Gold, Frankincense…and Metal

So, how many times this season have you heard Paul McCartney’s treacly “Wonderful Christmas Time”? Did an act of congress dictate that every store’s playlist must feature an inappropriately-breathy rendition of “Santa Baby”?

If you’re struggling to find your musical merry this season, search no more. In what is the polar opposite of anything on Neil Diamond’s Christmas playlist, a metal band out of York, PA has released their own magical antidote of sorts. Small Town Titans have re-interpreted “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” with a metal sensibility that would make Boris Karloff smile. And it gladdens my heart more than all the sugarplums on Michigan Avenue…

Wow. The Zevon-worthy lyric “YOU HAVE ALL THE TENDER SWEETNESS/OF A SEASICK CROCODILE” never felt so ominously threatening. And apparently, lots of us agree that’s a good thing.

The unsigned power trio released this cover last year but according to lead singer Phil Freeman, “we weren’t really expecting more than maybe a million views by Christmas.” To their surprise, their Facebook post of a live performance went viral. It now has over 23 million views…and it’s still climbing. That’s what happens when your post gets shared by over a half a million people.

In a lovely twist of fate, Freeman, Ben Guiles, and Jonny Ross all met as students at Lebanon Valley College; my decidedly non-metal mother and sister’s alma mater.

So yes, it is a lovely season and indeed, it may well be the most wonderful time of the year. Still, there’s definitely room for this sentiment as well. Nicely done lads.

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A Critical Essay for These Times

Ann Bauer is an amazing author, writer, and capturer of truths. Out of her own profoundly personal pain and loss, she came to sense a larger illness in society.

Ann initially posted this to Facebook, outlining a caustic and pervasive issue of our times and neatly summing up what we must strive to do to overcome it:

“Imagine if that were the goal: baseline civility and warm expectations.”

Indeed. Thankfully, someone smart at the Washington Post read it and asked her permission to publish it for a broader audience. Read her magnificent, inspiring, unflinchingly honest essay here.

Thanks Ann. And again, I’m so sorry for the loss of Andrew. God love you and yours.

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Video: Evolving Beyond Selling

So yesterday, I was lucky enough to present for the West Michigan Content Strategy Meetup’s first-ever lunch and learn webinar.

Of course, being that it was ‘first ever’ and involved warring Apple and Google technology platforms, it was a bit of a car wreck; dropped signals, video blackouts, etc. But happily, like all things digital and video, you can fix it in post. So we did.

My thanks to my old friend Scott Smith and the charming and redoubtable Laura Bergells for making this a terrific experience, technical difficulties and all.

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Oh Canada! A Pre-Thanksgiving Travel Message

Everyone knows the day before Thanksgiving is our busiest travel day of the year.

Except it’s not. Summer weekends consistently outrank it. Nevertheless, this is a week fraught with family, shopping, and travel, so this little piece seemed timely…

If we must accept that foreign powers will influence our social feeds, let’s choose the decent people of Canada over the divisiveness-spewing trollbots from Russia. We make mistakes, we apologize, we shake hands and move on.

What a wonderful world that would be…

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A Pre Thanksgiving/Black Friday Shopping Message

According to data from Adobe, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday 2016 all set records for online sales, totaling over $5.5 billion. Black Friday remains the monster; last year, Friday online sales topped the three billion mark for the first time ever, reaching $3.34 billion: an increase of nearly 22% over 2015.

In bricks and mortar, ShopperTrak reported a 1% drop in foot traffic from 2015 over the Thanksgiving weekend, but Black Friday itself didn’t dip. The manic early morning shopping rush has clearly become a new holiday tradition; retailers predict it will hold strong this year even as they foresee another 5%+ growth in online sales.

Retailers revel in this reorientation of our Holidays toward mass consumption. But the Forest Hill Church in South Carolina takes a different perspective. Last year, on December 3, their in-house creative media team posted this “Christmas Presents” video to Facebook…

It’s not particularly sophisticated or slickly produced–all the actors are either churchgoers or staff–but the idea itself struck a resonant, relatable chord. Over the past year, it’s earned well over 6.3 million views and been shared almost 93,000 times. The idea of gift wrapping the everyday gifts we take for granted is simple and powerful. And joyful; for a non-actor, director/congregant Matt Nunn delivers a very likable performance as the man who wakes up with so much gratitude.

This is a brilliant example of relevant video content and clearly, Forest Hill is very savvy with multimedia. They also have a great looking website that boasts lots of content. They’re definitely doing it right.

First and foremost, by starting with a smart, relatable idea. Well done.

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Thanks to my friend and constant student of culture, Neilan Tyree, for finding and sharing this video on Facebook.

Why Vertical Formatting Matters for Social Video

It might have something to do with their primary audience’s age, but in a small bit of irony, I couldn’t maintain this video’s native vertical format when editing it in iMovie, or posting it to Vimeo, Youtube and LinkedIn.

Still, when it comes to the giants of social media platforms–Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram–vertical is the way to go.

By the way, if you need some expert social media strategic advice, connect with Kate Miller; she’s pretty amazing. IG & TW: @LetsReallyLive.

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Social Media Outrage: The Case for Embedding Anthropology

In a noisy trend seemingly endemic to today’s social media, the outrage machine cranked up again, this time against haircare brand Shea Beauty. The trigger for online scorn and trending hashtags like #SheaMoisture Apology is this seemingly-innocuous ad:

Okay, pretty young models pouting about hating their hair–what’s the problem?

The problem is simple: Shea Moisture was built as an African American brand. This market became its first loyalists, helping the brand gain more attention and grow to where it now has a presence in mega-chains like Target.

But this ad features three white young women and one very light skinned bi-racial one. At least until the end tag where more women of color appear in small sections of a graphic collage. Reading the comments on YouTube, it’s clear that Shea Beauty loyalists took immediate notice, and deeply resented it.

When social firestorms happen, I can’t help wondering if I would have made the same mistake. Yes, any creative would know the company is black owned. And that the core audience is also African American. But since clients approve, and often dictate, casting decisions, the issue is probably less about a dumb, subjective creative call and more about a strategic brand desire to ‘expand the base.’ Shea Beauty and their agency no doubt had nothing but the best intentions from a marketing perspective, along with data highlighting a market expansion opportunity with blondes and redheads.

And that’s exactly why I favor anthropology over planning. Anthropologists focus on audiences, not brand metrics. They study the people you hope to reach: their values, their economies, their rituals and sacrifices. Anthropology focuses on what aligns and motivates people, which is crucial now that marketing is a two way dialogue.

Research and planning inevitably focus on the advertiser’s wants, but brands no longer control the conversation. Using anthropology to better understand your audience protects you from becoming the worst kind of person in any social situation: the one that only talks about themselves.

Actually, if they listen, Shea Beauty’s audience even gave them the answer to the issue. YouTube commenter Lorietha Causey said this about the cut:

“why in the commercial they have a woman that looks bi-racial and then the other women are white and then at the end they show a background of different shades of women. I feel the ending should’ve been the beginning with of them having a say on the product.”

That’s a solid re-edit idea. And if they’re smart, Shea Beauty will listen to their loyalists, get back into edit, and fix this now; which is another advantage of our iterative digital world.

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Brad’s Wife: Meme or Meaningful?

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Six words launched a million memes.

It’s been nearly a month, and the arc of outrage/comedy caused by Brad’s simple tweet to his local Cracker Barrel is beginning to fade.

What started as plaintive anguish incited a social media flash mob of lunacy and wisecracking, one upmanship that dominated social media, late night television, and human interest news stories.

As the comi-controversy raged, a lot of us wondered “How is Cracker Barrel not responding to this?” Each day brought new, ever more outrageous swipes at their expense (a personal favorite? The ’employees’ heading on Cracker Barrel’s Wikipedia page briefly read “not Brad’s wife”), yet corporate remained mum.

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To people in the digital world, this makes no sense. Then again, in most self-referencing ad circles, electing the president we did also makes no sense.

The fact is, as much we may care about Twitter and Facebook sentiment, Cracker Barrel’s core audience isn’t that engaged. Add to that corporate’s legal restrictions against responding and the intrinsic, no-win “big bad guy vs. little good guy” set up of the story, and not responding proves the wisest course.BradsWife3

We’re starting to see patters with these social media firestorms. With a nonexistent cost of entry for expressing outrage, the masses pile on, making them burn white hot. But they cool just as quickly, fading into a dependably regular series of outrageous incidents that dominate a few news cycles before the circus moves on.

If you think of Brad’s wife as an actual human being instead of a punchline, you empathize. But in the popular mind, she doesn’t even have a first name. In the end, the inciting incident is just too small to leave long-lasting damage on Cracker Barrel. To bastardize Macbeth, this should prove yet another tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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