Is there ever a ‘RIGHT’ time for Grad School?

Grad School, Schmad School….right? Let’s all attend because it’s just an extension of your undergraduate education! I mean let’s face it, for the most part, my generation considers education as something you take up as a pastime until ‘you’re’ ready to enter the real-world of deadlines, low-pay, and kissing ass just to get to the next level. I, on the other hand, wanted to get a graduate degree because I was under-the-impression that I would be able to get a broader outlook on my field – marketing communications – since I didn’t feel like my undergraduate effectively prepared me for a successful career. Either I didn’t stay abreast on topics in higher education or my undergraduate institution didn’t equip me with the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision about graduate school.

During my undergraduate education I never thought about what ‘grad school’ actually meant, until recently. Last semester (Spring 2011), I received the McNair Scholarship – a scholarship put in place to honor Ronald E. McNair, an African American astronaut killed on the Challenger when it exploded.  This particular scholarship is for first-generation, low-income, minority students that express desire for pursuing higher education – specifically a Ph.D. At the time I applied, I knew I wanted to obtain a master’s so naturally I thought, “What’s the difference in taking it one step further and getting a Doctorate?’ My conception of the entire graduate school process and experience was off — way off. When we began the program as a Scholar, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.  Everyday we walked into our 4-hour class over the summer, there was a new task put in front of us. Hey! I’m up for the challenge! <— That was my initial thoughts.  Then came the hard-hitting truth about grad school – it’s NOT an extension of your undergraduate education. As a matter of fact, unless you choose a professional master’s, it is COMPLETELY different from your undergraduate. Now, after the McNair Program has schooled me, graduate school is synonymous with research, research, research…and guess what? You guessed it! MORE research!

Now as time passes into the culmination of my undergraduate degree (done in December – YAY), I wonder….”Is it the ‘right’ time for me to go to grad school?” I’ve taken most of the steps in preparing for grad school and have had an invaluable experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the McNair Scholarship.  But…am I really ready? Yes, I’ve taken the GRE. Yes, I’ve (almost) completed an independent research project – with the help & guidance of my wonderful mentor, Dr. Jensen Moore-Copple (who, by the way, has been my rock and biggest advocate thus far in college). Yes, I’ve attended a conference and will be presenting my research at a National McNair Conference at the University of Delaware. Yes, I’ve researched schools and have a good feel for what I should expect out of a top-tier program (Strategic Communications or something very similar). Still haven’t found one that says,”Hey, I’m the perfect fit.” BUT….am I REALLY ready to go to grad school? If there is one thing I’ve learned from anyone who has completed/is completing a master’s or Ph.D., it’s that you must be ready to give it everything you have.

I’m always up for a challenge; however, this time the challenge for me is deciding when the ‘right’ time to attend grad school is. I know I’ll get my master’s, as well as my Ph.D., because when I set my eyes on something, rest assured I will achieve it. Talking to Dr. Diana Martinelli, today confirmed my feelings about pursuing a graduate degree. “You’ll know when it’s time, trust your gut feeling.”  My gut feeling is currently telling me — I’m burnt out. I’ve been in school for 17 years. Yes, I said it 17 years!!! Hard to believe. I know that going to grad school is going to take every ounce of energy, perseverance, and determination that I have….and I’m willing to give it that and more. Just not right now…..

Pitbull is chosen to endorse…again.

Bud Light has chosen Pitbull to endorse the brand in its new multicultural advertising campaign expected to hit off in the next couple of weeks.   The beer powerhouse known for its entertaining, outgoing and humorous personality has been a major player in the Hispanic market, but has recently taken some hits from competition; these hits have stimulated the brand to take action.  This endorsement underscores the mounting pressure on companies to remain relevant to various cultures at one time.

The campaign highlights the importance of multicultural advertising and its long-term benefits. Multicultural advertising is becoming increasingly important because the population of minority cultures is growing at an exponential rate.  Companies and organizations must seek ways to engage diverse audiences with single messages to decrease costs and drive sales.  Bud Light made a strategic move to employ Pitbull as their product endorser because he appeals to multiple audiences – the Hispanic culture and the millennial generation.  Previously, Pitbull has endorsed Kodak – and still does in his ultra-successful raps – and more recently has endorsed Dr. Pepper.   He oozes a charming appeal that the diverse audiences find relevant and meaningful to their lives. Advertisers and marketers alike should take a page out of Bud Light’s marketing book…. it’s a two-for-the-price-of-one success.

Advertising appeals…is there a correct dosage of sex, humor & fear?

Advertising appeals such as sex, humor and fear can have numerous effects on audiences – some bad, some good.  As the old adage argues, “Sex sells.” With modern advertising containing countless sexual appeals, it can be presumed sex does sell.  Humor, just like sex, can have positive effects on audience attitude and may lead to sales in the long run.  However, advertisers must be cautious when using sex and humor as it may have an adverse effect on the audience.  Humor can create a relationship with consumers, which can enhance their thoughts and feelings toward a brand or product.  When using humor, however, it must be done in a balanced manner – not too much, but not too little.  If a high/extreme humor appeal is used, it may alienate the audience from the message and they may not remember/recall the brand or product advertised. Advertising that creatively incorporates a product or service in moderate humor appeals will be more effective as it relates the message to something entertaining that an audience may later recall. Moderate humor will allow a relationship between the audience and advertiser, while increasing the likelihood of the viewer to decode the message more effectively.

Fear appeals can be somewhat different from sex and humor appeals and must be used cautiously so as to not create too much arousal or anxiety.  A moderate level of fear can motivate an audience to seek ways to alleviate the fears that may be caused by the message.  For example, if a girl watches a commercial about HPV and is afraid that she may get HPV if she doesn’t receive the Gardasil vaccine then she may seek more information about vaccine to assuage her fears. If excessive fear appeal is used, however, it may cause too much arousal or anxiety and the audience will employ defense mechanisms such as ignoring the message altogether. Advertisers and marketers must be wary of the amount of fear they inscribe in their marketing communications because they may alienate their audience entirely.

In terms of effectiveness, gender differences exist – as they most always do – in the manner an audience will respond to an advertisement.  Men may interpret humor that uses more competitive or vulgar appeals better rather than humor that contains less.  While women, on the other hand, are less likely to enjoy raunchy humor.  If an ad makes a jab at another’s expense, women are more inclined to feel emotions and interpret the ad as distasteful. The same goes for sexual appeals used in advertisements.  Vulgar and excessive sex appeals may be repulsive to women, while men tend to welcome escalated sexual appeals.  Biologically, men and women are wired differently in relation to arousal and anxiety.  Therefore, when faced with messages incorporating fear women tend to have a lower tolerance and higher avoidance than men.  Men tend to have higher coping ability with fear-based messages.

Largely, advertising appeals are tricky.  To be used effectively, many aspects of appeals must be considered carefully.  There is not a one-size fits all approach, so advertisers must adjust accordingly to each specific audience involved.

‘Jersey Shore’, lay off the bad publicity!

A couple weeks ago ‘Jersey Shore’ was awarded a $420,000 in a tax break that New Jersey residents will have to pick up the cost. (Note: Governor, Chris Christie, veteod the tax credit a few weeks after the news broke stating, “As chief executive, I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens.”)  New Jersey residents and other outsiders have given harsh criticisms of the show and its reputation. Shows such as Jerseylicious, Jersey Shore, and the Real Housewives have spread awareness about the state, but it has also come with negative stereotypes and degrading jokes.

The reality TV show, ‘Jersey Shore’ has been a phenomenon of its own.  The cast has fascinated fans and audiences since 2009 with its outrageous fist-pumping and “Gym-Tan-Laundry (GTL)” lifestyle. (By the way, I ‘defriend’ anyone that has embraced the GTL lifestyle.)  It has brought widespread awareness to the small, densely populated coastal state.  However, that awareness has been a bad PR nightmare for the state’s tourism marketing department.  Not only have the show and others of its like brought publicity, but they’ve also given the state a bad stigma.

This case is particularly significant to advertising, public relations, and marketing that have attachments to the state of New Jersey.  Brands will have a challenge breaking the schemas individuals have of the state after viewing or hearing about the various reality TV shows encompassing New Jersey.  It will be increasingly important for them to differentiate themselves from the reality shows and the portrayals in them.  The mayor of Seaside Heights mentions that the show brings in a lot of business, which helps their economy. However, it is important for the town and state to think of the future ramifications of the TV shows.  This case is a perfect example of over-positioning. Once tourists and outsiders have a schema on New Jersey it will be hard to change their thoughts on the state. Long after the ‘Jersey Shore’ is finished fist-pumping their way into our flat-screen TVs, we’ll still remember the obnoxious and ill-mannered ‘GTL’ clan and relate it to anything affiliated with New Jersey.

Traditional media metrics are just that. Traditional. Time for new metrics!

First of all, existing media metrics were introduced decades ago when traditional media such as TV, radio, and magazines were the main mediums for advertising.   Reach, frequency, GRP, and CPM are still used in the way that they were first introduced and used – imagine how ineffective the may be now!  In recent years new media has broadened the advertising medium landscape and there are many more options for advertising placement. There have been no updates to these aforementioned traditional media metrics, but new media have been added and the metrics simply do not function in the same way as they would in traditional media.

Reach and frequency metrics are also problematic because they are only an estimate of exposure opportunities, not an actual calculation of message exposures to target audiences.  These calculations are then multiplied to give you an estimated Gross Rating Point for a campaign; however, GRP is nevertheless only an estimate and not an actual total amount of exposures.  Although it is important to have a good idea of how many exposures and the amount of reach a campaign can have, it is increasingly important to understand the reality of the situation. Since media has fragmented exponentially and multi-tasking has soared in the past few years, it is hard to know exactly how many of a target audience actually consumed a message for a product/service.  In reality, there are multiple screens and mediums in our lives from day-in and day-out, so it is increasingly harder to determine when consumers tune out one and tune into another.

Impressions are also a weak media metric because they do not consider important aspects of online activity.  This particular media metric only counts the amount of times that an online page is viewed with a certain ad on it.  It does not take into consideration the amount of time a person stayed on a web page, if the user actually viewed the ad or if it was just a hit and they left the page immediately after it loaded, or multiple page views by one user.   The previous mentioned problems hinder the usefulness of traditional media metrics and do not allow for accurate measuring; thus they are futile ways to determine the effectiveness of a campaign.

As mentioned above, the traditional media metrics were not developed for measuring new media such as online and mobile. Thus, reach, frequency, GRP and CPM cannot be used on the Internet.  Impressions can be used for the Internet; however they are not an effective measurement as demonstrated previously.   Reach, frequency, and GRP are not effective for Internet measurement because the Internet is extremely fragmented and it does not measure the actual amount of times an audience has been exposed to a message. One must consider the amount of time a person spends on a page or if the page was just uploaded and immediately left before viewing anything on the page, and the actual conversion rate for the ad.  CPM is also an ineffective measurement for Internet audience because you are charged for impressions even if your target audience did not view the ad.  Banner blindness, a phenomenon where visitors to a web page ignore ads, hinders the measurement of CPM and impressions.  All of the metrics were simply not developed for new media use and therefore do not give accurate portrayals of the effectiveness of a campaign.  Time for innovation in the metric world!!

Hacking is the new pastime.

On Friday, September 9 a hacker group called “The Script Kiddies” took control of the @NBCNews Twitter handle posting false reports that Ground Zero had been attacked days before the 9/11 ten-year anniversary. Though this was not the first time that a news agency’s Twitter account has been hacked, it is the first time that the hacking was considerably alarming due to the significant terrorist attack 10 years prior.

Recently, hacking groups have targeted organizations and the government to spread false information and/or hacked confidential information.   These hackings underscore the importance of social media security.  A brand’s and/or product’s credibility and reputation can be greatly affected if hackers are able to take control of their social media feeds/accounts and post malicious statements. It is increasingly important to maintain a secure online presence as to not jeopardize brand equity.  Advertisers/marketers must keep in mind that social media is a great way to engage their audiences, but if it falls into the wrong hands it can damage a brand’s entire reputation in a matter of minutes.  The take-away: Brands must be selective when allowing access to their SM feeds and must monitor them regularly to be abreast of any unusual or malicious activity.

Mashable:  Hacked NBC News Twitter Account Issues False Reports of Ground Zero Plane Crash

Positioning – it’s all the rage! But beware….

Product positioning is an important aspect of marketing; in today’s ever-cluttered world of marketing and advertising a product/brand must have a clear benefit or competitive position in the marketplace to successfully differentiate itself from the competition.  Even if a marketer does partake in positioning a product, it does not mean that the positioning will be successful every time. Common mistakes in positioning CAN happen.

Under-positioning is disadvantageous to a brand or product because marketers do not position it strongly enough.  They do not associate the brand/product with a clear benefit or competitive edge so that consumers know what exactly sets it apart from other competitors. Therefore, consumers may not have a strong connection with a brand and instead buy products from the competition because they don’t know what advantages it will provide them.  For example, the Flip video camera was discontinued because they did not establish a good positioning strategy against mobile video cameras that were easier to use. Consumers were not willing to buy an extra device when they already had one on their mobile phone.

Over-positioning can happen when there is too much focus on position, ultimately giving the audience a too narrow depiction of the product.  This mistake can ultimately alienate consumers from the product, creating a narrow group of customers that can actually identify with it.  If the target audience is too small it limits potential consumers of the product.

Confused positioning happens when marketers either change their position too often or has benefits that contradict each other that an audience becomes confused of what the product actually offers.

Apple is the first company that comes to mind when I consider successful positioning strategies. During Apple’s lifespan it has successfully positioned itself in the mind of consumers as the company on cutting-edge technology innovation with an ease-of-use appeal and design that is for individuals who think differently. Apple offers a sense of prestige, stature and creativity.  Companies, consumers and admirers all look to Apple for the newest and coolest products and accessories. Their products are not only visually sleek and simple, but their software also oozes the simplicity that other systems so often forget. The “Get A Mac” campaign emphasizes the creativity and well-thought-out design of Apple products. Apple differentiated itself from conservative PC brand by offering products that would enable creative individuals an outlet to get their creative juices flowing.  When I see someone that has a Mac, I assume that they are creative, liberal, innovative, and have a some-what higher amount of disposable income. Their product differentiation has been extremely successful and has given them accolades such as “the world’s most valuable company” in August and having more money than the U.S. government.

One thing is for certain: a brand must have a clear position in the marketplace to be successful. 

Skype CAN be educational!

According to an article, published by Mashable.com, Skype launched a network in March 2011 specifically for teachers called: Skype in the Classroom. The teacher network now boasts 15,000 teachers worldwide sharing/collaborating projects and video-conferencing with other classes and professionals in their prospective fields. Tony Bates, the CEO of Skype, sat down with Mashable to discuss the impact that Skype in the Classroom has on education. His positive outlook of the teaching network emphasizes the importance of a video-conferencing tool in classrooms.

The article is particularly interesting because there are many positives that can come out of the teaching network. As the article mentioned, teachers are able to collaborate on school projects and share their work with others that would normally be inaccessible.  Skype in the Classroom is invaluable because it allows students to work with others and/or have personal experiences with various teachers and professors across the globe.  Specifically advertising/marketing classes can collaborate in more specific ways with the use of Skype. The platform can also enhance students’ learning and global perspective rather than restricting them to only one regional or national perspective.

It is important for educators from the advertising/marketing world to engage their students with this type of experiential learning.  It can also help students by providing them with a mode of connecting with industry professionals that would otherwise be out of reach.  Instructors should implement these professionals into their classroom instruction whenever possible to enrich classroom learning.  Additionally, teachers in all disciplines and fields should embrace this technology and innovate new ways to use the platform for better classroom engagement. This initiative is of great significance for education overall and even more for higher education. West Virginia University’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism would benefit from outside professional and academic collaboration. Personally, I would have enjoyed my advertising and communication classes more if Skype and other engaging platforms would have been used more often.

What are advertising effects?

The three dimensions of communication effects are: cognitive, affective/attitudinal, and behavioral.  Collectively, the three dimensions emphasize the interrelationship between knowing, feeling, and doing among consumers. The first dimension – cognitive – refers to the beliefs or knowledge a consumer holds about a product or brand. Specific effects of this dimension include awareness, attention and knowledge of the particular product/brand. The second dimension – affective – refers to the way a consumer feels about a product or brand; it represents emotions or opinions. Specific effects of this dimension include liking and preference. The third dimension – behavioral – involves the intentions or actual behavior a consumer has in regard to the product or brand.  The specific effect of this dimension includes purchase.

Most advertisers will say that the most important dimension of communication effects is the cognitive dimension because it includes the awareness and knowledge of a product or brand. One of advertising’s purposes is that it introduces products/brands to consumers so that they have awareness and knowledge of them.  Without awareness or knowledge the consumer does not know that the product/brand exists and therefore cannot make a decision in regard to the product/brand. It can be assumed that if the consumer is not aware of or does not have knowledge of the product/brand than they cannot experience the other two dimensions – affective and behavioral. Ultimately the cognitive dimension is the start of the AIDA model, without the cognitive dimension a consumer cannot make an action in regard to a product/brand.

Unaided awareness, top-of-mind awareness, aided awareness and familiarity are all types of advertising awareness. First, unaided awareness is achieved when a consumer identifies a brand/product without being prompted. Top-of-mind awareness is a subset of unaided awareness; it is achieved when a consumer identifies a brand/product before any other one. Aided awareness is achieved when a consumer can identify that they are aware of a brand/product when they are prompted. Familiarity is a subset of aided awareness.  It is achieved when a consumer not only knows or has heard about a brand, but also knows about the brand and it’s personality.  Top-of-mind awareness is particularly coveted by brands because it is the brand that first comes to a consumer’s mind. According to Kelley and Jugenheimer (2010) research has shown that a brand’s market share can be highly correlated with unaided awareness; market share leaders are often the brands that lead the category in awareness.   Therefore, top-of-mind awareness is the most important advertising effect.

Advertising’s immediate objective should never be strictly sales. Although sales are an important long-term goal, advertising should not be thought of as a means-to-an-end where sales is the only objective and once achieved there is no reason to continue. Even though a consumer purchases a product once, it does not go to say that the consumer will be a repeat purchase or that they will become an advocate for a brand.  Sales are important. However, if consumers do not continue to buy a product/brand more than once than it was a one-time affect that did not increase brand equity in the consumer’s mind. Also, it is hard to isolate advertising sales completely from other factors that could have contributed to sales. Therefore, it will be difficult to measure the effect advertising had on purchase behavior. For these reasons, advertising’s immediate objective should not be sales.  Advertising should focus on the cognitive and affective dimensions of effects rather than behavioral because the cognitive and affective dimensions will drive the behavioral dimension in the end.

References: 

Kelley, L. D., & Jugenheimer, D. W. (2010). Advertising account planning: Planning and managing an IMC campaign (2nd ed.).  Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Millennials…more selective than ever.

According to an article on AdAge.com, Ford has tapped into the mind’s of millennials on Twitter to establish key marketing tactics that will allow them to effectively engage the millennial audience. Since millennials are a coveted market audience, many brands are seeking specific techniques to sway this young generation into becoming brand consumers and enthusiasts. Ford’s marketing team delved into these young minds to uncover insights that they realize is necessary to have a meaningful brand relationship.

First, Ford illustrates that self-expression is important to the millennial generation because it allows them to customize their car – transforming it from a mere vehicle into personalized “lifestyle enhancer.” Second, Ford notes that connectivity is all the rage with this ever-connected generation. With that said, connecting the cell phone and its features to automobiles is not an option – it’s a must.  Next, they identify gamification and its increasing importance. By incorporating gaming into automobiles, it will increase the engagement of the millennial consumer.  Access to the brand is becoming an important aspect to the young generation. They want –and have even come to expect – interaction with brands.  Last, Ford emphasizes that brand as content is important to always observe; by watching what millennials do with brands, marketers can constantly educate themselves on how to best reach and engage with them.

The key marketing tips presented from Ford’s perspective of millennials can be applied to many brands seeking to enchant the highly sought-after generation. Self-expression, connectivity, gamification, access, and brand as content have become increasingly important in every aspect to the millennial consumer.

Not only automobiles can be customized, many products such as shoes or phones or computers are customizable. For example, Nike reached the young demographic many years ago when it introduced the ability to customize everything about the shoe you order on their online store.  Millennials can be described as being self-absorbed. As a millennial myself, anything we can make more personal to us will make us fonder of the product.

When it comes to connectivity, the millennial consumer is the epitome of demanding everything at their fingertips. Brands must seek ways to incorporate this connectivity at any second they can. Once a millennial loses touch with their connection, they become disengaged will all surroundings – it’s their life-support.

Gamification keeps the youthful consumer occupied and entertained. Brands must be able provide methods of constant engagement that keep the consumer coming back for more. Foursquare has evolved from just checking-in, to a simple game that keeps users coming back to earn and win prizes.

As mentioned before, millennials are self-absorbed; this causes them to expect access to brands on “their” time. Brands must be willing to actively engage this youth when they say it’s time. And last but not least, mining data and information from this important demographic is ever important. Learning their content sharing characteristics and expressions is a guaranteed way to always be abreast of their changing trends.

If brands can find techniques to achieve these key marketing tactics they will undoubtedly increase their brand presence with the millennial generation. In the end, the millennial generation can either make or break a brand. So brands must tread carefully.