Not Every Occasion is an Occasion to Advertise

Throughout the course of a year, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to link with current events or noteworthy commemorations, through messaging on social platforms. Anything from Mother’s Day, to the Golden Globe Awards, to mocking this year’s frigid winter can be considered fair game. In fact, no doubt one of the biggest events for brands to participate in is coming up on February 2nd – Super Bowl XLVIII. Eyes will be on you too, Oreo.

Inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements. With proper thought and planning, most notably a smart creative team, such endeavours can work beautifully.

However, marketers and agencies need to realize that certain events or commemorations are so poignant, so important in our history, that they are best left untouched by brands. Or, at the very least, handled in a much different and more dignified manner than they are (for the most part) today.

The latest example occurred earlier this week, with the Martin Luther King Day holiday in the United States. Martin Luther King Junior was one of the most important figures in the history of the country, providing hope and leadership in the advancement of African-American civil rights – in the most dignified manner possible.

Yet what happened this past Monday? Many brands posted MLK Day-related content on their social accounts, with a number of brands tying in promotional messages.

Say what?

I’d like to think that most marketers and agencies have good intentions, but I must admit at times I have my doubts. MLK Day, the anniversary of 9/11, natural disasters and conflicts that we now bare closer witness to through social media – it’s becoming all too common for brands to fumble their way through posting content in relation to them.

In most cases, there is nothing to be gained for a brand in linking to such noteworthy events. In fact, brands place themselves at risk of (justifiable) backlash for their insensitivities.

I repeat: inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements

Now, that being said, there is another approach worth considering. In fact, it’s actually quite a simple one.

Do something that matters.

Companies could make a donation to a charity that is somehow related to the event or commemoration, or better yet, encourage employees to volunteer in the community. Yes, contributing to a charity can be communicated through social media, but that’s not the point.

Not every occasion is an occasion to advertise.

Embracing Discomfort

oreoSometimes, I wonder if brands need to become better adept at embracing a certain level of discomfort.

What do I mean by that?

In my view, brands that are bold and openly portray their core values tend to build a greater sense of affinity amongst customers. People gain an understanding of what the brand, and company, stand for – and as a result, to a certain extent at least, potentially view the brand in a more positive light.

At the same time, in making a brand’s values known, no doubt there will be people – including current customers – who don’t share the same values and become turned off as a result. They may, in fact, be so vehemently opposed to a brand’s values that they stop being a customer.

And that’s where embracing discomfort fits in.

As a brand steward, are you prepared to risk alienating some people from your brand by conveying what your brand truly stands for?

Or, a related question, are you prepared to take a stand in sharing your values, potentially drawing a stronger connection and sense of loyalty from those who can relate to your values?

Over the last couple of years, a number of brands have come out in support of lesbian and gay rights. Starbucks, Oreo, and Gap to name a few. While it is sad, very sad in my opinion, that open support for LGBT rights is such a polarizing topic – these brands both embraced and made their values very clear, amidst backlash and boycott threats from a (thankfully) very small minority of the population. To these brands, I say bravo.

From a different lens another great example is Patagonia, truly a values-led business. Over the last couple of years, Patagonia has executed holiday advertising campaigns encouraging people NOT to buy their products. Yes, you read that correctly.

Why? Each jacket Patagonia produced leaves behind two-thirds it’s weight in waste, which contradicts Patagonia’s brand promise of investing in the environment.

There is no doubt that Patagonia embraced discomfort in moving forward with these bold campaigns. However in doing so, they reinforced their values, likely building and strengthening trust amongst customers.

What does your brand stand for? Are you prepared to embrace discomfort?

The Long Run: Thoughts on Effective Social Media Execution and Marathons

IMG_1917As I write this, I am just under one month away from the Chicago Marathon. It will be my second marathon, having completed the Vancouver Marathon in 2007. It’s also a bucket list item for me – one that I am looking forward to putting a checkmark beside!

In thinking about how I approach marathon training, I have come to realize that there are a number of parallels with respect to developing a social media strategy. No, I am not thinking about social media while I run, at least usually as sounds from Songza occupy my head! But I thought I would share a quick comparison here.

Proper Planning is Required

Unless you are a uber-athlete, you don’t just wake up in the morning and decide that you’re going to run a marathon today. Well, you could, but that certainly isn’t advised! At the same time, a brand shouldn’t just execute social media in an ad hoc manner.

Experienced marathon runners will tell you that a planned and disciplined approach is a necessity in preparing for the big race. Ideally, runners set up a training calendar months in advance, encompassing regular runs and workouts leading up to the race – geared towards the objective of completing the race by a specific time.

Brands need to approach social media with similar rigour, first establishing goals and then developing a plan focused on achieving the goals. An ideal framework includes an overview of strategies and supporting tactics, along with a detailed calendar.

Perseverance and Dedication

Most days, I absolutely cannot wait to go for a run. The mere thought of running is enough to energize me. However, I will admit, I do have mornings in which my bed feels a bit too comfortable, and an extra kick is required to get my feet onto the trails or pavement. When these mornings happen, I again think about my end goal of running the marathon, and I find a way – knowing that hard work in the short-term will lead to long-term gains.

Similarly, social media also requires perseverance and dedication. It takes time and resources for brands to develop the right infrastructure for their social activities, and even more time and resources to develop content and cultivate healthy communities of ardent fans and followers. At times it may seem overwhelming as community engagement builds, and brands need to respond to and engage with more and more people. But remember, each awesome experience you provide for individual people through social represents another step towards nurturing longterm brand affinity.

It Takes a Community

Yes, in many respects, preparing for a marathon is a solo pursuit. However, maintaining a focus through the long hours of training is a lot easier when you have a community of family and friends supporting you. It really can be a team effort, leading right up to the cheering as you cross the finish line.

For brands, having an active presence on social media is one thing. Developing a community of ardent fans and supporters, people who will actually advocate for the brand, is quite another. There are many ways through which brands can create community advocacy on social media – common to them all is a genuine, personable approach. One that makes brands likeable.

Tracking and Measurement

In training for a marathon, I benefit immensely by tracking my runs – including measures such as distance and pace. Doing so enables me to monitor my progress, with the end goal of completing the race within a specific timeframe in mind. If my pace doesn’t match what I need to achieve in training to attain my desired goal, then I either need to ramp up my training or recalibrate my race expectations.

At the same time, it’s critical for brands to track social media progress and activity, with end goals always in mind. For example, if a target has been established such as attaining 60% share of voice by year end, and the brand is currently only tracking at 40%, then the plan should be reviewed and perhaps adjusted. Investing in measurement and analysis goes a long way towards ensuring desired outcomes are achieved.

Long-Term Focus

A marathon is 42.195 kilometres. That’s a long distance! Don’t even consider running it as a sprint, or you’ll soon be out of energy.

Similarly, social media should be a long-term investment.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Lipsman.

Pour Me a Guinness, Please

For the most part, beer commercials are very formulaic in nature. The recipe tends to be quite simple. Start with some very beautiful women, throw in a wild adventure, and let’s not forget a dramatic voice-over, and then add a product close-up with a tagline that is completely meaningless and unoriginal. And there you have it. Air the spot during a football game, hockey game, or another event that speaks to the young male demographic – and what has really been accomplished? Likely not much.

Then there’s Guinness.

Guinness has a track record of very creative, evocative campaign executions that truly stand out, and one of their latest ads is truly no different.

Hat tip to BBDO New York for this gem. So far the commercial has been viewed over two million times on YouTube since being posted five days ago. I’ve also seen it on my Facebook feed several times, shared by friends who don’t work in marketing or advertising and don’t typically share ads.

Why is this the case? Why has this particular ad drawn so much attention?

There are a few reasons, and lessons for marketers.

It Evokes Emotion

The ad itself is very inspirational in nature. It speaks to wanting to help others, in a manner that brings fun and joy into their lives. It also speaks to everyday people – the ad, in many ways, is grounded in a sense of reality that most beer commercials do not contain.

The Narrative is Simple and Relevant to the Brand

There wasn’t much dialogue needed for this commercial. “The Choices We Make Reveal the True Nature of Our Character”.  Making the choice to drink Guinness truly says something about you and what you stand for. It’s a simple as that.

Production Quality

The commercial itself truly is a work of art. It’s visually appealing. It’s like watching a dramatic, one-minute short story. It provides entertainment value.

Really, it’s another form of Brandtainment. Wouldn’t it be great if more brands took a similar approach to advertising? Imagine people wanting to watch commercials. What a concept.