OK, P&G. I’m Impressed

“Only Nixon could go to China.”

A Procter & Gamble ad promoting their Olympic sponsorship reminds me of this old political chestnut, made popular by “Star Trek VI.”  I speak in particular of the vignette of a bullied, gay male figure skater being consoled by his mother.

I’m impressed

As the right-thinking among us say “it’s about time,” let me ad some context.  Nearly a quarter-century ago, I conducted communication check interviews for Cognac Hennessy to determine whether an ad read “gay” or not.

For the blessedly uninitiated, brands often run communication check interviews to confirm that an ad gets the main idea over to its audience.  So Bud might conduct communication check research to ensure that beer drinkers who saw a TV spot heard “beechwood aged” enough times to get the point.

Hennessy’s ad, a pencil sketch concept at this point, featured a younger man hugging an older man with a headline about the experience of coming home.  As an aside, the sketch of the younger man bore a striking resemblance to our account director, David Freeman (RIP, Dieter), Apparently, two men hugging in 1994 was a big deal.  So happens, most respondents didn’t see the ad as depicting gay men, although a few suggested that maybe the younger man was gay and the hug signaled acceptance from his father.

Lots of things happened between then and now, including “Will & Grace” and Obergfell v. HodgesEllen DeGeneres kissed a woman on prime time TV and the world didn’t end.  The arc has truly bent towards justice on this issue, even as some remain opposed.  As Kahlil Gibran said, “the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

Kudos to P&G for joining the caravan and leaving the dogs behind.

Data. And Research. And Fried Chicken.

When it comes down to it, marketing strategists have only three tools at their disposal: data, research and their own opinions.  Make that two things; opinions don’t count because everyone else has them, too.  Strangely, most strategists willingly ignore 50% of the tools remaining and focus on just research or just data.  I’ve learned that not only do research and data strengthen each other, they also cover each other’s blind spots.  If you consider yourself a strategist, you should use both.

The case for research informing data

Imagine a clothing brand that sells a sweater in both black and white in its online store.  Any data analyst can pull an astounding amount of information about the sales that will inform marketing strategy.  At its simplest, these data can show what percentage of people bought black vs. white out to as many decimal places as you please.  Without too much trouble, an analyst could also find interesting trends such as which color sold better at which time of the day or which one resulted in the larger average order size.  Add in data about the buyers and the analyst can tell you where black sold better than white or which sold better to longtime customers vs. first-time buyers.

Know what the data can’t tell you?  How many people wanted a blue sweater instead?

While data partisans prize data for their irrefutability, data tend to look backwards at what people did and not forwards at what they might do.  Looking forward means more than adding another sweater color.  In a larger sense, it means seeing opportunities that data simply can’t predict.

The case for data informing research

Research, on the other hand, has something to learn from data.  One need only look at polls where Americans report interest in healthier foods and compare that interest to actual sales of, say, Doritos to see the limits of research..  The discrepancy between what people say and what they do doesn’t invalidate research, of course.  Research gets strategists into the heads of consumers in a way that data simply can’t.  Like a CT scan, good research shows us not simply what consumers think, but how and why they think that way.

That said, data enhance research’s usefulness by giving scale and weight to findings or even by ensuring that the strategists answer the right questions in the first place.  In a famous example from the 1960s, one of the corn oil companies conducted research that proved, to them at any rate, that people preferred the taste of home-fried chicken over a new product, Shake ‘N Bake.  Correct answer, but to the wrong question.  Had the corn oil company recognized that people DID buy Shake ‘N Bake, perhaps they would have asked those purchasers WHY they bought the product and taken action to maintain sales of their product.

Come to think of it, I’d like to research a nice piece of fried chicken

Think “both/and” not “either/or”

A strategist who employs both data and research together can expect to provide stronger rationales for her recommendations.  Data give research a foot in the here-and-now while research gives data more understanding of why the numbers are what they are and how marketers can identify new opportunities.  Try using them to support one another and then maybe, just maybe, your opinions might count after all.

How Soon is “Too Soon?”

How soon is “too soon” for promoting tourism after a terror event? Three weeks seems to be the norm.

While it may feel unseemly to talk of commerce in the wake of a murderous event, the question bears asking. For one, tourism drives the economies of many cities, meaning that people depend on it to make a living. For another, terror attacks show no sign of stopping.

Sadly, it pays to be prepared.  I would argue that a tourism-dependent business not thinking about this issue would be like an citrus grower not having a contingency for frost.

Times Square, Veteran’s Day 2014

This week’s cowardly attacks about five miles from my home and hard by my nephew’s high school (he graduated in 2016) prompted an article in the New York Times about how terror attacks have affected New York.

However, I also happen to have my own experience with this grim calculus.

On a recent assignment for a client who conducts large-scale event marketing, I had to ask–and answer–the “how soon?” question. The client had planned an event in a large U.S. city that they would promote in email and other digital channels.  It’s telling that I can maintain client anonymity due to the prevalence of terror activity.  So, while police combed the crime scene, I felt a duty to advise the client on the go/no-go decision.

In the absence of a social listening tool to measure consumer sentiment,  I used Google Trends.  If you’re unfamiliar, Google Trends tracks the popularity of a search term according to an index where 100 is the high water mark.  Researchers can filter results by location down to the city, by time and by other factors.

Specifically, I looked at search trends for terms that included “[city name] travel” and “what to do in [city name] this weekend” for several large worldwide cities over the past several years, before and after terror attacks.  I found some interesting things:

  1. Travel interest drops after an attack but returns to seasonal normal after about three weeks on the outside.  While the number of terror attacks hasn’t reached a robust sample size, I feel confident saying that the length of time before returning to normal roughly reflects the severity of the attack.  Interest in London travel rebounded more quickly after the Westminster and London Bridge attacks than interest in Paris travel after the Bataclan attacks.  As the kids say, YMMV.
  2. Counter-intuitively, interest in travel searches increases during and immediately after the attack.  I suspect the spike comes from people en route or about to travel who want to change plans or simply determine prosaic details such as whether the airport remains open.  I would call this more of a “huh” than a marketing opportunity, of course.
  3. Locals rebound faster.  Again, sample sizes preclude me from making broad promises, but weekend-related search terms get back up to normal within a week or so.  Speaking as a jaded New Yorker, I suspect that after the initial shock wears off, people still gotta get out of the house.

In the end, I recommended that the client go ahead with the promotion as the earliest mail date would come a month after the attack.  Without a doubt, I’ve never made a sobering recommendation.