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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Obama, The Ground Game and The Future

With our presidential election a few weeks behind us, many people are doing a good bit of Monday morning quarterbacking. Neither the President nor Governor Romney ran a particularly distinguished campaign but most agree that the President out-organized the former Massachusetts governor. Typically, people refer to this practice as “the ground game”.

For most people, the ground game is campaign field operations where a candidate’s team identifies likely voters and makes a strong effort to get them to come to the polls. Campaigns are famous for driving the old and the infirm to the polling station. It is done county by county across the country and, in urban areas, block by block.

This time it was different, really different. The Obama campaign had a technological edge over the GOP as they employed e-mail, Facebook, micro-targeting, and other social media venues to reach prospects. They keyed on the women, young voters, Latinos, and African-Americans that the president carried in 2008 and nearly approached or matched delivery in every one of those key target groups this year.

Virtually all political observers would admit that the President ran a brilliant campaign in 2008. Well, they had captured a mind-boggling e-mail list of 13 million voters four years ago. They went back and reworked that list and profiled potential voters very carefully. Messages were customized to appeal to those voters once again.

They opened regional offices some 15 months before the election and staffed them with professionals. People were visited and contacted by the campaign many times prior to the election.

While all this was going on, Mitt Romney was fighting a bruising primary campaign to get the GOP nomination. Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator with no chance of winning the general election held on through May and diverted Romney’s team from building a grassroots base in many key markets. Romney had some smart people, no doubt. But, the president’s regional efforts were 9-10 months ahead of them in getting started and that may have made the difference. Early voting also helped as the president’s team encouraged and helped many who might not have been able to vote on Election Day to get to the polls early.

I live in a non-battleground state. Twice, I showed up for early voting and left due to long lines. On my third try, I waited 50 minutes in a drizzle and cast my vote on Wednesday prior to the election. Something was clearly up. And the Romney group’s chief tool was Project Orca, a software program that’s purpose was to get out the vote on Election Day. It may have been good, it may have been poor, but in several states, the President had built up such a commanding lead that a GOP get out the vote effort  on Election Day almost had to fall short.

So, what does all this mean for the future? Some Obama loyalists are saying that their man inspired such enthusiasm from so many that their ground game in 2012 cannot be replicated in 2016. Perhaps there is a bit of truth there but you can be sure that the GOP will bring in their own team of data crunching geeks to sharpen performance going forward. And consider this scenario—what if Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, announces for President early? She can build her organization and would likely be the presumptive nominee shortly after her announcement. The Republicans may have another group of gadflies getting in the way of a few serious candidates. So Secretary Clinton would have the organizational lead and in summer of 2016 the GOP nominee would face the same game of catch-up that Romney did this year.

(Why were the polls so wrong? Well, you can’t rely on old technology. Some 35% of us don’t have a landline, and those geezers who still do usually have caller ID and won’t pick up the phone when they see who is calling.)

In the future, advertising may pay a lesser role and TV stations and cable players in battleground states may not get the bonanza of cash that they received this year. Pin-point targeting will get better and better. Also, four years from now there is an excellent chance that a sophisticated campaign will reach and engage voters by somehow connecting TV advertising to mobile, the web, or social media in ways that no one has developed to date.

In ancient Rome, there was a saying that translates as follows—“He who has the gold, makes the rules.” Over the years, we bastardized that by substituting advertising dollars or marketing strength for gold. Going forward, may I suggest that in politics it will be—“The campaign with the better data that yields better messaging, wins.”

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Monday, November 12, 2012

Globalization and Poverty

On 9/9/11 I wrote a post entitled “Globalization and Advertising.” Each day it still generates a few hits and a week does not go by when someone writes directly to me to discuss it. A few months ago, a reader in Chicago started a lengthy thread about Globalization.

His main point is that Globalization is bad for the United States because developing countries have a comparative advantage over us when it comes to wages. So, evil multinational corporations simply move plants and factories overseas and dislocate American workers. His argument is that nobody wins with Globalization.

My take is that the topic is very complicated and certainly far more nuanced than my Windy City acquaintance makes it. Now, let me be clear. Managers who truly have no sense of social justice run some companies.  And, there is simply not enough time or money to identify all the greedy bastards out there who may cut legal or taxation corners to feather their own nests or prop up the corporate bottom line.

People who are critics of free trade often talk about those seeking a better life in America but forget about the billions overseas who seek the same kind of betterment. Not my Chicago friend, but others have written to me saying that, as a member of a Christian faith, free trade is unconscionable as some Americans inevitably lose their jobs if it is implemented. When I counter with don’t struggling Thais, or Vietnamese or Sri Lankans have the right to succeed, they tell me that is a different issue. When I ask if God looks at the passport of those being lifted out of poverty, people usually get angry, silent or both.

I am not naïve. There are some abusive practices out there where American workers are being asked to compete against child labor and sometimes prison labor. Clearly, that is not right. But is it social justice when Americans want to deny the poor abroad the chance to rise in life with their competitive advantage of lower wages?

For twenty-five years, I have wrestled with this issue. To me, the ONLY way for workers in developing countries to get out of abject poverty is if production can take place anywhere. The much-maligned multi-nationals are the key here. Only business, and usually big business will push for open markets. Politicians won’t do it, as they are afraid to offend even a few thousand constituents who may be temporarily out of work or have to move.

Each year millions of people in developing markets join the global middle class. And, in doing so, buy American brands of all sorts. The multi-nationals are not all laden with saints. But open markets are the only way the lowest in the world can claw their way out of terrible poverty. So, as unlikely as it may seem to many of us, the multi-nationals are the globes poorest unlikely and, at times, only real champions.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A New Case for Spot TV & Local Cable

Over the last few years, I have received much e-mail saying that I am unfair to local broadcast (spot TV) on the pages of this blog. Obviously, I do not agree. What I tried to point out is that all forms of television have lost a few steps as an advertising medium as commercial avoidance has accelerated via time shifting devices, channel hopping with a remote in hand, and now using one’s Smartphone during commercial breaks or even programming itself.

All this is true and is now part of the fabric of using the television medium for advertising. In recent months, however, I have seen something else happen that may make the local versions of TV both in spot broadcast and local cable more attractive to large advertisers.

There are 210 Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMA’s) in the United States. Market #1 is New York with nearly 7.4 million TV households and Market #210 is Glendive, Montana with just over 4,300 households. When an advertiser buys 1,000 rating points on national network TV, they average 1,000 point across the 210 markets. But delivery is not consistent. In smaller markets ratings can be significantly higher and in larger markets where there is more to do, ratings tend to be lower. For many years, marketers would take that in to account and supplement their network TV buys in the top 20 DMA’s across the country and in other areas of sales strength or potential.

On top of that, just as network TV delivery varies, so do product sales on an index basis across the 210 markets. Colgate toothpaste may be fairly flat but most brands have real pockets of strength and other DMA’s show significant sales weakness. Years ago, media planners were trained to do exhaustive breakdowns of sales data. If a DMA had low network delivery but positive sales potential, a spot TV buy would take place even in fairly small markets. The idea was to squeeze every possible case sale out of your distribution universe.

Now, when you talk to young media strategists, they laugh when you bring such a topic up. I have heard or received comments such as “network will take care of it or why should we chase down a few extra sales in Green Bay?”  In days gone by, network TV was always twice as efficient on a per eyeball basis as spot TV. Not so any longer, my friends! As network pricing marches upward almost every year, there are many DMA’s in the Midwest in particular that have not seen meaningful price increases in years. So, the efficiency advantage that network TV had is not nearly as great as it once was. And, sales still are like a rollercoaster in terms of DMA by DMA volume along with volatile local market media delivery.

That is why I remain convinced that some of the best conventional media execution takes place in smaller shops on the back roads of American advertising in places like Burlington, Louisville, Akron, or Salt Lake City. A young planner in a mid-sized mid-western shop writes to me often about how he tries to optimize his budget in the 12 DMA’s where his largest client advertises. His boss does not appreciate what he is doing but I always try to give him constant encouragement. He may have limited resources compared to his colleagues in larger cities but he is not afraid to work and get things right.

The same is true with local cable. When one makes a national cable buy, is delivery flat? Take a look at Birmingham, Alabama’s ESPN delivery and compare it to the ratings that premier network delivers in San Francisco. You will be surprised at the spread.

So, local cable also suffers in many DMA’s as it does not get supplementary weight to make up for a shortfall in national network buys or pockets of unusual sales strength.

Would this require more work by the national agency or buying service? You bet. But the rewards in stronger sales could be substantial.

If you are an agency person reading this, consider what I have said. If you are a client, see how closely your agency tries to match delivery to sales, sales potential, or maybe find pockets of very efficient buys in excellent markets for your brand. If you are network affiliate or local cable sales executive, you may be frustrated and rightly so. You are selling a product that may be underutilized by allegedly sophisticated marketers.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com