Jan 16

It’s a close shave

No matter how one analyzes Gillette’s controversial new campaign “Is this the best a man can get?” it’s fraught with uncertainties. And it most certainly has further divided an already divided country.

Truly the best a man can get?

First, though, a tip of the hat (or razor) to Gillette’s management for having the courage to double down on its purpose and values. But have they? Or is the campaign a mere ploy or stunt as some detractors claim whose only goal is to drive sales?

I think there are several factors to weigh when analyzing the Gillette campaign:

1) Is alienating a significant percentage of the male shaving market worth the risk of taking a stand and saying the right thing? We asked that very question of 50 CCOs and CMOs we interviewed in a joint research study with the Institute for Public Relations.

One CCO, who managed a global manufacturing company’s marketing spend, echoed the comments of most when he stated, “No matter what you say you WILL alienate a percentage of your stakeholders. I’d much prefer to go on record and double down on our purpose in the wake of a societal crisis than remain silent.”

2) Consistency: Nike’s outstanding campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick won countless awards and witnessed a serious uptick in sales. But, as bold as it was, Nike’s campaign was consistent with its track record (pun intended) of partnering with controversial, outspoken athletes. As a result, the campaign was authentic to the core. Gillette has no such track record and, as the WashPo article indicates, has long profiled macho men in previous campaigns. So, there’s no sense of continuity in my mind. The campaign was a complete 180 for the brand. I think that’s why, when the dust settles, Nike’s post-Kaepernick sales increase will far surpass that of Gillette’s.

3) There but for the grace of god go I. Suppose, just suppose, that Gillette management should be accused of a #MeToo scandal of their own?

That scenario played out in the months following BP’s launch of its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, extolling their multiple contributions to the environment. Sure enough, a few months later, BP found itself at the epicenter of the Gulf oil spill disaster (and became the butt of endless late night talk show host jokes).

When they said, “think outside the barrel,” I don’t think they meant the Gulf Coast.

I do hope that, in Gillette’s case, HR has done its due diligence to ensure there aren’t any 15 or 20-year-old harassment claims against the current executive team. If such an event were to unfold, it would be beyond catastrophic and underscores the risks a brand takes when it creates it own societal crisis by taking a stand on a societal crisis.

We live in a brave new world littered with myriad societal minefields ranging from illegal immigration and mass school shootings to environmental roll-backs and, yes, #MeToo scandals.

Taking a stand in the immediate aftermath of a societal crisis is the right thing for a purpose-driven organization to do.

It remains to be seen if Gillette’s gamble to create a crisis within a crisis will play out the way they hope.

 

 

May 16

From gold standard to sub standard

Johnson-And-R_jpg_600x345_crop-smart_upscale_q85Rather than crafting just another blog castigating Burson for its catastrophic mishandling of the  Facebook crisis, I thought I'd instead reflect on a delicious irony that seems to have gotten lost in the fray. I refer to the positively karma-like timing of the Burson crisis and the latest in a long-line of product recalls that have decimated the image of its one-time client, Johnson & Johnson.

Some 30 years ago J&J's executives, in partnership with a Burson team led by the legendary Al Tortorella, literally wrote the crisis communications handbook when consumers started dropping like flies after ingesting arsenic-tainted Tylenol tablets. They did everything right. The corporation's CEO was front and center in any and all interviews. He apologized for the mortal mistake. He grieved right along with the affected families. He even yanked ALL Tylenol products off every single store shelf. That decision was unexpected, unprecedented and unbelievably gutsy. It was also the right thing to do and it became the gold standard against which all future crisis responses were judged.

Now, juxtapose what Tortorella & team did then with what Burson, in particular, isn't doing today. Burson has delayed, obfuscated and issued terse, impersonal statements. Perhaps, most importantly, they haven't apologized for their mistakes. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that neither Burson, nor its erstwhile client, will be setting any new, gold standards in their management of these latter-day crises. Both are, instead, now textbook examples of how NOT to manage a crisis.

I don't know Mark Penn and his senior Burson lieutenants, so I can't comment on what they knew or when they knew it. But, their post crisis communications has been abysmal at best. One wonders why they didn't just give Al Tortorella a call?

I won't lose any sleep over Burson's blues, but I am genuinely sad for Harold Burson. He's a great man who built a great firm that was once populated by great people. He deserves much better than this.

May 09

A little something for the al Qaeda operative in all of us

Article-0-0BF14C4E00000578-929_634x387 A little less than a week after the death of Osama bin Laden, New York-based Kuma Games has  introduced an Internet-based game called ‘Episode 107: The Death of Osama bin Laden.’ That’s nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the free enterprise system, being first to market and all that, but check out this feature: game players can not only pretend to be members of the elite Navy Seals Team 6 that took down bin Laden, they can also choose to defend bin Laden. Yes, that’s right. Little Johnny can don a virtual robe and turban, pick up his AK-47 replica and begin wasting some of the storming Navy Seals operatives. That’s just so wrong in so many ways that it defies logic.

If I had lost a loved one on 9/11, or in one of the two wars that followed on its heels, I’d be planning to launch a personal Jihad against these bozos. And, I wouldn’t build-in an option for players to defend Kuma Games either.

Can you imagine your 11-year-old son, double-clicking on episode 107 link and yelling, “Hey mom, I’ll be down for dinner in a half hour or so. My al Qaeda mates and I have to disrupt this Navy Seals operation. It’s imperative we get bin Laden and his family safely away.”

Episode 107 is billed as the latest in a franchise of video games that recreate military missions, including the capture of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. There’s no indication if the Kuma Klan also provided an option for game players to defend Hussein and secret him away to another, new hiding place. But, they probably did. Nor is there any indication whether Kuma has created similarly-themed video games that enable players to say, whisk Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun away from their Berlin bunker in early May of 1945, or find an escape route from Elba that would provide Napoleon one last shot at conquering Europe and killing millions.

I’m not a child psychologist, but enabling an impressionable youngster to defend bin Laden might tend to soften the youngster’s views towards the mass murderer, no? And, in my mind, that could lead to any number of unintended, and very serious, real world consequences.

So, let me borrow a page out of the Ronald Reagan speech book and demand of Mr. Kuma (or whatever nut job runs the company) to: Take down that game!

Tip o' RepMan's Green Beret to Catharine "Goose" Cody for the idea for this post.

May 02

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Or was it?

If two leading trade journals are any indication, the advertising industry is suffering from a Mood-swings1 severe case of manic depression.

On the one hand, there's The Delaney Report (TDR), which humbly bills itself as 'the international newsletter for marketing, advertising and media executives'. TDR just ran a lead story entitled, 'We'll Take It from Here.' The text provides a sobering report about inroads being made across the board by public relations. “No longer is it uncommon to have a PR agency compete for a client's services (PR, digital, advertising and direct) versus a traditional advertising agency.” TDR says, “PR is now in the sweet spot of a company's marketing plans.” Nice. Very nice.

Unfortunately, though, TDR then dives deep into PR's gains in social media and corroborates its thinking with observations from the heads of three PR holding companies: Harris Diamond of Weber, Gary Stockman of Porter and Ken Luce of H&K. Now, I could be wrong, but I'll bet an annual subscription to TDR (a damned pricey proposition, BTW), that none of these three, old white guys personally blogs, tweets, posts comments, podcasts or does anything else that would remotely resembles engaging in social media. Asking these three for their views on social media is akin to asking a couch potato what it's like to compete in a 230-mile cycling race. “Tough, dude. Very tough.” C'mon TDR, show some journalistic chops, dig a little deeper and interview PR executives who actually walk the talk.

And, now, for something completely different, take a gander at another ad industry trade: Michael Wolff's supercharged revamp of AdWeek, which calls itself 'The Voice of Media.' Methinks this particular voice suffers from laryngitis.

How else to explain its love fest with all things advertising? You'd never know traditional advertising is staggering like some drunken sailor on shore leave. Or, that other disciplines such as PR and interactive are stealing away market share faster than you can say land grab.

Instead, AdWeek's pages are an unapologetic homage to the 30-second TV spot (ugh) and mainstream TV advertising in general (Yuck. What's become of one-on-one marketing and engaging in a conversation with customers?). There are even photographic retrospectives of Doyle Dane Bernbach's and McCann-Erickson's offices from the halcyon days of the 1960s (should PR Week retaliate with a photo essay of, say, the Lobsenz-Stevens offices of the mid-1980s featuring an adolescent wunderkind named Edward Aloysius Moed?).

Like just about everything else, I suspect the truth about advertising's massive struggle to reinvent itself lies somewhere in-between TDR's doom-and-gloom report and AdWeek’s sunshine-and-roses tome.

I'd suggest readers view the two the way I do The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and Fox News and MSNBC, respectively (absorb the extreme POVS of each, realizing the truth lies somewhere in the midst of the murkiness).

In the meantime, though, a quick note to the big agency PR guys: I'm happy to issue an apology if you fellas actually do engage in social media.

Mar 21

Social Media Quality Control

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Jason Green.

You are an established brand that is active in the social media space but are struggling to Think before you post constantly create fresh, original content. Now what? 

Companies, whether they know it or not, find themselves in a rat race to remain relevant as the next generation of consumers have a short attention span, are increasing fickle, and have a declining ability to comprehend content that is longer than 140 characters. Not to mention, they have numerous platforms to trash your brand indiscriminately. This has created a fertile environment for innovative and fresh thinking social media gurus to flourish. But, are brands risking their reputation by outsourcing their social media efforts without taking the proper precautions?  This recent article in the New York Times seems to indicate the answer is yes.

The Chrysler example illustrates the classic faux pas of an overeager agency employee operating off of the “Sarah Palin” model. Which is say what you want, when you want, how you want, and deal with the consequences later. A good idea in theory but not when put into practice. Turns out that the people of Detroit did not find the humor when their beloved Chrysler (@ChryslerAutos) tweeted “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive.” Instant online firestorm. Check. Agency fired. Check. Employee fired. Check. And just when the “imported from Detroit” campaign was taking off.

Another popular tactic that seems like a sure thing, given our country’s love affair with celebrities, is to give the celebrity of your choice free reign as a brand ambassador. OMG, did Taylor Swift just tweet about how much she loves Neutrogena’s exfoliating hand scrub?! A strategy that is easily facilitated by companies like ad.ly that “helps brands connect with consumers via today’s most influential celebrities, athletes and artists on Facebook, Twitter and more.” The website boasts clients such as Toyota, Microsoft, American Airlines, NBC, and Sony.

Unfortunately for Aflac, they seem to have gone rogue by selecting insult comic Gilbert Gottfried (yes, Gilbert Gottfried) as a social media ambassador. A great decision up until the point that he began poking fun at, according to the New York Times, a market that accounts for 75 percent of Aflac’s revenue – Japan. Too soon? Yes, Gibert, too soon. Good thing Aflac has a crisis PR team on retainer!

So, how do you ensure that your brand is taking advantage of social media rather than eroding years of careful brand positioning with one tweet? Take a step back, a deep breath and implement a social media quality control system.

It is critical to develop a process and system for engagement on each social media platform. Spoiler alert: social media is not as free flowing and organic as it may appear. It is essential to spend time developing a well thought out news flow with conversation topics and approved messages. We can’t give away all of the secrets but here are a few questions to mull over:

•    Who will own and manage your brands social media strategy? Will it be in-house, an agency (is it the right agency?), or a combination of both?
•    How is your brand perceived in the market place and is there room to push the envelope? How edgy is too edgy?
•    Is any publicity good publicity?
•    Will a celebrity partnership enhance your social media strategy and how do you align your brand image with the correct spokesperson?
•    Do you want to participate in real-time conversations? If so, who is authorized to approve messages on the fly?

A brand is a terrible thing to waste, and one twitpic gone awry can sink your brand, cost your agency a client, or turn you into a 99er. So, think before you tweet.

Mar 18

Lobster ravioli from AMC Theaters, or Kevin Spacey from Netflix. And the winner is….

Today's guest post is by Michael Dresner, CEO of Brand Squared, a Division of Peppercom.

“Content Is King.”  – Sumner Redstone

American_Beauty_2082_MediumDesperately trying to read entertainment news that wasn’t about William and Kate, I found articles this week about a new Kevin Spacey television series called "House Of Cards," directed by David Fincher (Oscar-nominated director of last year’s marvelous The Social Network). The memorable point of most articles is that the series will be distributed exclusively through Netflix.

The first thing I thought of when I saw the Netflix distribution concept was AMC Movie Theaters’ 'Fork and Screen' concept- enthusiastically reviewed on Repman’s sibling blog Measuring Up.  The two strategies have a lot in common.

Both are in the business of feature film distribution.  Both are surrounded by traditional and digital competition.  Both have seen behemoths in their industry (Blockbuster) rapidly fade into irrelevance from behemoth status. And, both are creating innovative experiences that ideally keep consumers returning, paying premium fees, and recommending to others.

AMC Movie Theaters is offering lobster ravioli, loaded potato skins and pints of beer. The waiters bring food to your seats. Netflix– which could have developed an alliance with any restaurant or packaged food company in the U.S.– decided to place their bets instead on Kevin Spacey.
I am a movie fanatic.  I have been to going to movie theaters near and far for decades. Yet when

I think about the most satisfying film experiences, I never think of the food (though I frequently pay more for that than the ticket). I think about great scenes from movies like "The Usual Suspects."  "L.A. Confidential."  Glengarry Glen Ross."  "American Beauty." Great movies featuring Kevin Spacey.

 The fact is, I can get lobster ravioli and Sam Adams anywhere. But I can’t get "House Of Cards" unless I become a subscriber to Netflix. 

Netflix’ strategy seems new but it’s not. HBO figured out two decades ago that showing first-run movies alongside Showtime and Cinemax wasn’t a sustainable way to keep subscribers. HBO developed original programming, such as the phenomenal “Larry Sanders Show” in the early 1990s. It took a while for the channel to find its footing in this space. But once The Sopranos and The Wire hit our zeitgeist, HBO had leverage to increase their fees by 20%. And they did.

So why would AMC Movie Theaters focus on restaurant-style food– a product they will never master (apologies to Measuring Up – when they have the capability to invest in original content– product they have been presenting for years?  I’m not sure film lovers will go out of their way to find a theater with lobster ravioli. I know I would go out of my way if AMC had a lock on a movie made by Kevin Spacey and David Fincher (or, for people 30 years my junior, Justin Bieber).

AMC’s 'Fork and Screen' concept sounded interesting. But as a business decision I have to give it two thumbs down. They will never own a lock on dinner the way Netflix will with House Of Cards.

As a footnote, Sumner Redstone ran a regional movie theater chain for most of his career. He is now the Chairman of Viacom and CBS, two companies that peak and valley with ad sales but lives and die by original content.

Sep 23

Going mobile (and global)

Monica Teague, Senior Manager, PR, Brand Business Teams, Whirlpool, Tom Topinka, Public Relations Leader, Genworth and Amber Harris, Manager of Digital Communications for Discovery Communications work for completely different businesses and are faced with completely different communications challenges.

But, as you’ll hear in the second part of the podcast we recorded to mark Peppercom’s 15th anniversary, all three agree the future will be dominated by mobile and global communications.

Let us know what you think. Do you agree with our guests? Or, is there some other soon-to-emerge technology or movement that will supersede mobile and global?  Click on the gray bar below, and enjoy.


 

Sep 08

So, I had a cup of coffee this morning before hopping on the 6:44am and, oh, I bumped into O.P. on the platform…

I'm in the process of 'de-friending' and 'de-linking' from those contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn  NARCISSIST who continually spam me with useless personal information or event invitation. Who needs either?

The most egregious are the Facebook addicts who feel compelled to share such scintillating personal news as:

– “Went para-sailing before work today. What a rush! And what a great way to start my day.”
– “Summer's over and the kids are back in school. Oh well. It can't last forever.”
– “Cousin Shlomo, it was great seeing you and the entire McWorthington Clan over Labor Day.”

Two new studies show that frequent Facebook users are either narcissists or individuals who suffer from low self-esteem. That makes sense. Their daily non-news items are either saying, “Am I wonderful, or what?” Or “God, please pay attention to me.”

One of the surveys, conducted by researchers at San Diego State University, focused on 18-25 year-old Facebook users and found that 60 percent use the social media tool for “self promotion” and “attention getting.” The second report, issued by Toronto's York University, confirmed the SDSU findings and said continually posting new photographs and updating one's profiles indicate either a narcissistic personality or low self-esteem.

I'll be the first to admit that I like having my kids post photos on my Facebook page of my most recent mountain, rock and ice climbing sojourns. But, you'll never catch me posting something like, “Watched Jersey Shore with Catharine last night. How naive is Sammie?” Or “Pool water is still warm. Snuck in one last swim last night.”

I'm go further out on a limb here and guess that people aren't interested in knowing that I'm wearing green slacks and a black-and-white striped golf shirt today. Or, that I'm toying with the idea of wearing a suit to tomorrow's 8am client meeting. Who cares? Hell, I don't even care.

So, do the world a favor and save those inane, meaningless and narcissistic wall posts like, “Cannot wait for this Saturday when the girls will be over to discuss The Art of Racing in the Rain. I'll bet Lucy hated it!” No one cares about your life, but you.

Two other quick points:

– LinkedIn updates are equally banal. Who cares if Beckwith in accounting has updated his photo? He obviously does. But the rest of us sure don't.
– In the interests of full transparency, I've already outed myself as a narcissistic boss (see my 'Crazy Bosses' blog). But, those traits don't bleed over to the virtual world.

Facebook and LinkedIn serve a few, useful purposes. But, keep telling me your mundane, daily rituals and you'll a) undermine your image and b) find yourself de-friended by more than one disinterested party.

Aug 25

Could 60 million Americans be wrong?

Up-ie A brand new Pew Research Center survey shows that 21 percent of the American population doesn't use the Internet at all. That's  60 million people!

And, it's not just the old 'digital divide' that's causing folks not to tune out, turn off and power down. According to Pew, the 60 million plus, non-tech heads stay away because:
– They don't have a computer (OK, fine, a digital divide)
– It's too expensive (Fine. The damn divide again, but wait….)
– It's too difficult or frustrating
– They think it's a waste of time
– They don't have access (Fine. Divide.)
– They're too busy (That response fascinates me. The Web's a huge time saver for this blogger.)
– They don't need or want it (Put that in your social media pipe and smoke it)
– They're too old to learn (So much for these old dogs learning new tricks)
– They reported having a bad experience with Ed Moed's 'MeasuringUP' blog (Now, that makes sense).

Simultaneously, Pew reports the Internet's explosive growth has finally slowed. Sixty-six percent of respondents reported having a high-speed Internet connection at home which is up just marginally from the 63 percent saying the same thing last year.

So, here's my question: knowing that some 60 million Americans aren't using the Internet at all, why are we not seeing opinion pieces on the subject? PR Week, PR News, Holmes and the other industry trades are filled to the brim with the latest, greatest, social media case studies, features and announcements. And everyone's arguing about which marketing discipline deserves to lead the social media discourse. But, what about the huge market that doesn't want or need the Internet? Don't our journalists owe us thinking on the subject?

Lost in the social media land rush mentality is the reasoned approach a person such as our very own Sam Ford takes. He's never suggested the Internet is the ‘be-all end-all’ for each and every client. Instead, he urges they first LISTEN before acting. Listening would enable clients and agencies alike to uncover the 60 million non-Internet users who, I guarantee, are a core constituent audience for lots and lots of organizations. And, once one has listened, one can determine the best strategies with which to engage.

So, the next time you're in a new business pitch and the prospect asks about your firm's social media strategy, turn the tables and ask what her organization's plan is to reach the 60 million Americans who aren't using the web. Ask her if she's taken the time to listen to the non-Internet users. If nothing else, it will differentiate you from every other agency in the pitch who, I guarantee, will do nothing but wax poetic about their digital capabilities.

Dec 16

Call me the (texting) tumbling dice

Aside from falling off the side of a mountain, drowning during a triathlon or simply slumping Padded_post over my desk after suffering a rogue heart attack, I think I know how I'll die. I'll be busy texting as I stride along one of Manhattan's side streets when, boom, I'll tumble head over heels into one of those sidewalk cellar doors that seem to always be in the fixed, upright and open position. That's where they'll find my body buried in produce, neck badly broken, hand still clutching the damn Blackberry.

I've already had a few close calls. That's why I'm thrilled to see there's a new iPhone application called Type n Walk. It was literally designed to save my life, since It provides a texting walker a view of what lies ahead.

Susan Dominus, a New York Times columnist, likens texting while walking to texting while driving. I disagree. It's one thing to be distracted while driving a 2,000 pound car at 65 mph. It's quite another to be walking slowly while texting. I'll admit the latter isn't smart or particularly healthy, but it's not necessarily jeopardizing other people's lives.

I can't wait to download the Type n Walk. I just hope it’s sensitive enough to pick up those damn, dark cellar doors. I'm worried they may one day become the iceberg to my RMS Titanic.