Social Media

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Some stories are just too good not to follow and share. This one has two parts. The first is about badvertising — a creative concept that should have been killed by the agency before it ever reached the client. The second is about social media being wildly unpredictable and entertaining.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

When ad and social media campaigns go bad.

Adweek’s Ad Freak does an admirable job of presenting both accounts, going so far as to question whether the first one is worst campaign of the year. The badvertising is for the product of a new start-up company called Energy Sheets. You probably remember a similar product —breath freshening strips that you drop on your tongue. The effect is a hit of super-concentrated mouthwash triggered as the strip instantly dissolves. Presumably, Energy Sheets delivers the equivalent of a 5-hour energy shot via a similar quick hit. Incredibly, LeBron James is a key investor.

The entire campaign relies upon a dumb double entendre, “I Take A Sheet In The ______,” to include the pool (Caddyshack flashback anyone?), the library, and in an ad featuring the hot rapper Pitbull, on the stage. Even if you appreciate bathroom humor, as Adweek notes, do you want to promote a product that you put in your mouth with a headline that “references defecation?”  Can’t wait for the “Who gives a sheet?” gift cards.

On such dubious footing, it makes perfect sense that Energy Sheets would work with retailers like Wal-Mart to leverage the popularity of Pitbull via a social-media based contest. Like your favorite Wal-Mart store on Facebook and win a visit to that store by Pitbull. Sounds okay in theory, but the wild world of social media always has room for the unpredictable and unexpected. Enter one David Thorpe, a writer for the Boston Phoenix, who decided to have a little fun. He and a friend researched the most remote Wal-Mart store in the chain store’s chain and launched their own social media campaign to send Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska, reachable only by plane or ferry. Already at 60,000 likes and climbing fast, the Kodiak Wal-Mart is looking more and more like the destination for Pitbull, who calls himself Mr. Worldwide. If that happens, Pitbull will have to reorient himself from hot, steamy Latin rhythm dance clubs to arctic landscapes. However, in the process, he may be able to finally answer the question, “Does a polar bear sheet in the woods?”

Update: Wal-Mart has a winner. Looks like Pitbull had better start packing his parka and lined boots for Kodiak, AK. As they used to say in the old Shake and Bake commercials, “And I helped.”

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The holiday season opened with a very black Black Friday punctuated by pepper spray and other crazed shopping ugliness. Now, it is winding down with a water cooler moment delivered via a lone FedEx driver and YouTube.

If you have yet not seen the clip, taken by the surveillance camera of a customer whose delivery of a Sanyo monitor was shot put over a driveway gate, here it is.

Hard to tell what was going through the driver’s head — a tight timetable that did not correlate with the backlog of packages in his van, class warfare envy that the package recipient lives in a gated home and he doesn’t, the turbo ingredients of his 4th energy drink of the morning. . .could be just about anything. If he has shared those thoughts with FedEx, they have not shared them with the world. Here is a link and a blogpost to FedEx statements since the video has gone viral. They have taken the driver off the streets, reassigning him within the company. That has triggered a secondary PR backlash judging by the posted comments — unemployed capable people are incensed that this clown still has a job at FedEx. Worse, as Corky notes: “No the delivery man isn’t working with customers any more, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t throwing packages around a warehouse somewhere. Most of us would be fired for doing something like that. FedEx, you are hurting your other employees by keeping one who does such public relations damage to your company.”

FedEx, normally the model of reliability and efficiency, has been challenged by the actions of one driver and its own HR policies.

FedEx, normally the model of reliability and efficiency, has been challenged by the actions of one driver and its own HR policies.

So, yes, this delivery man will go through the rest of his life as that crazy Christmas delivery loon. However, the venerable FedEx has managed to make itself look foolish, too, by projecting a mysterious at best, clueless at worst image by responding to this viral video fiasco in a nebulous squishy-HR manner. FedEx made things right with that single customer, then managed to cause everyone else to question management judgment on what appears to be cut and dried grounds for dismissal. FedEx’s statement sounds vague in light of the video —“We do take this matter extremely seriously, and have initiated action in accord with our disciplinary policy, while respecting privacy concerns. Without going into detail, I can assure you that this courier is not delivering customer packages while we are going through this process.”

Just one more example that the people running America’s biggest corporations and institutions don’t understand crisis PR, let alone social media. It is sad when you think about how much money FedEx has invested in positive PR and advertising programs to build brand image. The initial damage done was inflicted by one poor excuse for an employee, but then management has compounded that damage by failing to act decisively to show that such outrageous conduct will not be tolerated.

And on that note, happy holidays and a wonderful and profitable 2012 to all!

Update: This is the 5th time I have had to repost this entry. FedEx lawyers must be working hard through YouTube to get all the viral video clips in the public domain taken down. It is a shame they did not put as much effort into their PR.

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The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

The Digiday Agency conference was a wealth of information on the ever-expanding digital ad world.

This week, it dawned on me that the world of digital advertising has become a morning commute from hell. I envision sun glare, tractor trailers overturned on off ramps, gaper delays, highway construction crews, crumbling infrastructure, and side streets not designed to handle the traffic they are swollen with.

What led me to that conclusion was sitting in on the excellent, well-attended Digiday Agency conference on Monday. Digiday assembled a sterling lineup of industry experts from the agency, publisher, and technology sides who made individual presentations, participated in panel discussions, and offered wide-ranging articulate opinions on the landscape of all things consumer digital advertising. I was probably the only business-to-business guy and one of the few creatives present, so I came to listen and learn. Here is what I came away with:

  • Things continue to morph faster than anyone can keep up with, let alone get ahead of. Digital now encompasses digital display, search, social, video/rich media, mobile, and more across a vast span of publisher and affiliate sites, plus desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphones that accept advertising. Throw in TV advertising that leverages and attempts to cross-link digital, social, etc. and you have media planning that often collapses under its own cleverness and targeting potential.
  • Analytics and metrics are overrated. One of the more incredible statements of the conference was a derisive one about digital display advertising measurement being still stuck in the stone age — specifically, the continued importance placed on click-through rates. The speaker noted that the demographic of those most likely to click on display ads is populated with low/no income types, online gamblers, and assorted tire kickers.
  • Video, Social, and Mobile are the future. Pretty obvious shift driven generationally and by tablets and smartphones. Of course, by the time that the ad industry sorts it all out, we will be on to other new technologies and tools.
  • Remarketing (retargeting) via browser cookies of those who visit advertiser web sites is only going to get bigger. A number of speakers used the funnel analogy of awareness advertising at the top and very targeted, directed messaging at the bottom to catch buyers when they are now informed and ready to make a purchase.  The theory is great. I just don’t believe that ads relentlessly targeting people whom cookie data has identified as hot prospects is going to be ultimately successful or a great idea. I still believe that the average person is suspicious of Big Brother approaches and privacy concerns trump marketing opportunities.
  • Digital media buying has been reduced to an RFP process. Publishers spoke about how hard it was working with agencies in digital space because the media planning contacts are all junior people and there is a revolving door between agencies. Not much time or room for relationship building and value adding when it becomes a “give me your best deal” RFP request.
  • Agencies are being courted as digital advertising venture capitalists. That seemed like a completely foreign concept to me because running lean and mean continues to be the norm outside of Madison Avenue; however, a number of shops spoke very intelligently on this subject.

Ironically, a couple of days after the conference, I came across this article on Adobe investing heavily in traditional agency territory and challenging Madison Avenue in the data sweepstakes of this space. There were a lot of technology companies like Google present at the conference, but Adobe wasn’t one of them. I suspect they will be heavily discussed when Digiday holds the west coast version of this event in Los Angeles in early 2012.

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Olive Garden has a social media firestorm on its hands.

Olive Garden has a social media firestorm on its hands.

Hell hath no fury like an 80-year-old Kiwanis Club member denied the chance to proudly display the American flag during the Club’s meeting/meal. Just ask the Olive Garden restaurant chain, which is learning unexpected lessons in handling crisis PR and social media wildfires following the incident and subsequent flare-up. Here is a link to one of the original news accounts, which took place at an Alabama location of the restaurant chain, not exactly the heart of PC policy USA.

Once this news hit the local news, it became a sound bite headline that spread nationally to places like the Drudge Report. By the time I saw the story, the Comments section on the page was loaded with angry posters, many of them Facebook commenters, who had already decided they were done eating another meal at ANY Olive Garden. What struck me was the explosion of the myth that social media, is wholly owned and operated by Generation Y. This is not your son’s (or grandson’s) Facebook network anymore. There are Hank Williams Jr. lookalikes looking like they just got the opportunity to defiantly stick it to ESPN. There are grandmothers forming a solidarity movement with the Kiwanis Club lady. The common theme was that an American corporation had knowingly decided to tread on Old Glory (or at least banish it from their premises) and each poster was weighing in as a former customer (with plans to virally make family and friends former customers as well). Ouch. Some posters noted that Olive Garden is part of a larger restaurant group and they named the other affiliated restaurant chains. The potential for business damage here remains huge.

Many Olive Garden customers are angry over the flag incident.

Many Olive Garden customers are angry over the flag incident.

At this point, I visited the Olive Garden Facebook page and corporate’s web site home page. Both contained the following explanation/apology intended to contain the damage and assure customers that this was not corporate policy and it truly was an isolated, unfortunate incident brought about by one manager or staffer acting in the absence of policy.

Official Olive Garden response to the "flag" incident.

Official Olive Garden response to the "flag" incident.

The following day, Olive Garden announced to the news media that the CEO would be personally apologizing to the Kiwanis lady. Given the heat and the fury out there, I suspect neither of these steps individually or together will be enough to undo the damage.

Lots of "tweets" about Olive Garden after the "flag" incident, too.

Lots of "tweets" about Olive Garden after the "flag" incident, too.

I predict that Olive Gardens will have to start couponing deals like crazy to win back lost customers and flying a flag twice the size of the ones at Perkins Pancake Houses outside all locations. This isn’t a case of isolated anecdotes about bad service or a cold meal. It is much more visceral and hits at the heart of American culture and patriotism. It isn’t clear what the decision-maker at the Alabama Olive Garden was thinking, but the default corporate answer to most such “special” requests these days is “No.” Sometimes the perpetual worry about offending “someone” clouds your ability to see you might wind up offending “nearly everyone.”

Does anyone still doubt the power of social media, especially when triggered by news media? Does anyone want to bet against civics lessons being added to corporate managerial training at every restaurant chain and retailer in America after this?

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This week’s post theme song is brought to you by Wilco. Also, two pretty well-known companies named Facebook and Burson-Marsteller.  You may not be familiar with the latter, but it happens to be one of the biggest and most respected firms in the PR field. While online privacy continues to be a hot button issue, incredibly Facebook used the matter as a cudgel to whack rival Google over social media turf wars. Burson-Marsteller allowed itself to be used as the messenger to plant the story via a tech blog without revealing who had hired them. What’s worse, the charge appears to be about activities Facebook was engaged in themselves.

There are plenty of accounts like this one about the nefarious deed and most of them read like inside baseball about the way Facebook and Google manage/leverage the privacy of their zillions of users. Increasingly, it is clear there are two eight hundred pound gorillas in the digital world and they don’t like sharing with each other. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s scooping up of Skype looks like an act of attention-grabbing desperation. More examples of mega corporations growing fat and stupid and ceasing to care about their many users. Where is the focus on innovation, new products, and exclusive benefits?

Anyone who has watched The Social Network should not be surprised that brilliant Mark Zuckerberg can also be vengeful Mark Zuckerberg. The aspect of this story that is most troubling to me, however, is Burson-Marsteller’s monumental lapse in judgment.

PR firms are trusted counselors and when they start acting like minions scurrying to do the bidding of Dr. Evil, it is time for self-flagellation. Public relations is all about taking positive messages to the market place, or when there are genuine problems, helping clients put the bad news in the best possible light (spin control if you will).  When a client asked you to anonymously badmouth a competitor, all the internal alarm bells should go off at once.

A few days ago, I came across this devastating piece of satire about my profession in ultimate humor site, The Onion —

“PR Firm Kills Innocent Child

‘Kills is a Harsh Word,’ Spokesperson Says.”

I thought it a little over the top that The Onion considered it not a stretch for public relations execs to murder a child in the park, then mount an upbeat campaign to downplay the crime. That was a few days ago. Ouch!

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Capture The Tag is the first great cross-media marketing campaign of 2011.

Capture The Tag is the first great cross-media marketing campaign of 2011.

This week, we got a call from long-time friend of the agency, Lee Wojnar. We and Lee go back a ways, to when he was a terrific professional photographer and early digital imaging pro with his own studio on 4th Street, just down from Philly landmark, Jim’s Steaks. After giving all that up (even the cheesesteaks) and saying Westward Ho for major responsibilities at Intel, Lee moved up a few times since, and is now VP of Marketing for the O Bee Credit Union in Tumwater, WA (the thriving credit union of the once but now defunct Olympia brewery). He has always done great work, and is always looking to leverage new technologies, but this week, he really hit his stride (although it isn’t an overnight success — he confided he has been putting this together for the past six months).

Newton helps Lee with occasional PR and such was the case for this new promotion he has launched with several partners in the Olympia area. You can read our official news release on “Capture The Tag” here.  But more significant is the instant buzz this promotion is generating. Incredibly, over 360,000 pages of coverage posted already according to Google.

Capture The Tag's announcement has already generated over 360,000 pages of coverage.

Capture The Tag's announcement has already generated over 360,000 pages of coverage.

The reasons are many. “Capture The Tag” is a fun variant of the old camp favorite, but updated for everyone armed with a smartphone. Nice cash prizes and iPads are the incentives to participate, but to win you have to collect all 30 Microsoft tags located at businesses around town (each tag leads to a new clue). Some of the tags are tags for that business, but there are also 10 tags devoted to short videos on personal financial education. To win, you also need to be present at the drawings of confirmed 30 tag collectors, at a large-scale party and networking event.

The promotion leverages latest technology and social media to attract Generation X participation (a demographic group sought by so many businesses, but not easily cracked). Lee chose Microsoft tags because he preferred the added functionality they offer over QR codes. Microsoft tags are 2D barcodes that connect real world objects to information and interactive experiences when scanned via the Tag Reader app on smartphones. In addition to the “Capture The Tag” web site, the tags lead participants to Facebook and Twitter pages and YouTube videos.

“Capture The Tag” also leverages traditional media. Two of the sponsors are the leading local radio station, 94.5 ROXY, and the leading daily newspaper, The Olympian.

The real meat lies under the surface, however. “Capture The Tag” feeds useful personal financial tidbits to make the audience smarter about credit, fraud, and saving, lessons in short supply these days. The promotion and the educational component have the backing and sponsorship of the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.

The ultimate purpose is local economic development. The promotion brings participants into the “bricks and mortar” locations of 20 area businesses to collect their Microsoft tags. “No purchase necessary” to scan their tags, but while in these shops and restaurants, game players just might buy a thing or two. Or come back again (and again).

Last year, Old Spice scored big points as a marketing campaign that leveraged new and old media in clever ways on a national level. With “Capture The Tag,” O Bee Credit Union just showed you can do the same on the local level, connecting a tech audience with local businesses, teach a few financial lessons, and have great fun in the process. It is wildly original, but deserves to be copied, so its benefits can trickle out to many more communities. We always knew Lee Wojnar was smart and creative. But he just hit a tape measure “thinking outside the park” home run.

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Twitter remains the most intriguing and confounding of social media sites.

Twitter remains the most intriguing and confounding of social media sites.

Of all the social media platforms, Twitter remains the most intriguing and the most confounding. What can you say in 140 characters? A lot if you are a good self editor. But half the fun of Twitter is following drunken celebrities who tweet first, retract or paraphrase later.
Twitter is not for everyone, but it is certainly a great diversion for everyone with a mobile device and time to kill. Over 100 million new users jumped on the little birdie bandwagon this past year. What is Twitter’s real value? Whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Twitter just got a major round of investment bringing its Wall Street valuation to $3.7 billion. Not bad for a company that has yet to turn a profit and only sold $50 million in ad revenue in 2010.
I am concerned here with Twitter’s marketing value, however. I have been trying to get my head around Twitter for a long time and while I appreciate its many virtues, I am still perplexed by what it all means. When I first started this process, I tried to read as much as I could on the subject of Twitter. Then, I stumbled onto a videotaped guest appearance by the CEO of Twitter at a tech lunch and replayed on C-Span of all things. I listened intently and came away just as mystified as when I tuned in. Despite an interesting talk, and a lively Q and A with Twitter users, its CEO failed on the 5-minute elevator pitch. After a year as a Twitter user myself, I see why.
There are numerous examples out there where Twitter’s real-time tweeting has been an essential news communications tool for street level eyewitness reporting on everything from civilian demonstrations in Iran to the Mumbai hotel terrorist attacks. In the entertainment world, every reality show cast member has a Twitter account and an absolute compulsion to call unwarranted attention to themselves. A-list celebrities use Twitter to self-manage and self-publish announcements about themselves. Conan O’Brien has elevated one-liners to an art form while transitioning from the Tonight Show, to Twitter, back to his new cable show.
But are there any great marketing case histories on Twitter that can serve as business development models? I have read a few, such as the coffee shop owner who was able to respond to one of his regular customers (and who happened to be a Twitter account holder), who tweeted his order several blocks away prior to arrival at the drive-through window. After that, the coffee shop owner started reaching out to other followers in his zip code, then tweeting daily specials to everyone.
Since conducting my own year-long user experience experiment, I have little beyond dabbling and diversion to show for it. I have attracted 558 followers at last count, which sounds impressive until you routinely run across others who join your parade who have 28,932 followers of their own. Who are all these people and what motivates them to follow anyone’s feed on Twitter? As Twitter has grown up, it is easier than ever to find like-minded, hobby sharing, sports fandom in common, fellow tweeters to connect with. My proudest moment is when I started following Yoko Ono’s Twitter feed and she returned the favor. That balloon deflated quickly, however, when I learned she graciously follows every single person who follows her. By contrast, Conan O’Brien randomly selected one young fan from over 2 million of his followers to follow (the related tweets about that decision were more comedy grist).
My own tweets tend to fall into several typical user categories: smartass comments, sports team cheers, political rants, music fan appreciation, and via AddThis, a link to this blog’s latest posts. I have met some intriguing people from all over the world. Some have great non de plumes like Funkwell Jazzbacon (since it’s Twitter, maybe that’s non de plumage). Some of them are clearly on Twitter for purposes of commerce, although in 140 characters and brief follow-up messaging there is not a room for high-pressure or even low-pressure selling.
There are all kinds of apps, platforms, tricks, and techniques to help you build a bigger and more engaged base of followers on Twitter. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way by just launching a Twitter account, being yourself, and having some fun.

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Everyone’s an art director. That’s a lesson Gap Inc. just learned the social media way in rolling out a new corporate logo via its Facebook page. If Gap was expecting everyone to just click the Like button, they received a rude surprise.
If you’re just catching up with the story, here is the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on it, already updated since the initial posting. Gap proudly introduced a new logo, then quickly rescinded it, following an avalanche of negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Lots to talk about here. Our agency has branding and corporate identity conversations all the time with clients. Introducing a new or updated logo is always a dicey proposition. First, it is very expensive to replace all those stationery items, signs, packaging, product labels, vehicle wraps, sales literature, trade show exhibits, coffee mugs, videos, web content, Powerpoints, not to mention emotional attachments that customers and employees have with the old logo. Typically, it is not a minor undertaking for an established brand. We tend to not recommend such changes unless there is an acquisition or merger that dictates it, a problem in the marketplace that is hurting the brand, or another really compelling reason to reinvent the brand.
From the outside, none of those reasons seem to apply to Gap’s new logo. However, all of us are on the outside and not privy to what led to management’s decision to explore a new look and to the discussions that took place between Gap and its professional design agency. The key word here is professional, because once the new logo entered the realm of social media, everybody and his brother weighed in. Some of those having fun were other graphic designers, some were upset customers, but most of those stomping on the new mark were casual observers at the scene of the accident. The new logo is not ugly, but the reaction to it sure was.
I can empathize with the new Gap logo team, because we once explored a range of new product faceplate designs for a client, two were chosen, then those two were set up in the company’s lunchroom to be voted on by everyone from the President to the cafeteria staff. Good creative is not a democratic process. Design by committee usually ends in a Dilbert cartoon. Yikes!
What this really smacks of is a repeat of the New Coke introduction. Consumer reaction was swift and terrible. Old Coke made an instant reappearance. New Coke was poured down the drain. Is the new Gap logo an improvement over the old? That’s an entirely subjective question especially when most people see no good reason to change the old. Sometimes well-crafted market research points the way before change is undertaken so painful mistakes can be averted before they reach the marketplace.
If there is anything that customers want to change at nearly every retailer, it isn’t the logo. I suspect it is the customer service experience and finding ways to dramatically improve it.

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While most of us in marketing are working hard to figure out how social media can be leveraged to help commerce, build brands, and add jobs, youth is still utilizing Facebook, Twitter, and other apps as a way to fight boredom and generate excitement through instant buzz events. There is some indication that the recent flash mob violence in Philadelphia began innocently enough with a couple aspiring artists trying to create a crowd for street dance performance. The problem is that crowds are tough to control and real people were hurt by real thugs. And real damage was done to real retail stores. And real challenges are now faced by the Philadelphia police and the City’s tourism team.

Enter this past weekend’s attempt to have some silly fun on an international scale — 150 cities, 150 public parks, 150 pillow fights with anyone who through Facebook, Twitter, etc. wanted to join the fray.

Here is a video of one of the larger gatherings from NYC’s Union Square:

And here is my own first-person take on the proceedings. Earlier in the day, my family had walked around Union Square. It was hard to walk through Union Square because there was an outdoor market filled with food and craft and art vendors. We opted to enjoy the glorious weather in Central Park instead. Returning late afternoon, we exited the Lexington Avenue subway stop just in time to see the crowd gathered in the park armed with big fluffy pillows. Not sure we heard a whistle, but we suddenly saw a sea of white, especially airborne feathers. It was a fascinating spectacle. Including watching a NY eccentric (he seemed to be too well dressed to be homeless) pull a discarded pillow from a nearby trash can and discard it again with a disgusted look.

And here was the wind-down/aftermath.

The aftermath of NYC's pillow fight

The aftermath of NYC's pillow fight

People were supposedly asked not to bring feather pillows, but a lot of pillow-fighters missed that public service message. One girl with very frizzy hair walked past looking like she had been buzz bombed inside a chicken coop. There were also a lot of young people having a genuinely good time. Plus, many amused bystanders. There was a hell of a mess for NY City’s streets department to clean up. And as I walked around Union Square, there were still outdoor market merchants breaking down their tables and wares, covered with a thin layer of feathers. No one said commerce in the new digital economy was going to be predictable or easy.

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