IKEA Småland: No Instructions Needed


I am not a big fan of shopping at IKEA, but on a recent trip there with the family I discovered something (a fabulous touch point) that has completely shifted my feeling on the store. Tucked back in a corner near the entrance is a place they call Småland, a children’s play area. This touch point is even better than the meatballs they sell at the food court.


So what is Småland and how does it work. It is a play area where we were able to drop off our son while we shopped. Instead of him having to tag along with Mom and Dad, he got to play in ball pits, on sliding boards, tunnels, climbing obstacles and even watch a movie. That is right; he got to have a blast in Småland while we shop for the furniture and home goods we needed. No more having to chase him through the kitchen models or drag him along as he gets bored and restless. We could concentrate on our shopping and he gets to run around in an area where it is allowed. There are some rules, age restrictions and requirements like the children must be potty trained, but the best part… it is free of charge.


Småland is a great example of a company looking outside of its normal operations and creating a touch point for the brand that is unexpected. A touch point that creates a positive perception for the brand, I know it did for me. With this one simple idea, IKEA as completely shifted my perception of the brand and changed my feeling about having to go shop there. Their furniture may still come with some of the least helpful instructions, but their stores provide an enjoyable shopping environment having Småland available for the kids.

Author: Gary Balakoff


Product Placement: Still Value There?


Adreak just had an article, 7 Memorable Moments in Product Placement History that got me thinking, is product placement worth it?

I am not going to go through the entire list, even though it did have me laughing at some funny scenes from Wayne’s World and Talladega Nights, but I do want to discuss whether product placement still has value. Do brands benefit from having their products in shows and movies? Does product placement have an effect on consumer’s spending habits? There must be some type of return or companies wouldn’t continue to shell out large sums of money to get their products in these shows or movies and even video games now, I am just having trouble seeing it. Are consumers even paying attention to these products when they show up, do they care about what type of car the characters are driving or what type of beer they order in a scene? It seems that, as an audience, we are so used to product placement that we don’t pay any attention to it. Not to mention the second screen element of smart phones and tablets being used while watching. There isn’t a novelty to seeing products anymore; we expect that to happen. It actually stands out more when they use fake products. So if there is nothing special about seeing the products being uses, why do companies continue to pay big money for their product to be there, sometimes for a split second?

ET Reeses Pieces

The answer must be… they still see a return. Obviously I do not have access to all the data companies are looking at, but they must have figures that show an ROI when they have products in movies or shows. One of the most notable product placements is Reese’s Pieces being used in ET. Reese’s saw an increase in sales of 65% after their product was in the movie. This doesn’t always happen, but even if companies get just a portion of that percent it could pay for itself; and you just might get lucky like Reese’s did and get a huge return from it.

I don’t see product placement going away any time soon and we may not pay attention to it like we used to, but as long as companies see a benefit and believe it has value, you will continue to see name brand products showing up in television shows and movies.

Bonus: For more on this I have to recommend The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a 2011 documentary film about product placement, marketing and advertising in movies and TV shows, directed by Morgan Spurlock.

Also, one of my favorite product placement scenes: Wayne’s World

Author: Gary Balakoff

Fads: They Eventually Crumble


Gourmet cupcake chain, Crumbs, recently made news because it is closing several of its stores due to poor and declining sales. Crumbs is now in the middle of a complete brand shift and moving their products into grocery stores. It is yet to be seen if this move will save the company but one thing is for sure, more Crumbs stores are going to close. This brings me to a question, is it really worth it to hitch your business to a fad or trend?


As we are seeing with Crumbs, businesses built on fads will eventually come to an end. This isn’t the first time this as happened either, there was Krispy Kreme with their hot donuts, Brazilian steakhouses with their swords full of meat and who could forget Crocs and their ugly (as far as I am concerned) shoes.


I don’t blame these companies; fads are a great way to make a quick buck if you can capitalize on them, but be careful building a business off of trends. If you do at least have an exit tragedy ready to go because it will end and when it does you don’t want to be scrambling to figure things out as the ship goes down. Crumbs may make it through this, but they should have seen it coming and had this business shift planned a long time go.

Author: Gary Balakoff


Gillette: Making Our Own Products Look Bad

FlexBallIt is called the ProGlide FlexBall and it is Gillette’s latest razor innovation. As always they have a huge marketing and advertising campaign to launch the new razor. They are even getting some praise for the business model they are using and how it such a departure from their norm. However after reading the article and seeing some of the commercials for Gillette’s new razor something bothered me and it is something that always bothers me when Gillette advertises a new product. They always rip on their own preexisting product to make the new one look better.

I understand that comparison ads are a regular strategy used by many companies, but typically these are done comparing Company A’s new product to Company B’s new product to make A’s look better. Gillette, however, likes to compare their new product to their old product and make their old product look bad. They did it with Sensor vs Mach 3, Mach 3 vs Fusion, Fusion vs ProGlide and as the video below shows, ProGlide vs ProGlide Flexball.


Gillette does make a great product, I should know I use the Fusion, but are they going to tell me that all other companies make such inferior products that they have to use their own products vs each other to get the point across? Gillette does have innovative products, even their older models stand up over time, so why bash these older products just to make sales with the new ones? As long as I have worked in marketing, I never thought about being negative towards one of my own products and I still don’t agree with this strategy. Gillette obviously doesn’t have a problem with it and I am sure when their next great innovation comes out The FlexBall will find itself on the other side of the comparison.

Author: Gary Balakoff

Applebee’s Instagram: Power to the Foodies

#FantographerUser generated and influencer content is a great resources for advertising and Applebee’s is taking this strategy to the next level with their Instagram account. Starting in July and lasting for 12 months, they are turning over the account to their diners. User must go to a microsite to give permissions and ok the privacy policy stuff, after that anything posted with #Applebees or #Fantographer (the campaigns title) will get posted on their Instagram. Applebee’s even brands your post with a nice boarder to tie it into the campaign.

I like this idea for multiple reasons… It is easy for users, Instagram’s popularity, simple to manage and explain… but the real reason I like it is that is utilizes user generated content for the campaign. User generated content is becoming more popular in advertising but it is still a relatively untapped resource for companies and brands. Why do I like user or influencer generated content so much?

  • It shows you care about your customers and what they have to say
  • You are engaging with your consumers/audience
  • It creates authenticity and honesty in your advertising
  • Work of mouth: More likely to share content because they created it
  • An emotional connection, people get excited to see their posts used
  • Creates a level of transparency for the company
  • People love to talk about themselves and share pics
  • It is free or relatively low cost content

iPhoneI could probably go on, but I think you get the idea. User generated content can be a great tool for advertising. Sure there can be some negatives to using this type of content, issues like having to monitor very closely to avoid negative or inappropriate content, what if no one shares content for the campaign, technical issues, etc. However those companies that look past these issues and take a chance on their audience can create a campaign that has a bigger impact than several traditional campaigns put together.

So if you don’t mind taking a chance and have faith in your consumers, reach out to them and see what they can do. Who knows they just might surprise you and help create one of your most powerful advertising campaigns?

Author: Gary Balakoff

Amazon Music: Late To The Party?

 amazonprimemusicAmazon.com amazonprimerecently launched a streaming service called Prime Music… You may have missed it, I know I almost did (and I am an Amazon Prime member). With the recent increase in Amazon Prime membership from $79 to $99 I am always looking for added benefit to my membership, but is a streaming music service the best direction for Amazon to go in an effort to retain current customers and attract new ones. It just might be too little, too late for Prime Music.

I get it, Amazon wants to create value for their membership and wants to grow their brand and brand loyalty, but is this the right way to do so. They are joining an already packed field with competitors such as Spotify, Pandora, iTunes and Beats Music. Many of these competitors are major players with a strong hold on the streaming music industry.


So why introduce a new product line, a streaming music service? Well for one Amazon has been involved with music for the last 16 years in one way or another, starting with the sale of CDs which was their second category offering ever after books. Also, streaming is where the music industry seems to be going and amazon wants to be a part of that. They are also a very large and successful company who can afford to take a chance with a new product launch. A company as large as Amazon has the resources to take a hit with a new product and wait it out till it becomes successful. I think Amazons biggest challenge is going to be its music offerings. They only have a library of one million songs, which might seem like a lot, until you put that next to Spotify’s 20 million. Also the lack of new mainstramazon-prime-music-logoeam hits is a draw back. Other streaming services have all the current tunes and while Prime Music has the hit artists, it isn’t always their latest stuff. Not to mention that Amazon has yet to reach a deal with Universal Music, the world’s largest music label.


An intriguing new product choice for Amazon and knowing them they will continue to tinker with it and make improvements to it, but they may just be a little late to the streaming industry to make a real impact. As a Prime member I will continue to check back and use the streaming service from time to time and am interested to see how successful it can be; for now though it isn’t adding a whole lot of value to my $99.

Author: Gary Balakoff

The State Of Digital Marketing In Sports (Infographic)

I have to admit, it has been a challenge keeping a regular blog schedule with a 2 month old little girl in the house now (not to mention a 3 year old little boy) and grad school, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It keeps things interesting. I find myself having to use random times and places to work on posts. A couple of weeks ago, between trying to keep my son in bed and checking my iPad and the T.V. for Cleveland Indian’s updates, I remembered about this infograhic (from ECAL), The State of Digital Marketing in Sports.

Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this, I love infographics.  They provide an eye catching, easy to read, quick method for delivering statics, facts and figures, but I digress. In marketing it is important to understand the different channels and what makes each successful. As a marketer, I also know how valuable it is to understand what your audience is paying attention to. I am a huge sports fan as well, which is why this infographic caught my eye. Taking a look at a specific demographic like sports fans and what companies are doing to reach those individuals makes sense, look at all the marketing campaigns centered around sports and athletes. While reading through it, a few of the points jumped out at me:

Individuals reach for their phone 150X a day– now that is a lot of checking the phone. One of the reasons I feel like the term Head Down Nation is so true. The graphic further breaks down of what people are checking with those 150X.

Going digital: MLS has stopped printing schedules– This makes sense to me; if people are using their phones to check schedules, why waste the time and money printing them.

Community based initiatives– Teams and leagues are utilizing the social media communities and creating specific campaigns directed towards them utilizing hashtags, retweets, shares and likes.

Personalization of services– with sports apps and websites, users can customize them with their favorite teams and leagues to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

Sports are big business and fans are big users of mobile devices and social media. Want to tap into that market and reach those potential customers? This infographic provides reasons for having a digital marketing strategy to do so.