Emerging Business Challenges

Amid the unprecedented uncertainty at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, every business faces new challenges. And no matter the industry or sector, these issues are serious and daunting to everyone responsible for bottom lines, workforces, and ongoing, organizational well-being.

But to one US company, this challenge must feel particularly personal. The nearly four decade old, Tempe-based audio-visual connectivity company Covid is now dealing with a business challenge that was entirely unforeseen when the quarter started …

About now, they must hear the travails of Corona beer and think, “you’re adorable.”

I’m sending them, and everyone else responsible for stoking the mighty engine of our economy, my best wishes for business success over the long term.

And personal health and safety in the short term.

The Virality of Topicality

If it hasn’t already, this video should soon pop up on your social streams. Posted to Vimeo just three days ago, “Be a Lady, They Said” has already racked up three million views with no signs of slowing…

The powerful, outraged copy came from a two year old blog entry written by Camille Rainville, a then undergrad at the University of Vermont who posted sporadically at writingsofafuriouswoman. Her words struck a chord and were widely shared over the net in January of 2018. Cynthia Nixon’s intensely measured read of that essay only makes them more viral.

This new video purportedly promotes Girls Girls Girls magazine. But the girlsgirlsgirlsmag.com URL simply leads to a web page featuring this clip and nothing else; no nav, no about, no other links.

You won’t find Girls Girls Girls magazine at your local newsstand … if you even have a local newsstand. The publication is a limited run promotional vehicle for New York and London based fashion photographer Claire Rothstein. About two years ago, Rothstein and Girls Girls Girls made waves with an editorial image of Rachel McAdams breast pumping while wearing Versace and Bulgari diamonds. But aside from that, it is largely non-existent as a publication. Its Facebook page hasn’t been updated in a year, although its Instagram feed gets regular updates of Rothstein’s imagery.

Rothstein’s aesthetic is decidedly couture: heavy on high-sheen luxury and fantasy escapism in the vein of Patrick Nagel. Her sensibility pervades this cut, with moving Rothstein style clips from high-fashion director Paul McLean. The edit also features imagery sourced (stolen?) from any number of movies, television shows, and news reports. It’s a trainwreck for rights and permissions but that’s not the point.

The point is self promotion. And riding the zeitgeist. And wow, does this piece do that.

Ryan Reynolds + Dogs = Ratings Gold

The Westminster Dog Show is pretty much the biggest event in the canine world. It began Monday morning and culminates this evening when some Havanese or Whippet or Shetland Sheepdog will be crowned “Best in Show.” You can’t begin to imagine the brushing involved, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Westminster Dog Show airs on FS 1, FS2, and the Fox Sports App. And they’d really like you to watch.

Enter Ryan Reynolds …

Fox paid nothing to have Ryan Reynolds promote their event. That’s because Reynolds bought a stake in his Portland based spirit early in 2018, and ever since, has lent his considerable charm and wit to promoting it.

Reynold’s brilliant approach to video-based brand expansion for Aviation Gin uses clever cross promotions and collaborations with everyone from Samsung to Virgin Atlantic to Peloton … or actually, just the actress from that much maligned Peloton commercial. He doesn’t buy media, he earns it. And more importantly, he earns audiences. So advertisers like Fox Sports eagerly sign up to partner with him.

Fox Sports wins, Aviation wins, and those of us who just like a smart-assed charmer? We win too.

These simple, clever, quickly-produced brand videos, keep both Reynolds and his investment top of mind with his gin-drinking audience.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of these YouTube comments …

Well played you clever Canadian. Well played.

This Year’s Lasting Super Bowl Advertising Lesson

Now that the game is over and all the teasers and tie-ins have played out, that great arbiter of Super Bowl commercial rankings — USA Today’s Admeter — has declared a winner: Jeep’s charming and hysterical “Groundhog Day.”

Bill Murray killed it. So Jeep killed it. But Highdive? The agency that created this spot? They totally killed it.

Just not for the obvious reason.

Sure, their new spot is a note-perfect comedy gem, a meticulous recreation that adds wonderful new gags. It’s a spot we all wish we had done.

But just one year ago, Highdive was a relatively young startup agency with a handful of employees that somehow produced a :60 for the Super Bowl.

And their spot got savaged on social media.

Their ad featured a Dr. Martin Luther King sermon, artfully edited to highlight Ram Truck’s tagline “Built to Serve.” Critics cried foul, pointing out that MLK’s full remarks specifically argued against aggrandizing yourself by buying fancy cars. With Black Lives Matter very much in the headlines, their debut spot was roundly panned for being tone deaf.

So Highdive had their moment in the sun. And failed. Very publicly.

Many have written about the lessons of failure, about how much adversity can teach you for the next time. And all too many creative people lose heart when critics pounce, believing their chance is over, they missed, there will be no next time.

Happily, Highdive didn’t. And now here they are, just one year later, occupying the highest perch in the advertising landscape. They took the hit, learned from it, and bounced back with a vengeance.

And a groundhog.

Kudos to them. May many more good things lie ahead.

PS: One other lesson from this year’s ads? If you want a quick primer on how music shapes viewer emotion, pay attention to how the score and SFX of this one and this one generate inspiration and the start and stop of this one drives the comedy. Wonderful craftsmanship.

Visually Branding Seat Belts for Safety

A brilliant new driving safety campaign out of New Zealand badges injuries to stress the importance of wearing seatbelts. Every year, ninety Kiwis die because they weren’t wearing theirs during a crash, but a new campaign from Clemenger BBDO sets out to address that for their client, the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Because younger men are less likely to use one, the agency partnered with VICE to find younger New Zealanders whose lives were saved because they were wearing their seat belt during a crash. Hundreds of survivors responded and ultimately, the agency chose ten for their campaign.

To visually brand the idea, the agency brought in the FX makeup team PROFX to recreate each victim’s crash injuries. Using post-crash photographs, they recreated the physical imprint of the belts on the survivors for a powerful print and outdoor campaign. The final portraits feature survivors wearing their seatbelt imprints with palpable appreciation.

The survivor pictured above is Liam, whose car was T-boned by a truck. On the Belted Survivors website, we learn he woke up from a coma just in time to witness the birth of his daughter. Story details like this add a powerfully human and visceral urgency to the work’s imagery.

The NZ Transport’s message aims to change the perception that buckling your seatbelt is only for kids or old people. With powerful visuals like these, they should be very successful at achieving their goal. This is powerful work, beautifully and memorably done.

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Add Another One to the Advertising Disruptors List: Design

Whether you think Elon Musk’s new electric pickup looks badass or just plain bad, you can’t dismiss its market impact. As of late last night, Tesla had signed 250,000 pre-orders for the Cybertruck. That’s a quarter of a million in less than a week for an unproven, forty thousand dollar vehicle promoted with just one event in Los Angeles.

TEsla

Just. One. Event.

No ad campaign: no celebrity endorsers or catchy licensed pop songs or feature film product placements. Somehow, Tesla’s Cybertruck currently drives twice the Google searches of Ford’s stalwart F150.

Admittedly, the pre-order commitment only amounts to one hundred dollars but still, this is not how things generally work in automotive advertising, a sector famous for gargantuan promotional budgets. Besides, at a Benjamin each, that’s twenty five million dollars in deposits.

That’s not to say the look of the Cybertruck is universally loved, far from it. “A Toblerone on wheels”…”Someone take away Elon’s Lego’s”…”Like it’s from a racing game on Nintendo 64.”

But the look of the Cybertruck is definitely universally discussed. It’s singular design dominates late show monologues and automotive blogs. It’s also launched a thousand memes; unsurprising given Elon’s love for that medium. In fact, one popular online theory contends “Elon only made the Cybertruck because he loves memes so much.”

Musk’s achievement builds on a product trend that James Dyson and Target’s designer collaborations have worked over the past few decades. In our increasingly visual culture, anything that stands out draws outsized attention. And the Cybertruck certainly stands out.

Admittedly, few advertising clients would dream of designing such an aggressive, shareworthy product, but if the Cybertruck isn’t an argument against the fading relevance of mass market invisibility, nothing is.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving,

The Data Confirms It: In a Contentious, Divided Society, Joy and Love Still Rule

I’ll admit. I’m a sucker for happy endings. I love those viral clips that demonstrate human kindness and thoughtfulness writ large. Nothing is as contagious as uncontrollable laughter.

Still, it’s easy to feel bummed out these days, particularly if you use social media. Most recognize how Facebook gamed our feeds to garner more attention, and in the process fiercely stoked polarization to the detriment of our democracy. It’s depressing to see how quickly even benign social media comments get weaponized into political spew. And political debate on the nightly news rarely elevates beyond schoolyard name-calling. Given this news environment, it’s only natural to consider our society as little more than a tumble of feral, clawing tomcats in a bag.

And then, right at the moment when hope fades, along comes a day-brightening bit of undeniable evidence proving the exact opposite.

Of the 3,019 emojis in the Unicode Standard version 12.0. the top two used are Face with Tears of Joy and Heart: 😂 and ❤️.

Those are the two symbols we reach for more than any other: emojis symbolizing happiness and love. Those are the emotions we express the most. And yes, I consider that very good news indeed.

We are so loving and supportive with our emoji

I realize emoji choices aren’t long on anger or division, but don’t harsh my mellow here. I like that we have a language predicated on love and support for each other.

Admittedly, I don’t use emoji myself. I have nothing against them and will frequently type “heart” or “thumbs up” but I prefer the written word. No judgment, just preference. And I won’t deny that strings of these colorful hieroglyphics brighten up many an Instagram response.

If you’re interested in seeing where your favorite comes in on the frequency count, visit Unicode’s Emoji Frequency page.

I’m simply going to enjoy this sunny Monday a bit more, knowing that perhaps we’re not all spittle-lipped hatebags after all.

I heart that. I heart that a lot.

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On Winning Friends & Influencing +800K Others

Teri Turner is an innovator in the world of social media, an influencer who has built an incredibly passionate and engaged following over the past five years. She’s a hard-working, network building, life embracing and affirming force of nature.

Happily, she’s also a friend. Last night, I had the incredible good fortune to interview her in front of 300 followers during the final scheduled appearance of her 23 stop national book tour. It’s not often you get to interview someone whose career trajectory serves as a primer in new media marketing.

Teri&d2

In recent years, it has become cliché how every brand seeks “authenticity,” but Teri’s “No Crumbs Left” brand personifies the power of exactly that. She did not start with a plan, she simply started, living and sharing her interests and expertise with others. A Facebook page led to Instagram posts, which in turn led to brand promotions and a podcast and a book tour; Teri produces an incredible amount of media content, learning and expanding to new platforms by simply “following the thread where it leads.”

Social media influencers matter in today’s marketing for one simple reason: recommendation marketing drives sales like nothing else. In Nielsen research, 92% of consumers cite recommendations from friends and family as the leading driver of purchase behavior.

A natural networker, Teri built a truly engaged following through DM’s and other direct online interactions. Early on, she collaborated with fellow social media personalities whose work interested her, an intuitive move that grew her audience. One collaboration was with Whole 30, when No Crumbs Left took over their feed for a week. That proved so successful, Whole 30 commissioned a No Crumbs Left cookbook. And that cookbook finally and firmly entrenched Teri as an Authority (currently available for fifteen dollars on Amazon, you will not find a better gift at a better price). As an authority, her website feels more like a media channel than a sales pitch as she relentlessly shares recipes, ideas, and inspiration.

As a social media Authority and Influencer, Teri’s in the unique position of choosing which brand partnerships she accepts. They must fit her sensibility and values. And her terms, like payment upfront. As she tells it, some large companies balk at why she won’t wait 90 days for payment. But as a small business person, that doesn’t work for her, and neither does having corporations set the terms. In the world of social influence, brands that want to leverage the incredible selling power of personal recommendation must embrace some new realities:

  1. Mass marketing approaches do not apply. Brands do not set the terms or dictate the message. But if they accept that and engage the right influencer, they will benefit tremendously.
  2. Brands can buy celebrity endorsements, but partnering with authoritative social media influencers and their audience relationships requires alignment more along the lines of a friendship than a standard business contract. It must be one-to-one.
  3. Participation is everything. Mass marketing broadcasts to large, passive audiences; influencer partnerships engage with smaller, far more engaged audiences. Any way brands can leverage that engagement builds affinity. And sales.

Social media influencer rules are being written and rewritten every day. And while it is woefully inefficient from a scalability perspective, for clients savvy enough to find the right relationships, this is a pathway to new, and far more engaged audiences for their brands.

Is it worth it? I think so. Spindrift, Pre beef, and Gotham Greens are now on our grocery lists, and we met all those brands through Teri.

You know, our friend, who recommended them.

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I Heart Pixar

Mostly for their amazing aptitude at capturing emotion in animation. Toy Story and Finding Nemo represent great storytelling, regardless of medium, and as a father, I will ever strive to be half the man Mr. Incredible was.

If you haven’t seen it, their latest release is a lovely, short form delight.

If after watching this you’d like to read a book that proves the lie in the incredibly unfair misinformation intentionally ascribed to this charming, and uniquely American breed of dog, a good place to start is horse veterinarian Vicki Hearne’s wonderful “Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog.” Reading it is both affirming and depressing, given the incredible media distortion callously ascribed to this breed.

Regardless, a short film like this is an uplifting way to launch the workweek. So Happy Monday.

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Not That You Asked…

My favorite part of the Super Bowl is not the commercials; it’s talking about the commercials on Monday with WGN’s Bill and Wendy. They’re not in advertising; they’re simply students of culture with curious, interesting minds, which means I’m never fully prepared for what they might want to discuss. They are also amazingly supportive and helpful, particularly if your voice sounds like you spent the morning gargling molasses and working on your Harrison Ford mumble…

 

And because it’s not really kosher to comment without sharing your own perspective for critique, here are my four top ads from Super Bowl LIII. Sure I loved Amazon’s over-the-top, super Super Bowl-y ad about Alexa’s mythical failures. I was also heartened by Google’s showcasing of data on the three most translated phrases worldwide (spoiler alert: “I love you” is #1). And who didn’t choke up at the emotional resonance of Verizon’s “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here” ad honoring first responders? Still, you can only pick four in this totally arbitrary exercise I just dreamed up, so here goes:

1. BUD LIGHT: GAME OF THRONES

I hate everything about Bud Light trying to conjure an issue out of corn syrup. As the category leader, these types of mean-spirited attack ads should be beneath them (did they learn nothing from the sweet Google Translate ad?). That said, the mash up ad with Game of Thrones was stupendous. It delivered what you rarely get in Super Bowl ads: genuine surprise. After an expectedly breezy dilly-dilly opening, the story makes a head snapping turn to the dark side that stopped me cold and was entirely brand appropriate for HBO.
And despite his gruesome death, I’m also certain the Bud Knight will be back in future ads with no explanation, kinda like Kenny in South Park.

2. NFL: THE 100 YEAR GAME

This was pure fun; a playful, winning nod to the amazing personalities that have played the game over the years. How can anyone not love this? It sidestepped mountains of controversy surrounding the brand without appearing to be sidestepping controversy. Nicely done. And great to see Singletary again.

3. HULU: THE HANDMAIDEN’S TALE

I haven’t read or watched “The Handmaiden’s Tale” but as an ad fan, recycling the Hal Riney-esque VO from the ad that got Ronald Reagan elected in 1980 was an inspired move. An amazingly simple, graceful idea…though admittedly, it probably spoke more to ad nerds than the general public.

4. THE WASHINGTON POST

Call me old fashioned, but I don’t believe the relentless attacks on the free press come from a place of selfless concern for the republic. Yes, both sides of the media aisle are complicit in exaggerating and framing facts to fit their frameworks; chasing clicks in a social media powered world does little to encourage centrist reporting. But the fact remains that Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident and father of three citizens yet we did nothing to hold the foreign powers who murdered him accountable. That’s weak. And wrong. And this spot does a tremendous job of speaking to a social issue in a manner relevant to the brand.

All in all, the general consensus seems to be that the crop of spots were disappointing, but I didn’t really find that anymore true this year than others. It’s nearly impossible to please all the people all the time, and this is the one few advertising platform where that’s still the job. It’s an unforgiving spotlight, and yet everyone in the ad game still wants to be there. That says something…

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