Advertising Week: Perspective is Everything

I love a good Ted Talk. And I love a good British accent. So when I found my first Rory Sutherland talk, I was instantly hooked.

That first talk, “Life Lessons from An Ad Man,” is well worth the watch (and of a similar nature); but for the purposes of this post, I direct you to a longer talk from TedxAthens: “Perspective is Everything.”

Read more after the jump to Advertising Week!


California, Here I Come

Tomorrow I embark upon a new adventure. I’m moving to San Francisco. To work as a strategy intern at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. And live with two other interns. On a boat.

Is this real life?!

It is. And this is how I feel:

Luckily for me, I don’t just watch Game of Thrones; I’m in the process of finishing up A Dance With Dragons, and I’m pretty confident in Lord Snow’s character progression.

I asked the junior strategist who I’ll be working under (and who also attended the Brandcenter – as I’ll do in August) for a bit of advice. What he told me was incredibly valuable:

My advice at this point would be to be a sponge. Everything from now until even after you finish with the Brandcenter is a learning opportunity. Be curious. Ask naive questions. Connect the dots. Have fun.

Up to this point, I’ve tried my best to learn as much as I can. I’ve taken extra classes, I’ve read too many books to count, I’ve asked questions. But it’s just the beginning.

I’ve never had an advertising internship before, mostly just sports (unless you count blogging for AWSC), which either makes me terribly unqualified or usefully unique.

Either way, I’m the ultimate sponge. And I’m so ready to soak up more than just the California sunshine (even though I’m pretty excited about that, too).

I’ll be sure to keep my blog up to date with all of my adventures, academic and otherwise.
But for now, here we go!


Abercrombie & Lessons in Exclusionary Marketing

Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.

Taken out of context, that’s a lesson in marketing.
It’s undeniably true — especially in our era of boundless choices.

But then you put it in context. And learn it’s a quote from loathsome Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. You know, he of the thoroughly insane private jet rules (which can be read in their entirety here). And you begin to understand why plenty of people are angry.

But the brand itself isn’t the problem. If A&F isn’t your (or more pointedly, your children’s) cup of tea, if you’re not part of that niche, you needn’t shop there. Just as Jeffries’ company targets “the cool kid,” stores like Lane Bryant target plus size women, Hot Topic (despite their hilarious transformation) targets your resident goths and punks. It’s how brands work. There will always be groups of people — that’s the nature of our society.  Join the school uniform debate. I went to Catholic school for 14 years, I’m well-versed.

It’s the CEO that’s the problem. He’s — well, he’s a jackass. We all know this.

But he runs, unfortunately, a pretty damn successful company.

Bully, yes. Completely.

It’s sort of a chicken and the egg argument. Does grouping allow for brands like Abercrombie? Or do brands like Abercrombie facilitate grouping? Regardless, it’s a battle that needs to be fought from the ground up. At schools, within families. And it’s not the topic of this post.

But this?

You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.

It’s why a majority of advertising is just awful. Not only awful, ineffective. You can’t please everyone; it’s bad for business. Vanilla is right.

The idea, instead, is pretty common sense:
There’s always* a way to go about targeting your primary segment without alienating secondary consumers. 

My Brandcenter application asked me to select an ad that didn’t appeal to me, explain what the strategy was and why it didn’t work. Here’s what I said:

On premise alone, exclusionary advertising is generally not the best idea. There is a way to go about targeting a primary segment without alienating a secondary segment of potential consumers.

Perhaps the best recent example, though not the topic of this essay, is the Dr. Pepper 10 “It’s Not For Women” campaign. I understand the motivation behind marketing a diet drink toward men. While I know many a man who drinks diet, it’s certainly a more ‘feminine’ trend, and one that few men want to be expressly associated with. That being said, was it necessary for Dr. Pepper to alienate women in borderline sexist fashion in order to appeal to men? I don’t think so. Especially when considering that most often (some estimates are as high as 90%) the primary shopper is a woman.

With that obvious bit of exclusionary advertising as a backdrop, I want to talk about Apple’s much-maligned Olympic ‘genius’ campaign.

Apple is known for amazing advertising: 1984, “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC,” the launch ads for the iPod and iPhone.  So this campaign, which depicts an Apple “genius” helping clueless mac users with relatively simple tasks, was a head-scratcher.

The strategy, likely, was to highlight Apple’s superior service, a key differentiator for the company, through humorous spots. It fails because the message and mechanics of the ad itself are not on-brand. Known for clever spots (I wrote most recently about the Heart & Soul iPad Mini ad here) that portray ordinary people doing extraordinary things by way of Apple products, this sitcom like series of ads made Apple users look clueless.

Now, getting to why this could be considered exclusionary. One might argue that the ads are aimed at first-time Mac users, but Apple is driven by the enthusiasm of its core ‘fanboy’ customers. Without specifically targeting those enthusiastic consumers, they can (and have in the past) appeal to new users without appearing ridiculous to their core base.

Therein lies the problem. The creation of sitcom-like characters that, rather than tell an engaging story like “Mac” and “PC” did, diminish the Apple user while creating a caricature of employees á la Progressive’s “Flo,” does nothing to add to the brand. Rather, it uses cheap humor (albeit effective in the case of “Mayday’s premise) to the effect of embarrassing current Mac users who voiced extensive criticism in the blogosphere.

In short, this strategy failed because it did not fit with the very carefully planned brand image the company (and its late CEO) is known for. And fans recognized the misstep. To Apple’s credit, they admitted their flaw, quickly pulling the ads after their Olympic stint ended.

*I’m sure there are exceptions. But let’s say most always.

My point is that there’s a way to be exclusive without being exclusionary.

— And yes, it would probably be wise for A&F to rethink their PR strategy and rein in their ever-so-controversial CEO.

Can Jello Rebrand #FML?

Everyone’s favorite jiggly snack brand has decided to take it upon itself to rebrand one of the Internet’s longest-standing abbrevs: FML.

The hashtag, very well-known (if not extremely overused), represents a generation’s expression of self-pity. With an accompanying microblog that blew up around 2008-09 and might be considered a forerunner of sites like Texts from Last Night, FML is pretty well-ingrained in digital culture.

Jello, with agency partner Crispin, Porter, + Bogusky, have hijacked the profanity-inferring phrase as part of their latest social media marketing campaign, hoping to gain traction with their new definition: Fun my life.

Let’s move past the fact (as much as it pains me) that that doesn’t make any grammatical sense and talk about whether this ploy might actually work.

The idea is this: Between now and June 14, everyone who tweets the #FML hashtag is entered into a pool, from which a certain number will win “Fun My Life” prize packs “specially created to get their life back on track.” All of this – from the original hashtagged tweets to Jello’s chosen responses – can be followed at

I’m going to break my own rule and start with the fact that “fun my life” makes absolutely no sense. Fun is not a verb; the word they’ve chosen to replace? Verb.

Next up? The creep factor. Yes, yes, I know they’ve pulled the tweets from public accounts by a simple search of the hashtag. But seeing as how an overwhelming majority of those users who will use the hashtag over the next however many days will have no idea about Jello’s campaign, the fact that their tweets are entered into a sort of contest and broadcast on the JelloFML site is, in my opinion, a smidge creepy.

And can they really hope their rebrand will catch on? My assumption is no.

FML is a part of Internet culture – perhaps not to the height of something like “LOL,” but it’s up there. So how can this campaign really hope to make a splash? I’m not sure.

I’ve mentioned this as it relates to social media superstar Oreo: the most successful brands on social media are those who fulfill the 3 C’s of content, context, and conversation. Oreo, with both it’s Daily Twist campaign and its many timely tweets since, successfully fulfilled the “3 C’s” by offering relevant, timely, simple, humorous, and shareable content without pandering for likes, comments, or shares.

Too often, when it comes to social media strategy, brands are more concerned with timing than content; but to succeed in engaging conversation, the strategy must lie at the relevant intersection of context and content. Merely inserting yourself in a consumer’s feed with a message that is either off-brand or off-topic will not encourage the engagement necessary to form consumer-brand relationships, and might go so far as to turn off the consumer.

In Jello’s case, I don’t think the campaign succeeds in meeting the C’s. It seems more that they’re forcefully inserting themselves into conversation when I’m not sure it’s welcome, let alone relevant.

That being said, I’ve wavered back and forth on whether or not I think this campaign is “good” or “bad” (I started drafting this on Saturday). I got second thoughts when I recalled a post I’d written back in the fall that talked about creating conversation and taking part in “surprise and delight” campaigns.

Here’s what I said in that case:

Coke’s digital agency in Atlanta, CSE, tracks social media diligently; and when they notice someone with a substantial following (500+) commenting on college football, they “surprise and delight” by, for instance, sending that Tweeter an autographed helmet.

In my favorite “surprise and delight” moment, a Vanderbilt student tweeted that he and three friends were traveling to Chicago for the Northwestern game and mentioned that they didn’t have tickets. CSE execs found the message and arranged for them to receive four tickets to the game for free.

Completely unwarranted – we’re not talking a sweepstakes, or really, anything from the brand side – Coke Zero is able to build a fan base that is instantly loyal by targeting socially active 18-34 year olds in their target base of college football, notably SEC, fans. I’m certain that if I received free tickets or autographed memorabilia from Coke Zero, all of my friends would know it and know how.

Now that’s pretty cool.

But is it the same thing for Jello to find their favorite FMLers, surprising them with “Fun My Life” prize packs (presumably including Jello products)? I’m not sure. It’s certainly the same idea, but the execution just seems kind of off to me.

And you just can’t convince me that “Fun My Life” was the right name.

Come on people, grammar.

Advertising Week: This is Your Brand on Stories

The other day, I did an interview for a big girl job. Mostly for practice and experience because I’ve already committed to a summer in San Francisco and two years in Richmond; but nonetheless, a real, intense day of interviews. As the day went on, the questions moved from behavioral, experience-driven “tell me a time when” questions to more high-level thinking questions about industry knowledge, etc.

It was in the last interview of the day that I was most caught off guard.

Find out why after the jump to Advertising Week!

The Power of Social Media

Tonight I had the worst pizza of any pizza, well, quite possibly ever.
Certainly the first dining experience I can recall where the food was truly inedible.

Not a fun start to my evening, suffice it to say. 

But being the social media maven I’d like to pretend I am, I took a page out of Todd Strobel’s book and directed a strongly worded letter tweet to the home of the aforementioned pizza.

With an assist from fellow Skillshare enthusiast @vanevela, I was able to catch their attention.

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 7.57.01 PM

For a local suburban pizza shop, their response was impressive. Thoroughly apologetic, timely.
A few DMs later and I’ve got a refund and a free pizza of my choice.

Not that I’m too thrilled about taking them up on that offer, but it’s all about the gesture.

Seriously, though; this is a great example of a brand using social media to remedy transgressions, to respond to and engage with their customers in real time, and to practice quality customer service.

Well done, Old Town Pizza of Orland Park; just not so much with the pizza.