Is There A Formula For “Virality”?

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Ever use a great product or service that inexplicably fails to catch on and is soon discontinued…and you wonder what in the world went wrong?

Welcome to the world of “virality” – where that thing you thought was the best thing since sliced bread falls off the market with barely a whimper. And something that should never have existed sells 25 million copies and its  founder retires to St. Thomas in 6 months. 

So what does make something go “viral”?

Wharton Marketing Professor Jonah Berger has a book out about that called “Contagious”. Since I haven’t read the book yet – and probably won’t for a while – here are some excerpts from an interview with him on Knowledge@Wharton that might serve as a short-term substitute (if you’re going to find yourself in the same boat as me).

1. The science:

Knowledge@Wharton: In the book, you actually outline a framework of six principles for why things catch on, using the STEPPS acronym. Can you describe those for us and discuss how you developed them?

Berger: The books talks about the six key steps to drive people to talk and share. STEPPS is an acronym for:

  • Social currency:, It’s all about people talking about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad
  • Triggers, which is all about the idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.” We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.
  • Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on.
  • Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
  • Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.
  • Stories, or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives.

2. And, here’s an interesting example about everyone’s favorite amazing-product-and-brilliant-marketing company Apple:

Think about Apple’s headphones. It used to be that we all carried portable CD players. It was like carrying a pizza. You had to run like this, to make sure it didn’t skip. Then, they came out with these things called mp3 players. Really great technology, but they were super expensive. Is it worth adopting this new product? How do I know if it’s worth adopting this new product? If you looked around on the subway or the bus, you couldn’t tell [which products people were using] because everyone’s headphones were black. It was impossible to see what device someone was using, as opposed to another device.

But what Apple did really smartly is they used white headphones. Once you start seeing a number of people wearing white headphones, you say, “Wow. A lot of people are using this. It must be really good,” which encourages you to adopt that product as well. It’s just like if you’ve gone to a foreign city and you don’t know where to eat. How you decide? You look for a restaurant that’s full of people. It’s a totally offline example. But you assume if it’s full of people, it must be really good. Thinking about how to make the private public, particularly in an offline environment, is a great way to help your product catch on.

Find the full article here. When you get there, if you have 16 minutes, watch the video – or skip it and scroll down to the transcript. 

Aunt Jemima, Branding And It’s “Unsavory Past”

Building brands, as anyone knows, takes a lot of time. And effort. And money.

But what if a brand that’s been around for a very long time rose to prominence in a not-quite-Kosher way?

That’s the story of Aunt Jemima, PepsiCo, Quaker Oats and Pinnacle Foods, writes Claire Zillman on Fortune magazine.

So what’s going on?

In a class action lawsuit, D.W. Hunter and Larnell Evans claim that PepsiCo Inc., its subsidiary Quaker Oats Co. (which sells Aunt Jemima syrup), and Pinnacle Foods (which makes Aunt Jemima frozen pancakes) schemed to deny that their great grandmother, Anna Short Harrington, had worked for Quaker Oats while refusing to pay her royalties for 60 years, as products bearing her image brought in millions of dollars in sales.

The lawsuit alleges that Quaker Oats recruited Harrington as she cooked pancakes at the New York State Fair, after which the company used her recipes and trademarked her likeness as Aunt Jemima. A November 1935 ad in Woman’s Home Companion magazine that pictured Harrington’s likeness in a red bandana appeared with the title “Let ol Autie sing in yo’ kitchen”—a headline that the plaintiffs say capitalized on Harrington’s Southern accent and distinct dialect, which stems from the Gullah Geechee culture that was prevalent in South Carolina.

“Throughout the 1930s, the bulk of Aunt Jemima advertising continued to concentrate on the romantic world of ‘plantation flavor,’” the lawsuit says.

More damagingly, for the brand, Claire adds:

Indeed, the Aunt Jemima character has long come under fire for its racist past. In a 2007 interview with NPR, Maurice Manring, author of Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, said that the marketing of Aunt Jemima came of age in an era when middle-class housewives were not able to employ black maids as easily as they once did. The ads targeted the nostalgia for those earlier days. “You can’t have Aunt Jemima today but you can have her recipe and that’s the next best thing,” Manring said, explaining the ads. “And so what we’re talking really about is trying to ease the transition from having someone do something for you to doing it yourself, and that’s where the slavery nostalgia was particularly effective,” he said.

That’s pretty reprehensible…But will the companies settle?

Not sure about the $2B that the lawsuit wants, but maybe at a much lower point – something that just about offsets the cost of rebranding and any negative publicity resulting from a potentially embarrassing lawsuit. Maybe…we shall see in the not too distant future, I think. 

Of Menus, Pricing And Revenue Maximization

The Guardian has an interesting article that everyone should read on how restaurants subtly manipulate patron behavior.

First on the menu, sorry, list, is the famous “anchor” Pricing strategy:

While you would assume that we read a menu from left to right, studies show that our eyes gravitate toward the upper right-hand corner first. This is often where the “anchor” – or the most profitable item – is located.

But this particular ploy is more cunning than simply getting you to buy the most expensive dishes: typically, having this usually quite costly dish listed will make everything look reasonably priced in comparison.

“Having an outrageously expensive item is both likely to get publicity for a restaurant, and will also get people to spend more,” says Charles Spence, experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford and co-author of The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining.

“People think ‘I wonder if anyone ever orders that?’, without realising that its true purpose is to make the next most expensive item seem cheaper.”

Conversely, research suggests that diners look at the bottom left of a menu last, so this is where the least expensive dishes will be positioned.

Be sure to check out the rest of the article for other clever ways in which restaurants (and waiters) maximize their revenue on your next visit. 

Clever Marketing, From LG

What do you do when your main competitor has pretty much appropriated the word “Galaxy”?

You take out Ads like this one:

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Will it translate into sales?

Not sure, but it will at least make potential consumers pause for a second and grab some eyeballs, so it’s probably a good start. Then, comes the real marketing magic…

Marketing To Teens: 1956 Edition

As part of celebrating 125 years of being around, the Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a number of stories it published over the years.

The one that stood out to me, on the business front, was this 1956 piece called “Teenage Customers: Merchants Seek Teens’ Dollars, Influence Now, Brand Loyalty Later” – that highlights the relatively advanced state of marketing, even back then. 

I can’t copy paste an excerpt (no OCR), so two image excerpts will have to do:

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and this:

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If you subscribe to The WSJ, the compilation of stories is worth taking a look at…

 

Coke To Bet More On Sugar Water With Bubbles

Consider two things (paywall):

1. Global soda sales and coke’s soda sales are steadily declining:

The pace of Coke’s global soda volume growth slowed to 1% last year from 3% in 2012 as concerns about health and obesity spread. Last month the World Health Organization suggested that individuals limit consumption of added sugars in food and drinks to 6 teaspoons a day—less than the 9 teaspoons in a 12-ounce can of Coke.

Soda volume in Mexico, Coke’s second-largest market, have fallen an estimated 5% or more since the country introduced a tax on sugary beverages in January.

The new drag on Coke’s U.S. business is diet soda. Diet Coke volume has been down for eight straight years, accelerating the decline in the past three. Diet Coke sales plunged 6.8%, in volume terms last year, according to Beverage Digest.

2. But instead of focusing only on diversifying into non-soda beverages,

…the Atlanta-based company plans to double down on its namesake brand. The company is boosting advertising, introducing new products, and using singer Taylor Swift as a pitchwoman. Chief Executive Muhtar Kent has said that last year, when Coke’s U.S. soda volume dropped 2%, was an anomaly. Soda can return to healthy growth, even in the U.S., especially if it is a brand name like Coke, he said.

“Coca-Cola remains magical. We need to work even harder to enhance the romance of the brand in every corner of the world,” Mr. Kent told investors in February. He regularly refers to flagship Coke as the company’s “oxygen” and “lifeblood.”

For starters, he plans to increase global advertising by $1 billion over the next three years. The company spent $3.3 billion last year. Much of the increase will be devoted to soda, including the Sprite and Fanta brands.

But with even Warren Buffet saying “I’m 100% in accord with Coca-Cola’s business strategy and regard Muhtar Kent as the ideal CEO for Coca-Cola” it’s probably a safe bet that Mr Kent (and Mr Buffett) can see the future of Coke’s bubbly sugar water in a way no one else can.

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