Tag Archives: advertising

What the Hell is the New York Times Doing Selling Subscriptions Inside the ‘Wal-Mart of New York City?’

I was in New York City last week, and I went shopping with a friend. Or, more accurately: She went shopping, and I came along to try on funny hats and annoy her.

Nevertheless: She took us to a store north of Columbus Circle. I’d never heard of the store before. It was called Century 21, which is apparently unrelated to the real estate seller of the same name. My friend referred to the store as the Wal-Mart of Manhattan.

But what made an impression on me wasn’t the store itself — though it did seem like a Wal-Mart that was trying extra hard to dress up appropriately for the city — but this display in the front of the store. It was a table near the entrance, and there was a rep from the New York Times sitting there, selling subscriptions to the paper. Buy a subscription, get a $50 gift card to shop at Century 21.

And this just started to bother the hell out of me.

So I’m writing this post now because I’d like some answers. I’m confused as to how the New York Times — the newspaper of record for the freaking universe — could end up in a business relationship with a store that sells designer gloves at 50% off retail. Such a partnership seems to violate even the most basic rules of branding.

Because if I’m in charge of the New York Times brand, I’m asking these questions before I enter into any business relationship:

-How does this extend the New York Times’ brand?
-Is this a positive extension of the Times’ brand?
-Is the Times reaching new clientele with this partnership? Could this clientele be reached otherwise?
-Does this make the New York Times money?
-Does it do enough of both — reach new clientele and make money — to justify the partnership?

In my estimation, I’m not sure what such a partnership with Century 21 does for the Times. There are an endless number of points where you can interact with the Times’ brand: In print, online, through advertising, through social media. If you pop into an Apple Store to test drive an iPad, and you see a New York Times app on the device, that’s an interaction with the brand. (And for the record, that’s a damn good interaction. Gold stars to the Times rep who pulled that one off.)

So I’m confused as to why the Times would want a “Please buy our product and we’ll give you a few bucks off shoes!” brand interaction at Century 21. If anything, it seems to cheapen the Times’ brand. It seems to scream, “We’ll sell papers anywhere they’ll let us. Even here!”

Here’s what the Times itself wrote about the store in an article just two months ago:

“Civilized it’s not.”

“The dramatic markdowns and bazaarlike atmosphere (nothing’s chained for security, yet) can encourage foolish fashion risks.”

“I descended to hell, a k a the fluorescent-lighted basement footwear department…”

“What the branch lacks in ambience (brace for cheap carpets, garish cylindrical light fixtures and droning soft rock)…”

You get the idea. Why’s the Times decided to associate itself with that?

To go question by question through the bullets I’ve listed above:

How does this extend the New York Times’ brand? It gives the Times a direct presence in seven large department stores in and around the city.

Is this a positive extension of the Times’ brand? Unlikely. Here’s how I’ve always determined a newspaper’s true audience: See who they’re writing about in the vows and the obituary sections. Those are the types of people they’re really writing for. I’m not sure that I see the Times’ vows/obit audience having much crossover with Century 21’s core of shoppers, most of whom seemed to be foreigners and out-of-towners. (The locals were all bargain hunters, and I’ll get to them in a second.)

Is the Times reaching new clientele with this partnership? Could this clientele be reached otherwise? Maybe. There might be a non-New York crowd at Century 21 that might want to subscribe to the paper, I think. But it’s also worth asking: Are the kinds of people shopping for deep discounts the same people with disposable income to spend on a yearly subscription to a print newspaper?

And I do think much of this audience could be reached otherwise. Might some of this audience — especially the foreign shoppers — be more interested in a subscription to the Times online as opposed to a print subscription?

I’m told the Times also has a similar presence at the city’s many street fairs, but that’s a different story. In that case, the Times is also associating itself with a brand, but the brand is New York City itself. The Times wants to be the paper of record for the city. Nothing wrong with being visible within city limits, and I’d guess that the street fair audience isn’t all that different from the Century 21 audience. (In fact, it might be more domestic, and weed out the international shoppers who can’t buy a print subscription anyway.)

Does this make the New York Times money? This is the big question, and I don’t have an answer to it. In most arrangements like this, it’s the Times that would be paying to get a spot inside the store. (It is also possible, though less likely, that it’s Century 21 that’s paying the Times, and Century 21 is hoping that the halo of “elite” status that the Times exudes will help increase sales of, I dunno, handbags.) I’d guess that the Times offers up a percentage of in-store subscription sales to Century 21, on top of a fixed payment to get into the store in the first place.

Does it do enough of both — reach new clientele and make money — to justify the partnership? I just cannot imagine a situation in which it does much for the Times’ brand or bottom line. Who okayed this partnership? The whole thing confuses me, really.

Of course, I’d love to get a real answer on this from someone at either the Times or Century 21. Because the way I’m seeing it, this is the kind of partnership that reeks of desperation. This looks like a brand that’s going to any length just to make a sale — even if in the course making the sale, they’re actually hurting the overall reputation of the Times’ brand.

I just don’t understand it.

Hey, reporters!
Every week, I send out an email newsletter with one awesome tool to help you do your job better. It's called Tools For Reporters. Want to tell better stories? Then sign up!

Plus: If you sign up, I'll send you my five favorite tools EVER. Total cost to you: $0.

An Open Letter to the PR Firm That Represents AT&T Regarding Potential Dunk Tank Promotional Opportunities.

Dear Fleishman-Hillard,

You’re the PR agency that represents AT&T. They’re one of your biggest clients. They’re also one of the largest companies on the planet, and for the last few years, I have been among the millions of AT&T customers who have come to decide that they are totally screwing me over.

I pay AT&T for both my cellular and Internet service, and I dislike both. Every time my phone loses service, and every time the wireless router at my apartment has a random, unexplained outage, I find myself quietly coveting Verizon, the AT&T competitor who may be just as evil.

I try not to take out my frustrations on AT&T’s customer care representatives. It’s tough to get mad at a kid in a call center on another continent. Sanjay, for anything I’ve said before: I didn’t mean it.

But I would like to vent to someone. And for you, the PR team behind AT&T: I think I’ve got a way for you to offer customer catharsis and win the Internet for a day.

Two words: dunk tank.

Go rent a park, say, the one next to the Golden Gate Bridge. Fly out 10 of your most dissatisfied customers. The ones who’ve said things to Sanjay that they cannot merely repent for on Yom Kippur. The ones who blame AT&T for running their business or their marriage or their lives. The ones who’d rather lick an oil-soaked pelican than say something nice about their iPhone service.

Find those guys. Fly them out to the park, and line them up in front of a dunk tank. Get the AT&T board of directors, and have them sit their turns in it. Let the angry customers finally get our collective revenge on someone within the AT&T family.

Consider the dunk tank a peace offering from AT&T to all of us who feel wronged. The rest of us will thank you for it.

And if you’re looking for someone to cast the first ball, let me know. I might have some dropped-call issues to work out.


JetBlue’s $1 Million Twitter Hashtag.

Two different airlines announced an incredible deal yesterday: for $500, the buyer can fly anywhere the airline flies, with unlimited flights, for one month.

This made a big splash, obviously, in the news. But I found out about it first through Twitter. One of the airlines offering the sale is JetBlue, who frequently pushes exclusive deals on Twitter and is very active in replying to customers who tweet at @JetBlue. I saw the all-you-can-fly deal when a friend starting using the designated #AYCJ hashtag.(1) Hashtags aren’t always useful, but in this case, everyone who’s using #AYCJ is promoting JetBlue for free. The campaign is both viral and easy to share, and that’s a huge win for JetBlue.

But there’s a second airline that’s also hosting an all-you-can-fly package: Sun Country. They also fly nationally, to destinations like D.C., New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. So why isn’t Sun Country’s deal getting the same kind of exposure as JetBlue’s?

The obvious reason is that JetBlue has hubs in New York, Boston and L.A. — all big cities with major media outlets — whereas Sun Country is based in Minneapolis. JetBlue has more flights, and JetBlue has more name recognition.

But there’s another key factor: social media. JetBlue’s presence on Twitter and Facebook — they’ve got 1.6 million Twitter followers and 300,000 Facebook fans — means that they started to sell out of their all-you-can-fly deal before it ever appeared in a single edition of a newspaper or onto the 6 p.m. news. If JetBlue sells just 2,000 of their $500 AYCJ packages, they’ll make a million dollars, and I’d bet they end up making a few million more. And the kicker? They’ll just be filling otherwise idle seats during a slow time of year. Social media pages that cost nothing to own or operate are generating them millions, and potentially millions more in goodwill.

Now look at Sun Country. They don’t have a hashtag. They don’t offer regular, exclusive Twitter deals. Their Twitter account has 6,000 followers. Their Facebook page has 6,000 fans. JetBlue might end up selling more AYCJ deals on Twitter than Sun Country has Twitter followers.

The point is this: if you’re running a business on Twitter — particularly one that sells things — use Twitter effectively. Offer big, outrageous sales to your followers. Build loyalty. Build followers and fans. Let them advertise your brand for you.

Because even if you do it just once a year, like JetBlue is doing, it could still be a million-dollar idea.

  1. The shortened version of #AllYouCanJet.

Read This, and Every Time You See the Word “DVR,” Insert “The Internet” Instead.

The New York Times has an interesting article today about the DVR and its impact on TV viewing. The article notes that TV execs once feared the DVR. Now, they love it.

What happened? It’s a cycle that happens with any revolutionary technology:

1. The technology is created and released to the public.

2. The technology gains widespread adoption.

3. Everything else works to catch up to the technology.

We created cars, and paved roads came later. We created sliced bread, and toasters came later. We created the slap shot, and — 50 years ago today — goalies started wearing masks. Ever heard the phrase “safety first”? In hockey, quite literally, safety came second.

But TV is just starting to adapt to the DVR, even though the TiVo was introduced more than a decade ago.

The original problem with the DVR was pretty simple: TV stations need money. They sell advertising to make money. But the DVR gave the consumers the power to skip past those ads.

The secondary problem was with TVs complicated ratings system. The ratings are measured in — and I’ll put this politely — an esoteric way. TV people don’t like the Nielsen ratings system. But it’s the only measure that counts when it comes to deciding whether or not a television program is successful.

When the DVR was introduced, it allowed viewers to record a show and watch it later. But Nielsen didn’t account for these viewers. If you weren’t watching the show live, it didn’t count in the ratings.

So it took a few years for the ratings system to catch up. Explains The Times:

Two years ago, in a seismic change from past practice, Nielsen started measuring television consumption by the so-called commercial-plus-three ratings, which measure viewing for the commercials in shows that are watched either live or played back on digital video recorders within three days. This replaced the use of program ratings.

With the new system, ratings are up — way up. Thanks to the plus-three system, Fox has added about 600,00 viewers per show. Even NBC, which has seen the smallest gains with plus-three, has added an average of 140,00 viewers per show.

Here’s the crucial thought: for eight years of the DVR’s existence, television stations were improperly valuing their own assets. Thousands of people were watching TV shows, but those viewers weren’t being counted.

The same is happening with internet advertising. Ads are sold using a CPM valuation that doesn’t work. Today, the clickthrough is the key to increasing your CPM and raising your advertising rates. But it’s not particularly effective.

Why? For one, humans aren’t nearly as impulsive on the Internet as you’d expect. The clickthrough method works well for products that can be delivered on demand, which is why iTunes’ store is so effective, why porn sells on the web and why watching movies with the touch of a mouse is the next big thing. But say you see an ad on Yahoo!’s homepage for Chick-Fil-A. Even if you click through to the company’s website to read or see more, is that really any indicator that you’re heading out for a chicken sandwich at lunch?

The real money will be made when internet advertising measures — much like the Nielsen plus-three method — user engagement. DVR viewers are actively choosing to record and watch their favorite shows. For internet ads to be successful, those ads will have to demand a similar level of interaction with users.

Whatever the new version of CPM is, it has to measure that consumer’s desire for a particular product. A clickthrough simply doesn’t measure up.