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Purple Reigns — How Social Media Honored Prince

22 Apr Prince Graphic

Prince Graphic

                  If you want to know the power of a brand, just watch how other brands try to emulate it.  That’s exactly what’s happened in the tragic passing of music icon Prince.

                 In the moments after the news of his death spread on social media, social media itself became the channel by which brands tried to create their own memes in tribute.  Some in self promotion.  Therein lies extreme risk.

                  With a few exceptions, most brands weren’t just thoroughly thoughtful, they were creatively evocative, and dare I say it—shareable.  After all, that should be one of the top goals.

                 Among the most shared was a simple tweet from Chevrolet.   It’s classic Corvette forever drives one of Prince’s most classic songs.  The six words of copy were as powerful as high-octane fuel.

 

                  Perhaps no one did it better than a government agency—NASA.  The very folks whose job it is to shoot for the stars paid tribune to one of pop-culture’s brightest stars in a way that only they could do.  Their post on Twitter was metaphorical brilliance.

  

                The creative minds at advertising agencies are pre-programmed to make the metaphoric connection between values, emotion, and motivation.   The team at Minneapolis’ Carmichael Lynch not only made that emotional connection, they have a physical connection.  Their offices are across the street from the First Avenue night club where Prince filmed “Purple Rain.”   On a rainy day in Minneapolis, their post proved the power of minimalist design to speak volumes.

Farewell dear #prince

A photo posted by Carmichael Lynch (@carmichael_lynch) on

    

              Simplicity also defined the post from Caribou Coffee.  The homegrown Minnesota company didn’t waste words or images.  The message was unmistakable.

#RestInPurple #MNLove #Prince

A photo posted by Caribou Coffee (@cariboucoffee) on

  

                In contrast, brands risk scrutiny and backlash when they try to participate in social events by making the conversation—even subtlely—about themselves.   Minnesota brand 3M took that leap.  Its post with a redesigned purple logo and a tear drop in the center was creatively clever, but makes the viewer question what their true motivation was.

A photo posted by 3M (@3m) on

 

                 The Minnesota Vikings football team went there as well.  In its attempt to jump on the Prince bandwagon, they too made the conversation about themselves.  How much more powerful and meaningful would have their post been if their social media team had simply dropped the Vikings logo?

Purple Rain. #RIPPrince

A photo posted by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

   

               In contrast, the Minnesota Twins took a different approach.  The team’s veterans each year try to connect the rookies to the club and the community by making them sing Prince songs.   Their montage of outtakes wasn’t just a tribute to Prince but an invitation to viewers to enjoy the best of Prince and the memories he’s created for them, too.

This is a #MNTwins tradition. Veterans make sure rookies know the words to "Little Red Corvette."

A video posted by Minnesota Twins (@twins) on

   

               It only takes one summer of living in Minnesota to understand the most powerful cultural institution in the state is the Minnesota State Fair.  It is the single camp fire by which people from every corner of the state gather to celebrate summer, music, food, and each other’s company.  The State Fair’s post reinforced how culture honors culture.

💜 #Prince

A photo posted by Minnesota State Fair (@mnstatefair) on

 

                  Star Tribune photographer Jeff Wheeler has become a brand in his own right. The images he shoots for Minnesota’s largest newspaper are often filled with metaphorical emotion that ooze from the frame.   His image of Prince’s star at the First Avenue night club needs no caption.

After kissing his fingers, a fan touched Prince's star on the wall of First Ave. Thursday afternoon. @startribune #ripprince

A photo posted by Jeff Wheeler (@jeffersonwheeler) on

  

                Finally, MTV proves how sometimes it’s best to simply make the message about the subject.  In this case, Prince’s own words.

You will be missed, @prince 💜 We're honoring him today on MTV and Facebook Live right now.

A photo posted by MTV (@mtv) on

 

                 The power of social media is how it can stimulate conversation, emotion, and reflection.  The artist we knew as Prince certainly accomplished that with his music.  The fact that millions of fans world wide shared their grief and reflections speaks volumes not just of Prince’s own brand but how he became a part, ever so small, in the story of our own lives.

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

27 Nov

IMG_4041

     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. 

IMG_4040

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. 

IMG_4042

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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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.

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 - Socialbakers.com

Figure 2 – Socialbakers.com

       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 - Socialbakers.com

Figure 3 – Socialbakers.com

      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.

Best Ads of 2014 — How Storytelling Mattered

31 Dec

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              Exemplary advertising always leads the consumer on a journey.  Often times that journey leads to the decision to buy a product.  In 2014, some of the best ads created journeys to affect attitudes and beliefs about brands and causes.  Their messages didn’t just aim for our heads, they also aimed for our hearts.

                 I’ve compiled a short list of six video advertisements that represent some of the most strategic brand messaging of 2014.  There are other lists of the most viewed, most shared, and most popular, this is simply a compilation of transformational messaging that used narrative storytelling to achieve a specific brand objective.

                 First on the list is a commercial from a brand American’s have never heard of, in a language they can’t speak, yet its message is universal.   DATC is an Indonesian telecom company trying to position itself in a hyper-competitive market.  Instead of creating a western-style campaign staking a claim on price, network coverage, or reliability, DATC’s agency Y&R instead crafted a narrative to lead the viewer on a smart, emotional journey called “The Power of Love.”

              The ad shows how technology can’t replace love, but it can uniquely connect people in moments of love.  The desired action DATC wants consumers to make is to use their phones and network to never miss a loving moment.

                 Chevrolet’s Silverado pickup truck this year made an equally brave and powerful ad.  It leveraged its considerable brand equity to make a statement about cancer–without speaking a word. 

                 The silent schema of a solemn ride down a country road forces the viewer to think deeply about what is, and what is not happening.  The three most powerful cues: the shaved head, the teary eye, and the embraced hands.  Together they force the viewer to create their own story, form a new attitude and create the belief that they can take action by supporting the American Cancer Society.  The underlying message is not about the truck, but the journey of strength the truck allows one to take. 

 

                SaveTheChildren had a daunting task in 2014.  It had to find a way to make the world care about a war that western leaders want no part of.  In this case, they constructed a narrative that could be about the day in the life of any child in any country.  But this not any country, it’s Syria. 

                Its powerful schema leads the viewer on a second-by-second journey of conversion from comfort to conflict.   It uses Appraisal Theory to force one to see the child as if it were their own daughter.  The goal of the ad is to elicit an emotional response that confronts our own beliefs and attitudes about the Syrian War.

                John Lewis is a British department store that has become as well known for its holiday commercials as Macy’s has for its Thanksgiving Day parade.  Once again, John Lewis did not disappoint.

                 The brilliance of this year’s ad uses a little boy’s imaginary penguin named Monty to become the human metaphor of love and sharing.  Think Calvin & Hobbs. The result is a touching narrative about the power of imagination in giving–and the department store that can make it happen.

 

               The World Cup soccer games produced the year’s most viral advertisements, but the one that I will argue created the most power came from the Bank of Chile. 

               Chile’s soccer team was placed in the same World Cup division as top-seeded teams Netherlands and Spain.  Soccer fans called it the “death group” because no other teams survived.  In this case, no men were better suited carry the Chilean flag than the trapped Chilean miners who stared down death and won.  The salient message from the Bank of Chile is that it is the bank which can build impossible dreams.

Figure 1 - Means-Ends Model

Figure 1 – Means-Ends Model

                 Finally, the 2014 Winter Olympics crowned a new series of world-class athletes, but the BBC created gold of its own for a cognitively powerful advertisement promoting its broadcast coverage of the games. 

                 Both the BBC and the American network NBC used a means-end model in how they promoted their Olympics coverage. (Figure 1)  NBC appealed to humanity where the BBC used mythology.   Its man vs. nature promotional approach set up its coverage to beckon the viewer to witness immortality in the making–becoming one with the Gods.  That’s powerful.

 

                  We’ve come a long way from the great recession when risk averse consumer messaging was all about boosting immediate sales.   In the past two years brands once again feel free to think strategically about positioning themselves along the consumer’s emotional curve to create relationships and sharable moments to last beyond the next quarterly report.  The result is advertising that’s not just gutsy, but smart, and yes, fun!

Mo’ne Davis Throws a World Series Strike for Girls… and Chevy

28 Oct

       From a distance of sixty feet and six inches, the pitch was money.  Actually, it was Mo’ne.  A strike, right down the middle.  It came from a girl, just 13 years old.  And by the end of game four of the World Series, it was just the first of several strikes that made Mo’ne Davis the advertising world’s latest pitchwoman. 

Mo'ne Davis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2014

Mo’ne Davis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2014

         To say Davis has had a good year would be as much of an understatement as saying Derek Jeter did nothing remarkable this season. As a pitcher for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons Little League team, she not only took her fellow players to the Little League World Series, she became the first young woman to pitch a shutout in the series.  In the process she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. 

        She’s a chief marketing officer’s dream product endorsee.  The challenge however, is how does a brand align itself with such a story maker without coming off as taking advantage of her good fortune for commercial gain?  After all, she’s still a child.  Complicating matters are strict NCAA endorsement rules should she one day become a college athlete. 

Mo'ne Davis is "Throw Like a Girl"

Mo’ne Davis is “Throw Like a Girl”

        Most marketing officers would use Davis to craft a story about their brand.  Chevrolet instead crafted a story about Davis.  It hired acclaimed film maker and renowned New York Yankees fan Spike Lee to create a short documentary about Davis, her coach, and her family.  The documentary called “Throw Like a Girl” makes no direct product pitch.  It does however feature a new Chevy Malibu in the closing scene with a full screen tag line, “Chevrolet celebrates Mo’ne Davis and those who remind us that anything is possible.”

        Chevy also broke down the footage into 60-second ad that aired throughout game four after she threw out the first pitch.

       The documentary and ad together loosely follow’s Richard Baggozi’s Theory of Trying by making the viewer think about their own attitudes of success and failure.  In this case, one’s attitude toward trying is leveraged by Davis’ story of success.  It’s a powerful psychological framework f0r influencing attitudes towards success and the beliefs that it can actually happen. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

        But more important, the campaign is an example of transformational communication.  Instead of using information to affect a consumer decision, it uses emotion.  By forming a positive feeling with Mo’ne Davis’s story, the viewer also forms a positive association with the brand who helped showcase the story—in this case a car company that  wants to transport people to their dreams.

        It’s not just a clever strategy, Chevy also used smart tactics.  It spread the “Throw Like a Girl” ads in a flight throughout the night’s World Series game to ensure broad exposure.  Additionally Chevy integrated the message across its social media channels. (Figure 1)

        The strategy by Chevrolet speaks clearly as to how marketers are embracing brand journalism as a tool to reach and engage audiences in new ways.  Davis threw the perfect pitch, but Chevrolet brought us along for the ride—with its badge on the tailgate.

The Ads of World Cup… Move Over Super Bowl

14 Jun

World Cup Collage

              For decades, advertising in America’s NFL Super Bowl has long been considered the grand prize for the world’s biggest brands.  American football has just been left in the locker room.

                If one measures viral video sharing, World Cup Soccer has already won the trophy.  Unruly Media tracks social media movement of advertisements.  Its data shows the top-five World Cup ads have already drawn more than 6.1 million shares worldwide.   By comparison, the top-five Super Bowl XLIII ads drew 2.9 million shares.   The World Cup games have only just begun and their advertisements have already out-performed Super Bowl exposure by 210%.

McDonald's World Cup commercial

McDonald’s World Cup commercial

                 Much like the marketing in the Super Bowl, ad agencies and their brands are using some of the same theoretical communication concepts in targeting viewers.   Long time University of Minnesota advertising researcher John Eighmey likes to call the main concept “likeability of the ad.”   That is, if you like the advertisement, you’ll like the brand.  It plays off Balance Theory where congruity is formed between the viewer, the ad, and the advertiser.   That’s why so many of these ads are constructed to entertain rather than drive a hard selling proposition.

                One of the top World Cup ads that successfully plays off this theory comes from Nike.  It’s actually a short movie that uses Disney-like animation featuring soccer super stars Zlatan and Neymar Jr.  It’s an easily digestible good vs. evil schema that plays off of Nike’s well established brand of empowerment.

 

                The Bank of Chile has produced perhaps the most emotionally powerful ad of the games.  Chile’s soccer team is placed in the same World Cup division as the titanic teams of Netherlands and Spain.  It’s called the “death group.”  In this case, no men are better suited to sell the argument of fighting death than the very Chilean miners who stared at death and won.  The salient message from the Bank of Chile is that it is the bank which can help build impossible dreams.


                This kind of advertising forum is tailor-made for soft drink brands.  Pepsi has long aligned itself with youth—the Pepsi Generation.  In this ad Pepsi zeros in on its roots once again driving home the message that Pepsi provides the rhythm of fun to live in the moment.

                McDonald’s could have spent its World Cup marketing budget on selling burgers.  Instead it’s selling soccer and kids who are “Loving it.”  McDonald’s is making the bet that viewers will love this ad and love them back in return.

 

                Finally, Castrol is out to show that it too has a trick play up its cylinder head.  This video short pitting man against machine has already scored with fans who have viewed it more than 15 million times.

                 These are just five advertisements in a long list of brands vying for attention.   But they’ve already shown their viral communication power on the world stage.

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