If you pat product placement on the back does it make a burping sound?
Last month, a New York couple attempted to auction off the naming rights to their expected son. With a starting bid of $500,000 on the online blocks of Rule Breaker eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) and Rule Maker Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), it was the latest publicity stunt showcasing human beings as billboard space. Maybe two years earlier there would have been some itchy dot-com finger on the "Buy it Now" trigger. Not anymore. Sanity prevailed this time as Zane was born and properly generically named a few days later.
Knee-deep in the advertising age, rare is the forum that isn't being milked to marketing excess. Content is shoehorned into magazines. Television shows interrupt commercials. Pop-up ads shade websites. The medium is no longer the message. It is the messenger.
Before you lament the world's transformation into a blotchy tattoo parlor, consider the heavy message that these modern day carrier pigeons have to tow. Then begin to ponder that a canvas remains blank only when no one has the desire to pick up a paintbrush. Our space is riddled with ads because companies, organizations, and even individuals find it cost-effective and important to borrow a sliver of your line of sight.
While you might think that there can't possibly be someone out there who is not aware of Coke (NYSE: KO), it hasn't stopped the popsmith from being one of the world's most free-spending advertisers. Are you curious as to why Rule Makers like Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) are spending so much in valuable marketing dollars to reach the consumers who factor little in the decision-making process? It's not because Intel's Andy Grove has a secret desire to tour with Blue Man Group.
What makes a company pay millions a year for naming rights to a stadium in which the home team will lose nearly half the time? What makes a brand claw for the random eyeballs that survive cable channel surfing into the hundreds?
Yes, you know the answer. You've known it all along. Ubiquity. It is something that can't be inherited. It is earned day-in and day-out. Ubiquity needs fresh legs. If you truly want to be everywhere, you have to physically be everywhere.
As children, we carved our names into trees and pressed down hard on the sidewalk chalk not because we wanted to remember where we were but rather to let everyone else know that we were there. Period. The same rules apply today.
Earlier this month, Business Week ran a cover story on the best global brands. When it came time to rank 'em, it should come as no surprise that Rule Makers Coke and Microsoft topped the list. Throw Intel into the mix at number six and the Maker Port owns half of the world's most valuable brands, in dollar value. While all three shed some brand value over the past year, they still add up to an impressive $168.7 billion in brand value.
Granted, the valuation metrics which Business Week and Interbrand used to come up with the sums are open to debate. The Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) moniker is valued at $5.5 billion, more than twice the company's entire enterprise value! Our own Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) received a $4.4 billion price tag on its brand, or more than half of its market capitalization. Unfortunately you can only buy the stocks, not the brands. Owning Yahoo! the brand would have lost us only 31% of its value over the past year.
But, actually, the brand comes bundled with the company, which in turn comes pre-packaged with the stock. Owning great names means owning valuable ones, too. And, like a prize poodle, it means Fifi needs regular grooming, constant supervision, and whipping out the occasional pooper-scooper.
Brands can get tarnished quickly. Just ask Ford (NYSE: F) how the Firestone fiasco made it the biggest percentage loser on Business Week's top-ten brand list. Microsoft would have held up better if it wasn't under federal scrutiny. Corporate mishaps and spokespersons going AWOL can trip up even the most efficient brand marketing strategy.
So where does that leave us? In Zane?
Last month's baby branding auction was not without precedent. Last year, music site IUMA ran a contest that would award $5,000 to the first ten parents willing to name their newborns after the cash-strapped upstart. Would anyone do it? Ten Iuma babies were eventually introduced into the world. While most of the Iumas have yet to celebrate their first birthday, their namesake site nearly shut down before an infusion helped it get back on its feet. Life's rough, baby, and you haven't even hit the terrible twos yet!
It's scary, isn't it? Thinking that every blank space is merely negotiable space for rent? Then again, maybe it didn't dawn on you the first time you saw a crop-duster spelling out a message in the sky. It means a lot more now, doesn't it? All the world's a stage and we're little more than sponsor bait.
Does this mean that corporate publications by Hoovers (Nasdaq: HOOV)and Standard & Poor's will begin doubling as "Name Your Baby" books? I hope not. But I better go now. I hear my son fool.com crying in the other room.