Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, September 12, 2021

The business of America is business, as Calvin Coolidge (never) said. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find even non-business institutions in American society adopting businessworld approaches in their operations. At the top of the list: Branding and marketing, the only means to win the hearts and minds of a consumer-oriented public.

That’s the focus of “Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc. and Museumworld”, by James Twitchell. Twitchell looks at how churches, colleges/universities and museums have aimed marketing techniques toward upper-class demographics, creating highly-competitive markets.

Mark Albright writes a good review of the book, with an excellent overview of how all three institutions can credibly sell themselves as though they were burger joints or shampoos:

That’s exactly the conundrum faced by the three institutions Twitchell dissects. Church membership has been flat at 40 percent of the population for decades. Yet while the average congregation dwindled to 75 people, market share shifted dramatically. Today 12 percent of all churches have grown to claim more than half of the entire flock. Public higher education’s insatiable appetite for expanded enrollment has collided with government’s unwillingness to pay for it. To advance their cultural and economic appeal, American cities embarked on a museum-building binge that outpaced the quality of their collections. So to break even, high-minded cultural organizations take marketing advice from P.T. Barnum to draw a crowd.

In addition to a parade of $15-a-head blockbuster exhibitions, museums have made the gift shop an integral part of the experience. Exhibit space in existing museums grew 3 percent in the 1990s while gift store space grew 28 percent. Some museums even operate retail stores in malls that have the flimsiest link to their mission.

Needless to say, the choice to sell a brand comes with baggage beyond commercialism. Branding is about giving people what they think they want. So mass market techniques can mean democratization. The customer is in charge, so the elites must be crafty to maintain an upper hand.

It means high-minded academics, art snobs and rigid church hierarchies must loosen their grip to stay in the game.

Brand extension efforts readily welcome imitation, which creates a suddenly cutthroat atmosphere. That’s why colleges send recruiting officers by the dozens to target schools and merchandise the hell out of their sports mascots, and why the Mormons examine diaper-sales numbers to know which neighborhoods to target for young-family converts. Once you start actively selling yourself to a mass market, it’s hard to stop.

Some more good stuff on the marketing of higher academics:

The university development office has become as hands-off sacred as the athletic program in advancing the school brand. Research grants are seen as cash cows that can lead to future royalty payments. The Holy Grail: a decent write-up in the U.S. News and World Report ratings. So wooing top-rated high school students with amenities like rock climbing walls, travel discount clubs and free bike repairs has taken priority over teaching and what happens in the classroom in a time of feel-good grade inflation.

And on churches:

Discussing religion from a marketing perspective offers a way to avoid an emotional debate about beliefs. However, promoters of faith-based solutions to social problems may object to such congregation-building draws as day care, single parenting classes and 12-step self-help programs being described as marketing gimmicks.

But that is how the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago grew to 23,000 members. Its leaders do research, then tailor each part of their offering to the needs of the suburban middle class. They target men (who shy away from being religious in public) as the key to leading the entire family to church. Soft-sell pastor’s messages (not sermons) cover coping skills for long commutes, job stress and single parenting. The spoken word is available on tape or DVD at the door. Members’ social needs are addressed through sponsorship of bowling leagues, car repair clinics and a motorcycle club. The parking lot is Disney World efficient, the auditorium has plush stadium seating and a sound system worthy of Muvico. The sprawling campus is an entertainment center/mall complete with a food court, bookstore and Christian rock CD and video shop. Starbucks, it seems, lost its lease because rival Seattle’s Best Coffee offered a better deal.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 10:35:27 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business
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Somewhat surprisingly, downtown St. Pete’s Ovo Cafe shut down last week.

I seem to remember strolling past the Ovo last week — on the way to another restaurant further down Central Avenue. Which, I guess, says it all.

The Ovo was indeed a bright spot in downtown for a long while. It was the only refined-looking place for blocks. That said, it was probably a bit out of place. The last time I ate there was for a power lunch several months ago, and I noticed how empty it was. I can’t recall the last time I saw it even half-full, even on a Friday or Saturday night. You can run on fumes for only so long.

I guess I knew the Ovo location in Ybor had shut down a while back, but I can’t say I remember where it used to be on 7th Avenue. The Ybor spot predated the St. Pete, and probably the Sarasota one as well. Now they’re all gone.

It’s funny how eateries that you assume are local institutions manage to disappear so suddenly. I figured Ovo would be around for several more years.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 10:03:51 PM
Category: Florida Livin'
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They’re sending jobs overseas, so why not outsource online ad consumption as well?

A growing number of housewives, college graduates, and even working professionals across metropolitan cities are rushing to click paid Internet ads to make $100 to $200 (up to Rs 9,000) per month…

Traffic to click overseas Internet ads — from home loans to insurance — is spreading fast in India. “I have no interest in what appears when clicking an ad. I care only whether to pause 60 seconds or 90 seconds, as money is credited if you stay online for a fixed time,” says another user.

Here’s how it works: online advertisers in developed markets agree to pay hosting website each time an ad is clicked. With performance-based deals becoming dominant on the Internet, intermediaries have sprung up to “do the needful”. Why, type in ‘earn rupees clicking ads’ in Google — you get 25,000 results.

Keep this in mind the next time you see some report crowing about the “effectiveness” of online advertising, based on click-thrus. Between this chicanery and the countless number of accidental clickings, I’m thinking the entire online ad business is built upon sand and smoke.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 11:12:45 AM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Internet
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I know everyone loves that Starbucks commercial featuring one-hit-wonder Survivor. So here it is, in QuickTime format (disclaimer: I wasn’t able to get it to play, on a fairly current version of QuickTime Player for Windows; use at your own risk).

I was skeptical that the band in the commercial was actually the authentic Survivor, but realized that it was indeed likely, if only because they all looked old enough. The consensus among a small sampling of fans confirms that it really is them.

Aside from the kitsch factor, I’d imagine the main reason they’re in it is because they wouldn’t give permission to use the “Eye of the Tiger” melody/parody unless they performed it. I’m sure they’re overlooking the humiliation factor, instead focusing on the springboard possibilities back into the bigtime! Maybe this will put them into prime position to do the soundtrack for the unfortunately green-lighted Rocky VI.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 10:46:59 AM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Pop Culture
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After seeing these celebrity PEZ-heads the other night on “The Graham Norton Effect”, I thought about having a few made for friends, for a unique gift.

But then I saw the price: $105! I think not. Cute is cute, and I’m sure the guy puts a lot of work into crafting those little heads. But it’s not worth a c-note.

On the bright side, this little Flash-operated PEZ dispenser (which looks vaguely like a pre-bearded Al Gore) provides some mild fun for free. I like to left-click in rapid succession, for maximum enjoyment.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 10:32:51 AM
Category: Pop Culture
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