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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.

NBC vs. BBC – The Olympics Ad Battle for Ratings Gold

9 Feb

Olympics Means Ends  Collage  

     Let the games begin.  As athletes from across the globe battle each other, there’s another global battle for viewers to watch them.

     NBC and the BBC have taken two differing approaches.  Both are grounded in successful communication appraisal theory to lead the viewer on a narrative journey to elicit an emotional response to watch broadcasts of the games.  But creatively, they appeal to differing emotions and values.   One appeals to humanity, the other to mythology.

     The BBC approach paints a narrative of battling the Gods.


      NBC takes a differing tactic, instead appealing to the narrative of human competition.

      Both promotional efforts are creative and emotionally effective.   But the BBC message is decidedly different than what American audiences are used to seeing and perhaps creates a stronger attitudinal conversion to watch the games.  

Figure 1 - Means-Ends Model

Figure 1 – Means-Ends Model

     The difference is easy to see when we break down the ads into a simple means-ends ladder analysis.   At the bottom of the ladder, both promotional ads are grounded with the attributes of athletic competition and sports.   But where they differ is in the narrative focal goals.  NBC takes a man vs. man approach, where the BBC chooses man vs. nature. (Figure 1)  Those opposing tracts create two powerfully different higher level value propositions, one based on unity and happiness, the other based on immortality.

      Arguably, the BBC approach takes the viewer on a deeper cognitive journey forcing one to think more intensely about the relationship between man and nature.  After all, it’s a given that men and women will defeat each other in the field of competition, but the real prize is whether they can defeat the Gods.   The elaborative journey of the “climbing the mountain” narrative combined with the higher level value of living forever is a powerful proposition.  

       The mountains are calling.  It’s time to watch.

Fire up Twitter—The Muppets are Driving to the Sferndy Boom (That’s Swedish Chef Speak for Super Bowl)

1 Feb


      Leave it to the Muppets to blow up the tired Super Bowl advertising cliche of talking babies, dogs, and bikini-clad women.

      Perhaps one of the more ingenious advertising campaigns for Super Bowl XLVIII is one that will take viewers of the big game on a virtual ride and let them interact with a brand in a different and entertaining way.

      The Muppets have climbed behind the wheel of the new Toyota Highlander for a road trip of misadventure to New Jersey and have invited all of us to come along.  They’ll live-Tweet during the game using the @Toyota Twitter account and the #NoRoomForBoring hashtag.  

Swedish Chef explaining how the Muppets are heading the "Sferndy Boom."

Swedish Chef explaining how the Muppets are heading the “Sferndy Boom.”

      This is exponentially more than just a piece of social media entertainment.  It’s actually part of a well-orchestrated and highly strategic effort on behalf of Toyota and its agency Saatchi & Saatchi to build awareness and market share for Toyota’s newly remodeled Highlander SUV.   The live-Tweeting coincides with a new commercial that will air during the game featuring the Muppets and former NLF star Terry Crews.  


        The campaign is strategic because it zeroes in like a laser beam on a specific target audience: busy, chaotic, upwardly mobile families.  Metaphorically, no family exemplifies that target audience more than the Muppets—America’s very definition of loveable dysfunction.    Furthermore, the adventure they drive Terry Crews through is the archetype of the great American family vacation, foibles and all.   The key branding message is that the new Highlander has room inside for everything but boredom. 

       Even the live-Tweeting during the game is no accident.  It fills what marketers now call “the space in-between” traditional and digital advertising.  In other words, allowing the consumer to customize their own brand experience—in this case interacting with the Muppets in social space.   Wisely, Toyota has even re-branded its Twitter page and its Highlander website with the Muppets so that consumers are given a consistent message with every interactive touch point.  (Figure 1) 

Figure 1 -  Toyota's Twitter and Highlander pages

Figure 1 – Toyota’s Twitter and Highlander pages

       In this regard, it’s a smart way to help Toyota differentiate itself from the other Super Bowl car advertisers by engaging viewers on multiple channels at the same time.   The Muppet’s live-Tweets will make Toyota part of the conversation during what will be among the highest Twitter user events of the year.  (24.1 million Tweets during Super Bowl XLVII)  It’s also an effective way to ensure that Toyota is getting more for its $4 million ad buy.

       It’s part of a new trend of what I call fake-celebrity endorsements.  Comic Will Ferrell created this new genre with the highly successful Ron Burgundy commercials  for the Dodge Durango.  It was all part of a highly integrated campaign to not only sell Dodges, but to cross-promote the new Ron Burgundy Anchorman movie.   Likewise, the Disney and the Muppets are using the same kind of cross-promotion for its new movie opening in March.

       Toyota hopes it sells Highlanders, too.   For the rest of us, it’s a fun and new way to experience the Sferndy Boom—or whatever you call it.

Three Great Examples of Using Instagram Video for Brand Engagement

20 Dec

Instagram Collage 12-20-13

   There’s no question Facebook still dominates among brands looking to engage customers in social media.   However, Instagram is also emerging as an effective channel to reach customers and brand loyalists in a space where research shows more of them are now living: on their mobile devices.

     Above all else, Instagram is an entertainment channel.  It allows users to tell a story with a simple picture and to see the stories other people are telling with their own pictures.  Earlier this year Instagram expanded the concept by allowing users to tell their stories in 15 second videos.   The new feature presents an opportunity for brands to visually engage people in new and powerful ways.   The challenge though, is to make them useful and entertaining.

    It’s instructive for brands to think of Instagram videos in the same way that television journalists think of “standups” in their stories.  In this respect, I’ll interject “Blotz’s First Law of Standups.”   The law is simple:  standups need to teach, demonstrate, or make a visual connection.   It’s followed by Blotz’s Second Law of Standups:  when in doubt, refer to Law #1.

    Three brands in the past 24 hours have posted Instagram videos that mirror this best practice and serve as an instructive tool.   The first is NASA.  Yes, a government agency.   NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center created a wonderful Instagram visualization that teaches the viewer how the Apollo 8 astronauts witnessed the “Earthrise” 45 years ago this week. 

    Motives Cosmetics takes the concept a step further by producing an Instagram video that demonstrates how to apply various shades of its eye makeup.

    Finally, Coca-Cola, no stranger to the power of Instagram, created a pre-holiday video to make a visual connection between Christmas and unwrapping a Coke.

    The connection between these Instgram videos and Blotz’s Law is not far-fetched.  It’s what many are now calling “brand journalism.”  It’s storytelling, just in a different format on a different channel that’s primarily used for entertainment.

When Hit The Fan, One Insurance Company Was Ready

4 Dec

    It shouldn’t have taken reams of quantitative research for Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to realize there were problems with the new federal healthcare exchange.  A simple log-in to would have told them all they needed to know.   Their customers, too.   Countless news headlines and endless congressional hearings were just the 1000 watt amplifiers channeling the feedback as loud as a Jimmy Hendrix riff.   

Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield commercial

Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield commercial

     That’s a critical business issue for a health insurance company that underwrites policies in South Dakota and Iowa, two states relying on the federal exchange to help connect people with health insurance policies now mandated by the Affordable Care Act.   A simple SWOT analysis would suggest that Wellmark BCBS faced not only a substantial threat to selling enough new policies, but also an amazing opportunity to position itself as the solution to the trouble-plagued federal website. (Figure 1)  

Figure 1

Figure 1

    Key to that opportunity is the fact that the ACA doesn’t require people buy insurance through an exchange—only that they have insurance.  Armed with that critical understanding, Wellmark BCBS and its agency Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis were able to quickly create a strategic campaign specifically targeting frustrated health insurance shoppers.  The key insight is that “things don’t always work like they’re supposed to.”  The desired response is to shop directly for health insurance at Wellmark BCBS. 

    Using humor to convey the message, Campbell Mithun has come up with a series of three episodic shorts and an integrated digital campaign to help steer customers away from the federal exchange.

     Ironically, BBDO Proximity is using virtually the same insight to support Minnesota’s healthcare exchange called MNsure.   Minnesota is one of 13 states that have by-passed the federal exchange to create their own health insurance marketplace.  In a previous post I explored how the MNsure campaign uses Minnesota folk lore icons Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox and positions them in several “things don’t always work as they’re supposed to” schemas to show that there are 10,000 reasons to buy health insurance.


    Like the Wellmark BCBS ads, the MNsure campaign also relies on humor.  BBDO’s Creative Director Brian Kroening says the idea was to cut through the healthcare clutter with a positive message. 

    “We wanted this to be a noticeable, simple message that there is hope for all Minnesotans. We wanted to break through and do it with a wink, but there is a very serious message and an action on the other end of it,” said Kroening.

    Both campaigns show that strategic thinking doesn’t happen by accident.  Neither does strategic execution. 

It’s Aaron – Packers’ Aaron Rodgers’ Strategic Use of Video to Extend Personal Brand

8 Nov


   On the football field, no one connects with receivers better than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.  Just ask the Minnesota Vikings.  But outside of Lambeau Field, Rogers has launched a campaign to connect with everyday people.

    It’s simply called, “It’s Aaron.”  

Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers talking with a Antwan from Milwaukee's Operation Dream

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talking with a Antwan from Milwaukee’s Operation Dream

    The heart of the campaign uses TV commercials and an accompanying website to funnel viewers into a series of online videos profiling three non-profit organizations and the young lives they impact.   The schema of each video has Rodgers making a surprise appearance with some of these children and giving his gift of time.  By doing so, Rodgers brings attention to a deserving child and a worthy cause while at the same time exposing another side of himself to a new audience outside of football.   By choosing video as a medium, it creates an accessible and lasting connection to viewers based upon its level of realism and emotion.

   The videos are not only strategic, the campaign itself is smart and has substantial groundings in communication research.  Carl Hovland in his well documented Yale studies in the early 1950’s established how source effects have powerful persuasive influences.  Rogers’s celebrity status makes him a credible source to extend awareness and legitimacy to the non-profits he’s giving exposure to.  

   But the persuasive strength of the videos utilizes more than just source effects.  It also forces the viewer form new attitudes by reconciling their own beliefs and expectations about the kids and the non-profits Rodgers is associating himself with.  It’s an extremely subtle but effective process that psychologist Martin Fishbein called Expectancy-Value Model.   Using Rodgers’ IndependenceFirst video as an example, the story line creates a EVM attitude conversion. [Figure 1] 

Figure 1

Figure 1

    The “It’s Aaron” campaign is a joint venture between Rodgers and Wisconsin personal injury attorney David Gruber.   By associating himself with Rodgers, Gruber too benefits from the source effects of Rogers’ celebrity status.   By combining their efforts, the two professionals benefit from a balance theory approach in associating themselves with positive messages about positive organizations. [Figure 2]  In the process, Rodgers and Gruber have created the strategic means of extending both of their personal brands to enable audiences to get to know them on a different level. 

Figure 2

Figure 2

    While based in theory, the videos themselves do tend to lack in execution.  It’s questionable whether the videos’ scattered focus and creative production can sustain a viewer’s attention for more than five minutes, especially as more consumers are accessing such content on mobile platforms where attention spans are shorter.

   But it’s clearly a campaign that didn’t happen by accident.  It’s more than just a simple series of videos.  The title may be “It’s Aaron,” but it could also be called “It’s Smart.”

#WolvesAreComing – How FSN’s New Timberwolves Marketing Campaign Came From Students at the U of Minnesota

1 Nov


    Big ideas don’t necessarily come from big agencies.  They come from wherever inspiration lies.  In the case of the new Minnesota Timberwolves image campaign, the big ideas came from a group of students at the University of Minnesota’s Strategic Communication Program.

    “Our idea was to kind to reach people like us,” said Kelsey Batkiewicz, one of the students who worked on the campaign.

    Batkiewicz’s class of nearly two dozen students divided into three teams and worked on competing strategies and pitches on the Timberwolves marketing campaign for Fox Sports North.  

    The creative concept of the thirty-second image spot she said was to have a live wolf  walking through a snow covered basketball court and past TV monitors containing fast paced imagery of Timberwolves highlights on FSN.  [Figure 1]    

Timberwolves Background 4

Figure 1 – Image from FSN Timberwolves promo

     “Well, the snow was actually made out of paper, which is really funny.  It looks so real in the commercial,” said Batkiewicz .   “And so it’s really that contrast from the cold winter to the awesomeness that’s inside the target center and what goes on during those games.”

    The promotional video as conceived by Batkiewicz’s team and produced by FSN uses no announcer’s track, only metaphorical imagery designed to make the viewer elaborate about  the fast-paced excitement of watching stars Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love play on television.  The communication strategy peels off the screen. [Figure 2] 

Figure 2

Figure 2

    Additionally, the students collaborated with FSN on creating a social media campaign and hashtags, one of which is #WolvesAreComing, to help create a social community for the buildup of the new season.

    The competition is a collegiate outreach effort of Fox Sports called the Fox  Creative University.   It collaborates with major universities in each of the markets where Fox Sports has a regional cable network to give students an opportunity to contribute to a real-world marketing campaign.  

U of M graduate Kelsey Batkiewicz and her classmates with the FSN Timberwolves broadcast team. (Courtesy: Dr. John Eighmey)

U of M graduate Kelsey Batkiewicz (first row, second from left) and her classmates with Tom Hanneman and the FSN Timberwolves broadcast team. (Courtesy: Dr. John Eighmey)

    “Everybody is trying to figure out what’s the future, what’s going to trend with the younger audience,” said Mike Dimond, Fox Sports North Senior Vice President and General Manager.  “It’s really an opportunity for us to learn as much as it is for them to learn.”  

    The students’ professor, Dr. John Eighmey said there was really no secret to their success.  “I just taught them the concepts, and they created their own ideas and ran with them,” said Eighmey.

    Dimond said his team at FSN was so impressed with the students’ input on the Timberwolves campaign that they’ve gone back to the U of M and Eighmey’s current strategic communication students to have them design the media campaign for the 2015 Hockey Day in Minnesota.

    “I don’t think I could have had any better experience during my time at the U of M,” said Batkiewicz.    “It was hands down the best.”

#    #    # 

Disclosure:  Fox Television Stations, where I am currently employed, along with Fox Sport North are both divisions of 21st Century Fox.  Additionally, I hold a Master of Arts degree in strategic communication from the U of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the same school attended by Ms. Batkiewicz.   I was neither paid nor encouraged by any of these organizations to write this blog post.

“Giving is the Best Communication” — The Year’s Best Ad From a Brand You’ve Never Heard of

29 Sep


   One of the most viral and powerful advertisements this fall doesn’t sell a product.  Instead, it sells an idea.  And in the process, it brilliantly illustrates the power of brand extension with a smart and strategic piece of communication.

    It comes from a cell phone company in Thailand named Truemove-H.  The three minute film spans a 30-year story, one that begins with an act of sympathy and kindness and ends with a surprise act of gratitude.   The film contains no product placement, no overt sales pitch, only the powerful idea of the value of paying life forward.  The message from Truemove-H:  “Giving is the best communication.” 

   Proof of the Ad’s power lies in the fact that it just surpassed 9-million YouTube views in one week. 

"Giving" by Thailand's Truemove H phone service

“Giving” by Thailand’s Truemove H phone service

   As a piece of communication, the film is a daring and brilliantly strategic tool to build brand salience in a hyper-competitive category. 

    In this case it effectively uses Appraisal Theory to connect emotion and mood to influence a specific action.   The film makes the viewer cognitively aware of how giving can have its own unexpected reward. (Figure 1)  The deep emotional response of empathy—even guilt—leads to the formation of new attitudes about how giving can impact people’s lives.   The desired action is to cause people to give more of themselves.   In this case, Truemove-H’s goal is to get people to give by calling more often.   But just as important, it seals an emotionally positive connection to the brand—a connection likely to be top of mind the next time a Thai consumer searches for new phone service. 

Figure 1 - Applying Appraisal Theory to Truemove-H's "Giving" advertisement.

Figure 1 – Applying Appraisal Theory to Truemove-H’s “Giving” advertisement.

    It takes a powerful brand to communicate with this kind of boldness.  Coca-Cola is one of the few North American brands willing to leverage its brand values to encourage social change.  One of its best recent examples is a campaign that originated in South America to encourage random acts of kindness.

    In a recent post, I wrote how computer chip maker Intel used Appraisal Theory to force people to make an emotional conversion to empower young women across the globe.  Like Truemove-H, the campaign did not feature a single product placement or sales pitch.

   Together they are three examples of strategically smart communication campaigns that entice the viewer to make a powerful emotional response to a brand goal. 

    Gratefully, in each case no operators are standing by.

Have a Coke, Dinner, and a Tweet — Coca-Cola’s Live Integration of Advertising and Social Media.

10 Sep

     Across Europe, Coca- Cola is asking people to share more than just a Coke.  In doing so it has created an ingenious campaign that not just extends its brand value but has also increased social engagement.

     Key to the campaign is Coca-Cola popping the bottle cap on the insight that in Romania, 60% of people don’t eat meals together.  Instead, they eat alone in front of the TV.   With the help of ad agency MRM Worldwide-Romania, Coke created a series of TV ads around the theme of “Let’s Eat Together.”  Central to the ads was the agency and Romania’s Pro TV inserting live Tweets into the commercials, many of them invitations for people to come over for dinner. 

    In a matter of weeks, hundreds of live Tweets aired in the commercials and by Coca-Cola’s account the campaign earned more than a million social media impressions. 

     The campaign has expanded now to Italy where celebrity chefs created meals for total strangers all with the goal of getting people to sit down together to share a meal.

     Of course, the strategy of the campaign is to boost sales by increasing rate of use.  Coca-Cola has been exceptionally effective getting consumers to associate Coke with happiness.  In this campaign, Coca-Cola is encouraging people to not just share a Coke during a pleasurable moment, but during dinner.  In the process it has also encouraged them to share the experience on social media. 

     It’s a powerful brand extension executed wonderfully by a powerful brand.   Who’s hungry?

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