Marketing/sales

Ravi Mattu

Have you heard the story about the voiceover actor for Geico, the insurance company, who left a dodgy voicemail on the machine of a Tea Party group and then got fired when the voicemail was released on the internet?

Well, in the latest chapter of the PR battle, the voiceover actor Lance Baxter, aka D.C. Douglas, released this video compilation of the messages from angry Tea Party activists left on his answering machine, which his dulcet tones introducing the package.

It’s all rather curious and funny but, more important, it points to two interesting trends.

Ravi Mattu

Celebrity endorsements are a curious thing. I get the idea – a company pays a famous person a lot of money to associate with its brand both to generate some buzz and, presumably, to make your product seem as cool, hip and trendy as the celebrity.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what value Justin Timberlake has added by unveiling the Audi A1, the carmaker’s attempt to take on the Mini, at the Geneva Motor Show. It’s a car. He’s a cool young singer. Does seeing him on stage alongside Audi CEO CEO Rupert Stadler make consumers more likely to buy the car? I’m not sure. Does it make the reporters covering the event more excited about the product being pitched? Absolutely – and maybe that, and some pics in newspapers and on blogs of the celebrity and the car, are all they are after.

As Jeremy Cato, a journalist covering the event, put it: “Many of the middle-aged male journos – especially the ones without daughters – had never heard of Timberlake, but he nicely represents the affluent, 20-something age demographic Audi is targeting with the A1.”

Ravi Mattu

An interesting set of videos over on trendwatching.com, a pretty interesting Amsterdam-based company that does what their name suggests.

The video below, “The next big thing” is particularly interesting in revealing just how quickly technology has changed the way we think, communicate and, ultimately, do business. Just over half a minute in, check out the responses to the question: “How often do you Twitter?”

Some interesting insights on branding too. Maybe it’s not as powerful as we think it is?

Ravi Mattu

Ever read a piece that makes you go hmmm? How about this: the Grateful Dead’s greatest legacy could be the business lessons it offers management academics. If I hadn’t read it in The Atlantic, I’m not sure I would have believed it.

No, really, I promise, I didn’t inhale….

Hat tip: The Browser

Ravi Mattu

The Super Bowl is the big event in advertising and this year was no exception. Google, McDonald’s and Doritos are just some of the brands that have spent a lot of money – and hired a lot of creative talent – to get their messages out there.

The one ad that stuck out for me was the ad above, for Dave Letterman’s late night talk show, which featured Letterman with Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno. For anyone who has been following the battles between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno on late night TV in the US in the past few weeks, it was kind of amazing to see Leno and Letterman on the same couch.

Thanks to the internet, you can watch all of the very impressive ads from the event if you missed the game.

PS -In a Super Bowl first, there is even a pro-life ad – see if you can spot it.

Ravi Mattu

Renault’s latest car, the Zoé, has caused a bit of controversy. Not everyone likes the name apparently – it’s been a popular name for girls in France recently and a few young parents are none too pleased that it’s now the name of a car.

It is always curious how consumers react to decisions taken by companies. I bet a lot of people at Renault thought long and hard about the name for the car. Maybe the person who made the final judgment has a daughter called Zoé and chose to name it precisely for that reason. Who knows.

Ravi Mattu

A few weeks ago, the most popular story on FT.com was on Dyson’s new bladeless fan. I have to admit, I couldn’t quite figure out why so many readers were looking at it, but who am I to go against the grain?

I did wonder if it had anything to do with the following Dyson has among consumers and this video suggests I may have been on to something. Emma and Molly are two fans of the fan and have created a video showing just how this impressive device works. I especially like the Brazilian music overlaying the clip. What was that I said in a previous post about the changing nature of consumer engagement?

Of course, this could be nothing more than a clever marketing ploy and for all I know these could be Dyson employees or the wife and child of the guy who designed it. Whatever the case, I wonder if it will generate as much attention as our original story.

Ravi Mattu

Canada’s WestJet airline doesn’t have a business class or premium economy, but it’s come up with another idea to give its passengers a bit more space, save on fuel consumption and avoid having to buy new planes for longer flights – charge people a bit extra to keep the middle seat vacant. According to Richard Bartrem, WestJet’s vice-president of corporate culture and communications, one motivation is to deal with the “question of real estate” when it comes to the armrest between seats.

I will confess, I didn’t realise this was such a problem but stranger business ideas have worked in the past, so I’ll happily eat my hat if this becomes a huge success.

Ravi Mattu

I just spoke to a book publisher who gave an interesting insight into how the downturn is affecting their business. Because so many major book chains have made people redundant or laid them off, this pubilsher was having to factor in at least two extra weeks into their distribution schedules to getting titles on to shelves. There are all sorts of implications as a result of this – stock has to stay in the warehouse longer, it takes more time to start making money from them and so on.

Ravi Mattu

Great analysis in today’s paper on how the Indian government is establishing commodity exchanges in rural towns to enable farmers to bypass the middlemen who have traditionally controlled the route from farm to market.

In August, we looked specifically at the role of middlemen in the mango market, with an article and a slideshow. In that case, big retailers, including Walmart, were trying to deal directly with farmers both to cut their own costs and, they say, to help farmers become more efficient with advice from agricultural experts (and, of course, to increase their profits).

Traditional forms of business are a real burden on economic development in India and are also complicated to dismantle. These functions have existed for centuries and the deeply embedded role of caste – middlemen often pressure farmers to sell to them on the basis of shared caste – make it hard to break out of this cycle, particularly in less well-educated rural areas.

An Indian sociologist who has studied and written extensively about caste – and also had a role advising a professional services firm in India – once told me that the best hope for breaking down the caste system and, thereby encouraging social and economic development, was urbanisation. The rural and agricultural economy is hugely influenced by caste because profession and social class are inextricably linked. In cities, the professor said, these ties are broken.

Business and social change can sometimes be a good thing.



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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