May 03, 2010

Ann Taylor Tries to Buy Off Bloggers Ann Taylor tried to schmear a bunch of bloggers and almost got busted by the FTC. This is good news because it will force bloggers to shill less and will put lazy PR guys on notice that payola shouldn’t be the currency of choice in the blogsphere.Here are the facts, as reported by Ad Age: Ann Taylor invited selected bloggers to preview the Summer 2010 Loft collection They promised those posting articles would be eligible for a “special gift” The “mystery card drawing” offered gift cards valued from $50 to $500 To cash in bloggers had to submit their posts to the company within 24 hours There was a sign at the event reminding bloggers that FTC rules require disclosure Whoever thought this campaign up clearly believes that “pay for play” is the rule in dealing with bloggers. The on-site signage was a CYA move that didn’t really fake out the FTC. This is an effort to get right up to the line and exploit bloggers in ways that are impossible in dealing with official journalists. Somebody probably thought that for a few bucks they might ignite a lot of attention because if they could get some action and attention on blogs, mainstream writers, who generally monitor blogs in their vertical coverage areas, might pile on. And eventually a PR snowball would build into serious coverage and some virility. I can visualize the pitch session, can’t you? Instead it didn’t really work, the campaign invited unwanted scrutiny from the FTC and the whole affair sullied the brand. Ann Taylor ducked the enforcement bullet because it was their first offense and because the only got a couple of stories and some of the bloggers actually disclosed the gifts. Shame on them. Ann Taylor has a legitimate story and should tell it in a legitimate way. Buying bloggers is bullshit and AT customers deserve better. [Full disclosure : I’m an AT loyalist . I led the team that launched their first e-commerce site in 1999.] Bloggers, yours truly included, can’t always be looking for freebies or have their hands out. Hordes of bloggers have taken all kinds of merchandise from desperate or cheap retailers and lazy PR people for years. But netizens aren’t stupid. They see through the scams, they smell the shills and they instinctively understand when they are being conned. The FTC rules and the surprising FTC scrutiny combined with the nascent threat of enforcement is a welcome activity to keep the blogsphere honest.
Search Drives Online Shopping Search is a critical selling tool for retailers. Twenty-seven percent of 102 online merchants, cataloguers and direct-selling manufacturers, in a recent Internet Retailer survey, attribute more than 50 percent of their sales to search engine marketing. Natural search drives more than 25 percent of total traffic for 51 percent of the respondents while paid search accounts 28 percent. And based on the responses these levels are stable with the yield and the click-thru-rates remaining about the same. For two-thirds of merchants, Google accounts for 70 percent or more of their traffic and has the highest conversion rate. Though 4 in 10 expect to shift some paid search spending to Bing in the coming year. As a result a third of merchants spend most of their online marketing budgets on search. Almost half increased their search budgets in the last year with 23.5 percent spending less than a dime per click and 32 percent investing 50 cents or more per click. Tactically 56 percent have keyword inventories of 1000 words or less. Improvements planned include experimenting with more multiple-word phrases, rewriting keyword descriptions on product and home pages, incorporating common search terms onto product and home pages, adding common search terms to image file names, and writing more descriptive ad copy. As Google expands its image searching capabilities and increases the number of images displayed on SERPs and the options to switch to image searching, merchants are following suit. A third of respondents are sending images to search engines and more than half expect the images to improve click-thru-rates by as much as 15 percent. Another 40 percent say they’re working on it. As retail search matures, marketers need to get more sophisticated in how they deploy, measure and iterate campaigns. The number of new searchers is low so the battle shifts toward share and toward achieving high rankings for the terms most commonly used to find your product or service.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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