Print Ads Used in Phenemy Positioning War

It started at the Consumer Electronics Show at the beginning of 2013, then moved to a full page ad in major nationphone legsal papers, only to be countered in the same papers soon thereafter.  What is it?  The newest phone ad wars between AT&T and T-Mobile!

Newspapers love ad wars almost as much as oil companies like price wars, and divorce lawyers like contentious divorces.  But, besides bringing in unexpected ad revenue, there are lessons to be learned from these phenemy (phone enemy) ad campaigns and not all of them are positive.

Companies have two basic ways to get their side of the story out — PR and advertising.  Effective PRcan get company spokespeople on pundit talk shows and inches in commentary sections of newspapers. If done really well, it can get the company quoted in an actual news article. But there are never any guarantees with PR.  On the other, Advertising does guarantee placements. It’s why during strikes, elections, employee recognition periods, and even phone wars, you’ll see a proliferation of print ads, because nothing tells a story better or quicker than a full-page ad in print.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear the recent AT&T and T-mobile ad wars were effective. Here’s why.

  • The campaign was limited to national publications.
  • It was based on a conference speech that was also limited to industry insiders.
  • The company with the leadership position gave free press to the competitor.

Here’s what happened. The new CEO of T-mobile made a snide remark about AT&T. Few might have heard the comment or given it credence since AT&T has the leadership position. But, instead of letting the comment slide, AT&T came out fighting with limited national ads. Most people never saw the ads, but others started talking about it as it hit the trades. In essence, AT&T gave a broader voice to the initial T-mobile argument.

The AT&T ads could have worked if they had been more widespread, but the creative also gave unnecessary ink to T-mobile. The AT&T ads claimed T-mobile had two times the dropped calls, two times the failed calls, and 50% slower download speeds. This drew added attention to the ongoing complaint about AT&Ts own dropped calls rather than playing to its strengths.

As noted in the now classic marketing text “Positioning The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout, “At almost every step of the way, the leading brand has the advantage.”  By responding to the T-mobile posturing, AT&T gave up some of that advantage and opened minds to the possibility that T-mobile may be right. Or, as T-mobile’s CMO Mike Sievert said to Advertising Age, “AT&T doth protest too much.”

broken legCheck out the AT&T and T-mobile ads and judge for yourself.  Then, take a step back and think how the full page ad space could have been used more effectively, because a full page is a terrible thing to waste.

The Walk-Away:  Advertising should never be done defensively or off your main message because instead of giving a campaign legs, it creates confusion.  It’s more like trying to run on a broken leg. All you get is more injured.


Credible Ads are Placed in Trusted Media Sources

When it comes to consumer trust, traditional media still rules the day. A digital report released this summer by Triton Digital, shows that newspapers, radio and TV each outweigh internet-only news sources in terms of trust. Reported in e-Marketer under the title “Traditional Media Still Most Trusted Sources of Info,” the article concludes … “with time and attention –and trust—still focused on traditional media, TV, radio and print are not to be neglected.”  Both Triton Digital and eMarketer are services dedicated to digital growth trends, giving the report significance as one of those “eating crow” times when digital gurus formally admit the power of print and broadcast.

In this increasingly digital world, people have frequently confused news with news delivery trends. Findings from a January Pew Research study note: “People are no longer taking one path to access news.” Consumer appetites for news today are extremely healthy, but instead of reading three newspapers as their grandfathers did, today’s consumers gather news from three or more platforms frequently including print, desktops, and mobile devices as sources for their daily news consumption.

The Pew survey also reported in e-Marketer found: “ that when seeking news, the highest percentage of consumers went directly to a news organization’s website or app, which suggests that pre-existing relationships are what drive readers to particular news outlets.” The reason boils down to trust.

A new business book,The Trust Edge,by David Horsager delves into the elements needed for businesses of any type to gain consumer trust.  Not surprisingly, he finds that  trust is not built overnight. Hence, it should be  no surprise in the higher level of consumer trust  in more established news sources who have honed their reporting skills over time.

How does this affect advertising? By affiliation, an advertiser associated with a credible media source has higher perceived “trust” value with consumers. Is it any surprise then that Google just reported it’s average cost per click has fallen by 15% compared with the same time last year?

The Walk-away: All that glitters is not gold. New devices are engaging for games and email, and also give consumers greater access to news. But when news and information is wanted over Angry Birds, consumers use those devices to find credible, trusted news sources. These landing pages are the places you should consider for ad placements, so you, too, can be found by consumers actively seeking credible resources.

Not All Ad Positions Are Created Equal

In advertising, not all ad positions are created equal. That should come as no surprise to advertisers.  Every media has its star positions and remnants.

  • Radio morning drive time is valued over all other time slots.
  • In TV, prime time – 7-10pm – is the coveted time slot.
  • For magazines, right-paged ads get more eyeballs than left-page placements, and front of the book or inside covers are clearly premium spots.
  • In newspapers, above-the-fold positions are the“top” spots, but a below-the-fold strip ad on a section front also has extremely high value.

This is all common advertising wisdom, but effective ad placement is not always that cut and dry. Newspaper data, for instance, shows that comics and lifestyle columns are highly read and, yet, most advertisers overlook these key positions when creating their media plans. Don’t try to run next to Dear Abby or Garfield in The New York Times, since the Grey Lady doesn’t carry those features. But if you’re a local psychologist introducing a new service in an area served by a regional paper, an adjacency to Dear Abby or Carolyn Hax, Abbey’s younger counterpart in newspaper advice columns, might be just the ticket for getting the right eyeballs to your ad.

Positioning means just that – the position of your ad. It can include adjacencies to key features, or a “Blue Ocean” spot. For instance, a mortgage financing company should find that a newspaper ad adjacency to real estate listings is both more affordable than an above-the-fold ad in regional news AND more effective due to the readership affinity with real estate listing readers. The same would hold true in an online environment.

A “Blue Ocean” spot is one where other advertisers may not normally appear, giving you an open space, or blue ocean spot, to get your message clearly across without clutter from your competitors. An example of this is a recent real estate ad placed in Hometown, the zoned community section of The Press of Atlantic City, rather than in the real estate section. In this case, the realtor was effectively targeting interested residents from a specific area for attention to a unique property. It doesn’t mean the ad should not also run in real estate, but the positioning clearly set this ad apart from competitors. And that’s the point of all advertising — gain attention towards you and away from competitors.

Ad positioning is both an art and a strategic play. Great positioning means your ad is where  the right people will see, hear or interact with it. But positioning alone doesn’t make for ad effectiveness. For instance, an auto detailing ad in a Sunday afternoon radio hour may be inexpensive, but not worth the dollars paid for it. Why? Radio listenership plummets on weekends except for morning religious shows for the homebound.

No matter the media, great positioning is the result of being in the right place at the right time to reach the right people.

The Walk-away: Positioning is one leg of three-legged stool – with the other two legs always being Reach and Frequency. Just as with a stool, one leg of a media plan won’t give you a strong platform. You need all three solidly in place at all times.