Nov 15 2013
…Plus, 5 Favorite Holiday Brands
Here come the holidays. A wholesome time to spend with family and friends. A time to prepare and indulge in an abundance of food. Also, a time to anxiously await the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade … and brand messaging.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has become an American tradition but, for today’s companies, it’s more than just wholesome, family entertainment. Since the 1920s, Macy’s “owned” Thanksgiving Day in a way that many brands wish they could. Not only has the parade helped to shape Macy’s into a well-known national brand, it’s transferred noticeable recognition onto every brand that participates in the walk from Central Park to Herald Square. What brand wouldn’t want to get in front of 50 million television viewers and a crowd of two million in New York City who watch the parade live?
But then again, it’s more than considerable exposure that these brands reap – it’s the long-term benefit of association with a parade known as an American family holiday tradition. For all companies involved, this touch point has the power to enhance brand equity and emotional connections long after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s become a bold promotion for brands that seek to be family-oriented, are looking for a new way to initiate excitement in the company’s brand, or want to become part of a historic holiday event. Talk about a branding opportunity; this positioning captures the parade’s positive attitude and shares that authentic connection with American families.
What’s more, the parade takes place just as the holiday season kicks off – think about the impact the parade has on retail spending in the days to follow. It’s likely that at least some of these brands re-appear in shoppers’ minds as they fight the shopping lines on Black Friday.
According to Macy’s parade producers, the original and ongoing goal of the parade is to entertain, not to get brands in front of people. Indeed, most brands do not make it front and center during the parade but, they at least have a place. Brands that sponsor floats are mentioned on camera as television hosts describe it in detail. As for character balloons, part of the criteria is that they be instantly recognizable by children. Since it began, a variety of brands have become involved in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We’ve become accustomed to seeing our favorite fictional characters from movies and TV line the streets of New York. But, lately, have you noticed more food brands? More consumer products? Or even travel and tourism companies? I’d be willing to bet that some will surprise you! Let’s take a look:
Entertainment companies like Walt Disney, DreamWorks, Universal Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and PBS are always finding a place in the parade, as they should. Movie and television characters from yesteryear and today get the most attention from children and adults, alike. Who can forget the classics – Snoopy, Spiderman, Mickey Mouse, or Kermit the Frog? And, let’s not overlook the newest characters – Sponge Bob Square Pants, Dora the Explorer, Finn & Jake, or Toothless from “How to Train Your Dragon.”
But, even with good intention, most of these companies can probably link participation in the parade to their bottom line. For example, Disney character appearances have coincided with the release of movies or sub-Disney brands. Sailor Mickey represented the Disney Cruise Line when its fourth ship Disney Fantasy set sail and Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story was featured to represent the merger of Disney Pixar and an Oscar win for best animated feature. Disney has even said that it looks at participation in the Macy’s parade as a chance to update characters of the past and remind viewers that the company is part of their present and future. On the other hand, newer companies might try to stand their characters alongside the iconic, more famous characters in an attempt to suggest a similar reputation. Is it all in the name of entertainment, or brand awareness?
Food brands might seem to be an appropriate fit given Thanksgiving Day’s association with food, yet past parades have sparked criticism of advertising food to children. None the less, McDonald’s Ronald McDonald continues to be featured in the Macy’s parade every year. In fact, he joined the same year he became the company’s spokes character in 1966. Also, Kraft’s big grin Kool-Aid man has been featured alongside its Macaroni & Cheese mascot Cheesasaurus Rex. You probably also recall the Pillsbury Doughboy, M&M candies, and Mr. Peanut. Not to mention the newest food floats to join the caravan include Pepperidge Farm “Goldfish” crackers, Domino Sugar, Lindt Chocolate and Ocean Spray Cranberries. Hungry yet?
Consumer products have increasingly become widespread in the Macy’s parade, despite complaints about commercialism. Some brands make sense, given the stature of their spokes characters, while others are a tough sell. Nonetheless, a staple to the parade is the Energizer bunny – he’s been “going and going” for a while now but, these days, Energizer is getting less market attention and the company likely continues its sponsorship to maintain brand awareness. On the other hand, new comers include the Aflac duck, debuting on a sleigh balloonicle (a balloon powered by a vehicle), and sponsored floats by Build-A-Bear Workshop and Gibson Brands. In the past, the Monopoly man and Ask Jeeves character were featured as balloons. Is Macy’s walking a fine line between children’s characters and commercial brands?
Lastly, travel and tourism companies have found a place in the Macy’s parade. SeaWorld plans to include a float to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and South Dakota Department of Tourism will feature a float with the landscape Mt. Rushmore. Homewood Suites hotels, Hess gasoline, Royal Caribbean cruise line, and Delta Airlines carrier are among other travel and tourism brands in the parade. Is it a stretch to say these float sponsorships focus on family entertainment? Seems to me that these brands are promoting the idea of family vacations, rather than entertaining for the sake of the parade. Regardless of Macy’s criteria, these travel and tourism brands are doing well to reach their target market – American families.
…Haven’t had your fill?
It is that time of year when consumers cook more than any other, so here’s a bit about America’s favorite Thanksgiving brands that continue to maintain the status of all things turkey.
1. Butterball is 55 years strong, has a very loyal following, and has the longest-running turkey talk hotline around. It’s done well to transform itself into a relevant brand for new cooks by developing turkey recipes for deep fryers, microwaves and toaster ovens. Butterball is also moving its conversations to “turkey texts” and social media.
2. Ore-Ida is a hybrid of the first few letters of Oregon and Idaho after the development of a potato-processing facility located in Oregon, near the border of the state of Idaho.
3. Stove Top Stuffing gets its descriptive name from being an instant stuffing prepared in a pot on the stove, unlike traditional stuffing.
4. Ocean Spray’s first product was actually canned jellied cranberry sauce, followed by original Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail in the 1930s.
5. Jennie-o Turkey was renamed after founder Earl B. Olson’s daughter in 1953, thirteen years after he started raising turkeys.
Nov 11 2013
In today’s 24/7 world, thanks in part to our many social channels, it only takes one gaffe to be perceived poorly by consumers and the industry; even quicker before this gaffe (or a series of them) can spread and completely tarnish a brand’s image. Fortunately, smart marketers have understood how important these channels are for their brand’s reputation and also, in general, how important it is to bounce back as quickly as possible and rebuild their brand equity.
Let’s look at a few examples of some brands on the rebound:
After a reported accident in California in early 2009, thereby leading to a recall of the automakers’ floor mats, the bad news kept coming when the Los Angeles Times published the first of several stories regarding drivers’ claims of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. Following this, the company battled back denying the claims and leading to further scrutiny. Finally in the following year, Toyota announced its brake override software fix and on January 21, 2010, Toyota recalled another 2.3 million Toyota-brand vehicles because of a problem with the gas pedal. All of this undoubtedly left a very poor reputation for the brand and a bitter taste for consumers. It’s been several years now and the company has done a variety of things including releasing a series of safety videos via their YouTube channel and launching its #LetsGoPlaces hashtag in order to bounce back.
Now, the company seems to be targeting Millennials with the launch of its new 2014 Toyota Corolla: “Stylish Then, Stylish Now.” The commercial features several decades and young people dancing around the car, ending with today’s generation and lauding, “Elevate your style.” The brand also has teamed up with AZIATIX, a rising Asian-American group on the Cash Money Records label on a new single – “Baby, Let’s Go.” They brand also produced a Toyota Dream Build Challenge with popular headphone brand, Skullcandy.
In May 2012, the well-known tennis brand filed for bankruptcy and has been through the ringer related to its market value including a company restructuring. This example has been less evident to consumers, unlike the Toyota example; however, the brand has struggled with its relationships in the business due to its losses. The brand’s main issue has been working to regain the trust and confidence of U.S. tennis dealers who are critical to the company’s bottom line. To gain grounds with its dealers and drive consumer purchase, the brand is getting ready to launch a new product collection including an extreme string technology (ESP) racquet technology, new racquets and sports bags, tennis shoes and eye gear.
The brand has also been keeping an influential roster of tennis stars onboard including Spanish player David Ferrer and John Isner. Prince is also erecting a new facility at the IMG Academy in Florida this month which they plan to use for developing players and improving product design. They are also on the hunt for new young talent (think the next Serena Williams) to further drive affinity amongst its tennis dealers and the American public.
Who could forget the Twitter “war” launched against Maytag when influential blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com called them on the carpet after her new Maytag washing machine broke down and she couldn’t get through to anyone in customer service to help her?
Since this time, Maytag has maintained a stronger presence on social media from its early days (November 2009) to a consistent posting schedule about their products and engaging consumer questions. Their newest campaign is called “It’s the Little Moments that Make Life Big” focused on the dependability of the appliances to do the chores so families can enjoy their time together. To support the campaign, the brand has launched a series of YouTube videos called “Faces of Dependability,” highlighting Boys and Girls Club of America staff members and the work they are doing in their respective communities.
Carhartt was once known as the most durable and flame resistant clothing maker. Unfortunately, sales began to suffer as workers (and consumers who chose to wear the styles) wanted more fashionable and less bulky options. Knowing that it needed to rethink its image, Carhartt’s R&D team offered new styles that included more slim and tailored fits. The brand has also launched a new marketing campaign – “Work Lighter. Work Smarter. Outwork Them All.” to show its durable, yet fashion-forward capabilities. The company has supported the campaign with a re-tooled “Outerwear Finder” to browse their styles, in addition to a Facebook photo contest for fans to send in pictures of their dogs for the “Carhartt Dogs Outwork Them All” to win a Carhartt custom embroidered dog bed. The company’s YouTube channel features new “Product Talk with Hank the Foreman” videos featuring various design elements of the new styles and how they work hard for you.
So, what do you think? Have these brands regained their equity?
Nov 6 2013
Two years ago, Steve Jobs lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later, Apple, Inc. posted record-breaking revenues and profits, blowing past analyst estimates by a wide margin.
The company now has revenues of more than $150 billion, more than 20 times its size when Jobs returned to the company in 1997. It has the most desirable products in most of its categories and a stock value of more than $470 billion. The company also has cash on hand of almost $150 billion, an astonishing stockpile, which according to the Wall Street Journal accounts for approximately 10 percent of the total cash held by non-financial American companies. (For the record, that means Apple has more money in its vaults than Fort Knox.)
Certainly Jobs proved himself to be a brilliant leader with an uncanny ability to identify opportunities and respond with beautifully executed products. So the question is: can Apple continue on this path now that Jobs is gone? Does Apple’s success surface solely from the pitch-perfect vision of its charismatic CEO or is there more at work here — a recipe that other leaders can follow?
To find our answers we can look at the performance of not one but two companies that Jobs led in recent years, Apple and Pixar. Prior to Pixar’s 2006 sale to Disney, Steve Jobs was CEO of the motion picture studio while simultaneously running Apple, a remarkable feat, made even more remarkable by the fact that Pixar has the best track record of movie hits in all of Hollywood.
Over the years, I’ve followed both companies closely as a student of creativity and a teacher of the practices of successful brands. In my observations, I’ve seen more than individual mastery at work; I’ve noticed a simple, clear pattern of behavior that drives the success of both companies. I call it “The Jobs Doctrine.”
This doctrine can be used to understand how Apple became the most influential company in computers, phones, music and consumer electronics, and how Pixar simultaneously became the most influential company in movies. The Jobs Doctrine can also be put to work in any company, or used to make any career more successful.
So what is The Jobs Doctrine? It isn’t a lengthy set of rules or a mathematical formula. It is simply a disciplined approach to making things that delight us: Design fewer, simpler, greater things.
This recipe would seem so obvious that it’s barely worth mentioning; except that it is so little understood as the driving force of Jobs’ creativity and it is ignored by most corporations and individuals.
Let me demonstrate the doctrine in action. In 2010, a Businessweek survey named Apple the most innovative company in the world. While that may be no big surprise, most people associate innovation with constant change and multitudes of innovations. But Apple’s only major new product for the year was the iPad® and its last major new launch was the iPhone®, released in 2007, three years earlier. And to get to the launch of the iPod®, you have to go back to 2001. The point is that while Apple’s products are inarguably innovative, their releases are much less frequent than those of their competitors.
Take a quick look at the phone lines available from Samsung, Nokia or Motorola and you’ll see dozens of models with a wide variety of features. Samsung alone has over 50 models. Apple has only three: the new iPhone 5s and 5c models and the earlier 4S model. The remarkable truth is that Apple gives consumers far fewer options than all of their major competitors, yet they sold an astonishing 33 million phones last quarter.
Think of the dilution of effort that a company experiences when it has dozens of phones to design, manufacture and support. Imagine the focus that would come if it decided to scrap their massive product lines to instead focus on designing a single, beautiful phone?
Jobs’s genius was that he fully understands the power of simplification. Go to the site of any competitor, from Microsoft to Google to HP to Samsung to Dell, and you’ll find they all have larger product lines and operate in more categories. Jobs shaped a company that prizes simplicity not only in its product line but in every feature that appears on every product. This allows the company time for meticulous development, which in turn leads to superior products. Jobs fundamentally believed that consumers are more interested in perfection than variety. And this is plainly evident at the other company he led, Pixar.
It seems unlikely that a technology mogul could succeed in the movie business but Jobs proved to be more than successful. He bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986 for $10 million after Disney passed on the opportunity. Then Jobs sold the company to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion, 740 times what he paid for it. But what is more remarkable is that at the time Jobs sold Pixar to Disney, it had released only six movies.
As with Apple, Jobs revolutionized an industry and made a killing doing it, following the identical recipe: design fewer, simpler, greater things. While the studio had made only six films at the time of its sale to Disney, each had been released to become number one at the box office. The company continues to release fewer films than its competitors and it takes longer to perfect the films, but each of Pixar’s movies is listed among the highest-grossing animated films of all time.
So, the successes of Apple and Pixar are based more on a consistent formula than on individual genius. If this successful formula can continue in the absence of Steve Jobs, as it has with Pixar and Apple, than maybe we can all take lessons from it.
Let’s break down the “design fewer, simpler, greater things” formula. I’ve used the term “design” because Jobs considered Apple to be in the design business. The evidence is printed on every package. The words “Designed by Apple in California” suggest a company that is concerned with design. But what if your business has nothing to do with design? Well, perhaps you should alter your perspective.
Webster’s has several definitions for design. They are:
• to create, fashion, execute or construct according to plan
• to conceive and plan out in the mind
• to have as a purpose
• to devise for a specific function or end
These definitions can apply to anything you do, whether it’s creating a research report that might change the direction of your company, perfecting a smoothie to make your restaurant famous, developing curriculum that will really get through to your students or building the finest website for adopting puppies that anyone’s ever seen. When you think of your role as that of a designer, it liberates you to build your project from scratch. You are not just executing or refining but are creating something new and better. But of course, you can only do this if you’re focused on a few things.
Designing fewer things may be hard to do if you’re an employee and someone else is setting your priorities, but it is still possible. Think of an advertising designer who must work on a dozen projects every week. If she looks at each project as equally promising, she will have her efforts divided with little hope of perfecting her work. But if she works to identify projects with the potential for greatness, she can focus most of her time on those and fight to get them approved. Many famous advertising creatives have built their reputations on a few, brilliant campaigns. So look for these opportunities, and concentrate your skills on making brilliant work.
One last piece of The Jobs Doctrine is the quest for simplicity. This is where Steve Jobs was at his best. Almost everything he made had fewer features than almost everything his competitors make. Fewer buttons. Fewer menus. Fewer cables and ports. Fewer movies. Fewer options. Steve Jobs was absolutely fanatical about designing products with simplicity. There are trade-offs, of course. The MacBook Air® has no DVD drive, but that allows it to be smaller, lighter and more elegant. The remote for Apple TV® has only a few buttons, but this eliminates confusion.
We live in a complex world, where simplicity is a rare commodity, and like all rare things, it is valued. Take a look at your work. Can you make it simpler? Can you eliminate confusion? Can you edit out the excess until only the essential ingredients are evident? If you’re like most people, the answer is “yes.” But it takes time. Mark Twain famously commented, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Most of us fall into this trap. We would make things simpler, but we just don’t have time for the needed refinement. And this comes back to doing fewer things.
Designing fewer, simpler, greater things doesn’t just make the products better; it makes them easier to sell. Jobs was considered a masterful showman, and he was. We can all learn from watching his keynote presentations, but what enabled him to be so persuasive are two things: He had only a few things to talk about, and each has been refined to make them better than the competition. We all know the feeling of going into a meeting with great work in our hands. We almost can’t wait to show it off. Our excitement and confidence are palpable. Selling a few great ideas is considerably easier than selling a lot of mediocre ideas. We have the time to romance each idea and we gain power from knowing the work is good.
Steve Jobs will be remembered as a remarkable individual who reshaped every industry he entered. The fact that much of that genius has been concentrated on designing and perfecting a small number of things does not diminish his accomplishments; it is the source of them. Applying this formula to our own efforts may not make us a billionaire or a celebrity, but it will make our work stronger and our efforts more purposeful, and that’s a good idea.
Oct 18 2013
Have you ever tried to explain what you do to someone who works outside of the PR and marketing communications industry? If your experience is anything like mine, the conversation usually ends with something like: “So, you write for newspapers…” or “Oh, you create TV commercials…”
The work we do, how we describe it, how we look, how we act and who we have relationships with collectively influence other people’s perceptions of us. The reality is: this also affects how we form opinions about brands, products and services. Whether you’re a big brand, or simply managing your life toward personal goals, it is important to create a consistent personal brand experience for yourself, your potential clients, your friends and your family.
So, I charge you to start today and become your own brand manager – your own one man show, if you will. Vow to love your own brand as much as you love your favorite brands of shoes, clothing, food, etc., and begin developing your own personal brand experience.
To help get you started, here are some lessons in personal branding that will lead you to defining who you want to be as a person and a professional, as well as what your brand experience should look like.
How do you market yourself if you don’t know your brand? Big brands analyze themselves to understand what they are particularly good at. As your own personal brand manager, do the same. Pull together an inventory of your own skills to really see what makes you “you” and it will help you to define your own personal brand. Keep in mind that your personal brand definition should be an indication of what you want out of life, not necessarily where you are right now. And, try to make it aspirational.
Think of personal branding as a tool that will help you to achieve your personal and professional goals. It involves re-discovering your talents, reinforcing them and making them known. You can start by looking at areas of your life where you want to achieve success – career, personal and social. Think of it as a bucket list directly linked to your life plan and, ultimately, your brand. For many, personal branding offers personal development and appreciation in their job and personal life. We tell our clients to invest in branding, so why shouldn’t we invest in our own lives and define our own brands. It’s a great way to develop self-confidence or a greater skillset.
Today’s cluttered environment requires individuals to work really hard to stand out from the crowd. As PR professionals, we craft the best image of our clients, and we must do the same for ourselves. Identify ways that you can be unique from others in the same space, as well as how to build an experience that is unlike the others around you. What you have to offer should differentiate you from others. Think of yourself as a one man show, or business, responsible for your own reputation. You call the shots and can aim as high as you want.
Really good brand marketers always put their target audience first. The same could be said for your personal brand. Believe it or not, you also have a target audience – the people you interact with. We manage our relationships the same the way brands manage their customers. They introduce new products and promotions to engage us. We make conscious decisions to keep certain brands in our lives because of the value they provide us. So, do the same for the people who choose to be around you and you’ll create a larger support system that will help further your personal and brand development.
If you’re like me, then you’ve probably Googled yourself at least once. Good news is that we’re not alone – 56 percent of Internet users have searched for their own name online, says the Pew Research Center. And, believe it or not, Googling yourself is important to managing your personal brand. Take a look and see if you are satisfied with the results.
Wouldn’t it be great to sit on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube all day, liking funny pictures and commenting on others’ posts? The key to good personal branding online is knowing how to balance strategic posts with otherwise useless time online. Figure out how you want to come across to potential clients, family and friends. Nowadays, there is a lot of weight on how you appear online – keep it clean, classy and highlight and celebrate your achievements.
Lastly, sell yourself and your soul, and do it with well-coordinated pitches that let your potential clients know what they’d get with you. But, make sure you can deliver on your promises – don’t oversell. You know yourself better than anyone, so coming up with a marketing strategy shouldn’t be too difficult. You put in the effort to develop your personal brand, now allow yourself to shine!
Oct 4 2013
Photo credit: Wikipedia, Antonio Litterio
I guess I’ve always been a writer. For some reason, the process of translating the thoughts in my head into words on a page is one I’ve found I must go through in order to make sense of the world.
So, one of the things I love most about my job is that each week brings a new writing assignment — from blog posts and brochures to press releases and creative briefs. But rarely am I forced outside my comfort zone the way I was this summer when I took a “Writing From The Senses” course with former New York Times writer Molly O’Neill.
Every Tuesday evening for six weeks, I’d dial in to a conference call and, fighting brain-fog from a full day of meetings and emails, would do my best to complete Molly’s free-writing challenges, spewing as many sensory descriptions as I could onto the pages of my trusty moleskine.
It was not easy.
But the experience was a good one, and it armed me with several new writing tricks I’ve already put to use in my personal and professional projects.
Want to do the same? Here are a few simple tips to help hone your craft:
1- Write now, think later – Our desire for order, efficiency and perfection often tempts us to edit as we write, but doing so is a bit like donning a lead suit before attempting to swim across a lake. It makes the writing process much more arduous and is likely to leave you feeling beat-up and exhausted just a few paragraphs into your project. So, don’t worry about your words sounding silly or your first draft being crappy. Just get your thoughts on paper – as many as you can – and then come back to them later with a fresh set of eyes and finish the shaping process.
2- Attempt an out of body experience – One way to conjure up rich illustrations is to frame things as if you’re describing them to someone who’s never encountered them before. Lean on your old friends from English class, simile and metaphor, to help you draw comparisons that pain a more vivid picture of everyday objects or practices. Here’s what I came up with to describe that singular summer pleasure of steaming crabs to someone who’s never experienced it.
When they go into the pot, they are grayish blue with a tinge of orangey brown, legs floundering and claws snapping all the way. Their scent is not quite fishy, but a little like garbage, rotting and festering in the sun. As they steam, that scent becomes more potent, and oddly enticing.
Vapor from the pot seeps out and crawls in a stream into my nose. Suddenly, I’m back at the beach as a little girl, relaxed and carefree, skin crispy from the sun and salt water. This is an exciting treat. Not just a meal, but an event. A shop class project, as evidenced by the array of tools laid out on the newspaper-covered table top.
As the near-decaying mass is poured onto the table, the scent is overpowering, intoxicating … deep, salty and spicy hot, like someone has barbequed the ocean.
3- Separate the senses – If you want your writing to draw on all the senses, start by taking them one at a time. Spend 5-10 minutes treating your subject through the lens of each sense: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. So, if you’re covering baby carrots, you might end up with something like this.
Sight: It sits there on the plate looking naked, like a snail without its shell and stripped of its antenna, rubbed clean and bald like an old bar of soap that’s somehow managed to not quite dry up.
Smell: Fresh and fleshy, wet and watery, like the smell of the mouth of a garden hose … and soapy, a bit, like a child’s wet head after he’s just had a bath.
Sound: Dropped on the floor, it sounds like child’s wooden building block – wood hitting wood. When I break it in half it releases a loud pop like a broken bone. Ground between my teeth it creates a rumbling, like a factory in the back of my cheek.
Touch: It lies hard, wet and cool in the palm of my hand, slippery with the algae-like film that’s formed around it. It crunches between my teeth like I’m chewing soft wood with splinters that get stuck in the back of my throat and make me fear I’ll choke, but somehow dissolve before I do.
Taste: Before I bite into it, it tastes like soggy cardboard. As I dig my front teeth in, a little sweetness seeps out, a soapy sweetness that gets more intense as I grind the meat between my back teeth. I’m like a paper mill, grinding, grinding, grinding the solid mass into a pulp, squeezing every last drop of moisture out of it. Each new grind releases a little more flavor, sometimes sweet, sometimes soapy, sometimes a little spicy. Now, a mouthful of chlorinated pool water seeping down my throat.
Once you’ve viewed your subject through each individual sensory lens, you can pull out the relevant phrases or ideas and weave them together in a way that presents a 360 degree picture for your readers.
Tuck these reminders away near your keyboard or notepad and pull them out before you dive into your next writing project. You’ll be surprised how interesting your work becomes when you’re willing to try writing outside the lines.
Sep 20 2013
I heard someone imply recently that advertising and public relations were all about money, and that the dollar amount a client pulls in due to an ad or campaign is the ultimate definition of whether or not the work created was “great.” I found this depressing, especially since someone who works in the advertising field made the comment. The more I got to thinking about this money-centric mindset, the more I realized that this view is the reason advertising is one of the world’s least trusted professions.
The perspective that “making money” and “great work” are equivalent is not indicative of an understanding of work and money, but of a misunderstanding of people.
If you are of the “money = great work” mindset, you should ask yourself these questions: Is money the only reason your clients go to work every morning? Do all of them count the day a waste if they didn’t see their bottom line climb one rung higher? There may be some who look at the world in that way, but I’d be willing to bet at least some of them get up and go to work because they like what they do and feel their work can be of some significance in the world.
Furthermore, is the ability to buy things the only reason your audience goes to work every day? And are they choosing products based on pure functionality, rabid consumerism or a shopping addiction? No. We need to see our audiences as they truly are – informed, sensitive people who think about their own contribution to our world, and who choose to do business with brands whose beliefs, mission and, most importantly, behavior (this includes advertising), connects with them on an emotional level.
If we see our clients as only wanting to make money and our audiences as undiscerning consumer puppets, we undervalue them as humans and undervalue their contributions to the world. Brands that do not understand their audience, or underestimate them, ultimately fail.
Brands who do understand their audiences, their intelligence and their goodness, strive to create great work. What is great work? It’s work that expresses the conviction and purpose of a brand. It’s a chance to offer beauty, humor, emotion and perhaps a lifting of the spirit. It’s work that allows a brand to meet its audience out in the open, shake hands, maybe wink, and say, “This is how we feel, and we think you do, too.”
If you’d like a great example, look at Chipotle’s recent and already lauded ad. This ad is related to Chipotle and their free iOS game, but what both the ad and game speak to are the horrors of factory farming, something Chipotle has taken a stand against. Consumers who agree are rallying around the brand as a result.
Truly great work can be powerful and long lasting. It can turn the tide of a struggling brand or bolster them to legendary status. Great work achieves positive movement on many levels, including brand awareness, trust and respect. The next time you look at a piece of work you’ve created and don’t feel pride, remember this: A generic press release or mediocre print ad can bolster sales for a time, but it will not drive these most important measurements. Love of brand does. Great work propels that love. And you have the chance to do it.
Aug 9 2013
Two well-known brands made big announcements this week. Yahoo! and Virgin Mobile have plans to rebrand, and it’s about more than just giving their logos a facelift. For both companies, this will be the most significant rebrand in their histories.
Yahoo isn’t just doing one redesign logo reveal, but 30 over 30 days before unveiling their final new brand identity. Over the top? Maybe. But the rebranding campaign puts the faded internet star back in the limelight for a month with no-cost publicity.
Reason: The rebrand stems from a recharged sense of purpose and progress at Yahoo! since Marissa Mayer joined the company. The last year included scores of changes, including new technology, close to 20 acquisitions, all-hands-on-deck Friday meetings and decisions to make cafeteria food free. The new logo will be a modern take that’s more reflective of innovation, reimagined design and new experiences.
Lucky for us, we’ll get to watch Yahoo!’s logo evolve as rapidly as the company has. Yahoo! plans to tease with variations leading up to the debut in order to build excitement. (But, don’t expect a major transformation. Insiders say that three things won’t change: the purple, the yodel and the exclamation point!) We’ll have to wait until September 4 to discover how the rebrand concludes.
Virgin Mobile is shifting its focus with a rebrand to its retail and marketing strategy intended to hang on to existing customers – rather than acquiring new ones – in its Australian network.
Reason: Virgin, the brand that disrupted music and travel businesses in its younger years, wants – or rather needs – to mature. Their loyal and admiring customers have grown-up but Virgin has stayed the same. So, it’s time to position Virgin as a more adult iteration of itself. But, don’t worry, the brand plans to maintain a strong emphasis on hipsters (with an indication of over-30, of course).
The old positioning of “fair go for all” will shift its ethos to “we look after our own,” a way of acknowledging customers who are part of the Virgin Mobile family. The new campaign also says “we’re more than mobile,” and aligns Virgin Mobile more closely with its international “family” of Virgin brands, not to mention leverages partnerships with Virgin Australia, Virgin Money and Virgin Wines. My, how sophisticated.
From the brand’s new visual identity, we’ll see a simplified look more accustomed to the global Virgin umbrella brand with added paintbrush and splash motifs in purple and silver and a new photographic style brought to life by a little bit of attitude and personality.
Now that you’ve learned why these brands have taken the leap, should your company or client consider a rebrand? As a general rule of thumb, don’t just rebrand for the sake of rebranding – have a good reason. Here are some quick motives behind why rebranding might be a smart strategy.
1. Your company changed its name. When mergers and acquisitions occur, it’s time to re-examine your brand’s future.
2. Consumers have outgrown your brand. Over time, your brand will need to be rejuvenated to align with your company’s present needs. It’s the nature of getting old, folks.
3. Communications tools have become mish-mashed. Through the years, your brand has become a hodgepodge both visually and in voice. Get back to a consistent look and feel with a rebrand.
4. Competition is bringing the heat. Your loyal customers are buying what the other guys are selling, so it’s time to re-evaluate how you can fire up the opposition.
5. Customers are confused. It may be time to rebrand if people don’t understand what products and services you are selling. Don’t leave them dazed.
6. You’ve become old fashioned. If your brand is feeling irrelevant to your audience, look to the future with a rebrand, or you might pay the price of a slow death.
7. Congratulations, you’ve gone global. The products and services you’re selling have taken to a global market. You’re in need of a rebrand that will bring you deeper insights to new consumers in order to reach a different audience the right way.
8. Your reputation is tarnished. So, someone or something messed up. Change your audience’s perception of your brand and refresh with a sincere promise.
9. You’re thinking, moving and innovating. Technology and other business aspects can change so rapidly, causing your brand to shift, too. A rebrand shows that you’re keeping up with the times.
10. Keep the momentum. You’re launching new products, or your services have been ranked among the best. Keep the drive going with a rebrand to maintain speed. Fast-moving capabilities with a stale brand won’t get you where you need to be.
Jul 26 2013
Five Tips for Great Creative Briefs
Creative briefing is something we do (or should do) on a regular basis, and we all know how crucial it is to producing stellar creative work. But it’s frighteningly easy to get stuck in the grind and start cranking briefs out (or start watching Jason Mraz videos online) – rather than taking the time to make your briefs insightful and inspired. The five following tips for writing great creative briefs will get you back on track.
Just kidding. You don’t have to see a tree or butterfly or a cat with a butterfly on it. But, for real, I recommend that you leave your desk for a bit and ponder. (Pondering is the fun version of thinking.) This is important because for a brief to be effective, it must offer a perspective on the true goal of the creative work and how that fits into the larger strategic plan for your client.
I realize that hearing this shocking news might be a bit disappointing. If so, you may take a moment to grieve. (Patient pause.) Now that you are all cried out, let me just say that this information, though hard to accept, is helpful for briefing. Computers will not be creating this work, people will. So don’t just send your creative brief to them through the computer and expect great work to pop back out in a few days like some magical slot machine. Call them or go talk to them.
You know that moment where your Uncle Glen says bitterly, “Well, Obama’s done it again,” and then a college student says, “That’s easy for you to say because you’re rich and old,” and then there’s a large tension where everyone else is trying to decide whether to voice their opinion or say something about the ham? When you feel that while writing a creative brief, it’s a sign you should dig deeper. Are two things contradicting or creating friction? What does that tension mean? What is it telling you strategically? This is the place where creative briefs start to get really interesting. Do not talk about the ham. Get involved.
You know how it feels to have an enemy. They stand for everything you hate, and they steal your boyfriend, Chad. Brands have enemies, too. Greenpeace has those harpooners and the guy with the nets. Seventh Generation has products and practices that leave our planet worse off than we found it. My hippie vibe is starting to creep in, but you get the point. Who is the enemy? You’ll be surprised at how clear the way forward becomes once you can answer this question.
Wait, WHAT did you just say?! Do you even know? If your mother couldn’t understand it, you need to take a step back and reconsider just what it is you are trying to say. Jargon is the siren of the marketing world. You are desperately drawn to it because it makes you feel smart. But then you face a watery death because it quickly becomes unclear and unfocused. It sounds great during the briefing meeting and in writing, but then people leave and go, “Wait a minute. What?” Ditch the jargon. Plain speak is as refreshing as a dip in the ocean (sans death by dangerous and beautiful Greek mythology).
The bottom line is that great creative briefs take time, work, blood, tears and sometimes (always) eating donuts or cheese. But they are also a great opportunity to be creative, learn and think strategically. They are the crucial contribution to the process that your team needs in order to do their best work. Challenge yourself to follow the tips above. Christmas may get weirder, but your creative work will get better.
Jun 28 2013
Last week, I attended the 2013 Vocus Conference, a Mad Men-themed event with Arianna Huffington as one of the keynotes. After missing two flights from Europe, taking a red eye to New York and driving to DC in order to attend the event, Huffington spoke about her opinions on the current communications environment and specifically how brands can best interact with their audiences. And, especially considering she only had three hours of sleep behind her (a habit she wouldn’t recommend), her comments were incredibly insightful and entertaining. Here are my biggest takeaways:
With internet and social media now allowing consumers to peer into a brand’s soul, our interaction requires authenticity. No longer are we living in the “Mad Men” days when marketers and advertisers hid away in tall buildings overlooking their subjects unburdened by the need for truth (all while day drinking). Now we’re in the trenches. If you lie or even bend the truth, chances are you are going to get called out. The public has a sixth sense for deception and your brand is dead in the water if they smell it on you.
Our audiences consist of real people with real issues and they want to be spoken to in a real way about real solutions to their issues. Everything else is noise. Take, for instance, Dove’s newest star in their Real Beauty campaign, the Real Beauty Sketches, a video featuring subjects drawn as they describe themselves, and as others describe them. The difference is both heartbreaking and revealing. The ad features real women and highlights the notion of body image, a sensitive issue that touches most women at their core. The ad’s tagline, “you are more beautiful than you think,” provides women from all walks of life a sense of hope. By displaying something raw and authentic, Dove touched the hearts of many, garnering over 114 million views and becoming the most watched video ad of all time.
Along the same lines as authenticity, if you are caught in a wrong, just admit it. Denying allegations or fighting accusations just gives your haters additional fodder, while admitting fault and apologizing is usually all that’s needed to send them on to their next bit of drama.
At the conference I also heard from the woman behind the management of the American Red Cross rogue tweet incident. In 2011 a Red Cross employee confused the company account with her personal Twitter handle when she tweeted, “Ryan found two more four-bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd.” Wendy Harman, the director of social strategy at the Red Cross, who spoke at the conference, said her initial reaction was to delete the tweet. But, after some thought she decided to lean into the mistake by admitting fault, while adding some humor. “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys,” she tweeted. Not only did the decision avoid a potential crisis situation, but it actually turned into a large fundraiser for the organization as breweries and bars around the country encouraged monetary and blood donations to the Red Cross with the promise of a free pint in exchange. The humanitarian organization admitted that they were, well, human and made a mistake, delighting audiences who appreciated the honesty – and the laugh.
For better or worse, the internet has created 24/7 access to brands and companies. Social media feeds our need for instant gratification as we see feedback with the click of a refresh button. On Twitter, consumers expect brands to respond within hours, if not instantly. As brands we have to keep up. Some of the best opportunities happen in real time without the usual approval processes and planning. And, if you don’t jump on them, someone else will.
Take Oreo, for example. During the infamous Super Bowl XLVII blackout, the cookie brand made the choice to respond in an instant tweeting the words “Power out? No problem” accompanied by a picture captioned, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Retweeted over 10,000 times within the hour, the tweet was loved by all who respected Oreo’s fast fingers and digital presence. The company, and especially the social media team, was built to allow for fast response, a necessity to remain in real time, where your fans and consumers are.
As Don Draper says in Mad Men, “You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself.” If you establish your brand as authentic, honest and current, the respect of your audience will surely come.
Did you attend the recent Vocus Conference? What best practices would you add to the list?