branding

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.

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

Even More Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul serves up stories that motivate us, and it has used that core brand value to expand its brand universe.

Chicken Soup for the Soul serves up stories that motivate us, and it has used that core brand value to expand its brand universe.

The road to market is littered with brand extensions that crashed. Chicken Soup for the Soul, on the other hand, has a track record of brand extension success, including a new TV series, that offers insights on how to do it right.

The iconic motivational book series about people and pets has borrowed a photo from “Candid Camera” to launch “Hidden Heroes,” a new weekly TV series that features people doing good things. In the most recent episode, a grandfather stymied by his laptop asks for – and receives – help from random people on how to dial up his grandchildren online.

Small story, big-picture kind of stuff. That’s how Chicken Soup for the Soul got its start as a brand. Motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen dotted their presentations with engaging, inspiring stories. When audience members asked to read more stories, Canfield and Hansen decided to write a book with 101 of their best stories. They came up with the idea of Chicken Soup for the Soul because it reminded them of the comfort kids get – and they got – from their grandmothers’ cooking.

No major publisher expressed interest in the original book. It took a small health and wellness publisher in Florida to give it a chance. There have been 250 Chicken Soup for the Soul books published and 11 million copies sold, making the series one of the most popular and beloved brands in the world.

The secret recipe for the success of Chicken Soup for the Soul is “people helping others by sharing stories about their lives.” That still drives the organization, which was sold in 2008 to Bill Rouhana and Amy Newmark, a husband-wife team that has led a spurt of brand extension beyond the bookstore.

There are now Chicken Soup for the Soul lines of food for people and their pets, online forums, apps, a motion picture and even a Chicken Soup for the Soul YouTube channel. Meanwhile, the organization still publishes a new book every month.

As befits its image, Chicken Soup for the Soul is socially conscious. It contributes a portion from all sales to the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a nonprofit started by Chicken Soup’s CEO, that attacks worldwide illiteracy, addresses hunger and promotes animal welfare. Proceeds from food sales support free school breakfasts. Royalties from some books go to the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Human Association and A World Fit for Kids.

So, the formula for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s success rests on sharing user-generated content across as many platforms as they can imagine and shaving off some of the revenue for causes that relate to the brand’s identity. Viewed another way, it offers a product or service people find useful, and keeps feeding that appetite and sharing the success, both through content and resources.

A lot of executives get embarrassed by thinking people buy into their brands instead of the values of their brand. Chicken Soup for the Soul understands its brand value, which is a true guide on brand extensions.

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.

Making Every Encounter Count

Make every customer encounter important by creating a magical moment. 

Make every customer encounter important by creating a magical moment. 

The Internet has changed the way people shop. It also has changed the way brands must interact with shoppers, treating each touchpoint with a consumer as a potentially magical moment.

Because it is easy to flit from one website to another, each encounter must count, says Scott Davis, director of insights and strategy at Sincerely Truman, a Portland creative agency. "The encounter is everything," Davis explains. "Catch people off guard and make them smile. Capture their heart, if only for a moment."

Of course, it wouldn't hurt if your encounter also involved transmitting relevant information, useful tips or to-die-for offers.

Davis makes a good point that every encounter is important, so brands must consider every social media post, their website design and marketing content that inspires shoppers to pause and exposes them to what is uniquely your brand story.

Paid and earned media have always been aimed at creating impressions. Davis says a quality impression is more valuable than a number of so-so impressions. "Every touchpoint must be a powerful standalone encounter."

Thinking differently about consumer interactions means thinking differently about content. In mass outreach, the goal is to grab eyeballs. What Davis recommends requires capturing eyeballs.

There is so much advertising on TV, in print and via the Web that it takes more than flash to create a durable impression, let alone to cause someone to poke a little deeper into the content.

Developing this kind of mix of creative content demands solid research to understand consumer motivations and trusted information sources. Content packaging must be clever, but also a quick route to the core information being offered. The actual content must instantly resonate with the intended audience by offering something of value that uniquely reflects your brand.

This is a tall order for every touchpoint, but Davis' admonition suggests the reward is worth the effort. "You must be able to bank on every encounter creating value." he says. Because in the crowded world of the Internet, you never know when the next encounter might be.

Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock and Brands

Leonard Nimoy at first resisted being type-cast as Mr. Spock, but he came to realize that he and his iconic role were beloved – and his brand for life.  Photo by Beth Madison, via Wikimedia Commons.

Leonard Nimoy at first resisted being type-cast as Mr. Spock, but he came to realize that he and his iconic role were beloved – and his brand for life. Photo by Beth Madison, via Wikimedia Commons.

The late Leonard Nimoy wrote two memoirs with interlocking titles – "I Am Not Spock" and "I Am Spock." His literary works could be a case study in a marketing communications branding class.

Being type-cast in Hollywood is not always a good thing. Recognizing you are type-cast can be liberating. Nimoy became famous as Mr. Spock, the split-fingered Vulcan sage who could see logic in chaos. The role that catapulted him to fame became his cage, which he first rejected, but ultimately accepted.

The lesson behind Nimoy's transformation is that customers decide your brand, not you.

Rebelling against your "brand" is why many brand extensions often fail – e.g. Colgate TV dinners and Evian's water-filled bra. You are who your customers think you are, not who you think you are. The better known the brand, the more you are, well, type-cast.

When Nimoy came to grips with his situation and accepted his branding, he directed two of the six Star Trek movie take-offs. He lent his voice to a cartoon version of the popular TV series. And he branched out to photography, poetry and music.

Brands can expand if you stay grounded in what the brand is expected to be. Starbucks came up with a home coffee-making machine. Orville Reddenbacher sells ready-to-eat popcorn. Duracell offers a power mat for mobile devices. Nestlé Crunch teamed with the Girl Scouts to produce a cookie candy bar.

Much energy and expense is devoted to "branding." A good place to begin is asking your customers or clients to describe your brand. You may be surprised at what they tell you. If customers are unsure of what you do, you have one kind of branding problem. If they tell you what they like about what you do, you have a golden opportunity to keep doing it.

Where Can Color Take Your Brand?

Color can transport a brand from bland to Boom!

A great example is Sherwin-Williams, a brand that generated about as much excitement as watching paint dry. Now it's colorful TV ads have injected freshness and vitality into its paint products. Watching them is like looking through a kaleidoscope.

Airing on stations such as HGTV, where people are watching and imagining how to spruce up their tired kitchens or bedrooms, Sherwin-Williams ads feature expressive use of color and design. Their TV ads qualify as visual art and they have the same purpose as art – to fire the imagination of viewers. 

There are differences in paint quality, which matter. But the real puzzle consumers want to solve is what colors to choose to warm up rooms that are cold and stale. Sherwin-Williams turns its ads into invitations to plunge into its world of color and leave inhibition behind.

Sherwin-Williams isn't the first or last company that spins the color wheel to separate itself from its competition in a commodity market. Target staged a major turnaround, going from a disdained discount store to an attractive go-to shopping center by emphasizing color – on its walls and in its products. 

The explosion of color, it seems, is everywhere. Go to a sporting goods store and look at the wide spectrum of colors for T-shirts and yoga pants. Once the preserve of black, white and gray, sports apparel now comes in colors once reserved for neon signs.

Users Become the Brand

A 60-second TV ad centers on parenthood and Apple's iPhone5s, the constant companion to monitor a child in a crib, show a toddler how to brush teeth and find a stray dog. It is an example of users becoming the brand.

The ad doesn't show off spiffy features of the smartphone; it showcases how users use it. The ad leaves parents wondering how they could live without an iPhone, not how much it costs.

This isn't a new concept for Apple, which has devoted more of its marketing mojo to benefits than features. But this ad goes further. It is a primer on how people use the iPhone. It is an ad chocked full of content, not claims.

Content marketing is already an established thrust online.  But it almost seems foreign to the basic idea and execution of TV advertising. 

As content-driven strategies have gained strength, advertising has been relegated to brand reinforcement. The Apple parenthood ad shows advertising can brim with content, too.

The ad also signals a movement toward creating connections, not desires. Snappy car ads want to lure you into a showroom, but Apple's ad brings the iPhone into your house, to address your everyday problems and challenges.

Past, Future and Passion

Branding is a lot like dating. To build a lasting relationship, you need a good first impression, shared values and dreams and lots of genuine engagement.The new premium in marketing is forging relationships with your customers. There is no better way to build rapport than sharing your past, future and passion.

Relationship marketing isn't all that different from dating. You zero in on someone who appeals to you. You find a way to make an introduction, hopefully leaving a positive first impression. Then comes the discovery part of a relationship where you tell about your past, talk about your dreams and reveal your passions. If there is a match, the relationship blossoms, especially when there is genuine engagement.

Promoting your brand in today's environment has those same qualities. You have to get noticed by your target audience. You want to make a memorable first impression. Then you tell about your product roots, outline the future and show your passion in an interactive relationship.

Naming Names

What you name something is one of the most important steps marketers may take if a product, project or program is to be successful. A creative and memorable name is an important part of your brand identity. There are no hard rules about creating clever names, but here are a few guidelines to follow:

Be collaborative, part 1: Start with a small group and brainstorm ideas. It’s rare, but you actually may hit a grand slam right off the bat. If you are so lucky, test the name with a select few of the target audience. CFM was cooking when it came up with the concept for “Old Voltage Meter,” a commemorative ale celebrating the 100th anniversary of Local 48 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Be collaborative, part 2: Sometimes it helps to take your initial thoughts to a larger group. When managing communications for the Portland City Hall renovation project, CFM asked top PR professionals for public relations agencies and local governments to serve as volunteers in a focus group. The city was delighted with the outcome. The group came up with the phrase “ Historic Portland City Hall: Restoring the Heart of the City.”

Be visual: Words alone are not enough. Powerful images are a must. In the IBEW and city hall examples, the memorable phrases that were selected inspired wonderful visuals. A great name influenced the logo introducing a new neighborhood to Portlanders — “The Brewery Blocks: In Portland’s Pearl District” — and associating the exciting new project with the energy of the trendy urban community.