Racing from Your Living Room? Amazing.

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CBS’s Amazing Race is one of the rare reality shows that you can admit to loving without hanging your head in shame. What’s not to love about teams racing around the globe in hopes of winning big bucks? Now the network, along with longtime sponsor Travelocity, is giving average Joes the opportunity to play the Amazing Race from the comfort of their home computers… and the result is a cool online game that incorporates social media and technology without the bickering teammates.

CBS and Travelocity launched the Amazing Race Around the Worldwide Web on February 22 to coincide with the premiere of the newest season of the show. The contest serves as a type of Internet scavenger hunt where players are asked to complete tasks not unlike those seen on the show. Like the Amazing Race did in its first season, armchair travellers beginning their game in San Francisco completing tasks like finding Ghirardelli Square and the Golden Gate Bridge. Players earn points and can play against Facebook friends or add friends to their team. Trivia questions about travel and the Amazing Race are thrown down during the game to challenge reality TV superfans. This version of the race doesn’t promise a big cash payoff like the live-action version, but it does have a sweet prize of its own fans of the show are sure to love: Travelocity is giving away free hotel stays for a year to a lucky person who reaches the 40th level of the game.

Popular culture, specifically television, is currently experiencing a shot in the arm thanks to the interactive elements of social media. Sites like Get Glue play off the addictive qualities of television and the chatty nature of social media; by adding a gaming element to the brand interaction, CBS and the like are roping in the Farmville set as well. We’re always down for a good promotional game and have seen small companies playing along with their customers online lately, too. So, dear readers, we’ll turn it over to you: Have you held games/contests for your clients on social media? If so, what were the results? Tell us all about in comments section. Game on!

Digital Advertising Finally Arrives.

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That chorus of “I Told You So” heard around the world on Monday came from media watchers and marketers who have been patiently waiting for this day to happen.

A study released this week by OutSell notes that spending on digital advertising will be up 10% this year and will, for the first time ever, surpass, money spent on print advertising. Of the $368 billion to be spent by marketers this more

Is Online Brand Management Viable For Small Businesses?

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Having a strong brand awareness is essential to the success of any business.  As a small business owner you may wonder how viable it is to employ an online brand management specialist. One of the upsides of the online world is that it’s a great equalizer. Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation makes no difference to the opportunities available. What may be different is the way each individual business allocates their marketing dollars.

Return on investment (R.O.I.) is the only thing that an finance person is interested in. For the business owner, growth and profitability is the bottom line. For marketers, looking at the short,  medium and long term gain is equally important. This then becomes the clash between the finance department and the marketing department at some businesses. For Marketing managers, the R.O.I. is there and if undertaken successfully, the return can be much higher than other forms of online promotion.

There is a perception that online brand management is expensive. This may or may not be true depending on your strategy. For example, if you as a business owner shoot video footage, a brand management team can promote that video in all the right places. If you are part of a large business, you may use a professional team to create a video as well. However, and this is the great equalizer, the two videos are more often than not promoted in the same multimedia websites.

The opportunities for both are almost equal. What is different is how the video is promoted and whether or not the video has the content that others will recommend. Create a video that is different, a video that is funny  or in some way memorable and you’re well on the way. Video is just one example.

Small business not only can, but are, competing against larger business with a lot of success. Is online brand management a viable way to spend your budget? For most businesses it has to be. If you are considering spending any money on advertising or some form of promotion, speak to an online brand management specialist first. Your advertising budget stretches a lot further than you realize if a little time is spent promoting your brand online.

Content drives content that drives content.

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I came across two articles on IKEA this weekend. The Swedish mega-brand is known for their propensity to attach umlauts to furniture names and also for their acumen in advertising and marketing. So is it just serendipity that I came across two related articles on the Swedish home furnishing manufacturer this weekend while perusing the news? Or is it a well-crafted PR maneuver? Or could it be something else entirely? When researching Blog material, I get to spend countless hours perusing news and entertainment stories from traditional sources like magazines, newspapers, press releases and news wires as well as non-traditional outlets like other blogs, micro-blogs and online videos. I’ve also noticed that news articles on specific topics (like IKEA, for example) spike the interest of journalists at the same time. Journalists often reference recent stories and craft their own spin on the news piece. For example, in today’s Los Angeles times there was an IKEA related article referencing how IKEA is able to garner a billion impressions over the last year by keeping in the news. A few days before, I was reading the paper edition (yes, I still read the pulp) of the New York Times and came across an article discussing IKEA’s recent typeface change to their catalog. Today I did a quick search and found similar stories on TIME, NPR , CBS News and ABC news just to name a few. The reason for the flurry of IKEA activity? Often times these stories are coming from the same source like a news wire. Back in the old days, news would  come in on a ticker tape-style machine that newspapers had hooked up in their offices and they would use those stories to fill the pages of their editions, or they would use them as a jumping off point for a new story. Today, you can get the same kind of news experience on any number of newsfeed services with the click of a keyboard mouse. While you may think this creates the same content over and over, it does more than that. In the case of the Los Angeles Times article mentioned above, it comes at the story from a local angle. While the story opens with a reference to the “typeface change” , the LA times gives it a localized stance and they do their own research and interviews to make the story a rich reading experience. You can say one story begets another with a different perspective. I think this is a good thing. People like me come to the LA Times for the local perspective and want to see the world through the lens of an Angelino. While some may argue that news with a perspective is opinion, I would reply that you cannot extract perspective from anything. Even in the history books, we are reading accounts from an individual or a group of people who had the perspective of the event that would later become history. Or we are getting the readers perspective. Having the ability to have multiple points of perspective allows the reader to sift through the content and come up with their own perspective. And so on.

This viral’s gonna be HUGE I tell ya.

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Planning a viral hit is like picking the numbers for a winning lottery ticket. And anyone who tells you otherwise is either a liar or trying to sell you a creative ad campaign. Many companies turn to desperate measures by latching on to successful product launches by spoofing them. For example, there have been a rash of spoofs of the famous Shamwow and Snuggie Blanket next commercials that have appeared for a myriad of companies on Youtube. Here”™s one that Colgate recently released. It”™s really not that funny and seems to be gratuitous. You”™d think that a big company like Colgate would have had the funds to hire a funny writer. Firstly, spoofing should be left to people who know funny, like Jimmy Kimmel or the folks at Jack Films just to name two. And even though you may get in front of a lot of people, if your content isn”™t great, your un-greatness will stick to your audience like gum to a shoe. They call it reputation marketing, and like it or not, your reputation is on the line every time you release content with your brand”™s name on it. Are marketers trying too hard? I think so. Successful viral videos aren”™t trying to give you a hard sell. The best ones come from ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Check out this wedding video which recently got over 12 million hits in less than a week. According to an article from The New York Times , this video “set to the Chris Brown song “Forever,” had sent sales of the year-old song skyrocketing to #4 on the iTunes chart and #3 on Amazon”™s MP3 store.” Did Chris Brown”™s people plan this? Highly unlikely.  Did the bride and groom have their sites set on becoming a Youtube phenomenon? I doubt it. But I bet that won”™t stop salivating marketing people from trying to convince you that their whacky videos will help you reach your marketing objectives.

Ad agencies cut. Service partners help stop the bleeding.

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Advertising agencies have gone under the knife and have surgically removed whole limbs and major organs just to keep afloat during this recession. Creative and production departments have taken big hits and many agencies are now so short staffed that they are forced to hire outsiders to help deploy advertising campaigns for their clients. According to Clickz.com, ad agencies are outsourcing more production work to outside sources because these providers are able to offer the “new, now and next” offerings that ad agencies just can’t keep up with. It’s evidence that it is becoming more and more difficult to be a one-stop-shop for both traditional and digital offerings. Could this be the wave of the future for ad agencies? Perhaps. However, I have seen this trend of contraction during tough times before. Inevitably, agencies bounce back and start hiring in-house staff to stop the blood flow.

Branding your company with micro blogging

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According to a recent New York Times article small businesses are utilizing micro blog technology like Twitter in lieu of advertising and marketing campaigns. According to the article, “small businesses typically get more than half of their customers through word of mouth, he said, and Twitter is the digital manifestation of that.” By microblogging, small businesses can broadcast deals and offers to loyal customers and those just interested in their business. Location based services like LA based Kogi and Coolhaus can tell their customers where they will be on any given summer day in the city of angels. I think the increase of small businesses is also due to the fact that business owners often don’t have time to think about marketing strategies; Twitter facilitates getting the word out. Plus, a business owner can tweet by phone app whilst ringing you up for that sushi sampler you just ordered. No need for fancy ad or flyer when you can tweet at your hearts content.

Social Marketing helps Whole Foods Market celebrate a million tweets.

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I love my Whole Foods Market. I love it so much, I even own shares of their stock (NasdaqGS: WFMI). When you think of Whole Foods, social media marketing isn’t one of the first things that come to mind; granola, organic, pricey, maybe”¦ but tweeting? According to a press release, Whole Foods Market plans on celebrating a million followers on Twitter by giving away a million grains of quinoa, an edible nutritional seed that you can find at your local Whole Foods Market.  To put it in perspective, the booty comes out to about five pounds of seed. And if that’s not enough, the lucky millionth follower will get a $50 gift certificate to spend on any wholesome product you can find in their stores. Whole Foods Market also announced giving away $50 gift cards and five pound lots of quinoa if followers tweeted five word philosophies like, “cooks do it with oil” or “you can’t beat organic meat” . Either way, I really don’t know what to think about mixing whole grain bread with branding your company. Granted, you have to hand it to the advertising department at Whole Foods Market for creating intelligent brand marketing that costs them next to peanuts, err, actually quinoa. But on the other hand it really makes me wonder if the whole Twitter thing is going too far with organic tweets. What do you think?