How REI’s Black Friday #OPTOUTSIDE Is Really About Something Else

27 Nov


     On Black Friday shoppers across America will run for the malls while REI employees run for the hills.

     In a much bally-hoo’d announcement this fall, REI placed core values ahead of core retail expectations.  By closing its stores on Black Friday, REI didn’t just thumb its nose at Thanksgiving Day retail creep, it effectively stuck its hiking pole in a place where consumer demands don’t shine.  Sideways.

     REI’s decision was a call to action—go outside.

      The decision to lock the doors on November 27th is more than a YoutTube video on “REI’s Day Off.”   It’s actually a clever and strategically sophisticated effort to engage and build followers and solidify its brand as the preeminent outfitter for outdoor discovery. 


Figure 1

     Since the announcement, REI has launched a multi-channel effort to encourage people to also take Black Friday off with the #optoutside hash tag campaign. (Figure 1)  On Twitter, it bought market-targeted tweets with countdown clocks to Black Friday and sent out replies to its followers with a link to the hiking trails near them.  During Thanksgiving week, it bought full-page newspaper ads and on Facebook it encouraged followers to post their outdoor plans—it received more than a million engagements.

     At the heart of the strategy for REI is brand building. In a retail environment where consumers can buy anything through Amazon and where outfitters such as Cabelas are aggressively opening new stores, REI has to fight to maintain market share.  Even discounters such as Walmart and Target are threats with their sporting departments and growing online offerings. 


Figure 2

     By staking its claim against Black Friday, REI is hoping to reposition itself in the mind of the consumer.  It’s strategically telling outdoor enthusiasts that REI is the only brand that cares not just about the outdoors, but also about its employees and customers and therefore occupies a coveted spot in the upper left hand corner of my branding typology in figure 2.  That’s a strong brand position to stake because it gives both authenticity and credibility to REI’s #optoutside call to action.  It’s about empowerment in much the same way that Nike urges its followers to “Just Do It.”

     Granted, REI is a different kind of business model.  It’s a co-op owned by members such as myself and not Wall Street investors.  It’s a community.  But like all retailers it does face the same economic pressures of growth and stability.  Still, REI is betting that whatever sales it loses on Black Friday it will gain in brand identification and loyalty.  That builds an exponentially more sustainable consumer relationship than by opening its doors a bit earlier on Black Friday—or opening them at all.

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Britain’s John Lewis Gives Us The Best Christmas Ad So Far

16 Nov

John Lewis Spotlight Pix     One of the best advertisements of the holiday season is out.  What makes it remarkable is that it doesn’t just sell a brand, it sells a cause.  That cause is the gift of giving oneself in a different way.  And it comes from a brand that Americans have likely never heard of.

     Britain’s John Lewis department store has built a reputation in recent years for memorable, emotional, and strategic holiday advertisements that lead the viewer on a journey to giving.  This year that journey leads viewers on more than a path of finding the perfect gift within a John Lewis store.

     The brilliance and formula of Lewis’ ad agency adam&eveDDB is that it consistency makes us see Christmas through the innocent eyes of children.   This year that child is a girl named Lily whose inquisitive eyes peer into the heavens in search of the stars but becomes moon struck instead.  Her man on the moon discovery becomes not just a metaphor for giving, but for discovering the elderly living in their own vacuums of space and loneliness.

     The ad is strategically created to use the power of emotion to not just change beliefs and attitudes, but to contribute to Age UK, an agency that works and advocates for the elderly. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 - Donation page to Age UK

Figure 1 – Donation page to Age UK

     Cleverly,  John Lewis takes it a step further.   It created a mobile phone app that allows people game against other users and look up more information on the moon.  By encouraging those users to engage with the app, it creates a new community to interact with the brand.

     It takes a strong and brave brand to shift focus from itself and invest valuable marketing dollars to promote social awareness.   We’ve seen some admirable examples in recent years.  One of my favorites is Chevy’s recent Super Bowl commercial promoting the Purple Roads campaign for cancer survivors.

     Intel also spent a considerable amount of brand equity to convince apathetic viewers that girls can and should change the world.

     Likewise, there’s Coca-Cola.   Coke’s brand has always been about sharing happiness.  After all, it taught the world to sing.  It also recently taught us to share random acts of kindness.

     They’re all brave examples of promoting social awareness.  And for John Lewis, it’s especially fitting to choose the holidays as a time to spread the love and search for the men on the moons hidden right in front of us all.


Wisdom Lives Here — a Tribute to Advertising Scholar Dr. John Eighmey

24 Sep

John Eighmey pix 3

My grad school advisor and main professor from the University Minnesota, Dr. John Eighmey, has just retired.  As the Mithum Chair of Advertising at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, John started and nurtured the professional masters program in strategic communication.  The following is the speech I was asked to give on behalf of the grad school alumni at John’s retirement celebration.

*     *    *

     There’s room on the second floor of Murphy Hall with a name attached to it.  It’s room 211.  And the name on the door is John Eighmey.

      On one of my last trips through Murphy in the spring I took a picture of the name on the door and instagrammed it with a simple caption:  “Wisdom lives here.” John Eighmey's Door

      A lot of “like” buttons were hit that day.  John, one of your former students commented with the words, “Good Turf.”

      To know John is to know his love for great metaphors.  This one worked.

      You created the turf where wisdom grows and lives are transformed.   And when you stood on the turf of the classroom there was no one better.   You often talked about “gift-like objects.”  And we laughed.  But we got it.  We got it because you were and are that gift-like object to us.

     You’ve performed so many roles in your professional career.  Scholar.  Advertiser.  Regulator.  Researcher.  Everyone in this room would strongly argue you saved your best role for last:  Teacher.

      We’ve all had teachers that made a difference.  That someone who held the magic keys to unlock the passions and excitement we didn’t know we had.  You taught us that insights were nothing more than truths hidden in plain sight.   And for most us as students, you made us see the insights in ourselves that no one else knew was there.  You held the keys and unlocked the locks.

     And what you taught us we can still recite in perfect memory.

     There’s Eighmey’s Law: In order for an advertisement to be effective it must get noticed.  And in order for it to get noticed, it must be different.

Myself and Dr. John Eighmey at his retirement celebration

Myself and Dr. John Eighmey at his retirement celebration

     John applied the same law to the formation of the master’s program in strategic communication.  He made it different.  He designed it as a cohort model.  I like to call it an agency model.  Because each one of  us in the cohort came from a different professional discipline where we served each other, taught each other, supported each other.  Failure was not an option.  I defy you to find any online program to meet the same rigor.

     For all the Hallmark cards you helped send, for all of the long distance phone calls you helped connect, for all of corporate profits you helped protect, for all of the consumer insights you helped reveal we know that your greatest work is in this room.

     John, you didn’t just teach, you transformed lives, built careers.

     You fearlessly taught us that, “When it doubt, rocket out.”

     Wisdom lives here.   And because of it, we’re all walking on good turf tonight.

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Note: John is now retired, but still active in advertising analysis and criticism.  Follow his blog at the Psychology of Advertising.

GOP Presidential Buzz — Who’s Got it, Who Doesn’t

10 Aug

GOP Debates 1  8-15

      It was reality TV at its best.  There was shouting, insults, bombastic rhetoric, and… Rosie O’Donnell.   Welcome to the first 2016 GOP presidential debates.  As one political scientist noted, it was Jerry Springer without Jerry.  No, this is not your father’s Republican Party anymore.  But television viewers ate it up.   They didn’t just watch, they tweeted, liked, searched, posted, and searched some more.

     This modern day media consumption phenomena creates real-time winners and losers.  Marketers call it “buzz.”  Google calls it “search.”  Whatever you call it, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina owned it during the debates and it will likely deliver a short term boost to their campaigns. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

     The data from Google Trends shows that during the prime time debates, Donald Trump dominated web searches of people looking for more information on him and his presidential campaign. (Figure 1)  It doesn’t hurt that Trump has transformed himself into what political scientist David Schultz would call a politainer.  None of his nine competitors on the stage came close to the internet interaction he drove throughout the evening debates. 

     During the early undercard event called the “happy hour” debates, former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina also dominated internet buzz. (Figure 2)  Arguably, she commanded the attention in a more credible way.  Fiorina’s presence and responses were articulate, commanding, and authoritative.  She wasn’t just a candidate, she was a one-person c-suite—who just happens to be a woman.  She clearly connected with the audience in ways her early evening cohort did not.   GOP Debates 3  8-15

     What both Trump and Fiorina accomplished is part of the modern day political calculus.  In reality, it’s not much different from consumer product campaigns.  Buzz is one of the seven essential marketing drivers that brands from Proctor & Gamble to Beyonce use to grow their business.  

     Four years ago, I conducted a similar analysis of how buzz predicted the top finishers in the Iowa Caucuses where Rick Santorum won by a handful of votes.  The key is to stay consistent in the messaging and deliver enough strategic product news (campaign stances/messaging) to lead the followers on a journey toward activation—that is, contributing money and voting.   Santorum wasn’t able to sustain that early momentum and later dropped out of the race.  The jury is still out on whether Trump can also sustain the momentum, especially given his public statements about women and his not-so-wise fight with Fox’s Megyn Kelly.

     Social media is also part of the new calculus and contributes significantly to buzz and search.  On Twitter alone, interactions with the GOP debate topped major sporting events.

     It’s also no coincidence that Facebook co-sponsored the GOP debates with Fox News.  Facebook reports that 7.5 million people had more than 20 million interactions on the broadcast—that includes posts, likes and shares.   This is the new modern-day political engagement.   The candidates answered questions from Facebook during the debates through the channel’s own engagement campaign that drew 5 million views and 40,000 responses.   On the day of the event, Trump’s staff used the new “live” on Facebook feature to stream his arrival in Cleveland.   As of this writing it has earned more than two million views and 10,000 shares.


     Welcome to the 2016 presidential campaign.  As the first GOP debates showed, it will be a different kind of series of events with online engagement becoming increasing important drivers for securing funds and votes.

Celebrating SCOTUS Gay Marriage Ruling – Brands That Got it Right and Wrong

30 Jun

 SCOTUS Tweets Blog Pix        Perhaps the only thing that has shifted faster than public opinion on same-sex marriage is the number of brands that have embraced it.

         When the Supreme Court released its landmark decision, many of America’s leading brands were ready.  They instantly posted visual content on social media with the sole intention having people share it—and boost brand awareness. 

Picture 1 - Orbitz Super Bowl XLVII tweet

Picture 1 – Orbitz Super Bowl XLVII tweet

         Ever since Oreo’s pulled off the social media hit of the new millennia with its “dunk in the dark” tweet during the Super Bowl XLVII power blackout, brands have been keen to never again get left in the dark themselves. (Picture 1)

         But jumping on the social media bandwagon creates some inherent risks—especially with such a polarizing issue.  The Supreme Court may have eliminated the legal roadblocks to same-sex marriage, but social acceptance will still be fought in many corners of the country, even many curb cuts of the neighborhood.   Brands face risks on two fronts.  First, they don’t want to come off as opportunists simply trying to sell a product.  Second, they don’t want to alienate a segmented customer base that may be opposed to same-sex marriage.

       Some of the brands that took to Twitter immediately after the SCOTUS decision were very strategic and measured.  Among those that got it right was Delta Airlines.  Where many brands seemed to make their congratulatory messages about themselves, Delta wanted to say something about their employees.  Classy. 

        The branding archetype that is Coca-Cola spoke volumes without saying anything at all.  It didn’t have to.  More than any other global brand, Coke has stood for diversity since it taught the world to sing more than 40 years ago.  Its minimalist tweet represented everything we’ve come to expect and respect about Coke.

         Strong brands have the leverage to make bold statements.  General Mills’ Cheerio’s brand made such a statement more than a year ago when it introduced to America “Gracie” and her mixed race family.  Diversity has become part of the Cheerio’s brand ethos, which is why it was only fitting for it to have something to say about marriage too.

         Maytag may have been the most metaphorically clever.  The two Maytag repairmen are not only “perfect together,” they’re also a subtle reminder that their washers and driers also complete each other. 

         Target is another leading brand that thinks long and hard about messaging.  In this case they built an interactive GIF to say something about marriage and Target.

         Orbitz took a strategically different approach aimed at community building.  Their social media campaign may seem self-serving, but it’s actually an inclusive message promoting interactivity with the brand and offering  a valuable reward—a free vacation.   

          But there were also swings and misses.  Among them, Procter & Gamble.  Its attempt at supporting the Supreme Court ruling was really all about selling soap and toilet paper.

          Likewise with Jet Blue.   Its message seemed to be an afterthought complete with a stock picture. 

          Kellogg’s should get credit for being ready when the Supreme Court decision came down, but their message clearly seemed equally as focused on selling Corn Flakes.

          Social media is always risky especially on polarizing issues.  But as these brands show, there’s a fine line between striking a chord and being tone deaf.

The Coat Hanger TV Blooper — The Making of a Viral Video

6 Apr

     It was just a stupid clothes hanger.  That was pulled from a stupid suit.  That became a stupid video.  That has now been viewed more than two million times.      

     Admittedly, in my role as a TV news guy I’ve shared with our viewers dozens if not hundreds of viral videos.   I never expected to be part of one.   

Picture 1 - Fox 9 Meteorologist Steve Frazier's hanger

Picture 1 – Fox 9 Meteorologist Steve Frazier’s hanger

      The on-air mishap of my colleague Steve Frazier pulling a wire hanger out of his suit I can assure you was no stunt.  If Steve was guilty of anything, it was rushing to simply make his camera shot.  But within hours, Steve was getting calls from Italy and our assignment desk was fielding inquiries from the UK’s “Guardian” newspaper.   Then there was NBC’s “Today” show, “Ellen,” “Time,” “The Huffington Post” and “The Weather Channel.”      

     The coat hanger gaffe became such a cultural phenomenon that it even became a question on the NPR news quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”   I happen to know this because I was on vacation and in the audience with my family at the Chase Auditorium in Chicago.   When the question was read to P.J. O’Roarke, my teenaged daughters cheered—I just wanted to disappear into the seat.   Then, when I approached scorekeeper Bill Kurtis and host Mike Pesca after the show, Pesca laughed and said, “You work with Steve Frazier!”  (Picture 2) 

Picture 2 -

Picture 2 – “Wait, Wait” score keeper Bill Kurtis writing a fan letter to Steve Frazier

      What I now call “hanger gaffe” is not only a statement on 21st century media culture, it’s also a useful case study on what makes videos go viral.   Advertising and consumer behavior researcher John Eighmey offers an outstanding index of factors that affect the propensity to share content.   Videos though, are unique.   With that in mind I’ve constructed my own viral video model that contains five essential factors.  (Figure 1)

Figure 1

Figure 1

      Accessibility:  This is basic and essential.  The video needs to exist on an accessible and sharable channel such as YouTube and increasingly Facebook.      

      Familiarity:  The scenario must be recognizable.   In this case, a television newscast where the audience has already formed its own set of expectations about what happens in a news program.      

      Authenticity:  Is it real, genuine, and not staged?      

      Surprise:  A sudden event or occurrence that deviates from normal expectations.  In this case Steve pulling the hanger from his jacket.      

      Enjoyment:  An emotional response.  Entertainment or outrage.      

     The model essentially needs all of these elements to come together for a video to go viral.   But the model also closely follows the long established Appraisal Theory of consumer behavior. (Figure 2)  In this case the viewer makes a cognitive assessment of video which leads to an emotional response.  The response forms attitudes on actions including whether to “like” the video or share it among friends.  Likewise, the emotional response can also lead to outage depending upon the content of the video—such as a violent police arrest. 

Figure 2

Figure 2

      To be honest there are several contributing factors as to why Steve’s mishap became a temporary world-wide sensation.    Among them is the fact that everyone loves TV news bloopers.  There’s a reason why they’re a staple on late night comedy shows from David Letterman to Jimmy Fallon—viewers love to see presumably credible people make mistakes.   In this case it was a big part of the enjoyment factor.     

      As for the viral video model, Steve’s “hanger gaffe” fits it like a good hanger.   We’ve certainly had our fun.   And now… on with the news.

Facebook Video vs. YouTube – Why Brands Should Now Upload Directly to Facebook Timeline

3 Mar

Facebook vs Youtube Graphic     Facebook has recently changed the way it integrates video into your feeds and timelines and it has vast implications for engagement and views.

      Under its former protocol, one could link a video from YouTube, Vimeo, or another channel such as Videolicious into a post.  Facebook would then integrate a small video frame for the viewer to click or touch.

      Fast forward to the present.  Videos now uploaded directly to Facebook appear as native content that auto-plays in the user’s timeline.  Users or followers no longer have to click or touch to view the video.  The changes are critically important  for brands, including news outlets that thrive on engagement, activation, and sharable content.

     With this change in the digital landscape, I conducted a simple experiment.  As a news anchor and reporter I routinely create short videos on my iPhone using Videolicious to post on Facebook alerting our followers to the stories we will have in the evening newscast.  I call it “Tim’s Phoning It In.”  Recently, during the course of two nights I posted one video as a Videolicious link, the next night’s report was uploaded directly to YouTube as a native video.

      Here is the Video from January 30th posted as a link.

      This is the post the next night as a native Facebook video.


       The methodology was fairly simple.  The videos were posted each night at 7:45 p.m. with the results measured at 10:15 p.m. the same night.  The results showed significant increases in both reach and views with the native YouTube video receiving an 855% increase in views from the night before. (Figure 1) 

Figure 1

Figure 1

      In full disclosure, there are limitations to this experiment.  Among them is the potentially different Facebook user-ship rate between the two nights.  Additionally, the second video may have been perceived as simply more compelling content than the one posted the previous day.  Also, the potential of snow in the forecast during the night of the native Facebook video posting could have been a supplemental motivating factor.  But I strongly suspect the auto-play feature of the second posting played a significant role in the increased exposure. 

Figure 2 -

Figure 2 –

       This hypothesis is tested as major brands are already making the shift from YouTube to Facebook.   Data tracked by Socialbakers shows how increasingly brands are now posting more video content to Facebook than they are to YouTube.  (Figure 2)

     Additional research from Socialbakers shows how Facebook videos dominated during the most social event of the year—Super Bowl XLIV.  Super Bowl sponsors found overall engagement with followers on Facebook overtook YouTube for the first time. (Figure 3) 

Figure 3 -

Figure 3 –

      That’s not to say YouTube is no longer important.   YouTube is still the channel brands need to have a presence on because of its search functions.  Additionally, longer format videos are ideally suited for YouTube whereas Facebook holds the advantage with shorter messaging that’s meant to be perishable—in other words, needs to be seen now.   In this case Facebook is ideal for news videos and brands running time sensitive marketing promotions.  The landscape is changing so rapidly that AdAge now includes Facebook videos in its weekly advertising engagement report.

       The changes are big and offer brands, and yes, news organizations new opportunities in reaching their followers.


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