Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dark matter and the matter of Trader Joe's advertising

I've been thinking about 'dark matter' a lot lately. Dark matter, for those of you in the, uh, dark, is undetectable, invisible stuff that so far exists only in theory. If it's undetectable, you may think, there's no reason to even think about it. But there is if you're an astronomer, because when you look out at the universe, the known laws of physics (mainly gravity, in this case) can't explain the rate at which the universe appears to be expanding.

To explain the current rate of expansion, the universe basically has to weigh far, far more than the weight of all the stuff in it that we can detect. So, for the observed universe to make sense to physicists and astronomers, they now all agree that most of the universe's mass is made up of something they're calling dark matter.

I'm not usually preoccupied with astrophysics, but lately I've taken a bit of heat for the subtitle of my book. A comment that I get a lot is, "But Trader Joe's does advertise! I get their flyers," or "I hear Trader Joe's radio ads," or "Isn't their web site a kind of ad?"

Yes, you're right. So am I. To learn why, click 'Read more' below.

This misunderstanding comes from the fact that I wrote Build a Brand Like Trader Joe's for people who work in advertising or marketing, but when the book was noted in the New York Times, it suddenly attracted a far more general audience. 

People in the ad business differentiate between promotional or retail ads that are intended to boost retail sales, and brand advertising which is intended to influence the way consumers feel about a brand. As far as I can tell, no one who works in the ad business or as a brand manager disputes my assertion that Trader Joe's brand was created independent of the company's limited advertising.

In the next few days, I plan to put up a blog post that clarifies the distinction between promotional, retail, and brand advertising. I think that I can help casual readers understand that what advertising Trader Joe's does do is limited in scope and retail in focus, and as such can't possibly explain the company's, uh, astronomical brand equity.

In the short term, though, I'd rather just use the 'dark matter' explanation.

Even if you don't accept my argument that Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer is mainly a retail promotion -- something I'll address in the next post -- the flyer is a relatively small-scale promotion by DM standards. The radio buys are restricted in scope, and the web site is rudimentary by the standards of a $8B retail juggernaut. When Trader Joe's opened in Kansas City, there was a mob scene, even though the company had done almost no marketing or PR of any kind in this market. 

If we were physicists or astronomers looking at that crowd, we'd have to postulate some other marketing force to explain the incredible attraction that Trader Joe's has for its customers. Instead of dark matter, attracting all the known mass of the universe, we'd have to postulate some kind of 'bright marketing' to explain the attraction of Trader Joe's brand.

That other marketing force is exactly what I explain in my book.

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