PPC Marketing Lessons from Finding Nemo

by Frank on August 3, 2010

finding nemo
My wife and I recently had a baby – our second – and our 2-year-old has been feeling a little displaced.  So she and I have had a lot of Daddy-daughter dates.  One of her favorite things lately to do is watch Finding Nemo with me.

If you haven’t seen the movie, or don’t remember it, the basic storyline is this: young clownfish gets nabbed by a diver from his home on the reef for the diver’s fishtank in Sydney.  Young clownfish’s dad – a no risks, accountant-type personality – is forced out of his comfort zone to go find and rescue his son.  Along the way, he meets Dorie (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, who makes the movie), a forgetful and unreasonably optimistic fish who – along with sea turtles, three sharks who have gone vegetarian, some sea turtles, and a pelican – helps the dad recover his son.  It’s a good movie, but having to watch it almost every other evening the last couple weeks, I recognized something interesting.

Does Your PPC Ad Copy Tell a Compelling Story?

In watching kids movies like Finding Nemo, I always worry that I’m going to have to be the bad guy when I explain things like “Pelicans actually just eat fish – they don’t listen to them or talk to them, much less help them.”  Hopefully that won’t be her first clue that the world is a rough place.

Most websites hover at or below a 1% conversion rate.  If the average website were Finding Nemo, this would mean Nemo’s dad gets eaten 99% of the time.
But my PPC Marketing brain invaded my jaded grown-up perspective on animated movies.  Imagining under what circumstances creatures with conflicting priorities (like predators and prey) might work together for a common end was totally plausible.  In fact, marketing people spend their careers attempting to do more or less the same thing every day, don’t we?  Our customers get hit with thousands of marketing messages every day trying to sell them, convince them, or otherwise cause them to do something.  And yet most websites hover at or below a 1% conversion rate.  In Finding Nemo, this would mean Nemo’s dad gets eaten 99% of the time, and that’s not a very fun movie to watch (unless you’re into horror flicks, I guess).

But that’s not how Finding Nemo worked, did it?  In the movie, Nigel the pelican confesses, “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat.”  But then there he is, helping Nemo’s dad find his boy – instead of eating him.  Why?  Because Nemo’s dad had a compelling story.  He wasn’t just another fish, he was a dad, struggling against the odds to swim across miles of ocean in order to find his boy.

Take that same approach and evaluate your PPC Ads.  Be honest: Are you selling a commodity? Is the only difference between your thing and your competitor’s thing price? For example: if I look at the PPC Ads under a search for “vacation” I see these two side by side:

Boring PPC AdBetter PPC Ad

While the first one (“All-Inclusive Deals”) appeals to my logical brain and makes me think of Vegas-style package deals with cheap food and hotels, the second ad (“all-inclusive vacation”) appeals to my imagination. I can picture the white sand contrasting with the bright blue ocean, the sunshine, the fruity drink with a paper umbrella. The second ad offers me an experience, where the first one just offers me a deal.

As with all marketing – and PPC marketing in particular – it would have to test out, and there are other factors besides just the PPC ad copy.   I’d probably try capitalizing the first letter of the headline in the second ad, for one.  But my guess is that the second PPC ad – which is in a lower spot – gets a much better conversion rate simply because it offers a compelling story.  It appeals to my imagination.  And, according to DiscoveryNews, daydreams of foreign travel are almost a mini vacation in themselves.

Do your PPC ads tell a compelling story?

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I had a lot of great roommates in college, most of whom were engineers and all of whom were remarkably intelligent.  One of them – Josh, known for making blunt but accurate observations – once observed that girls often would move in with a guy because it was one step closer to engagement; for most guys, moving in just meant readily-available sex.  I imagine that’s frequently the case.  More often than not, it seems like it’s a decision made to avoid a decision, an attempt to avoid risk in a “lets just see where this goes” experiment.  The problem is that typically no thought is given to how the involved parties will determine successor failure in the experiment.  Ironically, there’s a ton of risk in making big decisions this way, because – assuming Josh was right – the success metrics for engagement don’t look anything like the success metrics for shacking up.

The success metrics for engagement don’t look anything like the success metrics for shacking up.

A lot of businesses treat their social media campaigns the same way, which is just flat out bad marketing.  Social media is what all the cool kids are doing.  If you go to a marketing conference – online or off – you’ll hear all sorts of stuff about how you need to be doing social media (a point I agree with, by the way).  It’s free to set up a Facebook or Twitter account, and for the person running either, it can be a lot more fun than more traditional marketing initiatives.  And it’s tough to take a look at the more than 500 million users on Facebook (and the trend towards 1 billion) and not want to tap into that.  We call it “engagement,” and talk about how we’re “entering the conversation” with our customers, and point to brands like Southwest Airlines and Zappos as examples of how brands can successfully use social media as a great marketing tool.  And let’s be clear: social media can be an incredibly powerful way to genuinely engage with your customers and potential customers.  But it’s still just another marketing initiative, not magic.

As Outspoken Media’s Lisa Barone puts it:

Social media is no different than any other marketing effort you engage in for your company and you need to treat it that way. If you don’t know how much you can spend on social media before it’s no longer profitable, than your engagement becomes a liability. You put a cost on it by determining your goals, tying those goals to behaviors and then figuring out how much it costs for you to attain them.

In Social Media, As In Every Other Form of Marketing, Success = ROA

I recently read ReWork by the geniuses at 37 Signals, and they make a great point in it: The goal for a startup is identical to that for an established company – to turn a profit.  If all the social media “engagement” you’re doing doesn’t turn a profit, then it’s clearly a failed experiment.  That said, the usual measure of ROI fails to account for the total cost of inputs when it comes to social media.  As Brett Duncan puts it,

When hearing the phrase “return on investment,” most of us automatically think in terms of dollars. We spent X dollars; we got Y dollars in return. If Y is greater than X, it’s a good investment. If Y = 3X, it’s a great investment. If Y = 0.25X, we made a mistake.

What we all have to invest, however, is more than money.

Brett makes an important point: when coming up with success metrics for social media marketing (which in theory is free to set up and do), it’s easy to say, “this costs nothing to do” so therefore there’s no risk, no cost.  ”Let’s just see where this goes.”  But there’s a huge risk in this kind of business decision.  To set up, maintain, measure and coordinate social media with your other marketing campaigns takes an enormous amount of time – time you could have spent on something else more profitable than “engagement.”

Marketing is all about human relationships, which hopefully is not saying anything you don’t already know.  Just as in evaluating your dating life, then, I’d suggest making sure all involved parties have the same idea of what success looks like.  Before investing a ton of time and effort into social media marketing (or in a relationship), first determine what defines success for all interested parties.  My guess is that those discussions will save everyone a lot of heartache.

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