How to get control of your brand. Now.

It’s tough for brands these days. All the competition. All the change. And all that damn marketing! And perhaps most difficult is getting consumers to know you, then like you, and finally, to trust you.

Brands – and I’m talking about brands of all sizes, really – invest a lot of money in so many areas – it might be research and development, or operations, offices, showrooms or retail stores, or even the “perfect” ingredients for their recipes. These are all things that are relatively controllable for the brand.

But once they’re born, brands are basically out of control. Because, ultimately, consumers decide if the brand is good or bad, cool or “over,” worth the money or not. And in the age of social media, the lack of control can really get scary.

Consider the recent tweet by the then-President-elect Donald Trump:

trump_tweet

On the surface, it sounds like another one of the Donald’s weirdly-supportive and overly generalized ramblings. But there’s something really telling about this. The account of @realDonaldTrump has about 22 million followers. That’s a really lot. All of whom now have this “advice” about supporting and patronizing L.L. Bean.

We’ll stay out of the politics of this exchange, and whether or not it’s ethical for a candidate to receive a donation from an individual, and then use his massive influence to issue a sales pitch for her company after winning. Because eeeewww.

But what happens if that brand DOESN’T WANT that endorsement?

After the tweet, a group called Grab Your Wallet added L.L. Bean to a boycott list of any companies associated with Donald Trump. What if thousands, or even millions of L.L. Bean consumers got wind of that and decided to protest the man by dropping the brand? That has real consequences for the brand – especially if it’s publicly traded.  L.L. Bean quickly issued a statement on their Facebook page (that reaches just slightly over 750,000 followers – see the disparity there?) distancing themselves from alignment with any candidate and asking Grab Your Wallet to reconsider their position. [They haven’t.]

And if you’re a brand that’s invested time, and money, and millions of dollars and hired people all over the country and have supply chains in place and employees who count on your continued success for their livelihoods, it’s a little disconcerting to know that equity can all disappear – or at least be seriously compromised – with 140 characters or less. In this hyper-polarized age, it’s certainly possible that bonds are being formed and broken in more and more capricious circumstances.

So what’s a brand to do?

Well, it’s simple. Advertise.

While there are many ways to develop and grow a brand, advertising remains the most direct route to establishing your own position, and forwarding your point of view.

So, if you’re an apparel company, and someone does or says something terrible while wearing your clothing, advertise. If you’re a food brand that gets protested by a fringe group who claims you’re not environmentally responsible enough, advertise. If you’re a retailer and you’re losing share because some influencer tells millions of followers that she overpaid for your wares, advertise.

At the very least, you’ll have had your say. You’ll have run commercials and ads and said to the world: “this is what we stand for.” “This is who we stand for.” “This is who we are.” Otherwise, you might get hijacked by someone’s wayward ramblings…even if they may have had good intentions in the process.

CNN and its gentle social approach

As the events of the horrific June 12th mass shooting in Orlando unfolded, news outlets around the country shifted their attention and coverage accordingly. CNN was covering it non-stop, from initial reports, through law enforcement and elected official press conferences and on to background information that emerged in the hours and days that followed.

But now, as the investigation continues and other stories begin to grab attention, CNN is using its social platforms – Twitter in particular – to continue coverage in a new and interesting way.

CNN’s Twitter feed is now featuring vignette Tweets about EACH deceased victim. Each tweet is designed and presented differently so that it stands out in the feed and features the name, age, a photo when available, and a short background of the person.

cnn_twitter

It’s a considerate and fitting tribute to what would have otherwise been a personality-less list of death. Instead, CNN is focusing on attributes of the victim’s personality, or sharing a brief description of what that person was up to in his or her life.

CNN has taken heart-wrenching news coverage, packaged it for social media, and has maintained what appears to be a healthy respect for the deceased. In the process, they’ve done more to add to the story of those people’s lives beyond where they were the night they were senselessly shot by a madman.

In the category of “I really like and respect this approach,” I think CNN has provided an object lesson for how a media enterprise can comport itself at the intersection of journalism and social media. Well done, CNN.

Rainbow-colored Research

fb_pride_pic_maker

So, were you one of the millions who “rainbowed” your profile pic on Facebook to show your support following the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage? I was, and quite happily. Then the Atlantic ran this story,  speculating that perhaps Facebook was conducting some far-reaching “experiment” on its users. It also speculates (in the subtext, of course,) that Facebook has likely done this before, and leads readers to surmise that the company may even be actively doing it for pay.

Facebook has never made any claims that it is NOT collecting your data, even on a random Wednesday. In their data policy, which you can find at  https://www.facebook.com/policy.php,  they clearly state – in a jillion different ways:

“we collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services”

and

“we collect information about how you use our Services”

and

“we collect content and information that other people provide…about you”

and

“we collect information about the people and groups your are connected to”

and

“if you use our Services for purchases of financial transactions…we collect information about the purchase or transaction.”

Now, it’s likely that out of the billion or so users on Facebook, approximately 23 of us have probably read the privacy policy in its entirety. (Busted!) In a previous post on this blog,  I’ve asked about why consumers are so busted up about online tracking, when it makes our lives so much better, and more streamlined. As I said then, tailoring makes our lives better. Cookies make our lives (and our online experiences) better.

If we boil this down to its essence, we’d likely see that the average or typical social media participant is more than okay with the idea that their information and online activity are being tracked in an effort to achieve various ends, like a cooler/faster/more contextual social media experience, or more targeted advertising, or even for social studies. And although we don’t typically read the privacy policy, we’re probably pretty much okay with it, as long as you don’t snag my credit card and go buy $800 worth of frozen pizzas at Wal-Mart.

And so what if Facebook WAS conducting some big-data test with the pride-your-profile-pic exercise? Big woop.  It’s astounding that, in an age where we share more personal information than ever, that we’ve become so hyper-sensitized to that information maybe kinda sorta being “used” for some purposes other than my Grandma Susie seeing my latest motocross bike race. (It was kind of badass, by the way.)

Whether we like it or not, we’re slowly but surely crossing the threshold from web 2.0 to (the social web) to web 3.0 (the predictive web) as a result of all this data tracking that’s going on. It, too, will ultimately make our lives better in ways we probably can’t even imagine right now.

So let’s do a snap poll – provide a simple YES or NO answer in the comments section below (and of course, any comments you care to share are more than welcome):

Are you okay with social media corporations like Facebook and Twitter monitoring your online activity to make assumptions or test hypotheses, whether they be theoretical or commercial in nature?

I’ll start. YES!

Now That’s Punny!

If you love advertising, you probably love good writing. Because, after all (with all due respect to the wonderful art directors and designers out there,) the creative side of advertising is, ultimately, a writer’s business.

If you are a fan of advertising history, as I am, you’ll know that, in the early days, clients went to ad agencies for one thing: superior writing. This was, of course, in the age before television, (when eye candy became the commodity of promotion.) But for more than 50 years, newspaper, magazine and radio – and the writers who developed all that copy – ruled the ad world.

In today’s more outsized, outpaced, hypertargeted marketing world, the ad agent has a much more robust toolset. Beyond words, there are pictures, video, and moving pixels virtually everywhere.   (See what I did there?) But if you want to reach consumers, it’s still a few well-orchestrated words that people will ultimately remember.

These days, it seems we’re writing for a different reason. It’s not so much for memorability as much as it is for virality. I would surmise that social media has pervaded the creative process so much that creative teams in agencies large and small sit in meetings and think less “how can we connect to consumers?” and more “what do you think will get shared?”

Let’s look at a few ads that are playing with words, using a sort of snarky pun game to gain some attention.

Sheets Energy Strips started their brand off with some word play in 2011. “I’ve taken a Sheet right in the cockpit.” Just what you want to hear from your pilot, eh?

 

Kmart sought to re-establish itself as a more current brand with some pun humor on their famous “ship my pants” spot from 2013. And whether or not you like this kind of humor, you might actually shit your pants when you hear that it has more than 21 million views on YouTube.

 

Verizon is out with a new campaign (and a corresponding hashtag, I might add) featuring the ever-so-homophonic “half-fast” meme for its Internet products with a “Speed Match” guarantee. Here’s a holiday spot:

 

If you look closely at the examples above, you’ll see an evolution of the form. Sheets simply did a play on words for the sake of it. But there was no real value to the consumer. (There WAS a value to the brand, in that the meme was a good way for consumers to remember the brand name.)

Kmart did a better marketing job, in that they had the fun, and at least communicated an important feature: that you can shop online at Kmart.com, and that they would ship your pants, or your drawers, or your bed. For FREE.

But Verizon seems to be going a step further, and trying to tie in a benefit. Or at least a negatively associated benefit. By playing on the half-fast theme, they’re communicating the important feature of upload speed that matches download speed. (And taking a shot a the “cable connection” competitors who don’t deliver matching speed.) But with the meme, they’re highlighting all the things that you CAN’T do with half-fast connections, like “I’ll be half fast when I’m sharing my photos,” and “I’ll be half fast updating my blog.” And although they’re negatively associated, those are still functional benefits, and they go a lot further with consumers.

Which is why it strikes me that more campaigns aren’t harnessing the power of language to its fullest potential. I see a lot of great work out there – meaning great ideas – but we rarely see a willingness to play with language the way we once did. Where’s the “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” or the “Leggo my Egg’o” lines for breakfast foods? Where’s the “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz?” And heck “Where’s the Beef?”

If you’re going to go for some fun with your next ad, have at it. But note the conventions and craft it to take it up the ladder and deliver some actual value – like a benefit – to the consumer while you have your pun and eat it too…or something like that.

Top Five Marketing Resolutions for 2014

As this year comes to a close, I’m reading a lot more posts and articles about the “best” this and the “most” that of 2013.  And yet, rather than reflecting on the astounding advances of the past year, I find myself looking forward.  And hoping.

With that in mind, here are my top 5 resolutions that marketers – of all sizes – might consider in the coming year.  If you’re a mom and pop shop that’s embraced marketing on any level, or a mega marketer that has a department full of b-school overachievers, or a business to business service provider that’s retooling…here are some idea-starters for moving your brand forward in the coming year.

The First Resolution:  I Will Get Integrated.
I know, you’ve heard this one before.  But I’m not talking about integrating digital with your current TV and radio campaign.  Or adding a url to your print ads.  I mean really integrating everything – reorienting everything you do – around your brand and the promise it carries.  And remember that can mean way more than advertising.  If your brand is about fun, then make sure your office is set up for FUN!  Or if your brand is all about design superiority, then pull that superiority into EVERY communication piece…even if it’s some mundane necessity, like an inter-office memo, or a fax cover sheet.  (Remember those?)

Integrating your brand means looking at EVERYTHING you do through a different lens…through YOUR lens.  Just having the conversations with your internal teams about what that might mean will be valuable indeed.

The Second Resolution:  I Will Get Visible.
If you’re not advertising, please start.  We are far beyond the era of marketers who will be able to say “it’s amazing…we’ve gotten really far without advertising at all.”  The truth is, the brands that win are typically the brands that advertise (in some way.) Do you ever wonder why ad budgets go up every year for most companies that are advertising?  Usually because it’s WORKING.  Even if you have a modest presence, or you’re outspent by your competitors, being visible still creates opportunities that invisibility simply precludes.

The Third Resolution:  I Will Get More Social.
Just recently, I heard about a midsize company who refused to embrace social media, despite having a membership-based audience, because they were afraid that someone might hijack their feed with some negative commentary.  The category leader was social.  The flankers were social.  But this brand refused to get on board for fear of one potential dickhead who might take to the Twittersphere with some grade-school gripe.  Instead, they’re missing out on having any number of conversations that might lead to deeper brand involvement, or maybe even more sales.  But a fear of what might go wrong is preventing that brand from reaping all that might go right.

The Fourth Resolution:  I Will Get in Bed with Data.
There are so many amazing things evolving in the analytics realm, it’s hard to consider developing a program without talking about the various incarnations of data tracking that may result.  Just think of the audience data.  Just think of the site tracking.  Just think of the…wait, I’m going full geek.  Oh, hell.  I am a geek!  And I love data.

Think about setting marketing objectives.  Then start thinking about setting data objectives that run alongside those:  what do you want to LEARN today?  Build that into your next marketing program, and you’ll be surprised how fun it is to hang with the geeks.  PS – it’s also a great way to build accountability:  from your creative team, to your media buys to your ecommerce providers…a strong set of data objectives is where the feet meet the fire.

The Fifth Resolution:  I Will Get More Creative.
Despite the fact that data is driving the marketing bus these days, there is no better time than 2014 to get full-on creative. Give your agency or your in-house team or that freelancer you’ve been avoiding a little slack and let them run with an idea or two or three.  And the bigger the idea, the better.  Why not a rock tour?  Why not the side of a building?  Why not get a million people to sign up?

Sure, build in some responsibility markers, and don’t let them do anything that might be considered rude or insensitive, but let’s let ideas fly this year.  Write a jingle.  Listen to an idea from an unlikely source.  Just because you’ve been “doing it this way for years,” doesn’t mean you can’t try something new.  You might have an opportunity to become your very best.  And it might be this coming year.

What are YOUR marketing resolutions for 2014?
Leave your comments here, or better yet, Tweet them at #marketingresolutions

 

Breaking (Bad) news: Marketers LIE!

I know it sounds like heresy, but I’m here to break bad news: marketers lie. Most specifically, they lie in their advertising. They’ll do or say virtually anything to GET YOU TO LOOK OVER HERE! It’s nothing new. They’ve been doing it for decades, from omitting “unnecessary” items on their package labeling, or touting offers that get negated in 30 lines of 5 pt heavily kerned knockout legal copy.

And it’s hard to avoid. Because in many instances, the competitors are lying too. So some awfully nice marketers are often forced to join in the lying spree to make sure YOU LOOK OVER HERE TOO!

Case in point: Century 21, the national real estate broker, recently perpetrated an outright lie to draw attention to their brand. Wanting to capitalize on the enormous popularity of the AMC TV Series Breaking Bad and tie in to the September 29, 2013 series finale, and seeking a solution around the enormous costs associated with advertising on the show, they opted for a more, um, unorthodox solution.

Century 21, and their agency Mullen, ran the below ad in Craigslist, listing fictional character Walter White’s Negra Arroyo lane ranch.

cent21_cl_ad

See the full listing at http://albuquerque.craigslist.org/reb/4098553645.html

Pretty neat, huh? It’s a funny and quirky idea that leverages the popularity of the show. And they make no bones about it: the ad is a farce. It’s laced with Breaking Bad references, and inside jokes about how there’s nearby “RV spots” and a “motivated seller” who must be out by 9/29. Let’s face it. It’s pretty funny stuff.

But it’s also an out and out lie. And here’s the thing – they may have misled some people in the process. I commented on the AdAge article about the stunt and surmised that there may have been 117 people who actually clicked on the ad interested in this home. (Seriously, a 3BR ranch in a nice neighborhood for $150K listed by a reputable broker would MAKE ME LOOK.) And let’s say that 20 or so of those people immediately understand that it’s a Breaking Bad riff, and get a good chuckle out of it. That’s 97 misled people who MAY now have a bad taste in their mouth about the brand.

When you call the telephone number associated with the ad, you’re told “this house isn’t really for sale. But if you’re interested in buying a home, call Century 21.”

It seems odd to me that THAT’S the way you’d like to call attention to your brand. Sure, I get the bulleted list of reasons to do this:

– capitalize on Breaking Bad popularity
– show people in the target 25-44 demographic that Century 21 is a little hipper than you might remember
– get some ink around the #breakingbad and #waltshouseforsale hashtags

But still, if Mullen didn’t issue a press release around this concept, who would know about it? Maybe the extended social networks of those 20 potential buyers who are also Breaking Bad fans. But heck, you may have 97 people crowing to THEIR extended social networks about how they were DUPED by Century 21 in the name of a marketing “stunt.”

Brands have a hard enough time trying to maintain their personalities among competition, economic trends, and other market forces. So it’s ill-advised to pull out the rope-a-dope in the hopes of creating fans.

But as I said earlier, lying is nothing new for marketers. I recently received a promising email from JetBlue touting a two-day sale with “fares starting at $69.” And it happened to be somewhat true, there WAS a fare starting at $69. Just one. From New York to Buffalo. EVERY other flight leaving out of New York was more than $69, with some as high as $249. The promised fare carried restrictions like:

• “travel on Tuesday and Wednesday only” and
• “travel between October 8th and December 18th” and
• “blackout dates of November 22nd through December 2nd” and
• “may not be available on all flights” and
• “does not include fees for optional services” and
• “additional restrictions apply.”

While this is all important legalese, it ultimately dilutes the power and appeal of the original promise. So as a consumer, I’m left holding the bag on a flight I don’t even want to take, on days I don’t want to fly, just to try and save a few bucks? No thanks.

I’ve written many times that brands are very delicate entities that are built over time. Most importantly, one of the primary aspects of a brand is that it is a cumulative phenomenon – the perceptions and overall impressions are built over time into what you ultimately believe about the brand and its promise. And when brands start lying to me about virtually everything, (even as a goof,) those perceptions start to erode. And as a consumer, there are so many “shiny new things” out there, that I’m likely looking for another promising offer within 2 minutes.

Take note Century 21 and JetBlue and any other brand that’s still using snake oil salesman tricks from 100 years ago.

It’s a new age.

It’s a new consumer overloaded with choices.

You can’t just break bad and expect it to keep working.

Advertising: starring social media

I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but the phenomenon of digital interactivity – and especially via social media – has become a pervasive theme in modern television advertising.  Everywhere you look, brands of all kinds are using dramatic setups in their spots that either include, focus on or ultimately lead to some kind of digital interactivity.

To clarify, this is not just listing all the places you can find the brand on social media with a tag at the end of the spots.  This is regarding the growing number of spots being ABOUT social media, and about our digital lives, and how the brands are woven into our modern lifestyles.

Survey Monkey, typically regarded as a b-to-b entity, has gone out with an appeal to the consumer audience, and claims that their platform can be used “for all kinds of things, including event planning.”  What I love about this spot is the way it’s contextualized (and well-directed, as the story bookends the extended spot) around the “original” survey model.  Molly leaves a note in little Johnny’s locker, handwritten with crayon:  Do you like me?  With two options:  Yes.  No.  Classic.

Now, obviously, it makes sense for any type of online platform to use the digital life as the basis for the creative.  Google has done this marvelously before in their search spots, and more recently in a spot for their Nexus 7 product, where they use the theme of “search” as the basis for interacting with their electronic gadget.  It’s good – and they touch the humanity button perfectly with good casting and a few carefully planned tugs at the heartstrings.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4, (whose advertising still confounds me, since they’re just marketing around features instead of trying to find differentiating benefits, but that’s another post,) has a new spot featuring a traveling baseball team.  A bored infielder is using the video capture on the device to film his sleepyhead travel companion.  As the nod-er-off-er’s head bounces, the video is captured, and the buddy starts to tool on the loop.

And that’s what’s interesting – the ad isn’t about the quality of the video the device provides, the number of megapixels on the device, or even the dopey “tap to share” feature on the device, but rather on the video loop that this kid will create with the device.  (A primary-grade-level feature on any smartphone today.)  Ostensibly, the owner of the Galaxy S4 in this case is merely considering what a great Vine upload this would be, or at the very least how many likes that GIF will get on Tumblr.  THAT’s the unspoken focus of this spot, and it marginalizes the brand in some ways, because you can do that with ANY bloody phone.

In another category altogether, Wendy’s has taken up the social-media-as-the-end-to-the-means with its latest spot for its chicken flatbread sandwich.  In the old days, we would have just created a situation-comedy style setup with the big laugh at the end and then a 6-second panning beauty shot of the sandwich.  Today, the dialogue and setup is totally based on social media:  male character walks in and starts the dialogue with “hey…you saw my post on this great bakery…” and then ends with him posting a pic of redheaded “Wendy” to Twitter. [They also tagged the spot with a hashtag #twEATfor1k.]

And it goes beyond fast food into several other categories.  One new car commercial (for Honda) touts its “the car reads your emails for you” feature, and positions it as a safety benefit.  Smart.  But stop and think about that for a moment:  the brand recognizes the need for us to stay connected to our digital lives, and has built in an e-mail reading feature into their vehicles, and is now running spots promoting that.  That goes way beyond MP3 players and partnering with Pandora for entertainment purposes.

Surveys.  Search.  Social media posts.  All taking a lead role in spots for big brands.  Going even further, many brands now are using crowdsourced images and videos as the visual basis for their ads. It’s an interesting paradox, or at least a healthy turnabout:  for years, brands have hoped to be discussed and passively promoted through social media and across the digital landscape.  Now, social media and the digital life are being actively promoted via brand advertising.