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Unusual and Outrageous Keys to Earned Media

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

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.

Handling Being a Winner

We spend a lot of time talking about how to respond to a crisis, but exert little effort on how to handle success. Winning does happen, so maybe it's time to give it some attention, too.

U.S. Olympic hockey team player T.J. Oshie was thrown into the deep end of the pool after he out-dueled the Russian goalie in a dramatic shootout to give Team USA a clutch victory in Sochi. He became an instant social media phenomenon, with thousands of people, including President Obama, tweeting congratulations. Then came a barrage of interviews, which extended to Monday morning when he appeared on the NBC "Today" show.

Oshie, who was chosen by his coach for six of the eight shootout attempts because of his calmness, displayed an easy demeanor when being interviewed. He didn't do a "Richard Sherman" as if he was amped up on adrenalin. Instead, he gave credit to the U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick for making critical saves in the 8-shot shootout. He admitted to being nervous and self-effacingly said he was glad his last shot went in because "I was running out of ideas." 

Oshie’s performance on the ice and well-spoken interview afterward sent people scrambling on the web to learn more about him — the 27-year-old Oshie was among the final selections to Team USA, he lives in Minnesota, plays in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues and was born and grew up north of Seattle before going to college at the University of North Dakota.

Directions to the Road to Redemption

Dear Ms. Deen,

As one of "those people" who wrote about you and told "lies," I wanted to take this opportunity to offer specific suggestions on how you can hop on the road to redemption.

What you have tried so far isn't working. You have lost sponsors, business partners and your cookbook publisher. Even Wal-Mart dumped you.

Your videos and appearance on the Today Show came across as whiny apologies. They weren't convincing. 

You describe yourself as a 66-year-old woman of the South. Now you need to be a woman of the modern South. It is time for you to move from victim to agent of change.

The road to redemption isn't lined with contorted parables about the sinless throwing the first stones at the sinners. Redemption requires a genuine, demonstrable change. It is all about you, not anyone else.

I listened over the weekend to "crisis experts" fumble over the question of what you should do. Those of us who throw stones also should be willing to build bridges. So here are my sincere suggestions of how you can find and travel the road to redemption:

Your status as celebrity chef is a perfect stage to show you have learned from this experience and really changed. 

  • Reach out to African-American chefs to collaborate on a cookbook that celebrates and showcases how black Americans have contributed — from their slave roots through today — to what we now think of as Southern cooking. This could lead to a cooking show where you demonstrate a respectful posture toward African-American culinary peers as together you and they unfold the history of recipes, cooking styles and use of indigenous Southern ingredients. As opposed to a solemn documentary, the show could be infused with your on-stage energy to make it fun, useful and enlightening.