In a prior life I worked in direct response. My clients were mostly healthcare organizations — hospitals, physician groups and health plans. They used magnets. Lots of them. Not in their MRI devices, mind you. I worked with healthcare marketing departments.
No, these were refrigerator magnets. Magnets such as these:
Not very sexy, huh? Believe me, I tried to break my clients’ addiction to the things. I mean really!
Keeping Your Brand Top-of-mind
But I finally conceded that if you are selling a service that on any given day no one wants (no one, that is, except independently wealthy hypochondriacs), you need to have your brand nearby. Should the need suddenly arise, you want your brand to be the one consumers think about.
It’s not such a bad idea to be somewhere hard to ignore … such as on the door people swing open several times a day.
I eventually resigned myself to my career as a peddler of refrigerator magnets. My project managers were in frequent contact with our fridge magnet vendor, Magnets, LLC (above are examples pulled from their online catalog). Post cards we bulk mailed to targeted regions around our clients crackled with magnetism and hackneyed slogans.
Back then I would quip that if the physical law of magnetism was repealed, all of healthcare marketing would grind to a halt.
Then I joined the online world and mostly forgot all about these give-aways. Until yesterday.
This week Bob Garfield, in an Ad Age piece, compared online widgets to these lowly trinkets. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):
For the past half-century (and for about five more minutes) TV advertising has been at the apex of marketing communications. Then, in no particular order, newspapers, magazines, radio, out of home, direct mail, point of purchase, collateral (brochures, for example) and — in the murky, mucky darkness at the very bottom of the deepest abyss of marketing prestige — advertising specialties.
For example, a ballpoint pen emblazoned with your insurance agent’s logo. Or a wall calendar, fridge magnet, coffee mug, yardstick, foam beer-can sleeve, ashtray, key fob, emery board, pocket diary — any cheap giveaway item meant to remind the consumer of you every single time she measures fabric or swigs a Pabst or files her nails …
In a digital world, advertising specialties are as analog as you can possibly get. Until they go digital.
Branded widgets are the refrigerator magnets of the Brave New World.
Say it ain’t so! Is someone playing a cruel joke?
Describing widgets, Garfield puts a finer point on his argument: “These compact, portable little software apps — from video players to countdown clocks to makeup simulators — are inexpensive to distribute, free to the user and (often enough) distinctly useful.”
That’s true. Just like ad specialties. They also remain, often, in front of a consumer until a need for the brand arises. “At a minimum,” Garfield states, “they carry an ad message wherever they go.”
He said “At a minimum.” There’s my loophole. This is what will restore me to respectability! Although Garfield says they are “distinctly useful,” he neglects to say just how useful. No one can argue that a fridge magnet can hold up a parent permission slip or shopping list, but did one ever report back to the advertiser about consumers’ aggregate kitchen behavior?
The best widgets, like the ones my team produces (either the freestanding web apps, or the Facebook games and calculators that are deep into our development queue now), do far more than simply justify their existence on a social media profile page or blog entry.
Because a widget can interact with consumers, and since we can attach precise web metrics to them, widgets can do valuable marketing work such as:
- Pre-qualify prospects through calculators and configurators
- Enlist customers in sharing your message with others who may also be prospects
- Display and play user-generated content appealing to long tail interests
This last one is a biggy. Because, unlike refrigerator magnets, people actually want to pass along widgets. This may seem like a small thing to you, but this morning, it’s causing me to hold my head a little higher. I am no mere peddler of digital chochkees.