Viewing entries by
Ash Kramer

Advertising on TV - a quick heads-up

Advertising on TV - a quick heads-up

No one watches any advertising on TV. So why are advertising agencies in Auckland still flogging this dead horse? Because the move away from TV hasn't happened here... yet.

What I Learned From Auckland Advertising Agencies

What I Learned From Auckland Advertising Agencies

Ashley Kramer looks back at his time working with Auckland advertising agencies and the ups of downs he experienced. Ashley worked as Advertising Agency Account Manager for the National Business Review, which basically meant that he spent most of my time convincing advertising agencies to spend their client’s hard-earned loot with him.

Advertising and politics make strange bedfellows.

Advertising and politics make strange bedfellows.

Politics sucks doesn’t it? Sure, we have to have it in our lives because short of running around with assault rifles and Molotov cocktails, or giving some muppet with bad hair total control, it’s the only way to run society.

But damn, why does it always have to be so hard?

For example, who’d want to be an American at the moment? It’s an election year and their political system has descended well beyond the level of farce into, oh I don’t know… debacle maybe?

Never mind the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and endless Congressional deadlocks that could shut everything down, the poor buggers also have to deal with a Republican primary field that looks like it’s made up of rejects from a C-Grade horror movie, while the “obvious” Democratic candidate is nothing more than the same old, same old wearing a dress. At least they’ve got Bernie to make it interesting instead of just being utter laughing stocks on a global scale.

Then there’s little old New Zealand. Frankly we shouldn’t be too smug. A quick look through the archives of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show makes it plain that we’ve got our own share of cringe-worthy politicians, hell bent on lifting their game to world-class levels of buffoonery. If I said what I thought about our Prime Minister, I’d probably get locked up, but he’s there because middle New Zealand loves a “winner” (choke), and because there’s no other bloody choice!

If I was a Yank with conservative leanings, I’d have to choose between creatures like Trump and Cruz. In New Zealand, I get to choose between a flag changing, ponytail tugger and… hang on, who’s running Labor again? And as much of a hippie as I am, the Greens would just muck it up given enough rope. But if I want a PM and a party who seem to be more aligned with my values, and less inclined to change the flag just “because”, then I might actually have to give one of the other parties my vote, even if they’ve got zero chance of winning or even of having an impact. Talk about a lousy choice.

Politics is all about choosing the lesser of two evils, which are basically two pieces of the same pie with marginally different fillings when it comes down to it. If the whole mess wasn’t fired up by ideology, no one would ever vote. And if anyone could find a credible alternative, we’d probably roll it out in a flash.

Which brings us to advertising. In most cases, we have more than one choice of any particular product or service, but usually, they’re all much of a muchness, no matter how stridently the various brands proclaim their uniqueness.

I’ve written before about grudge purchases. Some products and services (like insurance or shock absorbers for example) are total grudge purchases, but others, well, they’re stuff we need or want, but these purchases are either driven by ideology aka belief, or price. We buy a certain beer because we like the taste, or we identify with the brand’s values and advertising messages i.e. we believe. Or we buy whatever’s reasonably tasty at a big discount at the supermarket on a Friday afternoon because price matters more.

But truth be told, we could buy any of the brands. Heineken is Steinlager is Stella. Don’t kid yourself they’re not. And Lexus is BMW is Audi as much as State is IAG is Southern Cross. You only think they’re different because you’ve been told they are often enough.

What would happen if a brand became a grudge purchase based purely on ideology? If your favourite beer became the name sponsor of the Australian rugby team, who went on to handily and repeatedly trounce your beloved All Blacks? It’s unlikely, I know, but bear with me.

Would you change your beer? Are you buying based on a thin veneer of belief and nothing more? Are the things that make up who you are (fashion, phone, accessories, car etc.) nothing more than constructs in your head?

More to the point, if you run a business, or are involved in the marketing one, then what are you and your company doing to truly stand out and to offer products or services that are more than just the sum of their price and the messages you feed out into the world?

Think about how you’d market a true grudge purchase, and then apply that same thinking to your own marketing. Why would you want to sell stuff that’s merely the lesser of two or more evils, when you could stand out and be remarkable? What happens when you slip down the ladder and are seen, for whatever reason, to be more “evil” in some small way than the opposition?

Here’s my usual hint – you won’t be different (or “not evil”) by doing the same thing you always did. And embracing whatever the latest trend is doesn’t count either because your competitors are already doing just that. You need to look at the big picture and find ways to be excellent, and if you can do that, along with everyone at your organisation, then the consumer will always find ways to support that.

Otherwise you’re just another part of the filling of a big, but exceedingly bland pie.

Why advertise when your service is crap?

Why advertise when your service is crap?

Every company has some kind of an advertising budget. Even the smallest one man bands have to set aside some money for marketing their business, whether that’s printing flyers, running a simple website or placing an ad in the Yellow Pages (when they actually were yellow and pages).

The big players on the other hand pour money into advertising and marketing the same way I pour money into food and travel. A quick look around town and a few hours spent listening to the radio, watching TV or browsing the Internet should give you an idea of the sheer reach and depth of pocket of the larger corporates. As an ex-advertising manager, I’ve had years of exposure to the thought processes of corporations and their ad agencies desperately trying to stand out from the herd. From innovative new campaigns to name changes and total shifts in direction, I’ve more or less seen it all.

And after my years in sales and marketing, I’ve come to a final conclusion re. advertising, and it’s one that should be obvious to everyone who’s in business but for some reason, it’s not.

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on advertising, if your products and or services aren’t up to speed, then you will never be as successful as you could be.

Which brings me to Vodafone New Zealand as an example of rendering advertising worthless, or at least worth less than it should be. I’ve been a Vodafone mobile customer since I first arrived on these fair shores 15 years ago. The service has generally been okay, much of a muchness compared to all the other players… well, let’s make that the other player seeing as there was a duopoly in place for a much of that time. Arguably, there still is but that’s a tale for another day.

I’ve never used Vodafone for home Internet or land line services, preferring to just stick with Spark but after being out of the country for the last year or so, I ended up encountering Vodafone landline based Internet in a big way for the first time. I’ve been staying with family and friends for the month I’m in New Zealand, and all three of the places I’ve stayed have had the familiar white and red Vodafone router stashed in a room somewhere. The sight of that router has begun to fill me with intense trepidation.

You see, my partner runs an online business that needs to have decent Internet access. She doesn’t need mega speed or gamer-type pings, just enough to make international Skype video calls or VOIP calls. But we apparently can’t do that with any degree of certainty in any of the houses with a Vodafone fixed line.

Funny that. We managed in Bali, and not just in Ubub and Denpasar. We coped in some far-flung towns on the north coast of the Island; areas where the Internet infrastructure isn’t exactly flash. But not in NZ. How’s that possible?

We were of course also fine in the USA, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand. But in New Zealand, the calls drop out with an unerring regularity, even in Auckland and Tauranga. Which is when we need to fall back to the 3G or 4G on my iPhone (powered by Vodafone ironically enough). That connection is much more consistent, even if it’s not as quick but the price is just silly. I won’t grill Vodafone too much in that regard – the other players are pretty much just as bad in terms of their outrageous data pricing. I fondly remember getting 4.5Gb of mobile data (and 3G speeds close to 20Mb at times) on Thailand’s AIS mobile network for around $15, not the 1Gb for $29 that I get from Vodafone (and yes, I know about the unlimited txts and the 200 minutes). 

Anyway, back to the landlines – wondering if it was just our bad luck, I started asking around. I asked friends and family, and I asked on the social feed of a technology site I run. The verdict quickly became clear – almost overwhelmingly, Vodafone fixed line Internet access doesn’t seem to be highly regarded. The reason most people give for staying with Vodafone is that all the other ISPs are just as bad. So perhaps Vodafone is hanging onto some of its fixed line market share purely because of consumer apathy?

But this will eventually reflect on their bottom line. Sooner or later, one of the other players will start delivering measurably better service instead of something that resembles the bad days of early New Zealand ADSL when micro-outages were common. And they’ll find a compelling way to tell Kiwis about it, or just wait for word-of-mouth to make it plain. At that point, Vodafone can kiss a huge swathe of clients goodbye.

Which brings us to the moral of the story. How much money are you spending on advertising that’s being wasted because some part of your organisation isn’t quite running up to speed?

Is it your gruff sounding, uninvolved receptionist who makes your customers want to call someone else? Eventually they will, and it’ll be your competition on the other end of the line. Or is it your call center’s inability to think outside the box while rigidly adhering to their call scripts? Maybe a product with a lid that tends to spill liquid when the container is shaken? A rep in a branded company car that drives like a madman? Every one of these things can and will impact your company.

No business is perfect, which is why the people at the top need to be rigorously auditing every part of the machine to find and eliminate the weaknesses, whether that be product, people or processes. Find a way to improve your company in some small way every day and you’ll be stunned at what you end up with. Unless the rot does in fact come from the top, in which case, you might as well fire the marketing team and shut the doors because eventually, the competition will eat you alive.

Spend a dollar improving your company before you spend a dollar telling people about it. You’ll be far better off in the long run.