Company Headlines

JC Penney’s Advertising Scam

Posted February 16, 2011 by admin @ 3:40 pm

black hat SEO

Nearly every company navigates the complex world of search engine marketing, some more successfully than others. Hard fought keyword battles wage by the minute, and have the potential to make or break a business. Even the largest retail chains must contend with thousands of other companies to dominate organic search listings. SEO specialists for hire understand the intricacies of Google’s complex algorithm, but their employers should be mindful of so-called black hat tactics. These underground techniques don’t violate any laws; however, attempting to game the system is considered very bad protocol. Google often punishes offenders by black listing their websites for extended periods of time. While it’s possible to recover from this kind of setback, it certainly doesn’t enhance a site’s reputation.

Just ask JC Penney. The retail giant known for its wholesome Americana image now serves as an example of optimization gone terribly wrong. They’ve been accused of buying thousands of links in an effort to reach the coveted top page rank for terms such as “black dress” and “area rugs.” Link exchanges between reputable websites demonstrate credibility as well as popularity. This is especially true when the two share a common theme or belong to the same commercial industry. Google’s calculations always evaluate link sources, and assume that insiders generally recommend products and services of a high caliber. In essence, Google prefers quality to quantity. At the same time, having a ton of links spread across a wide variety of sources definitely boosts a site’s authority. For this reason, scammers often attempt to distribute links anywhere and everywhere.

JC Penney’s links appear on many relevant spaces, but they’re also turning up in some unlikely places. For instance, their “evening dresses” don’t have a whole lot to do with This along with a host of similar oddities raised a red flag with the folks in Mountain View. The top page ranks have since been banished to dark recesses of Google’s directory. JC Penney disavows any knowledge of its SEO company’s search scheme, though tech experts find this hard to believe. Their case demonstrates the virtues of playing by the rules. Black hat tricks produce short term results. Anyone interested in the long haul should avoid them like the plague.

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Social Media Marketing: Are You Doing it Wrong?

Posted February 14, 2011 by admin @ 5:30 pm


Almost every company has a Facebook page, along with a Twitter account, and both are utilized primarily for advertising purposes. In fact, many are directing customers to their Facebook pages instead of their websites. The logic behind that is fairly clear. While web traffic is useful, it’s not going to do much in terms of concrete involvement. Gaining fans on Facebook, along with collecting coveted “likes,” appears to be the goal of the moment. There’s nothing wrong with this model, in theory; however, in practice it leaves a lot to be desired.

Businesses need to reexamine the goals behind their social media strategies. The best place to start is to view things from the customer’s perspective. Consumers decide to become “fans” or “followers” of particular brands for a reason. Naturally, they are attracted to the product for whatever reason. The source of initial connection doesn’t matter as much as what it produces. People turn to social networking because they are interested in constant interaction, and your brand needs to adapt to their preferences. Chances are they aren’t very interested in seeing additional display ads on Facebook. The display driven model reaches tons of eyeballs, but they border on marketing overkill.

Instead of focusing on exposure, concentrate on quality communication. In other words, give people a reason to visit your profile more than once. Special deals can be effective tools, though they’re a poor substitute for genuine engagement. For example, lots of customers prefer to handle customer service issues via Twitter and Facebook. This saves them the trouble of having to call your company, locate the right person, and deal with being placed on hold 15 times in the process. They turn to social networks to avoid the hassle, so make sure that your representatives are prepared to handle these types of issues in a timely fashion. Response windows are fairly short; if you’re not able to resolve the problem immediately, at least let the client know that they have your attention. Few things look worse on company profiles than unanswered consumer questions or grievances. Neglecting positive feedback is another common mistake. Anyone that puts worth the effort to complement your products and services deserves recognition. Express your gratitude in a natural way and perhaps offer to send them promotional materials. This sends a message to the particular individual as well as everyone else that you appreciate loyal patrons.

Social networks are about destroying barriers and leveling the playing field. Your job isn’t to talk down to your “fans” or insult their intelligence. Treat them as equals in a virtual community and they’ll reward you with more than just another “like.”

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Posted February 10, 2011 by admin @ 6:07 pm


Almost everyone is aware of the fact that Arianna Huffington sold her online newspaper to corporate giant AOL for a substantial sum (somewhere around $315 million). She’ll be taking over as AOL’s chief editor, and no one’s quite certain as to what will happen to the aggregate news site. The Huffington Post started in 2004 and has since grown a loyal following. Due to Huffington’s reputation as a commentator as well as her propensity for hiring liberal writers, the site’s become synonymous with left wing politics in the minds of many. AOL’s acquisition is reportedly motivated by heavy traffic, admirable retention rates, and solid advertising revenues. The company is hoping to focus primarily on the marketing opportunities within a thriving digital community. Yet, many Madison Avenue executives are expressing concerns over the implications of the acquisition in terms of AOL’s brand.

This situation raises interesting questions concerning the intricacies of long term branding efforts. Buying or partnering with an established company always carries risks related to status. Consumers don’t always associate a distinct name with another associated company, even with lots of publicity surrounding collaboration. The same can’t be said for advertisers, though. Industry professionals tend to steer clear of controversial content, especially of the political persuasion. While politics only accounts for roughly 15% of the Huffington Post’s content/traffic, the site’s best known for dirty muck racking. It doesn’t really matter whether or not this characterization is valid or not. Advertisers may not want to risk offending potential customers or they could have personal objections to the site’s ideological inclinations. Either way, AOL’s lucrative plans would go belly up.

AOL’s never been known for generating fiery political rhetoric; in fact, the once dominant ISP doesn’t have much of a public persona anymore. It’s possible that the company hopes to revitalize itself via Huffington and her media-savvy. After all, the Huffington Post is also notorious for delivering an exciting, highly interactive format to its readers. The blogging based interface facilitates real time discussion in a natural way that keeps visitors coming back for more. From this standpoint, the Post is an advertiser’s dream come true.

Still, there’s another side to this issue that’s worth exploring. Madison Avenue may very well embrace the Post, but will its user base tolerate a corporate merger? Browse the site for a few minutes and the level of discontent becomes abundantly clear. There are accusations of censorship, staffing incompetence, and serious credibility problems. Virtual communities often resist change despite their devotion to a dynamic medium. Perhaps the commentators ought to contemplate the situation from a different angle. It’s entirely possible that AOL’s brand will tarnish the Post’s standing as a voice of the American left.

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The FireFox Solution to the Do-Not-Track Dilemma

Posted February 9, 2011 by admin @ 5:36 pm

firefox 4

Mozilla FireFox is known for being a step ahead of its competition in the seemingly endless browser wars. They’ve been the dominant browser since 2009 when they finally beat out the default choice, Microsoft Internet Explorer. FireFox made huge gains with consumers because it focused on safety and security without compromising speed. Today they launched yet another feature before the folks at Microsoft got a chance to deliver a similar service that they’ve been hyping since December of 2010. The latest incarnation, FireFox 4, offers an alternative, yet still browser based solution to the tracking cooking issue.

Consumers have become concerned over commonplace behavioral targeting methods that advertisers use to boost sales. Not all marketing programs work the same way, but most retargeting campaigns implant tracking pixels as a way of luring consumers back to advertisers’ websites or to promote a specific product the customer expressed an interest in. Privacy advocates further question advertisers collecting data on internet users, including their locations, demographic information, and search habits. These actions are especially disconcerting when sensitive facts are sold to 3rd parties for unknown reasons. The public outcry has been loud enough to get the FTC involved; the federal organization is contemplating appropriate courses of action. Regulators have already proposed a national do not track list, and suggested that perhaps the mechanism should be accessible via the user’s browser.

FireFox 4 provides a setting option that sends out a broadcast signal to websites telling them that the user does not want to be tracked in any way. The company claims its concept is superior to that of Microsoft because the IE version is rather tedious. Instead of forcing consumers to cherry pick which sites they’re comfortable with, FireFox offers a universal opt-out. Of course, advertisers and publishers don’t have to honor the request; they might not even be able to translate the signal. The FTC would still have to step in to enforce the request, which would be quite difficult given the circumstances. Microsoft’s remedy is much friendlier from a business standpoint and would make it easier to identify violators.

Lawmakers will be deliberating the ramifications of their plans until February 17th. Since their decision will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on the future of the online marketing industry, expect further updates as the situation unfolds.

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Judicial Candidates Advertising on Facebook

Posted February 8, 2011 by admin @ 7:03 pm

facebook campaigns

Basically every state in the union has different rules when it comes to state elections. Things get even more complicated when municipal contests are thrown into the mix. In the battle for public office, perhaps no group of candidates are faced with as many hurdles as those in the judicial realm. Some states don’t have judicial elections at all; their judges are either appointed by the governor, state legislature, or a combination of both. Yet the states that select judges democratically usually don’t allow much campaigning. They may have strict rules regulating the judges’ speech, such as prohibiting them from criticizing their opponents’ rulings. Others don’t ban the practice by statute, but it’s still considered a major taboo in the legal profession to utilize typical campaign rhetoric. Judges in these areas feel tremendous social pressure to stay silent.

Speech isn’t the only thing that’s being constrained in certain judicial elections. A few states require the judges to rely on public funds as a way of leveling the playing field and discouraging fund raising. The theory behind this logic is that campaign contributions might come along with expectations in terms of future legal action. This could potentially foster corruption in the justice system, and no one wants that. But these restrictions really put judicial candidates in a bind. They want to get elected, yet they lack the means to adequately promote themselves.

Some resourceful Wisconsin state Supreme Court candidates discovered a cost-effective platform that lets them connect directly with voters: social networking. The prospective arbiters find that Facebook and Twitter help them reach the younger demographic, which is always an important constituency. Those ages 35 and under are likely to ignore television based advertising and some in this category don’t watch TV in a traditional way at all. The same can be said for the radio, which is an irrelevant medium to many. The candidates also enjoy getting instant feedback on their public appearances from a source other than pundits and journalists. Of course, the only people viewing the content on Twitter and Facebook are already interested in the election. This means the candidates are reaching a niche group as opposed to a random, potentially disinterested audience. Commentators are dismissing this emerging trend by pointing out that Facebook comments or retweets don’t automatically translate into votes. Here’s hoping the people of Wisconsin prove them wrong!

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Celebrity Endorsements Don’t Pay Off in 21st Century Advertising

Posted January 14, 2011 by admin @ 12:42 pm

celebrity endorsements

Including a celebrity in an advertising campaign used to be considered a tried and true recipe for success. History is rife with memorable print ads and television commercials featuring prominent public figures. But the perception that entertainers automatically increase sales has always been controversial to say the least. Getting an actor or musician to deliver an endorsement usually costs millions of dollars, far more than a typical creative. The rise of the digital domain has also changed the way consumers respond to marketing, and some feel that today’s viewers are too sophisticated to fall for the same old tricks. The viability of paid tweets may usher in the death of personality-driven promotions, and a new Ace Metrix study confirms everyone’s worst fears about this antiquated model.

Ace Metrix examined over 2,000 celebrity ads over the course of a year to determine their effect on consumer behavior and gauge their overall popularity. They discovered that while a handful of campaigns produced positive results, the vast majority simply were not worth the substantial financial investment they required. Overall, non-celebrity ads outperformed those with celebrities in every measured category, including likability, persuasion, desire, and even watchability. The last classification is somewhat surprising given the circumstances. Many celebrity ads are designed to be entertaining rather than informative and often concentrate on the laugh factor.

There are several valid explanations for the findings and Ace Metrix reveals the key points in their data analysis. First off, celebrities tend to be polarizing figures. Anyone that garners a lot of media attention is bound to provoke a strong reaction in the audience; however, that emotional response may be negative, which alters the individual’s perception of the product or brand. Ace uses Tiger Woods as a case study because of the turmoil in his personal life. All that bad press hurt his standing in the public’s eye, which ended up harming his main sponsor, Nike, by association. In essence, hiring a celebrity is a risky move because it can help or hurt your company simultaneously. Ace identifies another decisive facet: relevance. Consumers don’t like being confused, so writers have to establish some kind of clear connection between the product and the person supporting it. Otherwise, the message comes across as disingenuous at best. For example, Dr. Dre appeared in an ad for an HP laptop that he helped engineer. The ad conveyed the relationship between the rapper and the computer, which gave it the necessary credible context. On the other hand, Lance Armstrong’s Radioshack ad failed to solidify the relationship between the two entities. In fact, the ad didn’t mention the brand name or show any related images. Consequently, the campaign earned poor reviews for its puzzling content.

It’s sometimes said that celebrities are used as a substitute for imagination in marketing. This study illustrates the truth behind the old adage. Putting time and effort into generating good copy pays off in the long run, so avoid the temptation to simply toss a supermodel into the mix.

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Three Cheers For Mobile In-Game Marketing!

Posted January 12, 2011 by admin @ 3:13 pm

angry birds ad

Mobile marketing is quickly becoming one of the most popular arenas in the online advertising industry. As the number of Smartphone users rises on a daily basis, marketers search for creative ways to engage this tech savvy crowd. Mobile gaming application platforms present such an opportunity. Games are dominating mobile app purchases; it seems as though consumers are more interested in entertainment than practical services i.e. GPS.

But companies are finding that the majority of mobile users are open to certain types of in-game display ads, provided they have an incentive attached. For example, Angry Birds is a fun and addicting game that was originally designed for the iPhone in 2009. Its rousing success prompted the developers at Rovio to move into the Android and Symbian markets in 2010. The company decided to change things a bit by offering users a chance to download a version of the game that includes ads for free or pay for an ad-free alternative. Since then, consumers have shown a marked preference for the former edition; people downloaded the two at a rate of 11 million to 7 million, respectively. Rovio reportedly earns approximately 1 million dollars a month in ad revenue alone!

The game has taken on a life of its own thanks to an innovative marketing technique. Fans can purchase plush toys of their favorite characters, and there’s a board game as well as a feature film in the works.

While most of the company’s profits still stem from paid downloads, the Angry Birds model proves that in-game marketing holds tons of potential. Juniper research predicts that in-game advertising spending will continue to rise and spur job growth in the process. If their projections hold true, then income earned off of ad revenues will exceed that of paid downloads by 2013. This is great news considering the fall out of in-game ads in the video game world. One of the largest gaming companies, EA, tried incorporating ads into some of their products, but eventually decided to nix the idea at the end of 2010. EA claims that the venture did not live up to RIO expectations, so they abandoned the project entirely. However, it’s worth noting that these types of campaigns are conducted primarily for branding purposes. Branding is an abstract concept, which makes it hard to precisely quantify the impact of associated ads. Demographics should also be considered part of the equation. Most of EA’s games are geared towards young men whereas Angry Birds has universal appeal. These are some of the relevant facts to consider when determining whether or not this kind of investment will be worthwhile. Hopefully the folks at EA will reconsider once they read the Juniper study.

Filed under: Company Headlines

The Key to Twitter Marketing: Sponsored Tweets?

Posted January 10, 2011 by admin @ 4:56 pm

paid tweet

Marketers fully embraced Twitter some time last year, but the platform’s utility is continuously evolving. Twitter allows advertisers to interact with consumers without any of the barriers associated with Facebook, so it’s no surprise that social media experts are concentrating on the former at the expense of the later. Small business owners find Twitter simplifies the process of engaging with customers, while larger companies aim for more generalized branding campaigns.

Research demonstrates the connection between word of mouth buzz and successful branding, although some are hoping to generate the same effect via artificial means. Perhaps the most novel approach comes in the form of celebrity sponsored tweets. Digital advertising is all about reaching the audience, and celebrities have thousands, if not millions, of Twitter followers. These groups of people may or may not follow a certain demographic pattern. For example, it’s probably a safe bet that the majority of Kim Kardashian’s followers are young women. This information gives marketers the opportunity to craft tailored ads that might appeal to the majority of her fan base. Some of her affiliates include clothing retailers Charlotte Russe and Rebecca Bonbon; both of them offer products designed for teenage girls and twentysomethings. Kardashian reportedly makes roughly $10,000 for every sponsored tweet, so this avenue is definitely lucrative for the participating celeb as well as the agencies that match up advertisers with endorsees.

The FTC requires some form of identification to set the sponsored listings apart from the organic microblogs. This is easy enough to accomplish, though it seems to defeat the purpose of the campaign. Many of the companies that connect celebs with brands in need give the stars permission to accept or reject the products that appear on their timelines. Nevertheless, seeing the word “ad” underneath a glowing piece of product placement might come across as disingenuous to the point of being ignored. For example, does anyone really believe that Jenny McCarthy regularly eats at Arby’s? What’s worse is that often times, the paid tweets aren’t even written by the entertainers themselves. Instead, they’re written by folks trying to sound like the person in question. This increases the cheesiness factor tenfold. The tweets don’t really stand out or disrupt the flow as a result, unless the person has a distinct way of typing that’s difficult to reproduce. Snoop Dogg is a prime example. His spelling and sentence structure are unique to the point where they can’t be replicated, especially not by someone that is unfamiliar with hip hop vernacular.

Clearly, companies are banking on this strategy’s effectiveness. It’s almost impossible to measure such a campaign’s results, since the ad itself is so far removed from any kind of consumer action. Does anyone have confidence in paid tweets? Make believers out of us!

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E-Book Advertising

Posted December 14, 2010 by admin @ 4:13 pm


Once upon a time, advertisements graced the last pages of popular novels. The static print media format made it nearly impossible for the creatives to remain relevant, and some authors objected to a perceived commercialization of their art. Consequently, publishers stopped incorporating ads into books during the 1960s.

But thanks to the increasing demand for e-books, marketers are reconsidering this platform’s utility. This dynamic medium has tons of potential in terms of generating revenue. For example, e-books are capable of supporting content updates. That means the available space can be used on a temporary basis by numerous companies. The fresh content will guarantee views and give firms a chance to work with multiple partners through a single text.

Obviously, there will be some purist authors and readers raising objections. They will contend that ads may distract readers; this concern misunderstands the purpose of such campaigns altogether. No one wants to interrupt the reader’s experience with flashy or obnoxious content. On the contrary, subdued graphics will add value via high tech targeting techniques. Companies employ demographic data and personal information to specifically tailor content that would be of interest to a particular individual. That means no random junk, just sleek displays based on the reader’s known interests.

Despite these unobtrusive models, some industry professionals caution that e-books will face considerable opposition. That’s why many e-book retailers are planning on giving the titles with ads away for free. This incentive will likely entice wary consumers into taking the plunge. Other ideas include incorporating QR ads that give readers access to exclusive deals, author interviews, or movie tie-ins. The product placement is probably going to make or break the venture, and finding the appropriate balance could be tricky. It sounds tempting to relegate ads to the dedication pages, table of contents, etc., but the decreased visibility would kill their profitability, too. QR ads placed around the page borders wouldn’t break the reader’s concentration, yet the content remains in plain view. No matter how marketers end up packaging them, this exciting opportunity opens up uncharted territory in the world of digital advertising.

Filed under: Company Headlines

Lawyer’s Victory for Free Speech in Advertising

Posted December 13, 2010 by admin @ 7:04 pm

first amendment

Every profession benefits from marketing, but some career-oriented organizations frown on the practice for various reasons. Doctors and lawyers in particular are subject to this ridiculous stigma that conducting advertising campaigns is somehow unethical or amateurish. The state of New York went so far as to craft special regulations aimed at television ads for legal services, or at least, they tried to. The proposed legislation would have been a blanket ban on a wide variety of lucrative tactics, such as incorporating client testimonials, using nicknames to indicate the firm’s success rate, parodies of judges, entertaining depictions of attorney-client relations, and other supposedly “misleading” practices.

Naturally, the attorneys at Alexander & Catalano challenged the statute prima facie on First Amendment grounds. Commercial speech does not currently enjoy the same protections as those of non-commercial expression, but the gap narrowed substantially in light of the Court’s landmark ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the attorney’s favor, solidifying their confidence in consumer common sense. Today the Supreme Court followed suit by denying cert in this case.

Several media outlets are correctly identifying this as an important win in the fight for free speech. At the same time, they are misrepresenting the Court’s actions. A cert denial does not indicate agreement on behalf of the Justices. While statistical evidence demonstrates that they are more likely to hear a case that they will ultimately reverse, a cert denial says nothing about their collective opinions on its merits or the legal issues involved. It’s impossible to determine why the Justices chose not to rule on this matter, and simply assuming concurrence is tantamount to false reporting. Perhaps the concerned officials should consider implementing a set of rules to prevent unverifiable claims in journalism, especially when the text concerns topics of vital public interest, such as the justice system.

Filed under: Company Headlines
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