The value of earned media is to tell your story inside the news hole, not in the boundaries of advertising space. There is no better example of effective earned media than the promotion this week of Carl's Jr. Thickburger.
Brash is part of the band personality for Carl's Jr. Playing off that brash image, it introduced what it calls an entire barbecue in a bun – an oversized burger, accessorized with tomato, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, cheese, hot dog and potato chips. This puppy weighs in at 1,030 calories and 64 grams of fat.
Since the earned media opportunity was spun out, news outlets have stumbled over themselves to report this belly-busting burger. Stories with pictures of the plump burger appeared in USA Today, the Huffington Post and major daily newspapers.
The anchor team on NBC's Today show did a segment where four cast members talked about, then took a sloppy bite from the burger, which the PR team from Carl's Jr. just happened to provide. The value of this kind of exposure is, let's just say, worth a whole lot more than the $5.79 price tag for the Thickburger.
Anyone who has seen a Carl's Jr. TV ad knows they are outrageous-bordering-on-gross. People chomp into a large burger, dripping sauce all over themselves. The Thickburger earned media campaign employs the same outrageousness. That's what makes it "news."
Come out with a hamburger with bacon and you will get a yawn from news editors and producers. Slap on a hot dog and there is instant interest. The hot dog may taste sort of like bacon, but it's a hot dog. You know, at barbecues, you get a choice between a hamburger and a hot dog. Now, you don't have to choose.
You also don't have to worry about where on your plate to juggle your potato chips. They are in the bun, too.
When many fast food restaurants are wrestling with how to offer healthier fare, Carl's Jr. goes for the jugular – or a coronary artery. There is no hemming and hawing about calories or fat. Carl's Jr. puts it out there proudly, not defensively. And the chain calls the Thickburger "all American."
The outrageous doesn't always work for brands or idea merchants that initiate earned media campaigns. The lesson isn't about outrage; it's about breaking through the noise barrier with something that is different, catchy or unexpected. It's also about "news" that can have an extended life through social media, the stuff people read and share.
The unusual and the outrageous can earn media you don't have to pay for from your advertising budget. But don't avoid earned media just because your product, service or idea isn't unusual or outrageous. You can create an appealing news hook by finding what's truly different and building your earned media pitch around it.