Today is my birthday, and throughout the month I’ve received a bunch of “Happy Birthday” emails from various brands: Capital One; Houlihan’s; Acura; Hard Rock Casino and others. While the restaurants generally beckon you in with the promise of a free dessert or appetizer (or in some cases, such as Landry’s, with $25 off the check), companies in other sectors generally greet one’s birthday with a giant goose egg. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Hard Rock sent me an email that basically reads, “Happy Birthday from your friends at Hard Rock Casino!” Thank you, but simply “remembering” my birthday isn’t going to endear me to your brand.
Aria in Las Vegas, a holding of the giant MGM Resorts International, got it right. They sent an email (pictured above) with a special room rate valid for travel I book within the next 30 days. Not only is this appreciative of my previous business with them – it’s also very clever. We are far more likely to be in the mood to treat ourselves to something special on our birthdays than on any ordinary day.
Kathleen D. Vohs, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, explained it like this to the New York Times: “People have a limited supply of energy to put toward controlling their urges.”
Take note of this human foible, dear readers, and encourage your customers to splurge about on their special day.
This is a screen capture of the home page of Netflix, the $3.2 billion purveyor of movies through the mail and online streaming. This is also a great example as to why you should always proof your ads twice and rely on marketing partners you trust to do the same.
I give Netflix credit for presenting their real product (shared experiences) so succinctly through this lovely image. If only one of the designers had Photoshopped that cord….
After 20 years, how have the Backstreet Boys managed to maintain their fame and much of their fan base? I attended a BSB performance in December, 2012 to find out. While many groups have memorable hits, the Boys trade in an even more intimate commodity that elevates “I Want it That Way” from song into sexual fantasy for their legions of female fans.
For a short time in the late 1990’s, the Backstreet Boys were the most popular and best-selling musicians in the world. I have statistical evidence to back this up (such as their unprecedented sell-out of 765,000 tour tickets in one day), but I also have my own vivid memory. I was a junior in high school when the Millennium album was released. Even the straight boys were singing along as BSB’s consummate hit, “I Want it That Way,” became as ubiquitous to adolescents as pop quizzes and pimples.
Alas, fame is fleeting, especially when your core constituent graduates from dry humping to the full monty of adult life about once every four years. As my friends grew goatees and changed their wardrobes, their chosen music took on a similar aura of disguise. Artists like Linkin Park, Puddle of Mudd, Lifehouse and New Found Glory presented an amalgam of early 90’s alternative and the predominant Scandinavian song-crafting of our high school years, allowing us to grow up musically without having to completely grow out of our formative tastes.
The Backstreet Boys continued to release albums, but the zeitgeist retrained its ever-shifting focus. Max Martin, the Cheiron God responsible for “I Want it That Way” and countless other hits, took to writing for Celine Dion and Kelly Clarkson. In 2010, the Boys embarked on a highly successful nostalgia tour with paterfamilias New Kids on the Block – but they ceded the rarefied turf of multi-million dollar stages with platforms and waterfalls to the likes of the Jonas Brothers, and later Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.
All of this begs the question of what happens when a group that was once the world’s predominant musical force remains popular enough to sell out shows, but not stadiums. Where do you go when, like a fondly remembered ex, you are liked but no longer loved?
There is a network of high-quality venues in the US that cares not for Bieber, Swift and the lads from One Direction: casino showrooms. Gambling halls in Atlantic City and Las Vegas once featured such kid-friendly havens as bowling alleys and amusement parks, but the family market turned out to be a financial flop. Ask gaming executives today and they’ll tell you a casino is no place for children. Their entertainment bookers usually walk the talk, eschewing teen acts till their audiences grow up.
This explains the Boys’ most recent business venture, a string of concert dates at gaming properties such as Sands Hotel & Casino in Bethlehem, PA and the House of Blues at Showboat Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.
On December 30th, I was in the audience for the Boys’ Atlantic City appearance, fiddling with my cell phone as I awaited their entry to the stage. After several minutes of waiting the lights dimmed and the sold-out music hall drew to attention, as if a coach had blown a whistle. Such an act would have been impossible to discern, however, through the Beatles-level screaming that permeated the place as the Boys appeared on a crude black platform situated at the rear of the proscenium.
The four-piece band blared the intro to “Incomplete,” and flat-footed female fans arose en masse, thrusting adoring signs into the air. This is the group’s twentieth anniversary and the fans, if not the Boys—who look remarkably spry—show it. Many carried the countenance of motherhood on their shoulders but were wise enough to keep their kids away from the bacchanalia soon to ensue. A collective of young moms, libidinous single ladies and others mirrored every lyric back to the group, sucking in their presence like hungry Hoovers.
The fans’ excitement only intensified as the Boys broke out their upbeat fare, starting with “Larger than Life” and continuing down the hit parade to “We’ve Got it Going On” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” a song included on AOL Radio’s list of 100 worst songs ever. But the customer is always right, as they say, and these customers (young adult girls and the gay men who love them) wanted sweat, nostalgia and sex. Soon the boys were dancing at fever pitch, and Nick, ever the young pup among his older peers, was doing his best to make Elvis’ pelvic thrusts look like Disney fare.
As AJ, Brian, Howie and Nick (Kevin was absent from this tour date) glided into their solo material, including an excruciating song called “P.L.A.R.S.” performed by AJ (which, by the way, stands for “party like a rock star”), the crowd settled down, springing to action once again as the Boys launched into a smoothly harmonized medley of their early hits, including “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” and “As Long As You Love Me.”
While other elements of their lives exhibit a studied evolution—marriages, children, business ventures—their stagecraft, patter and affectations seem straight out of 1999. Littrell, for instance, appeared in a pink shirt and matching big-tongued pink sneakers, a look tailor-made for 19 year-old Justin Bieber but hopelessly mawkish on a 37 year-old father.
Solo numbers typically began on the platform, with the Boy in question dancing conspicuously alone. It often seemed that the group was stuck in a fantasy of grandiosity; as if they believed the dance troupes, pyrotechnics and motorized platforms they enjoyed at their apex remained with them. In reality, the scenery consisted of plywood, gaffer’s tape and a generic sparkle curtain often employed at high school talent shows.
Brian’s solo was notable not for its content (a tribute to the children lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was to be expected so soon after this tragedy), but instead for the warbly voice that emanated from this once golden-throated songster. As he croaked through his high notes, my companion assured me that he sounded similarly screechy at a performance about four months prior. This is sufficient evidence that Littrell’s vocal deficiencies were not caused by a cold, but instead are of a more permanent nature.
Perhaps the most remarkable moment of the concert, both for me and the ladies involved, was a segment titled “Club Backstreet.” Thirty women handpicked from the audience grooved and giggled with themselves and the Boys as the group ostensibly attempted to perform a song. The true purpose of this exercise, however, is fan interaction; some of the lewdest sort. Girls in skin-tight dresses and two-piece bathing suits rubbed various body parts against the Boys, with Nick and AJ commanding a disproportionate amount of attention – and ass.
These dedicated fans surely know that AJ and the rest of the Backstreet Boys, save Nick, are married. No matter: this was not a moment for their wives, who can have them for the rest of their lives (or, in the case of a Hollywood marriage, at least a few more years). This was a moment for the fans, who came to the Showboat casino in search of not just a show, but also to rise tide on the boats in each of the Backstreet Boys’ pants.
By this measure the Boys delivered, especially to a woman who calls herself AJ’s Poster Girl. According to her review of the concert on ticketmaster.com, “AJ came over, looked me in my eyes, licked his lips and lifted his shirt. My sister called it having eye sex.”
Brian’s once-stellar voice may be shot; the show, at a mere 75 minutes, may have been short; and the Boys may have been both corny and arrogant, failing to thank their crew or backing band. But to a 30 year-old woman who has one night per year to pretend she’s still 16, eye sex is all that counts, and that is one commodity the Boys delivered in abundance.
What would you do if you visited a local restaurant once or twice per week, most times with your entire family in tow, and the owner charged you $12 for a child’s order of buttered noodles?
This is a true dispatch from a family friend, a savvy grandma in her early 60′s (whom we’ll henceforth call – what else? – Savvy Grandma) who frequently dines at some of the best places in town. When she does, she orders appetizers, multiple entrees, drinks, desserts – the whole enchilada. Savvy Grandma often treats her large family, consisting of a husband, three children and five grandchildren, to lunches and dinners. When she’s not eating out with family, she goes to lunch with friends and neighbors. Simply put, this lady loves to entertain.
This is not a customer you want to sacrifice with feckless and miserly service. This is a relationship you want to grow, so that Savvy Grandma spreads the word to her vast social network (yes, this is a grandma with a Facebook account and a smart phone) that your place is a great place.
If you accidentally annoyed Savvy Grandma by overcharging her for a kids’ meal, and then thought about how much she really means to your business, you’d try to make it right, wouldn’t you?
Sadly, you wouldn’t get the chance. “I thought about complaining, but I’m not the type of person who does that,” Savvy Grandma later confessed. “So I paid the bill and left, and I will never return.”
(When I asked what you would do at the beginning of this post, you may have thought to yourself, “I’d ask for the owner/manager and set ‘em straight.” While most of us think we’d handle a small breach in service this way, fact is we are far more likely to handle things the way Savvy Grandma did – the passive aggressive way – than by outwardly confronting the management.)
Let’s find out how much business the restaurant owner could have gained by keeping Savvy Grandma happy:
|2 Dinners Per Week (Average Check $90) x 5 Years||$46,800|
|One Off-Premise Catering Per Year @ $500 x 5 Years||$2,500|
|Holiday Gift Cards (3 @ $50 ea) x 5 Years
|Referral Business (1 check per month @ $50 average check) x 5 Years||$3,000|
|Additional Business From Positive Review on Yelp||Invaluable|
TOTAL FORFEITED BUSINESS : $50,350 x 30% food cost = $35,245 profit
Now let’s find out how much business the restaurant owner lost by offending Savvy Grandma:
|Directly Lost Business (from above)||$50,350|
|Negative Review on Yelp, Citysearch etc. (500 Views per Month x 2 Years @ 10% average check $35)||$42,000|
|Relating Story of Snub to 10 Friends (3 of Whom Would Have Otherwise Become Customers @ $50 Per Month for 5 Years)||$9,000|
TOTAL LOST BUSINESS: $101,350 x 30% food cost = $70,945 profit
There are several possible morals to this story, all of which revolve around not doing anything that would cause $100,000 to walk out the door and never return. Of course not every situation is clear-cut, where a big spender wants a plate of noodles for a 3 year old (total food cost: $1 at most). What to do when a VIP customer requests, either directly or obliquely, special treatment or “comps” the restaurant may feel uncomfortable providing? What if the requests are unreasonable at the customer’s level of annual spend?
These are actually two different questions. Some restaurants don’t feel comfortable providing any comps at all, despite the fact that they are more than tripling their money on a cost-of-goods-sold basis, a position most retailers can dream of but will never achieve. Such owners and managers have to understand that even the St. Regis and Ritz Carlton hotel chains provide “deals” and give breaks to their best guests; and that asking (or expecting) some active gratitude in return for loyalty is a fait accompli in modern business.
When it comes to the unreasonable guest, don’t try to match his or her wits – simply suggest an equitable alternative. Do it lightly and warmly, even if you secretly want to punch the customer. You wouldn’t hit Uncle Joe if he asked you to break out your best wine, would you?
The word “restaurant” derives from the French restaurer, meaning “to restore or refresh.” Savvy Grandma, like all of your customers, expects a little restoration from the craziness of modern life when she steps through your portals. Give it to her and reap the rewards. Get her granny panties in a knot and she’ll take her family, friends and Facebook account out of your sphere of influence for years, perhaps forever. With the way life expectancy is looking these days, that is not a risk I encourage you to take.
P.S. to Other Business Owners: This morality tale applies to you, too. Are you a law firm that bills retainer clients $0.25/page for copies? An upscale business hotel that charges for bottled water? A spa that wouldn’t give a free massage to a concierge who’s sent you boatloads of business? Remember that customers (and those who refer them) notice, even if they never tell you so, and act accordingly.
You have certainly commanded a lot of news lately, thanks to one of your franchisees’ pledge to introduce a 5% Obamacare Surcharge to offset his costs of compliance.
While I give you credit for immediately countering this position with a statement of your own, your CEO’s follow-up press release only serves to inflame your proponents.
It’s full of defensive corporate-speak and self-serving mentions of the charity work Denny’s already performs on a regular basis. It’s all effrontery and no action. You’re not promising anything. You offer only platitudes.
It’s time for Denny’s to go on the offensive: make a big announcement of your own. Develop an incentive program for your hourly workers. Yes, I know they technically work for the franchisees and not for you. I don’t care. Do it anyway.
Head a task force to normalize relations between the restaurant industry and the White House regarding the healthcare law. The entire industry is up in arms over this thing; that’s not good for business and it’s not good for the President, either. Find a way to work together, or at the very least, make a public attempt. It will dampen the underlying assumption that restauranteurs are staunchly anti-labor 1000 times better than a pro forma statement about how Denny’s is committed to its employees.
As I suggested in my previous blog, go on Undercover Boss. That show is like Intensive Care for sagging brands. Trust me – you need it.
Denny’s also needs a corporate personality to usurp John Metz as the face of the company. That can happen – if you are willing as a company to make some of the commitments outlined above. Reality TV is especially good at personalizing a brand, but don’t wait for your CEO or COO’s star turn. Do something now – right now.
The vast majority of press mentions regarding Denny’s remain negative, even after Metz walked back his surcharge pledge and your statement went out repudiating same. There are talks of boycotts. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not pretty, either.
Denny’s, I seriously urge you to take the sour lemons John Metz handed you and turn them into sweet, succulent lemonade. Out of adversity springs the greatest opportunity.
This could be great for you. Don’t screw it up.
The Story: Yesterday, John C. Metz, franchisee of about 50 Denny’s restaurants, several Dairy Queen locations and owner of Hurricane Grill & Wings, announced that he plans to impose a 5% surcharge on all orders at his restaurants to offset the costs of complying with the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
While Mr. Metz isn’t the first restauranteur to cry foul over the law – Darden (owners of Olive Garden, Red Lobster and other concepts), Papa John’s and others have implied that reductions in its employees’ work hours are forthcoming – this is the first known instance of a CEO assessing business costs directly on customers.
Hours after the Huffington Post broke this story, Politico picked it up. Fox News, ABC News and CNBC followed. Last night, MSNBC host Ed Schultz ran the story, including a photo of Metz and a screen grab of his implicating quote:
“If I leave the prices the same, but say on the menu that there is a 5 percent surcharge for Obamacare, customers have two choices. They can either pay it and tip 15 or 20 percent, or if they really feel so inclined, they can reduce the amount of tip they give to the server, who is the primary beneficiary of Obamacare. Although it may sound terrible that I’m doing this, it’s the only alternative. I’ve got to pass the cost on to the consumer.”
Even before the MSNBC piece ran, Metz’s company thought his comments enough of an issue to post a press release walking back his remarks, which you can find here. The release states, in part, that “the five percent surcharge mentioned in various online outlets is pure speculation,” which sounds a lot to me like Hurricane Grill & Wings is calling the honesty of the media into question.
It’s a case of semantics: I assume they really mean that Metz was speculating with his remarks to the media, but the phrase can easily be interpreted as implying that the stories filed about Metz got it all wrong.
This loose use of language is a really, really bad idea, especially considering Denny’s historically tense relationship with the media. In the early 1990′s the company faced a class action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at several outlets, mostly in the southern United States. Amongst other transgressions, the suit, which Denny’s ultimately settled for $54.4 million, accused the chain of surcharging black customers, forcing them to wait longer or in some cases, refusing them service all together. Reports of racial discrimination at the chain continued even after the settlement went into effect.
Analysis & Advice: While it’s true that Denny’s corporate and the franchisees are separate entities, the public doesn’t recognize this distinction. One false move by the corporate office can besmirch every franchisee – and, in this case, one miscalculation by a franchisee can harm the entire network of restaurants.
If I were Denny’s or, to a lesser extent Dairy Queen, I’d take a serious look at my franchising agreements to determine what limitations I can impose on the rights of individual franchisees to speak with the media. While it may “sound terrible,” as the man himself put it, Mr. Metz is in serious need of a gag order.
The company’s current relationship with Metz forced them into an uncomfortably defensive position, exhibited by their recent statement that Metz doesn’t speak for all of Denny’s. This is something a company does when it’s boxed in, and it’s hardly going to help.
Metz is a valuable franchisee with long experience in the restaurant business, and Denny’s has to act decisively without sacrificing its relationship with him. At the same time, smallness will never cancel out bigness. Metz’s statement was big – especially after a Presidential election – that’s why the media transformed what was essentially a regional, trade-related story into a national one with political implications.
In contrast, Denny’s statement was tiny. It hardly made a ripple, aside from assuaging major stakeholders that the company hasn’t lost its marbles. It hardly reached customers at all.
Denny’s needs to do something to counter the anti-worker, anti-customer, anti-patriotic sentiment of Metz’s announcement. If I were flacking for them, I’d recommend one of their c-level executives develop a task force representing the restaurant industry to work with the White House on a fair implementation of the healthcare law. I’d also advise an incentive-based program to improve the lives of hourly workers and reduce attrition. I’d walk back Metz’s statement, with his cooperation. He needs to flatly promise absolutely no Obamacare surcharge will be imposed now or at any time in the future. Finally, I’d call Stephen Lambert at Undercover Boss and lobby hard for a spot in next season’s roster.
This surcharge issue is hardly Denny’s only image problem (the chain rated fourth from the bottom out of 26 family restaurants in Consumer Reports’ 2011 restaurant survey), and these actions would bring Denny’s to top of mind with consumers in a positive way.
That’s desperately needed when nearly every press mention of your brand is currently negative.
Smack between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, American Express presents something called Small Business Saturday, which is intended to help companies with annual revenue of $10 million or less claim a piece of the opening salvo of holiday shopping.
If you own or manage a small business that accepts the American Express card, there is literally no reason not to take advantage of the many benefits the bank has lined up for you, including:
- $25 in complimentary Facebook advertising (register for this by 11/19)
- Customers will receive a $25 statement credit on their Amex card when they register at shopsmall.com and spend $25 or more at a participating business (including yours!)
- A guidemap located at shopsmall.com with listings of participating businesses
- Logos and banner ad assets available for immediate download
Special Note: As a special thanks for doing business with us, we will match the Amex statement credit with an additional $25 credit on orders you place with us on Small Business Saturday, 11/24/12 of $500 or more. This includes new orders for services and eligible products (most printing and promotional goods orders), but excludes existing invoices, previously approved orders and projects already in progress or recently completed. This offer cannot be combined with other offers, is limited to one order per client and the order must be prepaid on 11/24/12. We’ll be around on Saturday till 9 PM ET to process these orders, but you can place them anytime this week and still receive the credit.
These benefits are available to qualifying businesses – these include merchants who accept the American Express card through a traditional merchant account, a direct arrangement with Amex or through Square. If you accept the Card through Square, you won’t appear on the map (instead, your listing appears here: https://squareup.com/directory/?cmpId=amex), but you remain eligible for the other benefits.
The fine print: there are some excluded business categories, like pornography, firearms and tobacco (others, too). Nonprofits are also ineligible, along with governmental entities. Merchants that began to accept American Express cards after October 15, 2012 won’t appear on the map; and merchants that began to accept American Express cards after October 31, 2012 do not qualify for the American Express $25 statement credit offer. Also, it may take up to 8 weeks for your customers to see the Amex credit on their card statement. The $25 credit only applies to personal Amex charge and credit cards; corporate and prepaid cards are excluded.
Visit shopsmall.com and click on “Promote Your Small Business” to get started, then come back here after the 24th and leave a comment to let us know how you made out with this completely free promotion.
Whether you’re voyaging to the Liquor Show in Vegas or hawking software to a gaggle of Google consultants in Green Bay, follow these tips to ensure success at your trade show or convention.
Welcome to the land of the $13 martini. Trade shows, much like the casinos, resort hotels and convention centers in which they’re often held, are designed to separate people from money. If you think you can avoid this phenomenon by steering clear of the bar, consider the financial outlay required simply to walk in the door as an exhibitor: registration and display fees; cartage fees; trade show decorator fees; electrical and telecommunications tariffs; transportation; product samples; promotional items and so much more.
The role of you and your team is to recoup the funds you’ve committed in the form of sales, referrals, goodwill and press mentions. The first step to doing this is knowing how much you’ve already spent—along with how much you’re going to spend— between your first day in the host city and the last day of post-event communications.
The second step is to follow these simple tips:
- Don’t Do What Everyone Else is Doing: Most (if not all) of your competitors probably ordered their carpeting, chairs and lights from the approved trade show decorator. Therefore, their displays will look the same—in other words, boring. As Dash laments in the 2004 film The Incredibles, if everyone were special, no one would be. Consider this your opportunity to differentiate by selecting your own tables, chairs and other accoutrements to create a unique look that reinforces your brand. For assistance, call on a consultant, ad agency or your corporate marketing department.
- If They Can’t See it, They Can’t Buy It: Good lighting is essential to any effective trade show display. Clip lamps from Staples aren’t going to cut it; you need professional-grade fixtures that will stand up to constant use; as well as meet the electrical requirements of the show’s producers. For more intricate displays, I typically use stage lights on trusses controlled by a central DMX box. If your needs are less complex, a trip to your local home improvement store will likely do the trick. Remember to never place Halogen bulbs on a carpeted surface; and always leave complex rigging to the professionals.
- Make Sure They Can Hear You: For shows that take place in cavernous halls with high ceilings (like the Javits center in New York, or the Mandalay Bay Center in Las Vegas), an investment in sound reinforcement may help your pitch carry to more attendees—thus increasing leads. Stay away from megaphones and jerry-rigging into laptops or boom boxes; these makeshift solutions reduce your persona to a huckster-like level. Instead, visit your local music store (such as Sam Ash or Guitar Center) or look online for a compact, yet professional solution such as a powered speaker (which combines the amp and speaker into one unit, thus saving you space). Due to the exorbitant cost involved, renting sound equipment only makes sense if you do just a couple of shows per year. Otherwise, buy something. Reliable brands include Pevey, Behringer (known for their bargain prices), Shure (the industry standard in microphones), Mackey and Samson.
- Unions May Run the Show: In Union strongholds like New York and Philadelphia, venue rules may restrict you from loading/unloading merchandise, wiring electric at your display and a number of other tasks without the help of a Union technician. In other locales, especially the South, you’ll more likely be on your own; so remember to pack duct tape, Sharpies, fishing line, a hand truck and whatever else you may need to get going once you arrive.
- Bring a Clipboard: These days, most of the larger shows offer badge scanning systems for rental; but these are notoriously unreliable, expensive and erratic. Be sure to pack an old-fashioned clipboard and pen to sign attendees onto your mailing list so they’ll be on your side, even when technology isn’t.
- Stay at the Official Hotel: Though convention hotels are often costly (as illustrated with the real-life martini price above), the advantages of staying in the midst of everyone else far outweigh this one disadvantage. You are more likely to bump into potential clients while staying at the official hotel; and you can invite them to the restaurant or into a meeting room to pitch your heart out and close that deal. You can host a hospitality suite or buy a round of drinks at the hotel bar for that executive team you’ve been trying to get to know. Plus, when the events are located outside the hotel, convention organizers often provide transportation to the main venue, free of charge.
- Get Involved: More often than not, show organizers have more ambition than they do available funds, extra hands and additional time. If you volunteer to fill a space by heading a committee, presenting a lecture or even supplying one of your products as a door prize, you are on your way to personal references from the producers, a plum table location for next year—and inclusion in the follow-up articles and press releases issued by the show staff.
- Get a Gimmick: When my clients set off for trade shows, I often lend them a talking robot that used to bring me thousands of extra dollars in business when I worked the trade show circuit years ago. If you’re in technology, toys, novelties or the like, a roving robot attracting guests back to your display may work for you. In other instances, it makes more sense to run a giveaway, host a game at your display or provide entertainment, often in the form of a magician that performs effects customized to your sales pitch. For information on excellent trade show entertainers, you may contact me directly, or consult a talent agent in the host market of the show.
As with most marketing endeavors, the key to a successful trade show is planning and preparation. If time is at a premium; or you’ve been honest with yourself and know events are not your forte, do yourself a favor and hire a professional from a consultancy or ad agency that revels in checklists and other minutiae. Trade shows are a detail-oriented endeavor, and the businesswoman that remembers to pack a cooler of sandwiches for her sales staff will thrive over the absentee landlord parked at the hotel bar, craps tables or hospitality suite while her charges grimace and grumble.
If you think I’m kidding, keep in mind that I once paid $20 for a breakfast burrito at the New York Hilton—which is about the only time a $13 martini started sounding like a bargain.
It’s not the Giants (sorry, New York). It’s not the Eagles (sorry, Philadelphia). No, the most highly-rated team in the NFL is the San Francisco 49ers, with 27% of of market households tuning in to their games.
The Giants are in fourth place, behind the Steelers and the Packers.
The Eagles didn’t even make the top 12.
The 49ers even receive a whopping 9 rating among teens. The immensely popular Patriots score an 8.4 in the same category.
Who knew San Francisco is a bigger football town than Boston?
Enjoy the Super Bowl this Sunday!
It is no great secret that Walt Disney was, shall we say, a bit loopy. Only a truly eccentric man would desert his family to live in a tiny, clandestine apartment above his theme park, with nothing to distract him but the anonymous, sun-peeled faces of the tourists below. (Or as Walt himself said, with his narcissism on full display: “I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.”)
However, it is also no great secret that iconoclastic men (and women) bring forth innovation. Ben Franklin harnessed electricity, but according to Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, he also took hour-long “air baths” each morning, flinging open the windows to his London flat and strutting around naked – in full view of the neighbors.
The same Edison who gave us the light bulb, the phonograph and other game-changing inventions also suffered from partial hearing loss, causing him to bite his piano with his teeth in order to hear the music issuing forth.
Steve jobs wore the same uniform of New Balance running shoes, black socks, black turtleneck and Levi’s 501 jeans nearly every day of his adult life.
Considered in this context, Walt Disney, while seemingly odd to the rest of us, was merely hewing to his cohort. But what was his innovation: Mickey Mouse? Feature-length animation? While Disney redefined the use of mascots, he was not the first on the scene with a recognizable character appealing to children. There were 7 full-length animated films before Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.
No, Disney’s true innovation – the one which contains every other advance he perpetuated – was in marketing. Walt was the first corporate officer to take his message directly to children: Mickey may have been the mascot but Walt was the adoring father figure. Even today, his Q Score, a measure of likability and popularity of public figures, places him in the rarefied pantheon of Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.
He is the best loved pitchman of all time, and his parks stand as living monuments to his superhuman salesmanship.
Sponsorship Marketing as Necessity
In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s, the Walt Disney Company was over-leveraged. The animators’ strike had taken its toll, and Walt, per his usual predilections, borrowed his way out of the hole. Astutely noting the escalating number of communiques requesting studio tours, Disney badly wanted to build an amusement park based on his movie characters – a place he took to calling “Disneylandia.”
Bank of America said no. Skepticism also befell Walt’s brother Roy, his business partner in the Disney studio. According to biographer Marc Eliot, “As far as Roy was concerned, Walt’s description of ‘Disneylandia’ served as the clearest evidence yet that he had finally and completely gone out of his mind.” Undaunted, Walt engaged the services of the Stanford Research Institute to estimate the cost of opening a park built to his specifications. The answer that came back was $11 million, or more than $100 million in today’s dollars. Mired in debt and facing multiple lawsuits, Disney’s idea seemed hopelessly stalled.
Then, in a stroke of genius, Walt decided to flip the script: instead of paying a parade of banks principal plus interest, he would find people willing to pay him to construct the park. Western Publishing and Lithography, who printed children’s books based on Disney characters; and the fledgling ABC television network took the bait. Each became an equity holder in Disneyland, Inc., which in turn owned the park.
In order to further offset costs, shops along the now-famous Main Street, USA were rented to merchants such as Hallmark and Timex. And, perhaps most significantly, rides and other attractions were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Each would boast a corporate sponsor, and be designed to that sponsor’s specifications and to advance its goals.
Thus we have the United Airlines Enchanted Tiki Room, “where 225 birds, flowers and tropical tikis sing, dance and entertain”; organ concerts by Wurlitzer; Monsanto’s Adventure Thru Inner Space; and the Goodyear PeopleMover to transport us among and between every wonder – even to the Global Van Lines locker facilities.
A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow
To be fair, the idea of attraction sponsorship wasn’t new – it had been a successful component of temporary structures such as the World’s Fair for decades. However no one had thought that the public would pay theme park prices ($15 per person at the park’s opening, or about $150 in today’s dollars) to see the same sponsored attractions year-in and year-out. No one had dreamed that people would pay to shop in sponsored stores, eat in sponsored restaurants and stow their goods in sponsored storage lockers. No one except Walt Disney.
Buoyed by the Disneyland television program airing on ABC, as well as the Mickey Mouse Club and mountains of positive PR arranged by Walt himself, park attendance was exceptional. The public didn’t seem to mind the almost subliminal propaganda promulgated in their direction, and so Walt decided to up the ante.
For the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Disney created 4 attractions that would later wind their way to Disneyland, and later to other Disney parks across the country. Among them were the ubiquitous “It’s a Small World,” created for Pepsi and Unicef; and “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” sponsored by the State of Illinois. (This project would later be expanded into The Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom in Florida.)
Perhaps the most influential, if not the best-known attraction Disney created for the fair was GE’s “Carousel of Progress,” which depicted the technical advances families have enjoyed over the past 100 or so years. Each scene featured an audio-animatronic father discussing the innovations of his day, surrounded by a decidedly corny depiction of his “typical family” consisting of wife, 2 children and dog.
Unsurprisingly, the scenes also feature a number of moving appliances, such as GE refrigerators that open upon mention and light fixtures that turn on and off. Although the “present time” scene did a good job of showcasing many GE products, the overarching goal was not just to sell. GE was interested in the Disney studio – trusted as they were – lending its “wholesome halo” to their brand. In the words of Eric Schlosser, they wanted the public to “(celebrate) technology without qualms”; to see progress as being worth any price.
In the case of both Pepsi and GE, an integral part of the persuasion was the musical score. To those ends, Disney commissioned the Sherman brothers, writers of the music for Mary Poppins, to compose 2 new songs for the World’s Fair attractions: “It’s a Small World (After All)” for Pepsi; and for, GE, “It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow.”
While the commercial intent of the “It’s a Small World” ride is mostly lost on modern audiences, the Carousel of Progress remains largely untouched. It continues as an operating ride, now within the gates of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. The Carousel of Progress is often cited by Disney as the world’s longest continuously-running stage production. It is seldom mentioned that it is also the only known stage production to function first and foremost as an infomercial for its corporate sponsor.
Epcot, Brought to You by Siemens
As Florida legacy, the legend of the Magic Kingdom reigns supreme. It’s been there longest and out of all the parks, it’s the one that most intentionally apes Disneyland. Few people realize that Walt’s true legacy to the world (aside from Mickey Mouse) is Epcot, a name Walt himself coined. The acronym, which stands for “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow,” provides a peephole into Walt’s psyche.
Disney originally intended for Epcot to be a functioning city in which people made house, went to work, saw the doctor. Everyone would pay rent so that Walt, whose tendencies toward a command-and-control mentality prompted some of his animators to dub his studio “Mousewitz,” could retain autonomy and enforce sterility. Everyone would have a job – retirement would be disallowed. Theoretically, this would eliminate slums and ghettos.
Partly because of clashes with Florida politicians – and partly because Disney did not want to invite other, voting residents into the special district the State of Florida had granted the company to build its resort – Epcot became a theme park instead of a working city. A permanent World’s Fair, if you will, where the highest pinnacle of corporate synergy could be achieved.
Today, there is a boat ride through biotech greenhouses sponsored by Chiquita; a racetrack sponsored by GM; and the Innoventions pavilion, featuring “Don’t Waste It!” by trash hauler Waste Management, “Play it Safe” by Liberty Mutual and “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure” from T. Rowe Price.
Even the films presented at Epcot have sponsors. O Canada! starring Martin Short, for example, was financed by Canada’s commission of tourism.
At the close of each day, there is a fireworks spectacular called IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which celebrates our diversity and unity as a people. The unlikely underwriter of this attraction is Siemens, the global communications powerhouse. On a recent visit to the park, I was startled to find the Siemens logo gyrating around Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth (otherwise known as the “giant golf ball”) as I exited for the evening.
But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, for hawking space on an international icon is only the latest quotient in the decades-old formula of Disney magic. Ever since Walt became the first person to pre-arrange product licensing for a film before it hit the screens (for Snow White), Disney has perpetuated its prophecy through third-party funds. The money comes from mundane corporations far and wide, wishing upon a star that some of Disney’s mesmerizing magic will rub off on them.
The ING New York City Marathon
The patchwork of patronage that Walt Disney started to assemble has grown into a veritable quilt, covering the entirety of the civilized world in a layer of corporate messages, icons and ideologies. In 1970, we had the New York City Marathon. Today, we have the ING New York City Marathon. In 1989, when I first visited the Franklin Institute science museum on a school trip, it featured an exhibit called “Franklin: He’s Electric!” Today, that exhibit has been replaced by “Electricity,” sponsored by PECO, an Exelon Company.
Naming rights to venues such as stadiums date back to the construction of Wrigley Field (chewing gum) and Fenway Park (named for one of the partners’ businesses, Fenway Realty). However, at that time sponsorship marketing was the exception rather than the rule; and events and attractions held within one businesses’ portals were supported and presented by that particular business.
Walt Disney changed all of that, making it okay for non-profits and Chambers of Commerce everywhere to sell of sponsorships of dessert stations, raffles and even meal courses. Concert promoters offer sponsorships of stages, parking lots and venues. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority even sold naming rights to their State Street subway station to Citizens Bank from 1997-2000.
Today, sponsorships are a $24 billion+ business, and the Walt Disney Company has a market capitalization of more than 40 billion dollars. As Walt said, “Disneyland is a show” – and, to paraphrase Shakespeare a bit – all of us are mere players in its great, big, beautiful circus of commercialism.
Putting Sponsorship Marketing to Work for You: A Few Tips
Disney, corporate monolith that it is, has access to the ears of almost every CMO in the country when it comes calling with a sponsorship or naming rights proposal. You may not be in the same position, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attract top-tier sponsors to your attraction or event:
- Disney was the first well-known company to tailor attractions to the needs of its sponsors. Instead of building a ride and seeking a backer later on, sponsors were consulted beforehand about the types of attractions that would serve them best. They were also provided with approval over music and narration, which often reinforced their current advertising messages. Nonprofits can offer this level of personal service and customization, by, for example, creating a signature cocktail using the hors d’oeuvres sponsor’s corporate colors.
- Good sponsorships must be quantifiable. This is one reason why Disney counts patrons as they enter their parks, and counts them again on their way out. Counting members of the public who view materials promoting your event isn’t quite so easy, but media impressions can be tallied based on ratings firms such as Nielsen and Arbitron. Determine the numeric range of individuals who were exposed to your event’s message and base sponsorship pricing accordingly.
- If it’s marketed correctly, people will pay to buy stuff. By “stuff,” I mean merchandise related to your event, attraction or (if yours has some serious equity in the marketplace) your brand. This not only includes charity auctions, but also imprinted merchandise (relating to worthy non-profit events). Disney pioneered the now-ubiquitous tactic of ending every ride in a gift shop. You can do the same with your events: do not allow anyone to leave without being exposed to merchandise. Not just mugs and hats, but items related to your event or attraction.