• by February 13, 2002
It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Mr. Food Emporium goes into his supermarket and walks straight towards the turkey shelves. How many frozen birds does he hope to find there?

This is probably the most well-known retail riddle, used to illustrate exactly how accurately demand was projected, or alternatively, how well retailers really know their customers.

What do you think the answer is? It’s not zero. Being sold out could represent perfect forecasting, but it also could represent dozens of disappointed customers who left the store empty-handed. The answer is actually one – because one represents a single missed opportunity: in this case one turkey that never got sold.

Segue to the storm in a teacup about the fact that no one could get onto the mLife website the night of the Super Bowl. In this case, there were undoubtedly disappointed visitors who never got on to the website. But is this necessarily such a marketing travesty in the grander scheme of things?

For one thing, it tells us that a mass-reach high-profile drive-to-web campaign still works and has a place on the planning tables of new product and brand launches. Should AT&T have thought a little harder about server capacity and expected site traffic? Perhaps they did, but performance still greatly exceeded their expectations.



According to Jupiter Media Metrix, traffic to the mLife website soared 1,900 percent due to the Super Bowl spots; the site logged 34,000 unique visitors on Saturday, Feb. 2, and 681,000 on Super Bowl Sunday. Could it have been a million on the night of the big game? Sure. But either way, there’s no hard proof that anyone who went to the site was more likely to purchase a contract, when compared with someone who didn’t.

Chalk a good chunk of site traffic on Sunday night to casual curiosity. After all, there was a game going on at the same time, and I don’t know that attention or purchase intent was ever at a peak during any of these 681,000 visits.

Does this mean the campaign failed to deliver? Not by a long shot. Evaluating the effectiveness of the integrated mLife launch by how many contracts were sold on Sunday, Monday or even the week after would be tantamount to say, appraising the effectiveness of an online campaign based on short term conversions resulting from banner clickthroughs! We all know how that story goes…

I noted an interesting post to a discussion list that calculated the cost per inquiry based on traffic to the site resulting from the 6 mLife spots: 1.41MM Visits for $9.6MM = $6.80 per visitor, which according to the post, would relieve any New Media executive of their duties if they produced similar numbers.

But before we pass any more premature judgment, we might want to take into account a few more data points. According to preliminary results, 1 in every 3 visitors registered to receive more information about AT&T Wireless. There’s your relationship marketing foot in the door, so shouldn’t we factor in the cost to acquire an email address as well? According to Google, the number 1 gaining query for the week ending February 4, 2002, was – you guessed it – mLife (Super Bowl commercials was 4th).

And then of course, let’s not forget the most important point, namely that the mLife campaign was more a bold repositioning, than an aggressive sales-driven program. I don’t know about you, but I was completely surrounded by mLife – whether in my living room, on the Internet, reading the newspaper or hailing a cab.

We might also want to think about how many seeds were planted in the hearts and minds of AT&T’s target audience. Will they succeed in owning the term mLife? After all, this does come from the same agency that put IBM back in business through coining the term “e-business.”

As it so happens, I’m a little skeptical about yet another buzzword (m-business, t-commerce, generation d, blah blah blah) in this already crowded space. I also agree with pundits who felt Cingular might have been better positioned to pull off this kind of effort. But repositioning has got to start somewhere, doesn’t it?

For now, I’m going to reserve my judgment and wait to see what happens down the line. Reconciling the dual “branded response” objectives is crucial in today’s tough and demanding times. Check back soon to see if AT&T Wireless’ agency managed to pull it off. Who knows? They might even be called Ogilvy & mAther by then. Or not.

- Joseph Jaffe is Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, where he works with clients including Kmart, ABSOLUT Vodka, Samsonite, Embassy Suites and Cunard. His primary focus is to highlight interactive's value and benefit in meeting his clients' integrated business and branding objectives.

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