Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tipping Point: The Stickiness Factor Tipping Point: The Stickiness Factor

The chapter in the "Tipping Point" on the Stickiness Factor starts out by looking at the creation of Sesame Street. The show's creator, Joan Ganz Cooney, set out to start an epidemic. The target was three four and five year olds. The agent of infection was TV. And the infection she wanted to spread was literacy. And, as we all know, it worked.

A lot of what went into the show was experimentation. Every segment of every show is tested on kids. Through time, they have learned a lot of how to get the attention of kids this age, and how to get them to retain it. For example, initially, they tried separating people from the Muppets. It didn't work. The kids weren't that interested in the Muppets. And then, at almost the last minute, they tried them together. And, then had to rush around recreating those scenes, because that is what worked.

No matter how good Sesame Street was, there were some who thought that they could do better. And one show that succeeded was "Blue's Clues". They ended up breaking a lot of the rules that Sesame Street had set, and ended up with a more effective show. They cut it to half an hour. There is only one human ("Steve"). He has a blue dog ("Blue"). And each episode, they solve a problem. And, then they ran the show every day for a week, before going on to the next one.

They did a lot of interesting stuff. They typically had three or so clues, and each one was a mini-segment. They would shuffle them around before test audiences to get the order right. But part of the stickiness was that the kids would guess the right answer earlier and earlier each day - because they had seen it the day or days before. And the kids would do this out loud.

One big difference between the two shows was that Sesame Street was designed to include the parents on the theory that they would share this with the kids. The result is that there is a lot of stuff in the shows that goes right over the kids' heads. As adults, we think that is great. The kids find it confusing. I would be laughing at some thing in one of the shows, and my daughter would ask why? I usually had a hard time explaining.

Blue's Clues is just the opposite. I found it idiotic. But then, I am not a three year old. The repetition seems mindless. But it isn't for kids that age. They thrive on being able to predict earlier and earlier each day what is going to happen. It keeps them involved, and it works.

Interestingly, one of the biggest successes from Sesame Street was the alphabet, as recited by James Earl Jones. As is his wont, he left big pauses between all the letters. And because he did such a good job at it, it was a segment in a lot of Sesame Street shows. And as a result, after awhile, a lot of the kids were anticipating him in those pregnant pauses with the next letter. Needless to say, Steve does this a lot in Blue's Clues for exactly the same reason - to push those young kids to anticipate what he is going to say. And, as noted, it works.

The reason that the author talked about these two shows to such length was that both were trying to increase "stickiness", in this case, of things such as the alphabet, in the minds of young kids.

Stickiness is one of the big things that advertisers strive for, and usually fail at. The author gives an example of a mass mailer competing with a major advertising agency. He included gold prize boxes in magazines, and then in late night, low cost, advertising, explained them. The response was overwhelming. He beat the advertising agency hands down.

Last weekend, my daughter and I were talking about TiVo, etc., and I told her that it wouldn't be that hard to program them to skip commercials. How? Because the volume invariably jumps when they start to try to get your attention. Needless to say, it fails. We are much too sophisticated. Listening to radio, I invariably punch the button of another station when I get the volume jump indicating a commercial break.

There is one exception though - Frontier Airlines. They have painted the tails of their planes with animals. Very distinctive. But, then they gave a bunch of these animals quirky personalities. The verbal by-play of their main characters is always charming and quite funny. So, I hear those voices on the radio, and turn up the volume for their ads.

This is the stickiness that advertisers dream about, and almost invariably fail to achieve. It catches people's attention. It not only identifies the product, but in a very positive way. You can't help but think that a flight with that airline is going to be pleasant. This is especially interesting as they have one hub, Denver. And Denver is dominated by United, whose long time slogan has been to "Fly the Friendly Skies of United". Yet, most people who fly both would consider Frontier by far the friendlier. Why? Could be those ads. It also seems to rub off on the employees. Last time I flew with them, I was talking to the flight attendants, and both had come from different airlines, where they made more money. Why the switch? Because it was a much friendlier place to work. The power of sticky advertising.

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