55% Initiative: Please Make New Hampshire Cool

I mentioned the 55% Initiative in one of my first posts. And as the deadline nears, it has become the main focus of my creative juices. Basically, our marketing professor offered the class' services to the state of New Hampshire: create a marketing campaign with the "goal of convincing 55% of new graduates to "work, play, and stay" here, as compared to the roughly 50% who currently stay." Essentially, get more NH college grads to earn and spend their salaries in the Granite State (an additional $636M over 5 years to be exact).

While the process has been exhausting, it's motivating to know that our recommendation could play a big role in the final result. I'd love to say that some of my ideas were incorporated into the 2009 launch. Businesses like Fidelity and BAE have already guaranteed support, while Governer Lynch and several state-run organizations have also signed on.

But that makes things tricky. We're not just presenting this marketing plan for a grade - that's cake. The strategy then moves to the University System of NH (the major sponsor), and up the ladder from there. So rather than just submitting a group marketing plan, I've found myself worrying more about the creative execution (I haven't kicked that Brandcenter programming just yet).

Logically, as a deadbeat copywriter, I volunteered to do the "promotion" section of the plan (glory days). So my past couple days have been spent brainstorming -trying to discover the essence of New Hampshire as a brand. I figure, who cares how you promote your product if the message sucks? So while I slave over taglines, print ads, and the content of a mock-website, I'll be sure to upload any progress.

If you've got any suggestions in the mean time - hit me with them. All you need to do is make the 6th oldest (population) state in the US look cool to college grads. Live Free or Die.

Hit Me.

Alcoholic Energy Drinks: Tasty Enough For Children

It looks like someone might be out to destroy Anheuser-Busch and the Miller Brewing Company - but come on, it's not like they're putting alcohol in energy drinks...right?

OK. Well it's not like teenagers are the biggest consumers of energy drinks...right?

Fine. But can you blame 'Big Alcohol' for trying to capitalize on the booming energy drink market? It's the Joe Camel ratio: the earlier you start them, the higher their LCV.

A recent Ad Age article mentions that A-B and Miller (the respective 'brewers' of TILT and SPARKS) are facing a lawsuit from the Center for Science and Public Interest - or CSPI. You may recognize some of its amazing work on lawsuits like:

1) Smuckers 100% Jam because it's not 100% berries
2) KFC et al - over Trans Fat
3) Soda ban in public schools
4) and my favorite: Kellogg lawsuit over its marketing to kids. Ridiculous.

I can't wait to see the adult spots for: Poptarts, Eggo waffles, and Cocoa Krispies.

So the CSPI is suing A-B and Miller for "deceptive marketing" over the combination of alcohol and stimulants in Tilt and Sparks. According to AdAge, the CSPI also suggests that the lack of advertising for these drinks IMPLIES that the stimulants "counteract the effects of alcohol." And to top it off, the colors and packaging may appeal to underage buyers.

OK. Let's pick this lawsuit apart as a marketer:

1) Underage Buyers - Yes, these "adult energy" products look like every other energy drink on the shelf. By entering this market, A-B and MBC are looking to pick up some profit with "cash cow" products. Genius. Energy drinks like Monster and Rockstar epitomize the 'extreme' image sold to young males - have you noticed Monster's X-game sponsorships?

Here are the facts: a 19 year-old professional snowboarder isn't much different from his 22 year-old counterpart. But when both athletes choose an energy drink, only one can buy alcohol. If A-B and MBC want to cash-in, they've got to hit this same 'extreme' market. These brewers have positioned their adult energy products perfectly - a) cash-cow product, a) no tv advertising, and c) placed with the other alcohol, not energy drinks. Case Closed.

2) No FDA approval - Yes, the combination of alcohol and stimulants is not approved by the FDA. Are there health risks associated with drinking alcohol? Yup. How bout with energy drinks? Yup. But neither company denies these risks.

If I can buy 500 capsules of ExtenZ male enhancement (unapproved), don't I deserve a drink like Sparks to take the edge off when they don't work?

The CSPI complains, "these companies are intentionally spiking their products with stimulants." But isn't that the point of alcoholic energy drinks?

Unless Sparks is placed in the energy drink cooler with a new cartoon mascot, it should be left alone with all the other products that require an ID. How else are you supposed to stay awake on your drive home?

Hit Me.

My Blog Has Gravitas...TRUST Me

Finding reliable information on the internet is kind of like reading a vandalized 5th-grade textbook... all the facts are hidden somewhere among the profanity, missing pages, and dirty images.

And unfortunately, this makes it hard for most young students to promote their blogs. Search engines now have sophisticated web crawlers that will ignore your blog if it doesn't have enough gravitas - blogravitas - developed through content, hits, links, feeds, updates...whatever.

But a lack of blogular authority is a vicious cycle. If a brilliant site is ranked 45,234 on a particular topic, it's not going to earn the readership necessary to boost its stats. Consequently, bloggers are forced to prostitute their sites like the greedy parents of child stars.

Rather than just ideas and internet access, blogging now requires a strategic marketing plan:

1) Blog Image and Brandmark - Bloggers must now differentiate themselves from the sea of other blogspot, typepad, and wordpress users. There's an article in Brandweek that points out the importance of a site logo. While it refers to small-business websites rather than blogs, there really isn't much of a difference anymore. Bill Haig cites the idea of "thin slicing" mentioned in Blink, which suggests an ability to correctly make split-second decisions. Apparently, it only takes eight seconds to decide whether or not a website is worth our time - how good is your brand image?

I have minimal photoshop experience and a shaky hand, but I still managed to create my header, logo, and favicon - let me know what you think? Or did you leave my blog after 8 seconds?

2) Strategic Alliances - Unless your site appears in the blogroll of countless friends, it may be destined to remain in the dregs of the google rankings - alongside naughty school girls and pet-appreciation sites. The more links going in and out of your blog, the more likely it is to generate traffic.

I'm not sure what type of etiquette is required when soliciting link-swaps, but I suggest asking friends, family, and classmates before approaching experienced members of your field - it's not just search engines that judge blogravitas.

3) Multi-channel Promotion - Even with a great brand and several friends, your blog still isn't likely to generate much outside traffic. That's where sites like Feed Burner come in: soap-box promotion. It not only encourages XML subscriptions, but also provides public blog updates, tracking info, and other special features. Basically, burning your feed is like creating 50 new roads that lead directly through your site - nice.

But you can't stop there - you also need to submit your blog to other communities and directories. While most readers wont subscribe to a blog full-time, they will read entries that pop up across the internet. And the thing is, sites like Technorati, and Del.icio.us provide rankings that can be a key part of developing blogravitas.

4) Positioning and Differentiation - Any business student knows the basics of branding. I first learned these basics when my dad suggested reading Differentiate or Die. Since then, Jack Trout has been an essential. But it's not just the theory that makes his books brilliant - it's their accessibility. Malcolm Gladwell is king of this category, but you can also add Stephen D. Levitt (Freakonomics) to this list.

The books of Trout, Gladwell, and Levitt are like The DaVinci Code for marketing nerds: unique ideas, short chapters, and an impressively easy language.

You may be familiar with pedantic writing (the literary criticism of insecure professors) - it's painful to read. very painful. Reading should be easy and enlightening - always. And as a blogger finds their voice, it's important to find a balance between formal and colloquial writing. As I struggle to fine-tune my voice as a writer, I've focused on developing a more conversational tone; Gladwell would not suggest solipsism and uptight, MLA grammar (some overcompensate by repeatedly using the - dash -).

Ultimately, writing style is an important part of blog differentiation. If you sound like a douchebag, your only readers will be other douchebags. Use your voice to differentiate your blog from those Harvard Business School kids (see link above).

5) Quality Product - Launching a blog is like launching any other product into the market - if it sucks, it'll be gobbled-up by the competition. Unless you have something to offer other readers, keep your garbage off the internet.

Hit Me.