Visual Communicatons

Crack a Joke to Build a Brand

 Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

No joke, comedy can be a brand builder.

Think of comedian Jim Gaffigan and his ads for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which are designed to convince young dads that driving a family minivan doesn’t mean you still can’t be cool and yourself.

Humor has become a regular staple in many marketing campaigns, especially ones aimed at younger audiences that are drawn to the sassy comedy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and satirical commentary in The Onion

Peppercomm, a new York-based marketing company, has made humor a hallmark of its own culture. Its management and account leader training includes instruction in stand-up comedy. Co-founder and CEO Steve Cody said comedy was embedded in training “because it improved presentation, listening and rapport-building skills while creating a unique culture.”

“Many in the industry scoffed, believing PR was a far too serious business for comedy,” Cody added. “Today, we’re routinely hired by clients and non-clients to stage comedy workshops for their employees.” And the firm is retained to inject humor into client marketing campaigns.

Humor can be a double-edged sword. An insensitive joke or an offending aside can damage a brand or at least cause embarrassment. But well-timed comedy can be entertaining and even endearing.

Southwest Airlines is a great example. Flight attendants are well known for stand-up routines involving safety instructions. The iconoclastic airline has hired aspiring actors as flight attendants to help realize its corporate goal of making passengers laugh and feel at ease.

A Southwest Airlines attendant quipped as the plane was taking a long time to taxi to the runway, “You know, we drive halfway and fly the other half.” Another attendant deadpanned, “If you smoke on this airplane, the FAA will fine you $2,000. At those prices, you might as well fly Delta."

Even when humor is a corporate goal, discretion and a sense of timing are essential. Like any form of communication, and especially comedy, you have to know your audience. And your critics. Kmart took a risk with the “I Shipped My Pants” TV ad campaign. The play-on-words humor offended some, but it did help the struggling retailer dramatically drive up its web traffic. Before the ad, no one ever accused Kmart of being edgy.

Dollar Shave Club leapt into business with a YouTube video that was described as “unconventional, outrageous and blunt” – and, of course, funny. The video made the rounds of social media with more than 17 million views and put the startup company on the shaving map.

Charmin marketed toilet paper with a #tweetfromtheseat campaign that encouraged people to share their most innermost inspiration while on the throne in their bathroom.

State Farm peddled insurance with its “Jake from State Farm” ads that were reprised with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin reprising their Conehead characters from Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, Allstate hired Dean Winters, who had a role in 30 Rock, to personify mayhem in a series of laugh-provoking commercials.

Wonderful Pistachios took no chances and hired Stephen Colbert to create buzz for its brand at the 2014 Super Bowl.

It is necessary to hire a production company, and it doesn't hurt to bring in a TV star, to convey a compellingly comedic side of your brand. Marketers who make humor part of messaging say the secret is in authenticity with a little showmanship. Getting a consumer to laugh is one of the best hooks to get them to buy.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Rebranding Is Still Branding

 There are lots of good reasons to rebrand, but throwing away your brand history isn’t one of them. Mr. Clean and its familiar jingle have been around since 1958 and have grown and evolved with the brand in step with the needs of their customers.

There are lots of good reasons to rebrand, but throwing away your brand history isn’t one of them. Mr. Clean and its familiar jingle have been around since 1958 and have grown and evolved with the brand in step with the needs of their customers.

There are many good reasons to launch a rebranding campaign – a new name, direction or product line. That said, though, rebranding shouldn’t abandon the original brand but instead move it to new ground with fresh expectations.

One of the worst outcomes of a rebranding campaign is to sacrifice the hard-earned capital of previous branding efforts. Even if a brand has some rust to shake off or a incurred a dent to smooth out, it still has residual value. Rebranding isn’t about starting over; it’s about refreshing (and fixing) what has been.

After a string of food safety issues, Chipotle received lots of advice about its brand. Some argued the company should scrap the name and start over. Others said the Mexican fast casual chain should retain its name and undertake a rebranding campaign that underlined why people like Chipotle's food and how the company has responded to its food safety crisis.

Like branding, rebranding is all about positioning. What makes your product or service distinct? What is your value proposition? Why should anybody care about what you offer?

Rebranding affords a chance to tell the world who you are in a fresh way, whether it’s updating your product or service line, using new tools such as video to tell your story or placing your story in new channels where customers hang out and pay attention.

Rebranding allows companies to respond to their customers' changes in taste. Think of all the food ads you now see that talk about being gluten free or produced without growth hormones.

Stodgy brands turn to rebranding to inject a youthful step into their offerings. You can still enjoy venerable Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, and now you can take it to work in a handy cup that heats up in a microwave.

One off the best uses of rebranding is to move from pushing a message to attracting viewers through informative, relevant and useful content. This can mean rethinking a website to relying on digital media promotion. A website makeover can evolve from what is essentially and electronic brochure to an information hub designed around how existing and potential customers or clients interact with a product or service. Moving to digital media could be as basic as relying less on the phone book and more on self-publishing content of value to customers or clients.

If, like Chipotle, a company is rebranding to move on from the past, then rebranding has to deal openly and honestly with the past. That honesty conveys its own freshness that customers often will reward. This requires more than lip service to change. Show the change with video and validate its value with credible third parties.

Rebranding is not a brand divorce. It is more like a brand family extension. The all-purpose Mr. Clean was introduced in 1958 with its own character and jingle that helped propel the product, originally developed to swab out ocean-going ships, into a best-selling customer favorite.

In 2016, after the Mr. Clean product line had expanded into a full line of cleaning products, including the Magic Eraser, the character and jingle were modernized. You could still recognize the spiffed-up Mr. Clean and the jingle struck a familiar chord. Instead of mentioning white sidewall tires and old golf balls, the jingle talked about using Mr. Clean to “clean your whole house and everything that’s in it.”

The rebranding has been an unquestionable success. And the jingle is the longest running advertising tune in television history.

Surprising Impact of Surprise and Delight Marketing

 Apple’s use of Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem in a TV ad to mark the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics is an example of how to capture attention through the use of surprise and delight in marketing.

Apple’s use of Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem in a TV ad to mark the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics is an example of how to capture attention through the use of surprise and delight in marketing.

Poetry plays a paltry role in advertising. So when a great poem features in an ad, it has a huge impact.

Apple is airing a 60-second TV spot with the late Maya Angelou reading her Human Family over a series of engrossing photos of people from around the world shot on iPhones. The ad debuted during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics, positioning Apple as an essential part of the human family.

Poems don’t work because of rhymes or clever cadence. They work because they are surprise content. They are so different than the norm, they captivate attention. If the poem or surprise content is good, the listeners keep listening and watching.

People like surprises. Studies prove it. And as much as advertisers obsess over the numbers of impressions an ad gets, a well-timed surprise can have as much or more impact.

The element of surprise doesn’t have to be of the jumping-out-of-the-cake variety. It can just be different or out of ordinary, like a poem.

Often, visual effects can surprise and delight an audience. Wieden + Kennedy’s ongoing series of ads for Old Spice relied on surprise elements from Terry Crews impersonating beard stubble to Mr. Wolfdog as director of marketing to Isaiah Mustafa on the beach showing how to smell like a man. The ads mostly appeared on Old Spice’s YouTube Channel, racking up nearly 100 million views. Instead of young adults bypassing commercials, they couldn’t wait to see and share these ads.

Surprise announcements can have an impact. MasterCard has a “Priceless Surprises” campaign that involves giving its  followers on social media gifts and prizes, such as a meet-up with Justin Timberlake or VIP tickets to the Grammy Awards. The campaign turned into an app that brings the credit card company even closer to its users through the use of surprise. The campaign and the app have resulted in greater brand loyalty and a barrage of positive online comments.

Apple, Old Spice and MasterCard can afford top-flight creative talent to produce surprising content and campaigns. So it’s important to note that surprise and delight doesn’t have to be a high-priced option. The auto mechanic who sends a thank you note, the vendor who unquestionably replaces a product and the sales rep who places a follow-up call to make you you successfully assembled a piece of furniture are examples of surprise and delight marketing.

The heart of surprise and delight marketing is making an emotional connection that instills loyalty. Kleenex took note that many of the status updates by its Facebook followers said they were sick. The company tracked down the actual addresses of 50 customers with colds and sent them a get-well basket of Kleenex products. Most of the surprised recipients took selfies with their surprise gifts and posted them on Facebook, attracting thousands of views.

The Apple commercial featuring an excerpt from Angelou’s well known poem was beautifully produced and deeply affecting. But in the end the ad was just a poem and photos taken on iPhones. Surprising people is less about money than imagination.

Human Family
I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.
The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.
I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.
I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.
We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Brand Stories Where Brand and Story Are Inseparable

 The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

Storytelling is in. Brand stories and storytelling are the vehicles of choice for content marketing. But not all stories are created equal.

One of the better brand stories is by GoldieBlox, which was launched in 2012 as a way to "introduce girls to  the joy of engineering at a young age.” Founder Debbie Sterling earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was struck by how few women studied to become engineers.

“Construction toys develop an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” the GoldieBlox website says. “But for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered boys toys. GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”

The young company, which went from Kickstarter funding to a $1 million in orders in six weeks, features BloxTown on its website. This is a storytelling showplace. There are videos, apps, toys and “The Gang” – four young multiracial women who personify the goals of GoldieBlox. There is Goldie Blox (mechanical engineer and Ms. fixit), Ruby Rails (software engineer and dressmaker), Li Gravity (daredevil who calculates the physics of her stunts) and Valentina Voltz (gadget lover and musician). They even have their own compatible pets, like Nacho, Goldie’s basset hound sidekick who “eats, farts and drools.”

Products are placed on the web page as just another avenue to adventure.

GoldieBlox has a blog with frequently updated content, typically featuring women engineers and technologists, who are called #goldmodels. The blog invites stories from women with careers in scientific and engineering fields (“Engineers in the Wild”), as well as from young girls whose interest in those professions has been piqued.

GoldieBlox is an excellent example of a brand built around and fueled by a story. The story and the brand are inseparable. The GoldieBlox brand story works for several reasons:

  • The story about the brand is authentic
  • The story has human appeal
  • The product and the brand story are closely linked
  • There is a clear call to action.

Too many brand stories are forced or superficial. They come closer to brand hype than a brand story.

Like any other good story, a brand story needs to resonate with its audience, to touch as many of their senses as possible so people feel transported to where the story takes place. That place can be as close as the family living room where a young girl constructs her first whirligig.

YouTube Channels that Inform, Entertain and Humanize

 Michelle Phan went from a makeup blogger to a YouTube phenom by combining her visual subject matter with a medium that matched her target audience’s preference and offering informative, entertaining and humanized video content.

Michelle Phan went from a makeup blogger to a YouTube phenom by combining her visual subject matter with a medium that matched her target audience’s preference and offering informative, entertaining and humanized video content.

People love to watch videos for information and entertainment. One way to capitalize on this popularity is to broadcast your videos on your own YouTube channel.

Socialblade.com has listed the top 100 YouTube channels, which confirms people, especially young ones, like to watch videos that are informative and entertaining. Many of the top 100 are YouTube channels for performing artists, such as Justin Bieber and Beyoncé. And then there is Michelle Phan.

Phan took a blog devoted to makeup tutorials and turned it into a YouTube powerhouse. She has uploaded almost 400 videos since 2007, which have attracted more than 1 billion views. One of Phan’s most viewed videos – 1.5 million views – shows how to style up when attending a music festival.

Other videos talk about hair removal, pimples and makeup tips and tricks. Phan provides trend reports on metallic lips, lift-up shoes, peel-off makeup and glitter freckles. There also are videos that address cyberbullying and acne shaming.

Phan, who was born in Massachusetts, posted a video earlier this year about her trip to Vietnam to meet with family members and discover her ancestral roots. The video is polished, with professional videography and quick clips that take you along for her ride without making you wish you could jump off the bus.

 Michelle Phan went from a blogger to a YouTube powerhouse vlogger by using the visual strength of videos to bring her makeup tutorials to life.

Michelle Phan went from a blogger to a YouTube powerhouse vlogger by using the visual strength of videos to bring her makeup tutorials to life.

Phan is regarded as a YouTube personality and entrepreneur. But her secret isn’t really a secret. She took a subject that is highly visual and brought it to life on video. She mastered an on-camera style that makes a potentially boring subject interesting, or even exciting for young women intensely consumed with how they look.

Marketers encourage use of video content because it can boost clicks on social media and websites. Some recommend setting up YouTube channels to create your own broadcasting network to run parallel with a website. We agree with the power of videos, especially as more people interact with the internet on mobile devices.

But more is required than setting up a camera to capture a talking head or an unstaged and unscripted event. Videos worth watching are videos that have been designed with forethought. For example, Phan succeeds on YouTube because her message and her medium match with the preferences of her target audience.

AARP has a YouTube channel that features videos with clips of 1960s rock and roll bands, tips on how to avoid injuring-causing falls and look-backs to major historical events. The YouTube channel for Angie’s List contains videos showing to stain a deck, finding the best body shop after a wreck and deciding whether to repair or replace an air conditioner.

 AARP provides a suite of video content on its YouTube channel designed to address issues of interest to older Americans, including an avenue for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle.

AARP provides a suite of video content on its YouTube channel designed to address issues of interest to older Americans, including an avenue for entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle.

Video provides an opportunity to humanize your brand, infusing it with personality, a life story and first-hand experience. YouTube is a perfect channel to extend your story brand and engage customers. The key is to make your brand extension and customer engagement informative and entertaining so people tune in.

Avoid Killing Your Audience with Deadly Speaking Habits

 Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

Great speakers don’t kill their audiences. They build rapport, start strong, follow a clear path and finish with a pop. They don’t make lame jokes, read their slides verbatim or avoid looking their audience in the eye.

You can spiff up your presentation skills. Start by taking the advice of an accounting intern. Seriously, take his advice.

Jeff Chappell, an accounting analyst intern at Dell, bases his recommendations for better presentations on experience. The experience of watching many awkward, emotionless and ineffective presentations. There is no better experience than that.

He identifies seven deadly presentation habits you need to shed to avoid putting your audience to sleep:

  • Treating a presentation as a teleprompter and reading each slide word for word, unless you're a pro script reader, like Jimmy Fallon.
  • Telling the audience you’re nervous or a bad public speaker.
  • Starting with a joke, which can often fall flat.
  • Zooming through the presentation like a race car driver seeing how fast he can finish.
  • Sticking with your script even when you see audience members squirming or checking their smartphones.
  • Maintaining weak or no eye contact with your audience.
  • Closing meekly.

None of these suggestions is revolutionary. Taken together, they represent pretty solid advice.

 A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

A boring presentation can leave you wishing you'd spent your time elsewhere. That's why it's critical to avoid bad presentation habits, which Jeff Chappell laid out this month on LinkedIn. 

Think about dreadful presentations you have endured when speakers got off to a lame start, droned on and ended with a poof instead of a pop. What you remember was how bad the presentation was, not what the presentation was about. At best, you may have contemplated in your mind what the presentation could have been – informative, inspiring, interesting.

Chappell’s recommendations came in a blog he posted on LinkedIn. He attributed some of his suggestions to lessons he learned in a presentation skills class taught at Dell. Chappell said he wrote the blog because “the cost of having one of the seven deadly habits of public speaking is too high to be ignored.” And the price to correct these deadly habits is relatively inexpensive. “Practice,” he says, is the difference.

“It doesn’t matter if you practice on the phone, in the shower or in front of friends, just practice correctly,” Chappell advises. “After a few sessions of practice, you’ll be wowing the audience with your confidence and professionalism.” It takes more than that, but you would definitely be on the right track.

Great speakers start by establishing a rapport with their audience, then making a compelling introduction of their speech topic. They give the audience a map of where the speech will go, then walk them through key points. They build momentum and anticipation as they go along, then end with a powerful crescendo. They use body language to help tell the story.

Not all great speakers use presentations, but when they do, their presentations are graphically-based reminders of key points in the speech. The presentation reinforces the message rather than distracting the speaker or the audience.

You might call these the heavenly habits of great speakers, which will lift you up in the eyes of your audience and send them home with positive thoughts, clear impressions and indelible messages.

Making a Lasting Impression in a Minute

 Retiring CBS  60 Minutes  graphic artist Bob Corujo can teach presenters a lot about how to create a lasting impression in less than a minute.

Retiring CBS 60 Minutes graphic artist Bob Corujo can teach presenters a lot about how to create a lasting impression in less than a minute.

Presenters can take a lesson from Bob Corujo, the graphic artist who designed all the illustrations used to introduce stories on 60 Minutes.

Corujo retired last week after 35 years of creating striking “cover pages” for the long running CBS television news magazine. His book of art, which contains around 3,000 60 Minutes covers, is featured in a video.

The lesson from Corujo’s work is the value of absorbing, attention-grabbing images to begin presentations.

Below: three memorable Corujo covers.

Not everyone can afford an artist as talented as Corujo to develop cover pages or background images for presentations. But almost anyone can follow the formula used by Corujo to come up with his designs.

His process begins at the executive producer screening of a story, which in a corporate or organizational setting might be the equivalent of a meeting to decide what to include in a presentation.

Corujo takes what he hears and turns it into a sketch. It could just as easily be a stick drawing for the artistically challenged. The sketch-stick drawing is the seed. Corujo or anyone else then needs to search for how to plant that seed so it sprouts.

For a 2002 story about frozen assets, Corujo put a dollar bill in water, froze it overnight and the next day chipped away just enough ice to show part of George Washington’s face. Simple execution. Instant recognition. 

Like most presentations, the 60 Minutes covers Corujo designed only appeared on screen for a minute or so. They needed to make an impression and convey a point of view almost instantaneously. “I like simple,” Corujo says, because too much embellishment can lose the audience “in the sauce.”

Many of Corujo’s covers accompanied big stories, but he looked deeper than the obvious picture. He searched for an illustration that made a connection between the story and the viewer. Some were dramatic and emotional. Others were whimsical or witty, such as depicting gullible investors as people with pigeon heads. Most were memorable, leaving a lasting impression in the mind’s eye of viewers.

Quality photography is a must for effective presentations, but is not in itself the secret sauce of powerful presentations. That requires artistry and imagination to tell the story in a picture you see for only a minute.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Emojis: “A New Language in Digital Media”

 Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Visual communications can take odd twists, such as the emergence of emojis as defining icons for marketing campaigns.

An article earlier this year in Adweek went further, describing emojis as a “new language in digital media” that can communicate “tone and sentiment on messaging apps and social media among consumers.”

Whereas they used to be limited to a happy face and a sad face, now there nearly 2,000 emojis and the character count keeps growing.

Emojis have matured beyond being punctuation marks for text to becoming the message itself. Well known brands such as Taco Bell use emojis that correlate to their products in digital marketing via apps, social media and email. General Electric launched the #EmojiScience campaign that invited people to send emojis to get short video lessons from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Twitter now enables marketers to target customers who have used specific emojis. Dominos has an Emoji Ordering campaign that centers on customers including the pizza slice emoji in tweets. Instead of zeroing in on key words, brands search for relevant emojis. Consumer brands with an eye on younger adults are eager to jump into emoji-based marketing.

While emoji marketing may work best for now with Millennials, it won’t be long before its appeal spreads, if it hasn't already. Who wouldn’t want to order a pizza by posting an emoji on an app? I received a message with a rose emoji from my wife after urging her to take a moment before going to work to look at the beautiful blooms sprouting on her rose bushes.

The advice to marketers at this point seems pretty basic. If you sell ice cream, look for the ice cream emoji. Keep up to date on the growing cast of emojis. Be sensitive to the details of these little drawings, which sport a range of skin tones and nuanced emotions. Don’t expect everyone to jump on board with your emoji campaign until you build some trust. 

Engaging people with emojis means using them as if you are actually communicating with someone. Expressing emotion or sentiment through an emoji can personalize a brand’s interaction with a consumer and sharply increase engagement rates.

Learning how to use emojis may not be quite the same as taking French lessons, but it kind of is. Emoji fluency is critical to say what you mean and not inadvertently communicate something you never intended.  When you are fluent in emojis, you can tell stories with pictures.

Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Rick Steves as a Guide to Value Propositions and Branding

 Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Rick Steves says a good guide book is a $20 investment to ensure a great $3,000 vacation. His comment is the kind of crisp value proposition companies should emulate.

Many companies settle for value propositions that are inward looking and self-serving. A value proposition should say how your product or service will solve problems for or deliver benefits to your customers.

Junk the jargon and put aside the taglines. Use plain language to convey your value to customers in less than five seconds. Make your brand a living, breathing example of your value proposition. 

Steves has earned a reputation as a well-informed and informative travel guide. His guide books are chock-full of helpful tips from how to pack to where to go.

Steves hosts a travel show on PBS that reinforces the tips found in his guide books. He just aired a three-part series consisting of practical advice for European travelers that included smart ways to travel, how to protect your valuables from pickpockets and savvy moves to avoid long lines at major venues.

Steves doesn’t brag about his own guide books. He doesn’t have to. Users tell fellow travelers about them, including Steves’ advice to rip up his books so you carry only what you need during day trips. Those word-of-mouth recommendations are worth a lot more than advertising or self-promotion.

Implicit in Steves’ simply rendered value proposition is that the $20 you spend for his guide book will save you a lot more when on the road. Sometimes he recommends spending money – for an upgraded train ticket or an all-city venue pass – that enhances a trip and saves valuable time. Grabbing some shuteye on a train ride or bypassing a ridiculously long line can mean seeing another sight or spending more time in the place you’ve always dreamed of seeing. 

The Rick Steves brand is all about useful information that he has personally vetted. When you buy his guide book, you know the advice he dispenses is based on his own experiences. The combination of his TV show, guide books, guest appearances and audio tapes makes Steves your trusted travel companion. His advice is golden, whether it’s what shoes to pack, how much underwear to bring or where to store your suitcase on daytrips. You might even be inclined to buy the suitcase he designed for ease of travel.

A solid value proposition, as Steves illustrates, should provide a concrete result for a customer expressed in a short statement. Branding, which features your differentiation from competitors, is separate from the value proposition. If you try to conflate the two, chances are you will inject hype and undercut the authenticity of the value proposition.

Follow Steves’ lead in describing the value of his guide book to customers and living your brand so customers choose your book instead of a competitor’s. 

New Ad Campaign Example of Showmanship

 Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

A new Excedrin ad campaign addresses the common view that people exaggerate the pain from migraine headaches by replicating the experience through virtual reality. It is a great example of communication showmanship. 

Stung by criticism that a previous ad campaign trivialized migraine headache pain, Excedrin created the "Migraine Experience" which replicates the auras, disorientation, bright lights, floating spots and tunnel vision suffered by people with migraine headaches.

The pain killer company plans to make the migraine simulator available as a downloadable app, which can be experienced using Google Cardboard.

 A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

In one new TV ad, the mother of a young woman afflicted by migraines dons a virtual reality headset and is able to “see” her contorted world. She reacts emotionally, hugging her daughter with newfound empathy for the pain her daughter suffers from migraines.

The ad campaign is less about selling Excedrin than persuading people the anguish of migraines is real, excruciating and debilitating, often going beyond severe headaches to include nausea, dizziness and heightened sensitivity to sound. The ads serve effectively as an advocate for the 40 million people who are afflicted with migraines, Excedrin’s target audience.

This is a far cry from a few years ago when a previous Excedrin ad campaign drew fire by suggesting two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines would give up shopping to get rid of them. A website called thedailyheadache.com criticized Excedrin’s campaign for “minimizing migraines and treating women as superficial.”

The new campaign is very different. The simulator shows the severity of migraine headache pain and it tells heart-tugging stories that are relatable and shareable. Excedrin has created a strong web presence for the campaign, with more back stories, useful information about migraine symptoms and behind-the-scenes looks at how the Migraine Experience was created

“The reaction of loved ones to the experience spoke volumes,” Excedrin said of the ads. “Once the non-suffered experience what their friend or relative goes through during a migraine, their increased understanding led to a reaction full of empathy and love, which until now was harder to identify.”

The Excedrin ad campaign is further validation of the power of visual explanations that show what you mean.

Jimmy Fallon and Integrated Media

 Jimmy Fallon’s  Tonight Show  follows the script Johnny Carson wrote years ago, but with a new twist – audience interaction via multiple social media channels.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show follows the script Johnny Carson wrote years ago, but with a new twist – audience interaction via multiple social media channels.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is true to the legacy of Johnny Carson. Lead-off monologue. Soundtrack sidekick. Funny sketches. Engaging band. But there also is something new, even though that something is based on an old idea, too.

Fallon’s late-night show exploits engagement on social media. He crowdsources comedy on Twitter in a bit called #Hashtags. And he solicits raw material for sketches on Facebook and YouTube.

Engaging audiences – and fishing for expanded audiences – is an old idea packaged like a new one on social media. It is what marketing public relations is all about – contests, special events, loyalty discounts and social media interaction.

Dove sponsored soap-carving contests. BMW facilitated motorcycle workshops in home garages. Powell’s employees write reviews that are posted on bookshelves.

Fallon is a great entertainer and his show reflects savvy marketing to keep it at the top of the ratings and reaching out to new, often younger viewers.

The on-air show follows the form of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but it has added twists. The celebrity guests don’t just show up to shoot the bull. The guests, who are curated to appeal to a wide audience, pitch their latest movie, album or book, then join Fallon in a game. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington and country crooner Blake Shelton played charades with Fallon. Rapper Drake and Fallon donned miniature baskets on their heads for a game of faceketball.

Occasionally Fallon breaks into one of his Saturday Night Live characters and he has recurring bits, such as his “thank you” notes on Friday nights and his frequent impersonations of Donald Trump. 

But the show doesn’t end there. Fallon asks viewers to send tweets using a hashtag he’s created, such as #ImDumb, which fetched some hilarious examples of people being stupid. He reads some of the best ones on air, but many others are included on the show’s website, which provides a convenient opportunities to watch – or re-watch – a Fallon skit or monologue.

Fallon invited young people to submit their “Fallonventions,” which will be featured in an upcoming show. An earlier invitation for funny faces turned into an on-air sketch with Fallon and Miley Cyrus trying to imitate the facial contortions.

Other TV shows use integrated media to connect with viewers. The Voice lets viewers vote via an app to decide who stays and who goes by purchasing performers’ songs on iTunes. Bones engaged viewers with an open dialogue online about favorite moments and clues on how to solve the crime. Person of Interest encourages fans to submit their photos, some of which appear on the drama.

Integration of channels may seem daunting, but it’s less arduous than it may appear. You don’t have to be a social media guru to make the kind of connections you want to achieve. Think of loyalty programs that you run through a platform like Facebook. You build a connection with customers that can be as simple as coupons or a flash sale. 

If you aren’t thinking about integration, you should. If you need inspiration, watch Jimmy Fallon.

Putting Entertainment into Your Content Marketing Mix

 Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Good content must be useful, relevant and entertaining. Useful and relevant are fairly obvious. Entertaining, not so much.

Let’s face it, most of us like to be entertained but aren’t entertainers. So how do non-entertainers entertain? Here’s how: Turn a clever phrase. Tell stories. Show funny videos and photos. Hop aboard breaking stories. Share personal feelings. 

Your words, stories and images don’t have to be Oscar winners. Their purpose is to deepen interest in your useful, relevant content. Knowing how to fix your toilet is useful and relevant, but we probably wouldn’t pay attention unless someone showed us how in a clever, humorous way.

Entertainment isn’t the main act in content marketing. It's the set-up to your main message. If your entertainment is too entertaining, viewers won’t remember why they were watching it, like the TV ad that is so captivating, you remember the entertainment, but not the product.

Clever Phrases

Yes, it is hard to channel William Shakespeare and procreate a new word or pithy phrase. But you can write a snappy headline that turns heads. The snappy headline can parrot a clever phrase you coin in your copy. Nobody churns out chiseled prose like an assembly line. It takes time – and maybe some reflective moments in the shower or on your morning run. All the phrase has to do is spark a smile and encourage the viewer to read on.

     Examples:

  • “Success by Choice, Not Chance.”
  • “Fat Makes You Thin.”
  • “Six Instant Confidence Boosters."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories

As children, we listen to stories to learn. As we grow older, we trade stories with friends. Older people share stories to pass along wisdom. Stories abound in our world, and our brains are wired to tap into their meanings. Stories can take many forms. Children’s books artfully blend text and illustrations. Stories can unfold in videos and picture galleries. Good writers can spin tales with words. The form in this case is less important than the function. Tell entertaining stories with a point that connects to the useful, relevant information you want to convey. 

     Examples:  

 

 

 

Videos and Pictures

Visual assets such as videos and pictures don’t always have to tell a story to draw attention. Sometimes they can just be fun – or funny. Good judgment is required to avoid images that mock or offend. But there are plenty of ways to use light-hearted and good-natured videos and pictures to entertain your viewers into spending more time on your website, online newsroom or blog to consume useful, relevant content. Videos are popular to share, so take pains to brand your visual content so it doesn’t spin away from the purpose behind posting it.

     Examples:  

 

 

Newsjacking

If you can be a free rider on a breaking story or trending topic, you will have a built-in audience. Your “newsjacking” may be a local angle on a national story, a deeper dive into a trending topic or a contrary take on the news. The newsjacking should lead to your useful, relevant content or at least point to the path to your content. This is entertainment by feeding the curiosity aroused by someone else’s story.

     Examples (good and bad):  

 

 

 

Sharing Personal Feelings

In this era of engagement, sharing feelings can be a path to establishing a solid connection with your consumers. There is an element of risk in becoming personal, but it is that exposure that creates an opening for interaction. Sportscaster Jim Nantz shared his personal story of caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s as he urged people to donate to find a cure. A sizable number of supplicants on Shark Tank begin their investment pitches by relating a personal story that resulted in their product invention. As with any relationship, getting personal can get sticky, so choose what feelings you share carefully and make sure they link somehow to your useful, relevant content.

     Examples:

The Secret Sauce of Delectable Content

 The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

Here’s a content marketing idea: Have something to say and say it with some panache.

It doesn’t take a master chef to understand the key ingredient in content marketing is content itself. If you want your dish to sizzle, the content has to taste good, be presented well and go down easily.

There is a lot of content out there that resembles processed food and frozen dinners. You might consume it, but you would rather not. You certainly wouldn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to buy it. 

When thinking of content, your mind should go to fresher fare. Like the new Portland restaurant that mixes up gourmet meals for 10 people at a sitting who watch the preparation and eat at an old-fashioned counter. You eat what you see and interact with the cook. It’s like having your own personal chef. 

Writing a blog, op-ed or white paper isn’t something you can customize for each potential reader. But you can personalize content by making it relevant, useful, entertaining or evocative. That’s what separates hot dogs from veal scaloppini.

To understand whether to whip up veal scaloppini, beef brisket or shrimp louie, you need to understand the appetites of your diners. The same is true for content development. You need a deep dive into what your audience craves. You need to know much more than their age, gender and time preference to check out social media. You must discover what interests them, concerns them or inspires them. That becomes your editorial menu for what content to create.

This kind of audience taste-testing isn’t something you can farm out to the folks who make your bar stools or repair your dishwasher. As the master chef of your content, you have to be on top of your customers’ taste buds. If you are in harmony with customer cravings, you will never be at a loss of what to cook up. 

Content marketing counselors urge creating good content, but they often fail to describe the recipe. Good content, like good food, should be authentic and satisfy the palate as well as the tummy. It makes you want to hug the cook. Good content makes the same kind of strong connection between the content creator and consumer.

While good content is easy to spot, it is not always easy to see. That’s where the “marketing” part of content marketing comes into play. The marketing job is to get good content on the table in front of diners. If great content is teamed with lousy marketing, the tables will be largely empty. Likewise, great marketing and so-so content discourages a return visit.

As in fine cooking, content generation requires trial and error. Failure isn’t a bad thing, especially if it forces you into a more productive direction and a refined approach. This is why engagement is so important. A good cook wants to hear compliments, but also needs to see what part of a meal goes uneaten into the garbage can. The same is true for content marketers who should ask for viewer feedback and measure consumer reaction. It’s okay to try out some diner ideas or maybe even let them grill a meal once in a while.

Content marketing success starts with content that makes your consumers’ mouths water and then satisfies their hunger. Content should be dished up with visual appeal. And your consumers should know where to find you and when they can sit down to feast. But above all, have something to say.

Content Marketing Example

Alaska Airlines continues to shine as a savvy content marketer. The airline delayed the takeoff of a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu earlier this year to allow a swarm of eclipse chasers – and a planeload of other passengers – to see a total solar eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, capturing national media attention.

Top designer Luly Yang demonstrates how to best prepare your wedding dress as a carry-on item when flying to your destination wedding. 

In its most recent blog post, Alaska Air featured fashion designer Luly Yang, who will reimagine fight attendant uniforms. However, the blog focuses on something more down-to-earth – how do you pack a wedding dress when flying. In short videos, Yang demonstrates how to fold a flowing gown into a suitcase and even a carry-on bag to ensure it arrives with minimal wrinkles and no damage, avoiding a bride’s worst nightmare.

This is content geared for people who fly on airplanes or who have daughters who will fly on airplanes to go to faraway weddings. The content is useful, and it’s presented in a visually informative and entertaining way. The advice, by the way, might just as easily apply to a guy’s suit coat or silk Hawaiian shirts.

This is how good content marketing is done. 

YouTube: Your Own TV Station

 YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

As digital media has allowed you to be your own content publisher, YouTube allows you to be your own TV station.

Today, the video sharing giant has become far more than a personal outlet for run-of-the-mill vloggers to vent their frustrations and show off their whacky sense of humor. Now drawing tens of billions of views a month on millions of fresh videos, YouTube has created a massive worldwide platform for its biggest stars, many of whom are finding their successful video careers expanding well beyond YouTube and into more traditional media. But you don’t have to be famous to tap into the limitless marketing potential of YouTube.    

Last week, The Guardian highlighted the story of successful British YouTube due Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, who started small and built a large following, which they later parlayed into TV and movie deals. Though not exactly household names in the U.S., Sugg and Lee have more than 11 million YouTube subscribers and upwards of one billion views on Google’s video service. Theirs is an example of how far the clever use of a YouTube channel can get you.  

Last year, the duo released Joe and Caspar Hit the Road, a straight-to-DVD movie chronicling their trip around Europe. Behind the production is the team from the popular British TV series Top Gear. While going straight to DVD usually means your movie is a box office dud, the rule simply doesn’t apply for the rising stars of YouTube. After topping the sales charts as a DVD and digital download on the web, the movie will make its way to the E4 TV network this month, and a sequel is already in the mix for this fall.

Clearly, you don’t have to be famous to tap into the massive marketing potential of YouTube. If you self-promote it, they will come. Just as blogs have become a more common marketing tool for businesses in the past several years, YouTube vloggers have begun to gain more traction among branding strategists. Now those strategists are turning to YouTube with their own channels for branding a company.  

According to a 2015 Social Media Examiner study of more than 3,700 marketers, 55 percent of business-to-business marketers and business-to-consumer marketers are incorporating YouTube into their brand-building strategies today. The number of YouTube converts continues to grow, and it should for quite some time.

Consider that we live in an age where video has overtaken written communication as a more popular, fast-growing communication medium online, especially among young audiences. Part of what’s driving so many to seize upon YouTube as a marketing tool is the simplicity and accessibility of YouTube. Anyone can shoot a video and post it to their channel, and it doesn’t have to be long or particularly well made to draw thousands or even millions of views.  

Rising new media companies, like Vice, owe much of their recent success to YouTube. After drawing millions upon millions of views on their short clips and alternative documentaries posted on YouTube, Vice had picked up enough of a following to launch its own daily news show on HBO. Now Vice is expanding in Europe with 30 shows in production and another 100 in development, said Eddy Moretti, the company’s chief creative officer.

“Our model has been we launch a channel online, we create the brand, we create a lot of video for that brand, and find talent … And we’ve been moving that talent, that IP [intellectual property], those videos, to other platforms,” Moretti said.

The success of these new media ventures aside, any successful branding strategy in today’s fast changing world needs to be designed to draw in millennials online, and few places in the digital arena offer a better venue for that than YouTube. That concept should always be top-of-mind for any branding strategist today. Whether you work for a meteoric video producer like Vice or a much smaller local business, YouTube may just be your best friend in marketing for many, many years to come. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

Alaska Air’s Eclipsing Brand Personality

Alaska Air may have eclipsed its long history of a smiling-faced Eskimo brand personality. The airline took a cue from curious customers and slightly realigned a regularly scheduled flight from Anchorage to Honolulu to give passengers a porthole view of a total solar eclipse on March 8.

The customers were veteran eclipse chasers who realized their chances of seeing the March 8 eclipse were slim because monsoons would obscure the view in Indonesia and Micronesia, the only land areas where it would be visible. Astronomer Joe Rao, who works for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, did some checking and noticed Alaska Air’s Flight 870 would intersect the arc of the eclipse.

There was a problem, the plane’s scheduled departure would be 25 minutes too early. Rao contacted Alaska Air officials, explained the situation and the airline switched the departure time. On the day of the flight, Alaska officials reviewed the proposed flight path and wine and weather conditions to optimize viewing the eclipse. Ground crews made sure all the windows were clean. The plane’s pilot relied on the flight management computer to hit the mark.

The 181 passengers, including more than a dozen “eclipse geeks,” were treated to a grand spectacle en route. Alaska Air won plaudits for accommodating the eclipse chasers. “It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” said Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse manager for the American Astronomical Society and a passenger on Flight 870. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting experience. An airline that’s actually talking to their people – and listening? That’s air service at its best. It’s become personal.”

You couldn’t buy a testimonial that good. Nor could you find a way to reinforce your brand personality as an airline that shows it cares about passengers by the quality of its service.

The flight wasn’t just a mystic experience for the eclipse junkies. Dan McGlaun, who viewed his 12th total eclipse on Flight 870, brought 200 pairs of specially filtered glasses so everyone on board could witness the sun during all phases of the eclipse.

Alaska Air has undergone an image refresher since the beginning of 2016, putting more snap into its logo and imagery. Other than Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Air is the only major carrier with a human face as its brand face. The smiling Eskimo isn’t a particular person, but is intended to convey a sense of family and community.

On its website, Alaska Air says the iconic Eskimo’s visage may have been drawn from grandfatherly faces in Kotzebue, a small Alaskan community 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Before a hospital was built there in 2013, Kotzebue residents who were ill or injured “called Alaska Airlines first,” symbolizing that the carrier is “embedded into the fiber of the communities it serves."

Alaska is a company with a distinctive brand personality and an awareness of what it takes to showcase it.

Ten Essential Skills for Digital Marketing

 The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

As we plunge deeper into the digital age, some old skills take on greater value and new skills are required to remain top of mind, convey brand value and get work out the door.

Arik Hanson, in his blog Communications Conversations, offers what he calls 10 essential skills for the future of public relations. The skills could just as easily apply to the future of successful communications for brands, nonprofits and public agencies.

Video and audio production and advertising copywriting skills top Hanson’s list. He might have added animation skills. The tools to produce compelling video and audio content have become vastly more accessible to everyday users, who face growing demands to generate visual content. Advertising is expanding to social media, which demands knowledge of how to write snappy copy, even if you aren’t an “advertising creative.”

Another emerging skill set, Hanson says, is the ability to create social media content and manage social content systems. Some still cling to the view that social media is all about dog pictures and people describing what they ate for dinner, original content that is useful, relevant and entertaining has become a staple of marketing programs, especially for nonprofits and public agencies. Curating and stockpiling content, as well as making it searchable, has become a fundamental marketing ground-game skill.

Writing clearly for external and internal audiences isn’t a new skill, but Hanson insists its role is growing. With information overload and a casual attitude about writing, those who can communicate clearly in words will be highly regarded – and perhaps in short supply. Writing for internal audiences involves “understanding what motivates employees,” Hanson says, “as well as having solid writing skills.”

Visual communications dominate on digital media, which means organizations and their PR counselors must “develop a visual style” for their online presence. It’s not enough to be online. You need to stand out online.

Another reality of digital media is the power of influencers. Hanson says collaborating with influencers is a whole new ballgame. "Four to six years ago, everyone was talking about blogger outreach, and with good reason: Blogs were the dominant cog in the social media machinery. Fast-forward to 2016, and there are now platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat – with people on those networks who command significant attention.”

Satisfying clients remains a priority, but Hanson says it now requires a “deep understanding of traditional, digital and business analytics.” It also requires, he adds, an “understanding of how to produce reports that make sense to clients.” “Provide relevant context, provide ideas as outcomes of the data and always cull the data and present them in terms the client can understand.”

The final skill Hanson points to is the ability to work in virtual teams. “I see virtual work environments as a huge trend over the next five to seven years,” he says. That involves understanding virtual team workflows and investing in tools that work in virtual team environments.

Hanson, who is the principal for a Minneapolis-based marketing firm, wrote a similar list of 10 essential skills in 2012. The list changed significantly in just four years. It is highly likely to keep changing rapidly into the future, which means organizations need to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement and a willingness to learn and embrace new ideas.

Making Corporate Candor Funny

 Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars is running a TV ad in which intern Chet Wallaby takes the blame for the inexplicable disappearance of the wildly popular Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza from the chain’s menu.

The tongue-in-cheek bit, which features a corporate big-wig thanking the scapegoat intern for his honesty, works because it mirrors reality. A lot of C-suite executives designate someone else to convey the bad news or to take the spears for a corporate misstep.

The ad fits Little Caesars quirky brand personality, founded in 1959 by Mike Ilitch, a Detroit Tigers farm club shortstop. Ilitich’s wife, Marian, affectionately called him her “little caesar,” which became the chain’s name. What started as a single store has become an international food services company, known for filling the largest pizza order in history – 13,386 pizzas – and renowned for setting up Love Kitchens on wheels to feed victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The bacon-wrapped pizza – a deep-dish pizza with 3.5-foot-long belt of bacon – was introduced in 2015. It drew the expected critical hazing for excess, but apparently it was popular with Little Caesars patrons. When the pizza slid from view on the menu, customers complained. Then, the TV ad announced its bacon-wrapped return.

Wallaby, the awkward, disingenuous scapegoat in the TV ad, is a perfect representation of other designated fall guys. Scapegoating is far too common, which makes the spoof funny and memorable. In real life, scapegoating is less funny and hard to forget. It can even be a brand killer.

Domino’s rebranded itself around a new pizza “from the crust up,” with ads that admitted its previous pizzas tasted like cardboard. The “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign was plaudits for “corporate candor."

Most brands may not need to go as far as Domino’s, which dropped “Pizza” from its name and ran a series of ads showing its signs being pulled down. But some – take note, Chipotle – might consider it.

Whether a brand is remade or not, owning reality is a quality that usually resonates with customers. And as Little Caesars shows, owning reality can be funny as well as serious. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Bowl Season TV Ad Winners

 Samuel Adams, known for its wide range of beers, produces a holiday TV ad that offers a perfect visual explanation of seasonal brews.

Samuel Adams, known for its wide range of beers, produces a holiday TV ad that offers a perfect visual explanation of seasonal brews.

The Super Bowl usually draws attention for creative TV ads, but this year a couple of gems emerged earlier during the college bowl season – one by Samuel Adams, the other from Taco Bell.

Boston beer maker Samuel Adams served up a perfect example of a visual explanation in an ad, while Taco Bell used 60 seconds to tell a story about scholarships for young dreamers and innovators.

The Samuel Adams ad answers the question, "Why seasonal beers?" by explaining the characteristics of spring, summer and fall brews, then finishing by featuring its winter lager. The explanations were visual, tasteful and informative.

The ad informed without selling. The brewer's commitment to diverse beers and styles was underscored, but unstated. Like a good beer, the ad was satisfying even as it subtly reminded you of the Samuel Adams brand value.

This isn't an aberration for Samuel Adams, which routinely offers up ads that respect viewer intelligence. Its messages are aimed at more discerning beer drinkers, or at least people who want more than a six-pack to guzzle at a frat party.

 Taco Bell veered away from its normal advertising to describe the need to encourage dreamers and innovators through its new Live Mas Scholarship.

Taco Bell veered away from its normal advertising to describe the need to encourage dreamers and innovators through its new Live Mas Scholarship.

The Taco Bell ad was more surprising, since the fast food giant's normal fare appeals to a lower common denominator. Instead of extolling the "fourth meal" or extreme tacos, in this ad Taco Bell says it's time for young people to receive scholarships for more than academics or athletics.

The Taco Bell Foundation calls the Live Mas Scholarship a "passion-based" scholarship for innovators and dreamers. With awards ranging from $2,500 to $25,000, a total of $1 million will be given to 220 students in 2016 to attend accredited colleges and vocational schools.

The ad shows young adults engaged in a variety of innovative activities. "The Live Más Scholarship is not based on your grades or how well you play sports. No essays, no test scores, no right or wrong answers," Taco Bell says. "We’re looking for the next generation of innovators, creators and dreamers – whose post-high school education we will help fund. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the next generation.

We can look forward in a few days to Super Bowl ad blitzes, which hopefully will match or exceed these two ads.

Cause Marketing Gains Popularity, Maturity

 Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing campaigns are becoming more sophisticated, such as Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at homes.

Cause marketing continues to gain in popularity and recent examples have moved substantially beyond co-promoting a company and a worthy cause by asking for a donation or signing a petition.

A great example is Nationwide's "Make Safe Happen" campaign to reduce childhood injuries at home. The insurance company's choice of a safety program aligns with its business. Instead of teaming with a single organization, Nationwide reached out to a hospital, pediatricians, parents, caregivers and toy manufacturers to identify sources of injury that could be prevented.

David Hessekiel, founder and president of Cause Marketing Forum and author of "Good Works!" says companies are pursuing more sophisticated and creative approaches to address nagging social problems. Some, like Nationwide's campaign, hitch together "complex, multi-player coalitions."

The "Make Safe Happen" program scores well on another pair of important virtues – usefulness and relevance, both key components of successful content marketing strategies. The program isn't just about doing good; it's about helping to avoid an injury to your child or grandchild.

To ensure the campaign was useful and relevant, the techniques used by Nationwide zeroed in on firsthand, frontline sources, such as partnering with Safe Kids Worldwide to "engage caregivers in real time," explained Hessekiel.

In an article written for Forbes, Hessekiel cited other significant cause marketing trends in 2015:

•  Using iconic branding to make a point (Coca-Cola replaced its trademark logo with "Labels are for cans, not people" to promote acceptance of cultural differences).

•  Promoting behavior change (AT&T's It Can Wait pledge to persuade motorists to stay off their smartphones while driving).

•  Educating younger generations (H&R Block's Budget Challenge initiative to teach financial literacy).

•  Creating multi-channel experiences (Coke's #MakeItHappy campaign to encourage positivity).

Cause marketing examples involving large companies can be intimidating for small and family-run businesses. But it would be a mistake to see cause marketing as only the purview of the big brands.

Micro-volunteering is one of the more interesting tools that smaller companies – or nonprofits and public agencies – could exploit in a cause marketing effort. Micro-volunteering involves bite-sized chunks of time that employees can give at work, home or almost anywhere in support of a wide range of causes.

NPR recently featured a micro-volunteering effort to aid blind people who live at home. In the story, a blind woman who needed help in identifying the ingredients she would use to prepare a meal hooked up online with a micro-volunteer. The volunteer, who in this story happened to be in a different city, and the blind woman connected via live streaming so the volunteer could read the ingredients of various bottles. The volunteered assistance took only a couple of minutes.

According to the website helpfromhome.org, popular micro-volunteer causes include animal welfare, environmental watchdogs, health, poverty and scientific research. The website says micro-volunteering opportunities let people "make a difference on their lunch break."