One, Two, Many Coupons

They’re everywhere these days; those ridiculously low-priced coupon deals for everything from sumptuous 3-course meals to ‘spa treatments’ in dodgy parts of Kepong.

Value-for-money seems to be the favoured business model for many businesses nowadays. But how long before offering products and services on-the-cheap eventually becomes bad for business?

Discounts Galore
Coupon deals are great for consumers; but not so for businesses...

Yes, we all like bargains. But if the bargain does not live up to the intended expectations, most of us would rather pay slightly more the next time – be it for better quality or improved service.

Even if you are satisfied with a particular coupon deal; would you return to the same outlet and pay ‘regular’ price for the same thing? Which – if I may remind you – can be up to 70% more?

Highly unlikely.

If you’re a business, and thinking of jumping onto the coupon deals bandwagon to attract customers, consider these:

  1. Is it worth cheapening your brand or business by offering high discounts just to attract one-time-only customers?
  2. You might get a high influx of customers in a short period of time. Can you or your staff handle a flood of customers and serve them properly?
  3. You don’t usually make a profit, especially if you offer a high discount. Sometimes you won’t even break even. Seems like a pointless exercise.
  4. Don’t expect prolonged advertising mileage by offering coupon deals. The people who use coupons are bargain-hunters who forget you as soon as you go back to normal price.
  5. The non-bargain hunter customers (the ones that you really want as customers) will see you as desperate for business. Not the kind of image you want to portray.

So instead of ‘selling out’ your business to coupon deal sites, why not invest in promotions that are easy to create and implement. You get the kind of customers you want, and get to sell at the price you want.

You know who to talk to 😉

Sleep More, Consume Less

There’s a reason why your mum always told you not to stay up late. Because the longer you stay awake, the more money you’re going to spend by being a consumer.

Remember Citibank’s “The City Never Sleeps” tagline? It suggests that Citibank will serve its cardholders round-the-clock. But that’s not all. It also says why sleep when you can stay up and do all sorts of fun things with your credit card all night long. It made not sleeping cool, and getting into debt hip.

Sleepy Dude
Skip the RedBull and get some sleep, dude!

Even new products – like RedBull – were introduced to cash-in on the Sleep-Less phenomenon that swept across the cities of the world. Now there are probably hundreds of sleep-depriving. caffeine-loaded  drinks that are discreetly labelled as ‘energy drinks’.

The recreating, eating, shopping, partying and what-have-you till the wee hours of the morning presented businesses with a goldmine. The less we consumers sleep, the more money businesses make.

So it this just a case of businesses meeting consumer demands or is your friendly neighbourhood 24-hour mamak stall taking advantage of your insomnia?

Fine, we all could do with a midnight snack once in a while. But what about 24-hour gyms? Are people seriously pumping iron at 4 in the morning? Lately, hypermarkets have started extending their operation hours to 1am. Do we really have that urgent of a need for potato bread at that hour?

And that’s why they say “don’t sleep on it”, because if you do, then you are going to miss out of the bargain, deal or offer.

Sleeping consumers are no good because they not only can’t be sold to, but also can’t be advertised to.

But I’d rather my consumer have a good night’s sleep so that I am not selling to a groggy, sleep-deprived person with an attention span of a wasp.

So go to sleep guys and wake up refreshed to another day of buying or selling; whichever it is that you do.

Love Thy Customers, Not Screw Them!

A lot of you liked my post on how I whacked Maxis for pretending to be customer service oriented. But what’s the real issue here?

I must admit it; I was rather cheesed of with Maxis to start with. And then they go and air that stupid ad claiming they put customer service first. Of course, I sharpened my pencil and gave them a piece of my mind lah.

Maybe I was slightly rash and less eloquent in that post. And since this is a blog about marketing communications; let’s see what really went wrong with Maxis in that perspective.

Screws come in many shapes and sizes. So who's screwing you?

Here’s what my favourite branding blog – Brand Strategy Insider – had to say about Brand Arrogance.

“Consumers don’t value brands; they value the idea the brand represents to them. This idea will always be worth more than the product, or the actual bricks and mortar of the business enterprise. When marketers behave arrogantly, the value of the idea people care about is instantly diminished. And once this happens, the road to redemption is long, difficult and expensive”

Simply put, you like a brand not because the logo is red or that the product is great. Consumers actually value the personality that the brand projects more than anything else.

It makes sense because telcos offer essentially similar products and services. But what made you choose Maxis or Digi or Celcom? Think about it.

It’s like making new friends. You only click with certain types of people; as you do with brands. But once a ‘friend’ crosses you, it becomes really hard to be good friends again. There is just something intrinsic about this process that science can’t explain.

Once you screw up with a customer (especially a loyal one), you usually have to work really hard to win him over again. And most times, the defected customer will never return.

There’s a classic Direct Marketing adage that goes like this:

It’s more profitable to retain a loyal customer,
than to attract new customers

For all the advertising and promotions brands conduct to conquest new customers, why not sincerely care for existing customers instead? Those who are already customers may even advocate the brand to their friends and family for free.

And we all know nothing beats the power of word-of-mouth communication.

Clearly Maxis does not see it that way. I guess we are nothing but Ringgit signs that make their cash registers go Ka-Ching!

Babies: the Next Big Thing in Advertising

Have we advertisers finally crossed the line? Are we so blinded by conquering new markets that we are willing to stick a knife into innocence? It seems so, if the latest report on Advertising to Infants from Adweek is anything to go by.

It seems the phrase “get them young” is being held to high regard here. In the United States, brands like Disney, Audi and McDonalds have run promotional activities aimed at the very young.

Innocent Baby
C'mon! How can we try to make money from such innocence?

For example, Disney was observed to have given out free one-piece baby suites (decorated with Disney characters of course) to new mothers in hospitals in exchange for e-mail addresses.

What the hell is going on here? Or should the question be why the hell this is going on?

1. Babies or toddlers don’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. So it is a game of getting them while they’re still susceptible.
2.  Babies are able to record mental images of corporate logos and mascots; and request specific brands as soon as they are able to speak.
3. Parents are also easily influenced by their children’s brand preference. If you had a screaming kid wanting to go to McDonalds, would you take him to Burger King instead?
4. An American child, upon turning 3, can recognize an average of 100 logos. Brands are fighting to be in this list early on
5. Technology is being used to pacify babies: think smartphones,  iPads and even the humble TV. Brands are ever-eager to develop branded, baby-friendly apps and TV programmes.

It’s sad that infants’ susceptible nature are being manipulated and taken advantage of just for the purpose of increasing market share.

It’s sadder that kids these days are growing in front of LCD screens rather than their mums and dads.

And the saddest of all is the fact that brands are taking advantage of such an unfortunate development.

I know that this is only happening in the US, but who’s to say that we are far behind, especially with the availability of channels like Baby TV.

How long do you think it will be before marketers in Malaysia realize they can program babies into liking their products?

I shudder at this thought.

Consumed by Consumerism

As an ad worker, I am a proponent of consumerism. I am supposed to embrace capitalism. The art of selling should be second nature. But sometimes – after being in the industry for so long – I wonder if I’ve gone too far.

We are a species so obsessed with consuming that we’ve forgotten to get by with just the essentials: water, food, shelter, clothes and companion. Extravagance is applauded and moderateness is frowned upon.

The divides are getting wider: rich/poor, educated/illiterate, obese/malnourished, connected/nobody and so on.

Camel Pack
Sometimes, it's okay to make fun of what you do...

The industrial revolution that started almost 200 years ago still oils the gears of society. We are devouring through natural resources much faster than it can be replenished. We’ve almost depleted fossil fuel reserves. We’re developing every bit of land for a profit.

We humans have become the virus of the earth.

As a freelance copywriter, I am only another piece of the puzzle in a society built on consumerism. Even if you are not in advertising, you are working for a business; which is selling something.  And when there are sellers there are buyers.

Admit it; nothing makes us happier that having a client or customer that buys more, and more and more.

When will this mindless consumption stop? This addiction to consuming is seemingly insatiable. We are buying ourselves to death.

I know, not the kind of stuff I should be writing about. But no harm in keeping a worldly perspective. I am after all a Libran… balance is everything. Woooosaaahhh…

Don’t Over!

I know bull crap when I see one, especially when it comes in the form of advertising. And even more so when it comes from a brand that treated me like crap for being their customer for 12 years.

Over-promising has become the bane of the ad industry. But it’s not something new, it has been going on for ages; possibly even when the first line of copy was written or when the first TVC was aired.

The worst part is that we consumers have come accustomed to over-the-top or exaggerated claims. A case in point…

McD Reality vs Truth
The truth ain't so tasty...

Another one, because this is fun…

Burget Not King
Burger clown?

So when I saw the new Maxis TV commercial that aired recently, I almost choked on my own saliva. For such a smug, pompous and arrogant brand, this ad is totally not reflective of their actual personality.

If Maxis had really “put customers first” they need not spend millions creating and airing this ad. Their customers will already know and appreciate their customer service efforts. It is because they actually take customers for granted is why such an ad with a ludicrous claim is needed.

Yes Maxis, I have not forgotten how you gave me the middle finger after being loyal to you for 12 years. And this is not the last you will hear from me either. Just keep doing stupid ads.


Lights, Camera… Call to Act!

The concept is mind-blowing. The art direction will make one cry. The copy could sell a bootleg DVD to a Unifi user. But if you disregard what should be the superstar of any piece of communication, then even the greatest creative could become B-grade.

This critical ad element is called a Call-to-Action; and you’re losing potential customers if you don’t have a strong one.

Call to Act Kid
Believe it or not, consumers want to be told what to do. Dance boy, dance... ACTION!

The purpose of almost all marketing communications is to make people do something: call, SMS, walk-in, log-on, click or purchase. The thing is if you want someone to take a specific action, you actually have to ask them to take that specific action.

Yes, this belief is borne from my many years as a direct response copywriter. But here are recent researches on the matter to help illustrate why a strong call-to-act is important:

1. A research done by Marketing Sherpa to their e-newsletter readers show that a specific call-to-act increased response by over 8%.

Click-through Rates on different Call-to-acts:

“Click to Continue” = 8.35%
“Continue to Article” = 3.3%
“Read More” = -1.8%

2.  A research done by University of Connecticut asked 2 groups of people to mail back a stack of 30 post cards, 1 each for 30 days.

The first group was given the request while under hypnosis
The second group were just asked nicely

The result? The second group mailed back more postcards, which goes to prove that people will usually do as they are asked; as long as you ask nicely of course.

And this is true across all media; be it print, TV, web, social, radio, BTL, POS and what-have-you. Clear, powerful calls-to-action can make or break a campaign.

Ask and you shall be given. Now share this post with a zillion people, please? Don’t make me hypnotize you!


Obstacle Buster

Remember the times when you read an ad and it spoke to your soul. Or browsed a website and you felt like clicking the ‘Buy Now’ button. That’s because you were convinced by a copywriter that used a secret weapon – BUSTING OBSTACLES.

What obstacle? It’s anything that would have prevented you from buying.

You see, it’s highly unlikely that an ad will create the need for someone to buy just because the copy spot-on. I mean, if you have no intention of buying a bike; you will not buy a bike no matter how awesomely compelling the copywriting is.

Road Obstacles
The road to purchase is filled with obstacles... bust em'!

This is what normally happens; you first aspire to own a particular product – let’s say an iPad – because you think it’s somehow made for you. Then you take notice of Apple’s ads and visit their website to justify a purchase decision you have already made in your head.

You think you’re doing it “for more information”, but in fact you are doing this to look for any reason to buy. And this is how it often becomes a copywriter’s job to remove as many obstacles that would prevent a prospect from buying. But how?

Don’t hide the benefits
Yes, a purchase decision has been made but there’s no harm reassuring the prospect. Don’t ever assume they already know. And even if they do know; repeating a benefit will only make them feel smarter; that “they are in the know”.

Don’t be shy with your product
Appeal to emotions by demonstrating the product in use. This paints a picture that the prospect is happily using the product in his head. People buy things to realize their aspirations and dreams; put the product there. Think how Apple advertises.

Don’t always stop short
Short copy works if you don’t have much time to convey the message, but long copy is the one that can turn a “no” into a “yes”. Websites offer the perfect opportunity to be copy intensive; start concise in landing pages, but go wild with content when users click-through.

Don’t over-expose
Resist the urge to say everything all at once. Leave that special something to be desired, because we all like to be tempted and teased. This goes against conventional wisdom, but works really well to push prospects over the tipping point.

Don’t forget the spouse
More often than not, the spouse has to be consulted before making any major purchasing decisions. Give reasons prospects can use on their partner to help close the deal. In case of the iPad, being able to read in bed without the lights on could convince your significant other to approve the purchase; because he/she can finally get some sleep.


10 Tips for a Great Print Ad

1. Don’t do a print ad
Hardly anyone reads newspapers or magazines the days. Can you name 3 people you know who read them on a regular basis besides your parents or that frail, retired neighbour uncle?

I could end this post here, but there will come a time when you must do a print ad because your boss (still) thinks it’s a great idea. If that ever happens, then the following tips are for you:

2. Know your target
Wouldn’t it be nice if you got little details about someone you’re thinking about flirting with? It will help you customize your approach, your demeanour and what you say. Same thing with ads… you are courting business.

3. Don’t treat ad space like real estate
Real estate appreciates the more you build in an area. But the more stuff you cram into a print ad, its appeal depreciates. Leave some “breathing space” in your ad so your message is better absorbed. Readers will also appreciate the lack of clutter.

4. Make a pitch in 2 seconds
You only have a couple of seconds to convey the main message to your audience.  This can be usually achieved with a headline that promises a benefit or reward. If not, it’s flip-goodbye.

Mature dude reading a newspaper
If this guy somewhat represents your target market, then go for it!

5. “You”ize the copy
Notice how many times the word “you” or “your” is present in this post. It’s to make you feel as if I’m talking directly to you, and only you. Being personal is convincing.

6. A bigger logo means squat!
For the umpteenth time, a bigger logo doesn’t mean higher recognition. People will look for your logo if what you have to say in the ad appeals to them.

7. Stay single
Think about your favourite ad and what you liked most about it. Got it? Now think about what’s the second thing you liked about this ad? Anything? The human brain only remembers one thing, even when it’s from a great ad.  So focus your ad’s message on the one single most important thing you want your readers to recall.

8. Know the difference
Most people can’t differentiate between a feature and a benefit. For example 50% less fat is a feature, which could bring about the benefit of a slimmer you.  Got it?

9. Don’t try to be funny
Punchy, juicy, catchy, sexy and clever lines are great; if you are a stand-up comedian. But advertising is no funny business, so use clever or ‘creative’ lines sparingly or risk becoming a joke.

10. Clear call-to-act
You must tell your readers what you want them to do: be it call, walk-in, SMS or log-on to the website. A call to action is important because it can ultimately translate to sales.

Just so you know, I still stand by point No.1, unless you are talking to your parents and that frail, retired neighbour uncle.


Don’t Call Customer Service If You Want to Be Served

“Thank you for calling. Your business is important to us. For English Press 1. For Bahasa Malaysia Press 2. For Mandarin Press 3. For Tamil Press 4. For Punjabi Press 5. If you still can’t get it that we don’t give a rat’s ass about you, Press 6”

What happened to the good old days when an actual person picked up your call? Yes it makes business sense to have an Automated Voice Response System. And yes I am aware that this rant is roughly 15 years late. But still, it is a rant worth making.

Businesses spend millions on compelling, evocative brand building advertising that promises the world; and then fall flat on their face when it comes to over-the-phone customer service.

Dummy Customer Service
Yup, it might as well be a dummy

Imagine calling your credit card company, and after going through like 3 levels of menu options it is revealed that all the customer service personnel are busy and will attend to you shortly. Oh yeah… and I also want you to imagine you just got mugged and calling to report your card is lost.

Now you know why there’s stuff like road rage and perhaps even suicide.

Outsourcing of call centres could probably be blamed for this deterioration of service. Let’s say you found a goose that lays golden eggs. Would you ask your neighbour to take care of it? The answer would be a vehement no.

But businesses have no qualms asking a third party to handle the queries, concerns or complains of customers. Aren’t we – the customers – supposed to be golden egg-laying geese? Apparently not.

That’s why, if you notice, many brands are substituting phone numbers with web URLs in their advertising. They don’t really want to hear from you.

I say screw it. Call and bug the hell out of them… if you can get someone on the other end that is.