No, and yes.

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To the more cynical amongst us, the word "preference" is just another word for bias, or prejudice. By its general definition, BM reflects the process of aiming messages that fit into consumers' views and actions relative to the people around them, their surroundings and themselves; essentially how they see the world. Prizm and other research companies have segmented mindsets based on geography among other things, which is premised on the "birds of a feather live together"; a clearly legitimate approach. To account planners, these issues are the tools of the trade. However, with the tracking of consumer behavior online, marketers can segment product interest by household or cubicle. The degree of target specificity has leapfrogged far ahead of its former pace vs. a generation ago.

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In the film Jurassic Park, the mathematician challenged the group, including the blood-sucking lawyer of the-then invisible consequences unleashed by technology. He questioned if they really knew what they were doing and potential issues that were unknown or ignored based on profit-driving thoughts. We see it right now with various pharma companies in court and most recently especially with marketers capitalizing (we prefer "exploiting" Katrina).

No one should doubt that the account planner's role is not to judge, but to help sell. Crash's relevance to this topic is that they make a very convincing case that fear is a powerful motivator. The situations the characters find themselves in trigger certain emotions and/or behaviors that certain people would find intimidating and uncomfortable; though many marketers would find very appealing. Well, that's news NOT.

We see it everyday from crash test dummy ads to health-related cereals. In the last few years, when Firestone found itself well outside of automotive aftermarket content and into consumer news stories about how their allegedly faulty manufacturing process led to several automotive tragedies in warm weather climates, rather than sit on the sidelines and have some compassion for its competitor, every major other tire manufacturer ratcheted up their prime-time budgets, went on-air and in print and shouted about their safety.

Who knows if their products had real differences in the manufacturing process? They may not have, though to the consumer, who "had a lot riding on their tires," the tendency to have them make a tire-replacement decision was most likely at an all time high, especially if their "mag wheels" had Firestones. And who could blame them.

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Marketing 101 and common sense (vs. Common Cause) tells us that if an advertiser can get their message in front the person when they are in a very distressed, concerned or vulnerable state of mind, no doubt they will more easily close the sale. The products and/or services that most obviously pop up as solutions in the film Crash would be health, home and business insurance, self-reliance-based children's educational books, automobiles, health food, data privacy and even liquid cleaners that remove magic marketer or spray paint.

Most disturbingly for us was the not-so-subtle message that having a gun at arms-reach might provide a better sense of security. Gun experts don't promote that statistics don't necessarily support this concept. In reality, the chances of an inexperienced gun owner hurting themselves and their loved ones are higher than you might imagine.

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These days we see lots of AllState Insurance advertising on television, promoting various image-building elements and their concern for Katrina victims. One heart-strings tugging spot talks about how they purchased and gave away 10,000 little teddy bears for children affected by the hurricane. Forgive us for being cynical but perhaps our MadAve experience makes us see this as an incredibly pathetic and underhanded tactic to make us feel more warm and fuzzy in our recliners that AllState is more concerned about little kids than their next quarterly profit. We can't help but wonder if the campaign is to pre-empt more negative news about insurance companies among consumers, to protect theirs vs. shareholders.

Positioning a leading financial company in more emotional terms would be more believable if the message was that the budget for teddy came out of AllState's employee's pockets. It doesn't. The talking head holds up the little teddy bear with a background that looks very much like Mississippi and rubs it in our face that its little things that also count. Is it an insurance company's job to buy 10,000 (their #)... and spend millions patting themselves on the back instead of taking that money and giving it to people in need. Perhaps later, it would be appropriate to do a post-recovery campaign with testimonials from AllState customers who made passionate personal testimonials that they really were in good hands.

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We could think of more than a few ways that AllState could have spent its million $$ primetime budget and the $35,000 or so they probably laid out for blue teddy (probably bought from China for $3.50 each vs. a US company we only assume) for other more productive purposes. We would be surprised if AllState had them inventoried back at the warehouse for such as purpose, though who know?

Can you imagine the genius who came up with that *brainstorm* idea at company headquarters, or was it from their agency? And can you guess what programming they ran the spots in?
1. Network Cable News
2. Network Cable News
3. Network Cable News
4. Jeopardy
5. All of the above

Another brilliant example on tone-deaf Behavioral Marketing was GM's recent announcement of their intention to fire 25,000 employees, ironically on the day (or thereabouts) of their latest "employee discount" promotion. Perhaps we got it wrong, maybe it was their "employee discounted" promotion.

Who knows, as this trend translates more into more product placement tactics, the idea of pop-ups in films may not be so far away. No offense to Behavioral Marketing companies mentioned here, but is it just a matter of time when technology like Google's Gmail paid listings word tracking technology is applied to "blockbuster" films. Can you imagine Claria or WhenU sliders popping up in the theatre screen, or more likely on a person's individual home screen which is sensitive to plot analysis, or even the temperature highs and lows of the viewer, like treadmill exercise machines which helps you monitor your heart rate?

Will we soon see even more subtle messages woven into the plot, created, produced and analyzed to deliver the product message at the key time to enhance the product in such a way as to maximize sales conversion. Some might question if this threshold has already been crossed?

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At the end of the day, each of the Crash's characters had to move off their initial preferences and into another, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse space. It revealed that as mere mortals we are only human and over time it becomes very clear to each of us what our preferences are individually and the people and effects of our surroundings. And sometimes, if we are going to survive, the pragmatic thing to do is to be somewhat more flexible. Our preferences after all could be the things that put us into harm's way than we would like to believe. Satisfying them could be lethal.

Last but not least, for those who took business 101 in school a discussion on social responsibility of business and Behavioral Marketing wouldn't be complete if we didn't mention Milton Friedman's well-known thesis that the only social responsibility business has is to maximize profits for its shareholders. Some organizations of course do this better than others.

That's fine by us. It even applies to Behavioral Marketing. When we see ad campaigns like the ones mentioned we believe that the company's responsibilities to their shareholders will indeed be maximized, though not necessarily in the right direction.

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We don't portend to think that little things like our insurance policies mean much, though the teddy campaign absolutely had a real impact on us. If we were on the fence about choosing insurers, our mind is made up. With us they have definitely crashed and burned. We will never ever consider using AllState again.

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