Intesa Sanpaolo and the Careless Copywriter

I have always been fascinated by the unwanted consequences of an advertising slogan, and by the lack of perspective of (some) communication campaigns.

This time, what grabbed my attention was a claim published on Intesa Sanpaolo website, whose small-prints read:

Until July 2, in Rome, Milan and Turin, the experience of living with no cash.

Almost automatically a reaction snapped out in my – and I assume not only mine – mind: looking at how economy is currently performing, a lot of people don’t need a bank to “feel” how does it is to live with no cash.

This simple consideration – a pun, actually – sinks down the copywriter’s attempt to spin the optimistic view of the world, that incites people to live… sorry spend money without (immediate) worries.

How could Intesa Sanpaolo CEO handles himself if, for instance during a TV debate where he talks about this ad campaign, somebody throws at him a line like the one I’ve figured out?

Yes, he might explain that the message is not meant to offend people that have hard time in carry out their daily life, that the message, on the contrary, is an hymn to the joie-de-vivre and so on. But as always happens with short, neat and powerful hits, when you start dodging the blow with complicated explanation, the damage is already there.

Of course this scenario is not going to happens for the probability that somebody might notice, understand and speculate on this minor issue is actually close to none. But as once a great advertising man told me about the importance of covering all bases:

nobody is going to notice a small mistake, but the one who will exploit it against you.

How (not) to Do Permission Marketing

A few days ago I’ve got an email written in a friendly tone, where a company providing education services tried to sell me a seminar on Sport Law.

Ususally, I don’t answer SPAM, but this time I’ve decided to run an experiment. So I wrote back saying:

Dear Sir,
If you want to use direct marketing techniques to advertise your business, you’d better be more careful.
To offer a Sport Law seminar to a Sport Law professor shows that you use a mailing-list without actually knowing who your targets are.
The outcome is that an action that borns as “direct” marketing, dies as SPAM

I didn’t get an answer to my reply, thus confirming my initial suspect and giving me the chance to do a broader musing about the Direct Marketing idea.

To go for a friendly and personal style at the first contact implies that, first, a follow up should be taken into account by the sender and, second, the “personal” tone should be maintained. By doing so, the recipient get the feeling that the company actually wants to deliver a tailored service.

On the contrary, “playing friend” without keeping the promise produces the opposite effect: the sender, the product and the company are labelled as entities with no actual interest in building a personal rapport with the perspective customer.

Thus, if a company doesn’t give its targets the attention required by Permission Marketing techniques, it shouldn’t pursue this option, because – as in this case – such kind of companies would be immediately equaled to sellers of (various colours)pills, hair fertilizer, and miraculous investments. That, at least, don’t try to lure us into believing that they actually care about us.

How Digital Technology exposed the Audiophile Fraud

Audiophile hardware… pardon, equipment, is expensive. Full stop.

It is a “given” that to enjoy “true” music you must allocate a budget that equals the purchase of a supercar otherwise, as Califano (an Italian singer) used to sing, tutto il resto noia (everything else is spleen.) But is it actually so?

Currently I’m listening some Antonio Vivaldi’s concerts played by Yo Yo Ma, in CD – quality (44/16) FLAC format through a couple of bookshelf B&W loudspeakers connected to my old (sorry again, “vintage”) amplifier that receive the analogue signal from a thunderbolt DAC made by Zoom Japan. Not factoring the computer, the whole setup costs well below a thousand Euros and the quality is very good.

Of course an audiophile would strongly disagree with this statement. He would surely start talking about the superiority of the brand X’s amplifier or the absolute need of a thousand Euros-per-meter loudspeaker cable to have the music flows more “liquid” and so on. And he will rebuff with a pity look in his eyes whoever says something different: ignorant can’t actually understand the “truth”, so let them listen at their Iphone’s earbuds.

To some extent this audiophile is right: expensive rigs can produce awesome results. But a simple logic shows that this statement is wrong and doesn’t match the reality of the digital music industry.

First, it is false that an 100.000 Euros music set up sounds 100 times better than a 1.000,00 Euros one. The more you get close to physical limitation of whatever equipment, the price of each improving step raises more and more and the quality result is more and more less than proportional.

Second, the majority of the music labels still sells their music in CD quality, i.e. the 1980, Red Book standard (16 bit, 44Khz) and even those CD advertised as “24bit recorded” are actually downsampled to the usual standard. With vinyl there was some sense in purchasing costly turntables to minimize the impact of the moving parts on the quality of the electrical signal to be sent the amplifier. Digital files free us from this need. Sure, there are different quality level in digital-to-analogue conversions (DAC) hardware. But a lot of what is sold right now is just “whistles-and-bells”. Spending money for a DAC able to handle 24bit/192Khz or DSD128 streams is useless because, right now, none of the big music labels are releasing high resolution versions of their catalogue, limiting to a very little niche of contents. So where is the point in spending huge monies to buy something that is of no use?

Third (or, maybe, Second, continued), high resolution files make sense only if the music to be played contains a very high dynamic range (from the lows of drums and percussion to the highs of violins and triangle), high personality musical instruments and great players. “Dirty” music like blues (think of John Lee Hooker) or rock (Jimi Hendrix jumps in) is not enhanced by “better” mastering, as there is no improvement in overmastering a Lady Gaga tune. Furthermore, a lot of the music available on the market is a “bookshelf product”, i.e. something that has been designed to be sold in a very short timeframe, just to be replaced by the next new “version”. Can you actually tell the (musical) difference in the “artistic” production of what is currently sold as “music”? It is not a coincidence that, more and more, “artists” are known more for their eccentricity or fashion look than for their “cultural” production. This is not a rant about how better was the good ol’time music, but a precise cost-benefit analysis: no need to invest in better recorded music, if what has to be sold doesn’t worth it and – more important – if the customer base is not willingly to pay the premium price.

Conclusion: a logic approach to the sound quality that involves a look at the marketing digital strategy of the music industry and the account of the Far East sound-handling devices’ quality shows that it doesn’t make sense to waste money into “audiophile level” equipment.

What we do need is just better music.


Staying Under the (Mainstream) Radar

Staying under mainstream radar while releasing meaningful and original contents is a good way to attract people actually interested in your activity, thus making easier – as Seth Godin said – turning strangers into friends and friends into customers.

An empirical look at the way people and companies use profiling and stats suggest that to get more traffic (i.e. pay-for-click ads) contents are shaped just to attract people rather than to provide actual information.

Think of the usual effects of looking at your analytics: you take note of the queries made by users and you shape your content accordingly, to be sure to attract people who use these words. The price you pay for being that “smart” is that you’re not the one who controls the content of your website because you let the users (or, better, Google) do it on your behalf.The result is that all websites are made equal and turned into some sort of digital brochure. In other words, is the tail that is wagging the dog.

Personally, I’m more at ease with Henry Ford’s quote

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Alitalia’s Marketing Strategy and Cipolla’s Third Law on Stupidity

If you book the Alitalia’s cheapest fare on a flight it might happens (twice in two weeks, to me) that you aren’t entitled to get a decent quantity of miles for the Mille Miglia frequent flyer programme and mandatory given an (often) uncomfortable seat.

This Ryanair-like attitude (everything is an optional) might make sense for long hauls or mid-distance travels, where the passengers are available to pay a surcharge to board first or get some other goodie. But is completely useless for one-hour, taxi-like flights, were people go for the cheapest fare, and either don’t actually care about being good seated or earning a few miles.

Of course, Alitalia must justify the different fares for exactly the same thing (moving people from A to B), but this should be done by adding something more to the standard, and not by lowering the quality of the service first, and ask for more money to get something that was always been taken for granted until yesterday.

To put it short, letting a few “privileges” for the short-distance travelers wouldn’t have done any harm to Alitalia’s pocket, while it would have made people’s day better. Instead, the company chose to worsen its customers’ travel experience, without getting an actual benefit. This affects the passengers’ loyalty to such a company, and as soon as people is offered alternatives, they will surely catch it.

A classical application of Carlo Cipolla’s Third Law of Human Stupidity.