Timing Is Everything
The movie, The China Syndrome, was released in 1979. It was the tense story of a newswoman, played by Jane Fonda, and her cameraman, played by Michael Douglas, doing a routine TV news story about a nuclear power plant. But while they are at the plant, they feel a tremor....
The movie, The China Syndrome, was released in 1979.
It was the tense story of a newswoman, played by Jane Fonda, and her cameraman, played by Michael Douglas, doing a routine TV news story about a nuclear power plant.
But while they are at the plant, they feel a tremor.
As the tour guide plays down the rumble, cameraman Douglas secretly films some workers through a window, as they seemingly panic.
He later screens the footage for another scientist, who confirms they've just witnessed a nuclear meltdown. He also explains the meaning behind the movie's title, and describes the size of the potential nuclear devastation by referencing Pennsylvania:
Twelve days after the film opened, this happened in Pennsylvania:
People watching their televisions felt like they were seeing the China Syndrome unfold in real time.
Eventually, 140,000 people were evacuated. As fears mounted, Walter Cronkite noted:
While many analysts feel The China Syndrome heightened the public's mistrust of nuclear malfunctions, it was the incredible timing of The China Syndrome colliding with the worst nuclear meltdown in U.S. history that was astounding.
In the world of marketing, as in life, timing is everything.
Many ads are not just aired according to media schedules, but are, in fact, timed to influence your state of mind, or to leverage it.
Because "when" you see an ad has a huge impact on what you buy.
And it may surprise you to learn just how carefully timed advertising is.
The movie, Top Gun, was directed by the late Tony Scott in 1986.
He was chosen by producer Jerry Bruckheimer because he liked a commercial Scott had directed for Saab the year before that included a fighter pilot:
The movie, Top Gun, was a story of a rebellious jet fighter played by Tom Cruise, and his training at the Top Gun school for elite pilots in southern California.
It featured some of the most exciting aerial photography ever done. Those aerial dogfights and the "cool" Top Gun pilots thrilled audiences, and made it the top-grossing movie of that year.
The popularity of the movie also led to a very interesting marketing strategy for the U.S. Navy.
They decided to tap the moment.
So they set up recruitment booths in theatres where the movie was playing.
As a result, applications for the Navy doubled.
But it wasn't just the success of the movie that led to the surge in applications, it was the "timing" of the booths - attracting recruits just as they were leaving the theatres, while they were in a state of heightened desire to be as cool as the fighter pilots they had just watched on the screen.
Timing was everything.
Recently, Dr. Scholl's placed the right ad at exactly the right time.
It was a poster advertising Dr. Scholl's Fast Flats shoe inserts - which make shoes feel more comfortable.
They placed the poster in the girl's washroom at dance clubs:
Women will instantly understand that ad.
Most men won't.
Dr. Scholl's knows women wear very uncomfortable high heels when nightclubbing. And one of the biggest reasons for going into washrooms isn't to tinkle, it's to take their shoes off and rest their aching feet.
That ad, in those washrooms, at that exact moment, caught women when they were feeling extreme discomfort.
Which meant they were at their most receptive to receiving that message from Dr. Scholl.
Seeing that ad later in a magazine would not have had nearly the same impact as seeing it while they were clubbing.
Timing... was everything.
A relatively new marketing trend has been taking place in the fast food category lately.
It's called the "Fourth Meal" - which is defined as "after dinner and before breakfast."
Essentially, it is late night food advertising, apparently aimed at stoners who get the munchies or people leaving bars late at night.
Under constant pressure to show quarter-over-quarter profit growth, fast food companies, including Wendy's and McDonald's, hit on the notion of the 'after midnight crowd' and appealed to them with lines like "The best dinner is after dinner."
The timing of these ads was critical - as they had to air late enough to remind all-night partiers that fast food locations were open and ready to serve.
Some fast food franchises are reporting income boosts as high as 10-20%.
And it all comes down to perfectly timed, late night ads - when partiers are most receptive to the message.
Not long ago, Hellman's Mayonnaise took advantage of technology to put a message into the hands of women at just the right time.
Teaming up with a supermarket chain in Brazil, they installed software in over 100 cash registers that recognised when customers had purchased Hellman's.
Then, remarkably, the software quickly created recipes based on the other items in the customer's cart - using Hellman's mayonnaise as a main ingredient.
The recipes were then printed right on the grocery receipt:
The Hellman's Recipe Receipt was brilliant on several levels.
First, a large percentage of households still think of mayonnaise as just for sandwiches, which limits the use of Hellman's to lunches. The recipes extended the use of mayonnaise to dinners.
Second, it took advantage of location. Shoppers were in a grocery store, and were in the frame of mind to think about food.
And third, it was all about timing. Ask any mother what the worst decision of the day is and they'll tell you it's what to make for dinner.
Just as they were struggling with that question, Hellman's gave them a custom-made recipe, using the ingredients they already had in their shopping cart.
Recipe. Ingredients. And cooking instructions.
Using perfect timing, sales of Hellman's increased 44% in the first month alone.
Charles Duhigg wrote a fascinating article in the New York Times recently.
It was about how companies learn secrets about their customers. He tells the story of a statistician who worked for Target. He wanted to know if there was any way to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she hadn't told anybody yet.
As Duhigg points out, new parents are the holy grail to retailers.
They are exhausted and overwhelmed, and as a result, their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are in flux.
Because birth records are public, the moment a couple has a baby they are immediately bombarded with offers and ads for baby items.
So it's very important for a marketer to be the first to reach new parents, before any other retailers even know a baby is on the way.
The second trimester of a pregnancy is when most expectant mothers change their buying habits.
Target knew that if they could start marketing to new moms as early as the fourth month of pregnancy, they stood a good chance of persuading that mother to continue shopping with them.
Consumers going through these life changes usually don't notice that their buying habits have shifted - but retailers notice. And if a marketing message is timed just right, those habits can be influenced.
Not just for a one-time purchase, but for years to come.
And a new baby is the top of the life-change list. When Target started to use predictive behaviour analytics, they learned some very interesting things about pregnant women in their second trimester.
For example, they begin to buy large amounts of unscented lotions. They also started to load up on supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc. They buy extra cotton balls, and washcloths.
Target was able to identify more than 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed them to assign a "pregnancy prediction score" to their customers. And could even estimate their due date to within a small window - based on purchases - which allowed Target to send coupons and offers timed to very specific stages of a pregnancy.
Target applied that program to every regular female shopper in their national database and soon had a list of tens of thousands of women who were most likely pregnant, and began marketing to them.
About a year after Target created its pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target store outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was angry, because his teenaged daughter, who was still in high school, was receiving pregnancy-related coupons from Target.
The father demanded to know if Target was trying to encourage her to become pregnant?
The manager apologized profusely, and even called a few days later to apologize again. But the tone of that conversation was decidedly different from the first one.
The father was much more low-key this time. He'd had a talk with his daughter. It turns out she was due in August.
Target knew about her pregnancy before her family did. All based on her shopping patterns.
It posed an interesting problem for Target, because many women reacted badly to the fact the retailer was, as Charles Duhigg puts it, "studying their reproductive status."
So Target had to slow down their marketing. They now send pregnant women, who are in their second trimester, advertisements for towels, frying pans and diapers, so the baby ads look random.
Because sometimes... you can be just too timely.
Fishing lures owe a lot to Marilyn Monroe.
Let me explain.
Rapala Lures are famous in the fishing world.
They was first created in 1936 by a Finnish man named Lauri Rapala:
Rapala founder Laurie Rapala Source: startribune.com
He was an observant fisherman, and noticed that big predator fish would dart into a school of minnows and attack the weaker ones that swam with a slightly off-centre wobble.
So he carved a wooden lure to look like a small fish that wiggled in the water like an injured minnow.
The exact kind of small fish that big fish love to eat.
His Rapala lures worked so well, he started a small company in Finland to manufacture them.
But his biggest marketing success came completely by accident.
In the August 1962 issue, Life Magazine ran a small article with the title, "A Lure Fish Can't Pass Up."
Source: Terry O'Reilly
It featured the original Rapala lure, and told the story of the lure's amazing ability to attract big fish.
Source: Terry O'Reilly
There had been other articles written about Rapala in the past, but this one was different.
Source: Terry O'Reilly
See, unbeknownst to Rapala, this particular issue of Life Magazine had a photo of Marilyn Monroe on the cover.
Source: Terry O'Reilly
She had just died, the country was mourning her passing and the issue was all about her life and career. It just so happened that this edition broke all circulation records and became the biggest selling issue of all time.
And that enormous readership had an dramatic effect on the small Rapala company.
They immediately received over three million orders for lures. Which was a bit overwhelming, considering the U.S. Rapala office only had a staff of two.
Needless to say, Rapala struggled to keep up with the orders, receiving more than three bags of mail a day. Many of those envelopes were stuffed with cash begging for as many lures as they could manufacture.
That issue of Life Magazine launched Rapala Lures into the stratosphere. And today, Rapala is sold in over 140 countries and holds more world records for catches than any other lure.
It's all because they were in the right place, at - accidentally - the right time.
And in 2008, Rapala inducted Marilyn Monroe into its Fishing Hall of Fame.
There are big penalties to be paid in this world when you are behind the times. You can also lose out by being too far ahead of your time.
But when you're timing is right, when you seize the moment as the moment presents itself, the world is your oyster.
In marketing, getting the right message in front of the right customer is the foundation of selling.
But getting that message to the customer at exactly the right time is a fine art.
That's why timing is everything in marketing.
It's the result of analysis, predictive algorithms, a keen understanding of human nature and a talent for recognizing opportunities.
And sometimes, you just get lucky with Marilyn Monroe....
...when you're under the influence.