Seven, Plus or Minus Two – The “Magical” Power of Choice

In his seminal work, also one of the most highly cited papers in psychology, George A. Miller argues that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2. First published in 1956, Miller discusses two reasons for this “magical” number of 7.

First, the effectiveness of people to distinguish between choices/alternatives that vary on one dimension is around 4 to 8, beyond which the performance declines. Second, he observed that memory span of young adults is approximately 7 items, beyond which the performance is weak. Particularly, I was struck by the memory span reason. Just to humor myself, I tried recalling the brands that I’m aware of in some product categories that I use daily. Guess what, I could not get past 6 in most cases! Try it out, am sure it’ll be fun.

And he makes an interesting observation about the “magical” aspect of 7. He wonders if it has anything to do with the Seven Wonders of the World, the seven seas, the seven deadly sins, the seven daughters of Atlas in the Pleiades, the seven ages of man, the seven levels of hell, the seven primary colors, the seven notes of the musical scale, and the seven days of the week! Well, it may be the strangest coincidence ever, but intriguing nevertheless.

If the choices that the average human mind can handle are limited, why then do grocery stores today carry an average of 35,000 products, Wal-Mart provide an average of 100,000 products, and provide over 15 million date possibilities? This is one of the many interesting thoughts discussed in the recently released book – “The Art of Choosing” by Sheena Iyengar. A Professor at the Columbia Business School and the author of the classic “jam study” Iyengar traverses through various disciplines such as psychology, marketing, economics, public policy, medicine, and finance, and weaves together a rich and fascinating survey of current and past research on the subject of choices.

Using personal anecdotes and cultural observations, Iyengar tackles some important questions on choices and how they impact our lives. How & why is choice powerful? Are the choices we make more similar or more different from each other? How important are choices to us in our daily lives? Is there a connection between who we are and what we choose? What roles do others play in our choice decisions, and should they have a role? The book reviews a wide variety of studies that poses interesting questions over conclusive statements. This provides the reader with information and opportunity to ponder and reflect on the choices we make. In all, “The Art of Choosing” raises thought-provoking and profound issues that shed light on why we make the personal choices we do, and how we reap the benefits or consequences as a result of our choices.

Check out her TED talk here.

Check out her presentation at the Knowledge @ Wharton studio here.

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Physics & Marketing–> Oil & Water? Not quite

How do you take two completely (perceivably) irrelevant things and say they are linked? Well Dan Cobley (from Google) does exactly that.

Physics  and Marketing are related… As ridiculous as it sounds, it is kinda true. Watch his TED talk for his side of it.

Come to think of it… Sir Isaac Newton (yes… the physicist) has contributed to marketing literature too! let me elaborate-

Reilly’s Law of Retail Gravitation- William J. Reilly, in the 1920s, proposed a formula to calculate the propensity with which a customer would choose one retailer over another if we know the size of the stores and the distance that separated them. In comes the formula,

Painfully tedious as it looks, the foundation of this formula was ,

Looks familiar? Seen that formula sometime in highschool, while cramming for exams?? Yes. It is derived from Newton’s Law of Gravitation. Ta daa!

Guess physicists would make great marketers! What say?

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How well do you know your customers?

Ok folks, its Seinfeld time again. I told you, I love this show.

In Season 5, Episode 1 (The Mango) of the show, there’s an interesting story-line between Kramer, Jerry, George and Joe (from Joe’s the fruit store) that runs right through the episode. Here are the excerpts from the episode:

(Kramer spits out his peach)
Jerry: Bad peach?
Kramer: It’s terrible!
Jerry: Did you get that at Joe’s?
Kramer: Yeah, of course I got it at Joe’s.
Jerry: That’s surprising, his fruit is usually the best.
Kramer: You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna return this.
Jerry: You’re returning used fruit?
Kramer: Jerry this peach is sub par.
[location: Joe’s]
Joe: So what do you want me to do?
Kramer: I want restitution.
Joe: Restitution? You want restitution? Why should I give you restitution?
Kramer: Because it’s no good.
Joe: When you put that fruit out, that’s where it ends for me.
Kramer: It’s still your fruit, you gotta stand behind your fruit.
Joe: I stand behind my fruit.
Kramer: So…
Joe: Hey, you got a bad peach? That’s an act of God. He makes the peaches. I don’t make the peaches, I sell the peaches. You have a problem? You talk to him.
Kramer: You know this whole place is going vrrrrrrrrrrrrt, downhill. I could have come in here last week with a bad plum but I let it go.
Joe: Well let me put a solution for you: do your business elsewhere, I don’t want your business.
Kramer: Oh now you don’t want my business.
Joe: No, I don’t want your business and from this moment you’re banned from the store, you’re banned!
Kramer: But what am I gonna do for fruit?
(Kramer enters the apartment)
Kramer: Hey listen, if I give you money would you go out and get me some fruit?
Jerry: Why can’t you get it?
Kramer: Well I got banned from the store I can’t go back in there now.
Jerry: What happened?
Kramer: Well you know, we had a fight over the peach and… well Joe doesn’t want my business.
Jerry: I told you not to say anything.
Kramer: Jerry, what am I gonna do for fruit?
Jerry: Well you’ll have to go to the supermarket.
Kramer: The supermarket? That’s impossible! They don’t have a decent piece of fruit at the supermarket. The apples are mealy, the oranges are dry. I don’t know what’s going on with the Papayas! Jerry you gotta go to Joe’s, you gotta get me some fruit!
Jerry: Oh so what I’m going to buy all your fruit now?
[location: outside Joe’s]
Jerry: Why do I feel like I’m doing something wrong?
Kramer: All right now here’s the list.
Jerry: All this? It’s too much. What do you need five mangos for?
Kramer: I like mangos.
Jerry: Avocado? I don’t know how to pick out an avocado.
Kramer: Well they gotta be soft.
Jerry: How soft?
Kramer: Not too soft. Better too hard than too soft.
Jerry: I’m not going through this every week, I tell you that right now. And what are these? Plums? What is that?
Kramer: Yeah now get the ones that are red on the inside.
Jerry: Well how do I know what they look like on the inside? What do they look like on the outside?
Kramer: Oh! And get some plantains.
Jerry: Plantains?
Kramer: Yeah.
Jerry: What the hell is a plantain.
Kramer: It’s part of the banana family. It’s a delicacy.
Jerry: You’re not getting any plantains.
(Jerry enters Joe’s)
Jerry: Hey Joe.
Joe: How is it going?
Jerry: Good, just getting some fruit for myself. Gotta have fruit in the house. I like it as a snack. Wholesome, natural, chock-full of vitamins. I don’t know let’s see… mangos… four plums with red on the inside… avocado… ooo, just right… and three plantains ought to do it.
Joe: All right, all right, just hold it right there.
Jerry: What?
Joe: This fruit isn’t for you.
Jerry: What, what are you talking about?
Joe: You think I don’t know? Mangos, plantains, plums with the red on the inside, that’s Kramer!
Jerry: I can’t buy mangos and plantains?
Joe: All right, get out!
Jerry: You’re making a big mistake, Joe!
Joe: I’ll tell you something else: I don’t what your business anymore either.
Jerry: You’re saying you’re banning me from the store?
Joe: That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Jerry: I’m banned?!
Joe: You’re banned.
[location: Jerry’s apartment]
George: All right, where do you want it? (referring to the bag of fruits)
Jerry: Put it over there.
Kramer: Yes! Oh look at this, these mangos are beautiful! Oh these are beautiful, you did good George.
(Kramer leaves the apartment)
(Kramer enters the apartment)
Kramer: This mango is delicious!
George: That reminds me, I’m not getting you guys any more fruit. That guy was eyeballing me the whole time. He gave me the creeps. All right, you owe me twenty-eight sixty.
Ok, this may not be a Seinfeld classic but this episode has all the quirkiness of every other episode in the series. And from a marketing standpoint, it covers various topics such as customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, consumer decision-making process, and a vital CRM principle – knowing your customers. You might say this is a rather lofty claim. Here’s why I think it’s not.

The stage when Jerry & Kramer discuss about Joe’s fruit and express their surprise over the bad peach is a direct indication of their post-purchase behavior. In essence, (from their experience) their expectations and the perceived performance of Joe’s fruits have matched, or differ very little. Given Kramer’s attachment to the store, I’d say that Joe has over-delivered with respect to his claims regarding product quality. I would even say that Joe’s quality fruits have created customer delight (when satisfaction exceeds expectations) with Kramer so much so that he despises fruits from supermarkets, ridicules their offerings and swears by Joe’s fruits (well the ridiculing part is not new to the members of Seinfeld). If this isn’t a display of customer loyalty, I don’t know what is.

Apart from satisfaction and loyalty, we can also see the operation of cognitive dissonance. Let me try explaining that. Cognitive dissonance is a post-purchase dilemma (more like trauma for many) in the consumer decision-making process wherein, consumers try to reduce dissonance by justifying their purchase decision. In a sense, they frantically try not to “second-guess” themselves about their purchase and look for reason(s) that would uphold their purchase decision. (I still wonder if my decision to plump for the iPhone was worth it. Anyways, let’s save that discussion for later.)

Consumers typically reduce their dissonance through a number of ways such as: seeking more information and doing more research that might comfort them of their purchase, avoiding information that contradicts their decision, downplaying – more like ridiculing – other product options that they had in their consideration set (somehow the debate between a Mac and a PC user crosses my mind), turning to their support groups (such as owners of the same product – Harley Owners Group?), and so on. Why, even companies help consumers reduce their dissonance. Have you received a note within the package of the product you’ve just purchased that says something like, “Congratulations on your new purchase! We’re glad that you’ve made the right decision in buying this product. And we assure you of the highest quality products at all times. Should you have any questions or concerns about this product, please feel free to write to us at…..”? Well, that’s the company playing your therapist and alleviating your concerns. After all, they do want you to come back and buy the “Acme Super Glue” that promises to even hold your roof from falling apart, don’t they?

Anyway, in this case, after getting banned from a fruit store (it hasn’t happened to me, but I can see that it can be nasty), Kramer feels that his decision to buy from Joe’s may not have been the right one. But Kramer wants to convince himself that his decision to go to Joe’s was indeed the correct choice. The rationalizing personality that Kramer is, he turns down Jerry’s suggestion to go to the supermarket. He doesn’t just turn it down. He goes one step ahead and ridicules the products at the supermarket. And he doesn’t even stop there. He convinces Jerry to buy his fruits, and when that fails he asks George to get them. In effect, he does everything Kramerly possible to get the fruits, and more importantly, reinstate him and his good judgment in that store. I don’t know about you, but I feel that’s a really long way to go just to make yourself feel better. And boy did he feel better. I meant with the mangoes.

Finally, the CRM principle I referred to. Knowing who your customers are, what they buy, and how they buy is, according to me, the highest point of CRM. And Joe here, was able to quickly identify that Jerry was actually buying for Kramer, just based on the type of fruits he picked and how ripe they are. What’s more, he even gave the creeps to George when he finally bought Kramer’s fruits. That’s how much Joe knew about Kramer’s fruit purchases. That’s CRM at work (sans all that systems, technology & processes). How cool is that! Agreed, Joe’s is not the only fruit store in all of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and his clientele does not run into the millions. But still, keeping track of his customers and their individual purchase behavior is truly remarkable.

But if Joe knew Kramer so well, why was Kramer banned from the store, you may ask. I think we can find the answer in profitable CRM (or at least, that’s what I’ve been told). And it does make sense. When Joe knows everything about how & when Kramer buys, he would also have an estimate of how valuable Kramer is/would be to his store. Well, maybe not in dollar terms, but with his business judgments he would’ve somehow estimated Kramer’s business value to him. And if that potential is minimal or negligible, it only makes sense to “ban” such customers. And am sure Joe would’ve factored in how much Kramer buys, the number of complaints he’s made, and the number of product return requests he’s made before deciding to ban him. And if Joe weeds out such customers and retains only those who would provide value to him in the future, he is sure to maximize his profits.

But isn’t this approach of “firing” customers taking the concept of CRM too far? Maybe. Maybe not. However, there are companies that have “fired” customers in the past. Yes, I’m talking about Sprint when they fired around 1,000 customers in the summer of 2007. The reason – the fired customers used too much of Sprint’s resources. And between the revenue those customers were contributing and the cost of servicing their requests, Sprint was making a loss. So, Sprint let go of these customers to competition and even offered to cover the costs of moving to the customers’ choice of service provider! I think Sprint’s approach here was – if you can’t help us grow, go hurt our competition. So effectively, Sprint benefited from the 1,000 customers (indirectly) even after firing them. I think that’s a smart strategic move. But I’m not sure about the word-of-mouth repercussions of this decision. Well, Sprint’s not alone here. Other companies too have done this (see here for more).

Now, I’m not intending that the only solution to deal with unprofitable customers is to let them go. Companies have to be objective about this and ascertain why these customers are not profitable. Maybe they’re using a product category that is not suitable for them. One way to deal with such customers would be promote appropriate products/services to up-sell and/or cross-sell. Another way would be to revisit the choice of communication channels used. So, all I’m saying is that an unprofitable customer should be let go only when companies know with a fair amount of accuracy that (a) he/she does not have a sufficiently sized wallet to back the purchases, and (b) his/her lifestyle is not likely to change in the near future that could make the customer profitable.

So, did Joe know about his customers too well? Yes. Was he right in banning Kramer from the store? I don’t have an answer for that. For one, Kramer identified an alternate way to get fruits from Joe. So it was not a prudent decision by Joe (of course, this happening in Seinfeld land overrules the necessity of prudence). Further, given Kramer’s irate nature, Joe runs the risk of negative word-of-mouth regarding to his policies of banning customers. Additionally, the banned customers may take other customers with them when they leave, who may actually be profitable for Joe! So, considering Joe’s scale of operation and the nature of business if I were to pick one, I’d say Joe was probably not right in banning Kramer from the store. But hey, that’s just me. And I think, the jury’s still out there on this issue…

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What can Gilbert Gottfried teach us about Marketing?

Certain pillars of popular culture have shown an ability to make a living by exploiting their public perception.  For the purposes of this discussion, let’s call this phenomenon “Persona Marketing.”  One of the simplest, yet most poignant definitions of Marketing I have heard in recent years is the following: “Marketing is the orientation of a firm around its customers.”  Applying this definition to the concept of “Personality Marketing” can prove to be valid if read with just a bit of imagination.  In “Persona Marketing” the firm is the public persona and the customers are the public who are active followers of popular culture.  Now that we have the parameters for this discussion constructed, we can take a look at some examples.  The three personalities discussed in the subsequent sections of this discussion will be; Gilbert Gottfried, Sean Connery, and Mike Tyson (an eclectic trio which, I believe I can safely say, have never been linked together in any coherent form).

Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried’s first major break into show business was a 12 episode stint on Saturday Night Live, during the 1980-81 season.  It may surprise those readers old enough to have seen these episodes that he was a cast member.   While he was given a recurring character, Leo Waxman, his appearances were limited to say the least.  During this period of his career Gottfried had yet to exploit the persona which has made him a recognizable, albeit often unbearable, public figure in popular American culture of the last twenty years.  Not sure who he is?  Think of the parrot on the Disney animated movie Aladdin whose voice sounded much like fingernails traversing their way down an elementary school black board.

Gottfried realized that he could stand out from the legions of comics of that period who were vying for the same limited amount of air-time by creating a unique persona.  This persona would become much larger that Gilbert Gottfried the comedian.  In fact, few people realize that Gottfried has a normal speaking voice when he is not in character.  What he created was unique.  That uniqueness, although abrasive to some, provided Gottfried with niche in the market place which he could exploit for profit.  Thus, Gottfried oriented his firm (his persona) around a niche in the market place, and created a virtual monopoly around that niche.

Sean Connery

Sir Sean Connery broke into popular culture when he first portrayed James Bond in the Terence Young film Dr. No, which was based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name.  Rare is the man who, at some point in his life, has not dreamed of being a special agent like James Bond.  Why not…when a seemingly endless supply of money, beautiful women and adventure are the cornerstones of a fictional super-agent’s life?   Connery adapted the Bond character to screen perfectly, and created a character whose arrogance was sufficiently diluted through its likability.  Without this likability, the Bond character would have been viewed as a womanizing playboy who selfishly acted in his own interests even when hundreds of thousands of lives hung in the balance; however, because the character was likable, Bond came across as an adventurous maverick that always saved the day and got the girl.

Connery played Bond in a total of seven Bond films, and, to many of us, was the epitome of what James Bond should be (sorry Roger Moore fans… but it’s really not even a close competition).  Through the frequency of his appearances as Bond, and the quality of his performances, Connery’s public persona began to mirror Bond.  Example: How many romantic comedies can you name that star Sean Connery? None.  Rather, Connery found his next major works in the prohibition era classic, The Untouchables and then as Harrison Ford’s father in the brilliant Indiana Jones films (the first three… the last one was distasteful disgrace).

Connery found a strong brand and grew that brand through his subsequent career choices.  Unlike the comedian who wishes to display his range by acting in a serious role or the Detroit car manufacturer who gets into the mortgage business, Connery did something better than anyone else and kept doing it and improving upon it.  Of course this is not to say that exploration and expansion is a bad decision, rather, it is strategy that can reap grand rewards if implemented correctly.  However, abandoning the core-competency of your brand can alienate your current consumers by aligning yourself with a principle or product that is contrary to the brand you have worked so diligently to develop.  Connery oriented himself to the public as a rugged adventurer and continued to procure this orientation throughout his career which culminated in a brilliant portfolio of work and immense earnings.

Mike Tyson

I think we can all learn something from Iron Mike.  He was a terror in the ring during the late 80s when he won his first 19 professional bouts by knock-out and defeated Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time.    With arguably the most lethal uppercut in the history of professional boxing, Tyson eliminated his opponents in mere seconds and developed a reputation as a competitor of unmatched ferocity.  However, Tyson’s fall from grace was abrupt and severe; beginning when he was knocked out in 1990 by unranked Buster Douglas.  Tyson attempted to regain his unified title in a series of battles with Evander Holyfield.  Certainly, you remember how those turned out… Tyson lost the fight and Holyfield lost part of an ear.

The next few years saw Tyson involved in one PR and/or legal disaster after another; a bankruptcy, a charge of tax evasion, a rape conviction for which he spent time in prison, a face tattoo and various public comments such as “I am going to eat his children,” and “I would fight a tiger if they paid me enough,” (I am still waiting on the Tyson vs. Tiger match to come to fruition someday).

Ok…so why am I discussing Mike Tyson in a blog about marketing?  Well, strangely enough, Tyson’s story provides the perceptive audience with a valuable lesson about turning around one’s fortune.

Tyson realized (with the help of a public relations army) that he could exploit the persona that he had developed over his career.  With his boxing career stamped out by more talented and better prepared Lenox Lewis in 2002, and nearly broke, Tyson began to make cameos in popular TV shows and movies.  Most famously, Tyson played himself in the 2009 comedy The Hangover and more recently, in the HBO series Entourage.

Mike Tyson is far from being out of financial trouble, but his cameos have gotten back into the public consciousness and will, undoubtedly, lead to more comedic roles and thus more earnings.  The takeaway from his story is this; adapting to the cards you are dealt can be more profitable than sticking to a failing business plan.  I think it is a safe assumption that Tyson’s boxing career was over long ago, and the novelty to his fights were already beginning to wear off even before his fight with Lenox Lewis.  Staying with his original business plan, boxing, would have soon proved to be unprofitable, so Tyson adapted his orientation to his market and began to exploit the ferocious persona that he had developed through comedic cameos.  This lesson is probably most valuable for small companies as their agility allows them to adjust to trends more rapidly than larger firms.


The three preceding examples show that some of the marketing practices public figures use to promote their personas parallel opportunities that are available to firms.  Just a quick word of warning though… If you are going to emulate the Mike Tyson example, try not to gnaw on your competitor’s ear.

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Should a campaign be defined as a success only if it sells product?

From AMA 7/21’s story

Old Spice Guy: The Campaign Your Marketing Could Look Like

Author: Nancy Pekala

If somehow you’ve missed the Old Spice story, here it is in a nutshell.  Last February, Procter and Gamble ran a Super Bowl ad introducing its new brand character, the Old Spice Man, played by Isaiah Mustafa, a bare-chested former NFL wide receiver who promised women he was “the man your man could smell like,” even if no man could ever be as truly manly as the Old Spice Man.

Five months later, the brand’s Portland-based ad agency Wieden + Kennedy posted a simple message on Old Spice’s Facebook and Twitter page: “Today could be just like the other 364 days you log into Twitter, or maybe the Old Spice Man shows up @Old Spice.”  Thus began a two-day Old Spice YouTube Tweetathon in which the brand’s team involving the actor, social media and video creatives, produced more than 180 video spots in an average of 7 minutes each, often within 30 minutes of a fan’s tweet.  To date, the videos have garnered more than 75 million views.

The question is:  should a campaign be defined as a success only if it sells product?


By so far, the weekly poll related to this story “Old Spice won big with a YouTube campaign that earned buzz but questionable sales. Does a campaign need to sell product to be successful?”


22% Yes, sales is the ultimate metric

52% No, brand awareness & other factors matter

26% Not sure, depends on campaign’s goals


What is your opinion?

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You Just got Iced!!

A few weeks ago I got a Facebook message from a friend- the subject read “Mike got Iced!!!!” Enclosed was a picture of my friend’s boy friend’s priceless expression of shock and horror- he had just gotten “Iced” after all. I however had no idea what that meant and asked my friend. When she explained the concept to me I must admit I was embarrassed for not already knowing what it was given my age and demographic.

For those of you who still don’t know what it means to get “Iced” I will fill you in. Some fraternity brothers at the College of Charleston started a drinking game showcasing Smirnoff Ice beverages. The idea is that the perpetrator “Ices” or presents his victim with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice (the more creative the attack the better). If his victim does not have a bottle of Smirnoff Ice on him then he must chug the entire bottle on one knee. Now, if the alleged victim indeed is armed with a bottle himself then the perpetrator is subjected to drinking both bottles. Needless to say, it is not surprising this game was made up by fraternity boys. The game has spread like wild fire across the country with students and young professionals suddenly watching their every step and shielding themselves with Smirnoff Ice (Goldman Sachs apparently had an attack in one of its offices).

While it is questionable if this game has affected Smirnoff sales, I can personally attest that suddenly refrigerators within my friend circle are suddenly stocked with the beverage. Some posts I found on the Internet claim that suddenly grocery stores are running out of the drink. There was a website,, (recently shut down) where pictures of victims getting iced were to be posted. Given the attention viral marketing has received in recent years, this was especially interesting to me from a marketing perspective.

A few years ago, Smirnoff itself released a rap video spoof titled Tea Partay that went viral. The fact that the video showcasing the brand went viral was considered a huge success. Now, when a drinking game again spotlighting the brand has gone viral, it is controversial whether the attention is good or bad. How to handle this rogue viral game is debatable. Smirnoff’s parent company did however release the following statement, “Diageo has taken measures to stop this misuse of its Smirnoff Ice brand and marks, and to make it clear that ‘icing’ does not comply with our marketing code, and was not created or promoted by Diageo, Smirnoff Ice, or anyone associated with Diageo.”

First and foremost, the public policy implications of “bros icing bros” were bound to be problematic for Smirnoff. The brand can hardly support binge drinking let alone underage drinking without expecting to face legal consequences and backlash from a more “mature” audience than the one participating in the “Icing.” Silence from the brand would only further convince skeptics that Smirnoff itself was behind the creation and promotion of the game. From an ethical stand point, Smirnoff simply cannot quietly promote the game. Hence, the website was shut down (with good reason). Promoting responsible drinking is just as important to Smirnoff’s image as the positioning of its drinks to “preppy and sophisticated” individuals.

However, what makes this scenario particularly interesting is that while in Tea Partay Smirnoff chose how to position and promote its brand, in the case of the Ice drinking game, Smirnoff has no control at all. In Tea Partay Smirnoff beverages are promoted in a positive light (obviously). Ironically, the point of “Icing” people with Smirnoff Ice is that it is a punishment. Nobody wants to get Iced and be subjected to actually drinking it! In the words of one of my friends (who is a boy), “Smirnoff Ice is just plain nasty.” Most boys in my demographic (early 20s, recent college graduates) don’t really like sugary beverages and are more likely to pick up an ice cold beer than a Smirnoff Ice. Smirnoff Ice is positioned as a “girly” drink. What is interesting is that college students and young professionals are taking advantage of this existing positioning to promote the drink in the complete opposite way of how it was intended (surely Smirnoff does not want its product to be considered a punishment). In essence the brand has been hi-jacked.

In the age of social media and user generated content, brands are increasingly eager to release viral marketing campaigns to reap the benefits of cheap but highly effective advertising- and increasingly frightened. Is there really no such thing as bad publicity? Some argue that though this game makes fun of Smirnoff Ice and those that actually like it, it is promoting the brand nevertheless. The product is flying off the shelves, Millennials are trying it, and perhaps they will change their minds about it. Even if the positioning is not what Smirnoff had in mind, perhaps the company should just be satisfied with the attention and increased sales- regardless of the reason why.

My response to this is that Smirnoff should not be too alarmed about the game and should not play the role of an adversary- in the short run. Angrily denouncing the game is a great way of encouraging the game even more, misuse of the product, and establishing the hijacked image of the brand- and alienating future customers. Rather, Smirnoff right now has the unique opportunity to capitalize on a passing fad. It also has the opportunity to quickly reign in a demographic that formerly never bought its products. However, Smirnoff must have control over its brand’s image and ultimately destiny. By supporting the game by silently allowing the website to continue Smirnoff would have only perpetuated the message that its beverages are “gross” or only for girls (and that the company condones binge drinking). So how should Smirnoff quickly change the minds of thousands of “bros” around the country to take its products seriously?

If I were in charge of Smirnoff’s marketing campaign, I would quickly (timeliness is of extreme importance, waiting too long gives the hijacked brand time to establish itself making rescuing increasingly more difficult) release a humorous video targeting the exact demographic playing the Icing game. Humor is powerful and Smirnoff catching the attention of this group’s attention could rein them in. I would also release more appealing flavors of Smirnoff Ice to men (dirty martini perhaps). This game has brought to light that a lot of people don’t like the taste of Smirnoff Ice- complaining the flavors are too sweet. The company should respond with new products that are more appealing to these individuals. Also, acknowledgement of the fact that some men may be embarrassed to drink the beverage may be the best way to win them over. The hard work is done- an unlikely demographic is purchasing the product, now the work is to keep them purchasing and purchasing for the right reasons. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Icing game as summer dies down and whether Smirnoff finds a way to keep these customers for the right reasons.

Customers misusing a product and hijacking its identity is certainly an issue in today’s world of YouTube and Facebook. Even if brands can’t prevent themselves from getting hi-jacked, they can control how they react to keep intact as best as they can the image they aspire for themselves. How brands respond is of integral importance to their future. I think a strategy that employs flexibility, humor, and acknowledgement of the hi-jacking might be the best bet for rescuing a hijacked brand.

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‘Anchoring’ in Marketing.. Me thinks it might just work!

“Sir, would you care to get car insurance from GEICO?.. its only $40 a month! We have a special offer for you!”

“Sir, how would you like to avail of our super awesome discount of 45% on a home loan? We can give you a special special deal.. just for you, we’ll make the discount 48%! plus, we’ll throw in a key-chain… Value for money!”

Telemarketing .. telemarketing… How many of you got calls like this? And what is usually your response to it? Bharath (colleague at the place where I work) has a pretty awesome take on why this wouldn’t work. My personal experience? I don’t own a car nor do I have the financial capacity to pay for a home. Yet, I get these telemarketing calls frequently. Why?

The answer is that firms don’t know who their customers/prospects are. Awful targeting, and even worse, insistent selling are some of the biggest turn offs in a customer’s mind. Telephony is a rich medium of communication! If used optimally, you can make some serious money! But no.


Anyway.. moving on. In addition to using telephony to acquire customers, companies use the same medium to maintain it. I’m going to focus specifically on the ‘customer service’ people when they deal with product fails. Take for example, the case of a canceled flight. Your 11 am flight to NYC is canceled due to a blown tire. Now you can’t make it to the 1 pm sales call. WHAT DO YOU DO?

  • Step 1: Curse your luck.. then realize your luck has nothing to do with it. So then , you blame the airlines for messing this up.
  • Step 2: You want to vent it out somewhere..You try your spouse/friend/relative. Not happening.. phone slamming ensues.
  • Step 3: Call customer service.

What happens next is very interesting.You wait for half an hour, braving

  • the annoying intercom music (usually opera or orchestra.. both of which i hate),
  • a gazillion automated lady voices, who can never get your name right (Indian names are especially decimated).
  • Automated msgs that take you on a key-punching spree on your phone until you’re back listening to the annoying intercom music

And finally, someone (most likely a call center from you-know-where) comes online and explains to you how he/she understands what you are going through and that they can book you only on a flight the next day. Blah blah blahblah blah..

But how many times have you heard this,

“I know I can book you on the flight the next day… but lemme see if I can do better than that. I’ll try to book you on a flight with another airline, even if it’s not a direct flight.. and not business class.. but I’ll do it for you, ABSOLUTELY FREE”

Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere… right? … Dont know for sure.. but I guess so.

This is a practice better known as ‘anchoring’. Many companies try to create the WOW effect for their customers. Zappos is the best example that I can think of. If your shoe is torn (and of course, if you bought it from, and you wanted to return it, the customer service rep goes out-of-the-way to make you feel better. They really make the customer ‘feel good’ about them. They prove to the customers that they really really do care. (A whole case study about this came out in the HBR 2010. For more, go there.. I could get into trouble for putting all the info in my measly little blog). In fact, executives today forbid customer service reps from using negative language like , ‘No’, ‘that’s company policy’ etc.

By using this anchoring method, do companies make money on the customer? I doubt it.. They certainly do gain some trust with the customer. Now imagine, if they could ‘differentially’ do this for their customers. Then we might be in business!

– Sarang Sunder

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