Who’s Your Advertising Friend in the New Year?
As ads get smarter —and as do consumers about ads — brands should be able to help us keep our resolutions and start the year off right. I mean, so many of us are in a state of mind to lose weight, be better with money, get organized and more.
Do advertisers recognize this need? To find out, during the first two weeks of January, I skipped around the Web to major publications and content providers such as The New York Times, LA Times, Miami Herald, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Post, Fast Company, Self magazine, Facebook, Yahoo — and, yup, AOL. (Six months ago, I wouldn’t have been cookied dead at aol.com, but it’s quietly becoming fashionable again. Go see the new design and formats and see what I mean.). I was curious how marketers would reference the new year and if they’d be helpful during a time when so many people make new promises or start anew. Here’s what I found:
Advertorials help you help yourself. The first thing I noticed was an uptick in the number of how-to advertorials, even on big sites such as nytimes.com and Yahoo! Yeah, real publishers with quirky (sometimes sketchy) content-driven ads. For example, with a prominent sponsor credit to HowLifeWorks.com, I saw one information-looking ad with multiple headlines such as “How to cut 500 Caolories Per Day Without Noticing (Sponsored by Sensa Weight Loss System); “How This New Health Drink Boosts Energy and Increases Mental Peformance” (Sponsored by FRS Healthy Energy drink)”. Click through, and you’ll find good-old advertorial-style articles. I know it’s cheesy, but I love this format and when brands tackle “How to.”
Timely, but timeless. Florida orange growers encourage us to add juice into our diet, which is timely in winter and during flu season. The ad banner on the top of the page ends on “See What 8 oz Can Do for You” and the ‘synced buy’ of the box-shape ad mid-way down the page offers a bubble tea recipe made with Florida orange juice. Pretty good example of being promotional and useful. Of course, the context I saw it on on USA Today was unintentional but amusing; the ad appeared right next to an article about a drive-through sex toy shop in Alabama.
On TV, Allstate advertises mayhem but online, the brand sells savings. State Farm and Allstate are both advertising savings if you switch your car insurance to their brands. Neither are super-contextual to January resolutions, but it’s obvious people want to start out the year saving money. I do. In fact, we gave up our car lease and got a membership with Zipcar. No lease. No parking lot. No car insurance. Didn’t see an ad for that.
Marketing the new services: Apps. On Self.com, Nike advertised its app for Nike Training Club. Joining a club with a tool to support you sounds like a good idea to me. Helping you apply things into your life is a good use of advertising and content, especially easy to do on web sites. And the ad for the Ignition app on the Fast Company home page builds on the assumption you’ve got a new gadget maybe as a Christmas gift. “Use your new toy to its full potential” the ad says. It’s $19.95 — a lot for an app — but i bet the brand earned back the cost of the ad buy within just a few days. As the app libraries become more cluttered, and it becomes harder to hear about the latest ones through word of mouth and PR, we’ll probably see more paid advertising for them.
Heavy stakes with weight loss ads. January is known for diet marketing. Weight Watchers has New Points Plus with the tag: “Because It Works.” On several of the same sites, Nutrisystem Men also advertises: “Man Up. Weight Down. New You.” I’m sure you’ve noticed too how overused the phrase “Man Up” has become. A clearer and, I think, better crafted weight loss ad was also on nytimes.com: “5 Foods to Never Eat.” I want to know what those are. When I clicked through, however, I got an admittedly more amateur program — Fat Belly Solution. There was also a disconnect between the ad banner and landing page; I couldn’t find the five foods — which doesn’t give a lot of confidence to me about this program of which I have never heard. But I got to give props to an ad better at grabbing attention and bringing me in. That half counts, no?
Westin wasting money? Westin was running large takeover ad units on big sites such as The New York Times. “This Year Make a Resolution for a Better you,” the headline said, followed by, “See all the ways Westin can help you keep it.” With a few clicks, I sawsome suggestions and what, at first, looks like a free text field to input what your resolution is. If I go to type in something, however, I found it’s actually a pull-down with limited, fixed choices such as “Be Spontaneous.” Oh jeez. Is everything a fortune cookie? The ad experience is connected to Facebook so you can LIKE it and others will see what you did, though I did not like it so I did not Like it. Why? Two reasons: First, it’s just a poorly designed unit with bad usability. The idea doesn’t even make good use of the huge and expensive expand space. But far worse, Westin’s take on resolutions is not original nor compelling. I not only feel like I’ve seen this before, but I feel like I’ve done this before. I can’t imagine the brand will get much bang out of it beyond people using it at first and the Facebook fans they do add will be disappointed in less than a week. Feel free to disagree or prove me wrong. (I work on a competitor hotel chain so I could be more ready to be jealous and more easily disappointed.)
AT&T re-targeting the bland. Within Facebook, I spotted “Ring in the New Year” in the text ad space along the right column. Ah, very timely and contextual. “Start the year off right with a free camera phone from AT&T,” continues the copy. “Rate plans starting at $39.99.” Now, considering Facebook is the biggest network in the world with really easy to use targeting tools for advertisers, the ad is surprisingly bland. After voting it as “Not interesting,” I got a new ad from AT&T: “Go green for New Years.” The copy: “Save the planet and your wallet with a refurbished phone from AT&T. Plus get free shipping when you order online.” A bit of a a reach but you can see the copywriter (or media planner — dirty industry secret: sometimes copywriters are too precious to write text ads, and the media planner does it herself) trying.
Free headlines: Grab ‘em, share ‘em, add to ‘em. Even with all of the above, I was surprised there wasn’t more new year-oriented advertising online. It’s such a great time to have product news, inspire behavior change, trial of something new. I want to be an advocate for timely and contextual advertising so here are free headline starters:
Now that it’s _______, what a great time to ______.
A new year, a new chance for ____________.
Keep your resolutions. Save <your product benefit goes here>.
Don’t fall off the resolution wagon. Fall into _______
Don’t wait until second quarter to realize you could have started in the first.
Buy <your business service>.
And lastly, try linking change in the world to change in you:
It’s 2011. The ice cap is melting, Washington/Albany/your_capital is in gridlock, and we’re all getting older.
Hurry, buy ___________.
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