After a short vacation, the Marketing Blog is back with a somewhat different posting. Normally our postings are comments on marketing stories found on leading media sites, however, today our post is based on observation of a current television advertisement running on U.S. networks. The ad is from leading pet retailer Petco for a product offered by Purina, one of the world largest pet food suppliers (see the YouTube video).

This ad is interesting in that the message some viewers receive may be interpreted in ways the advertiser does not intend. Specifically, the visuals in this advertisement focus only on dogs. While the voiceover and on-screen text suggests Purina provides products for dogs and cats, many people watching the ad will likely presume this is an ad only for dog products.

However, what may really affect viewers' perception of the ad is the final few sentences, which talks about how dogs will love the product. It then states Purina's product: "Helps bring out the best in our greatest companions." Now it is very possible the take-away that some people may have is that the ad is about dog food and, yes, dogs are our greatest companions. But for other animal owners, including owners of cats and birds and probably a few other pets, the presumption that dogs are the "greatest companions" may not sit very well.

While it is quite likely the "greatest companions" line was intended to cover all pets that serve this role, the execution of this ad could make that a hard sell for pet owners who do not agree with this statement.

Marijuana MarketingIt is not often a once illegal industry suddenly shifts to being a legal one. Certainly in the U.S. the end of prohibition back in the 1930s is a good example, and so is the more recent legalization of gambling by many U.S. states. As with any industry, a newly legalized one will draw competitors who are looking to earn their share of the emerging market. This, of course, means marketing decisions become a key factor in whether a company will be successful. And at the top of the list of what marketers and their companies must do is to develop new products that will provide advantages over competitive offerings.

As we discuss in our Product Decisions tutorial, a key part of the product development process is the need to identify a brand name that will help distinguish a product from those offered by competitors. Obviously for the alcohol industry this can be seen with the thousands of branded beers, wines and spirits. The gambling industry also has branded products including branded slot machines and table games.

So it is no surprise that product development is now news in the nascent legal marijuana industry. As discussed in this Los Angeles Times story, companies selling medical marijuana in California not only deal with product design issues (i.e., new strains of pot) but also face branding decisions. And while to some readers this may sound pretty amusing, one company profiled in this story indicates that brand names are created through brainstorming sessions. While this story focuses on the marijuana business in California, there are many other states where medical marijuana is dispensed as well as two states, Colorado and Washington State where retail sales are permitted.

On the downside, marketers in this industry face legal issues when it comes to protecting their brand names. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will not grant trademarks on brand names, at least not for newly developed marijuana strains. However, some state governments appear to be more open to offering trademark protection for products sold in their state, including marijuana. With the pace at which states are now permitting the selling of pot, it would not be surprising to see the USPTO loosen their restriction over the next year or so.

Promotional pricing is one of the most widely used marketing techniques employed by retailers to generate customer traffic. In many cases in which promotional pricing is utilized, the technique involves an attractive price reduction on a well-known product. As we discuss in our Setting Price: Part 2 tutorial, the most common form of promotional pricing include temporary markdown, where a product is offered at a lower price for a short period, and loss leader pricing, where a product is offered at a price that is so low that the marketer is often losing money on each item sold.

Yet, while promotional pricing is an attractive marketing option, designing these campaigns are not easy. The key challenge is to figure out what the ultimate goal will be. If executed correctly, promotional pricing will not only result in increased sales of the product with a reduced price, but will also lead to increased sales of other products that are often sold a full price. That is, customers do not just cherry-pick the low-price product and then leave the store; they purchase more.

However, sometimes a promotional pricing approach just seems too inviting for customers. They are so drawn to what they view as a great deal that they buy large quantities of the low-price product and leave without generating significant demand for other products.

For instance, mid-level restaurant chain TGI Fridays has just announced a promotion that makes you wonder if customers will only be interested in the promoted product. As discussed in this NBC News story, TGI Fridays is offering an all-you-can-eat appetizer promotion for only $10. That means anyone can eat as many Buffalo wings as he or she wants for just $10. Now, as one might guess, there are restrictions on this promotion. One restriction is that the deal only applies to one appetizer item per person. So if a customer orders wings they cannot switch to mozzarella sticks. The second restriction is that appetizers cannot be shared. Of course, almost anyone reading this post will have the same thought – this restriction will be impossible to enforce. So it would be expected that a table full of customers will each order a different appetizer and then sharing will take place.

On the surface there is little doubt the promotion will increase appetizer sales, especially at outlets in communities populated by a large number of millennial, such as college towns. However, it is not the number of diners ordering appetizers that will determine whether the promotion is a success or not. It is the additional purchases made to go along with the appetizers. Certainly, TGI Fridays is betting big on the promotion attracting many customers but also having these customers purchase full meals and desserts. Given the promotion, it will interesting to see how many will decide to stick around for burgers and cheesecake.

In our blog posts, we have often discussed how necessary it be for companies to continual develop new products. This is particularly true in highly competitive markets where the life cycle of products is often very short. For marketers who rely on new products to keep their business viable, it is imperative they regularly set aside time to discuss potential product ideas.

As we discuss in our Managing Products tutorial, new product ideas come from several sources. The usual starting point is through internal research methods, such as asking customers what products they would like to see or using brainstorming techniques to stimulate ideas among company personnel. Additionally, ideas can come by looking outside the company such as researching products offered by other companies.

Well, it looks like we can add another option to the list of ways to generate product ideas – solicit these over the Internet for everyone to see. That is, ask people to offer their own suggestions for products and let others offer comments. According to this Wall Street Journal story, one company is taking this approach and is building its product offerings from ideas that are freely suggested by visitors on the company's website. The company then takes these ideas and evaluates possible products using the advice from an online community. For the products chosen, the originator of the idea receives a small percentage of the revenue, while some in the online community can also see funds for the support they offer.

For marketers considering this process, a great advantage is the vast amount of innovative concepts that can be suggested that likely no marketer can generate on their own. However, on the downside a significant barrier for adopting this type of approach for generating ideas is the openness. Everyone in the world can see what the ideas are, and most marketers are not accustomed to publicly sharing their product ideas before a product is marketed. So while this approach works well for this company, it remains to be seen whether this idea generation method will be adopted by many other marketers.

What exactly do marketers do? This is a question that is almost always the first thing addressed in any introductory book, class or tutorial on marketing. What is most interesting about answering this question is that while academics, consultants and, yes, even websites like, generally provide a similar explanation of the tasks marketers perform, things are often a bit fuzzy when it comes to what falls under the marketing discipline within the business world.

A good example of this occurs in organizations where there are separate responsibilities for those involved in marketing and those involved in sales. This is despite the general textbook definition in which sales is almost always considered to be a part of marketing and should not be separate. Of course, this is not the only example. For instance, product development, while considered the responsibility of marketers, is frequently not viewed as a marketing function, instead designers and engineers may take on this role. The same holds for public relations that is often a standalone department that not only handles product issues but also takes care of corporate PR.

There are even organizations where marketing is not even used to explain what people do, even though they do it. For example, beginning July 1, Procter & Gamble will no longer use the word "marketing" in job titles. Instead, the focus will be on "brand" management which, according to this Advertising Age story, will have these folks focusing on key issues related to individual brands. Before the change, P&G marketers were somewhat focused on more limited marketing issues, which likely included an active focus on promotion and pricing. However, as discussed in this story, the new functions, which seem to now include marketing research, public relations and product design, are functions that we define as being part of marketing.

Curiously, while job titles at P&G may change, the basic responsibilities appear to actually cover more marketing than what these executives used to cover.