Advertising

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.

Portland’s Iconic Pitchman and Beloved Showman

Tom Peterson’s trademark flat-top image was everywhere in Portland – on alarm clocks, wristwatches and coffee mugs. And Tom Peterson was a constant presence on TV, inviting people to come to his “happy place to buy."

Tom Peterson’s trademark flat-top image was everywhere in Portland – on alarm clocks, wristwatches and coffee mugs. And Tom Peterson was a constant presence on TV, inviting people to come to his “happy place to buy."

Tom Peterson is easily the most recognizable pitchman for his own Portland brand of retail appliance, furniture and electronics stores. While his branding style may have seemed corny, it worked.

Peterson, who died last month at 86, was instantly recognizable because of his trademark flat-top haircut, his homemade TV ads and his favorite, highly inflected catch phrase, "FREE is a very good price.”

Peterson was more than just a pitchman, though. You could call him a true showman. He lived his brand, often greeting customers on his showroom floor with a friendly handshake as well as talking to them via his TV ads. He didn’t high-hat people. He knew his customers were typical working class Oregonians who wanted a value from someone they trusted.

Peterson was very engaging in person. Taller than he seemed on television, Peterson was anything but a self-absorbed celebrity. He was down to earth, even when he was TOM Peterson, the TV personality beckoning you to come to “the happy place to buy.”

Peterson’s legacy is that brands need to be personal. In today’s world, that means finding a way to engage customers. In Peterson’s heyday, it meant being the face of a brand that was as familiar to customers as cloudy days in Portland. People woke up to alarm clocks with Tom Peterson’s face, they wore his wristwatches and they drank morning coffee from mugs with his and his wife Gloria’s picture that marked the couple’s 50th anniversary.

You never were at a loss to know what Peterson was saying, but he didn’t shout. He used schtick to get and stay noticed. One of his gimmicks was “Wake up” ads that touted his stores staying open from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. to serve insomniacs and the curious.

Peterson was best man at a wedding officiated by beloved local professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper. He gave away Halloween masks in his image, which he printed in black and white in case anyone would try to use one while robbing a bank. He offered free flat-top haircuts in his stores. His iconic face appeared in comic books and stencil art. There was even a song written about him called “I Woke Up with a Tom Peterson Haircut."

Anyone around Portland in the 1970s  and 1980s knew the sound of “It’s TOM Peterson.” He was known more broadly, too. Northwest native Kurt Cobain wore his kitschy wristwatch. Director Gus Van Sant, who lives in Portland, cast Peterson in three cameo roles in his films Drugstore Cowboy, My Private Idaho and To Die For. Peterson also appeared in Mr. Holland’s Opus, which was filmed in Portland.

It’s a bit surprising that Peterson was never asked to play a starring role in Portlandia. The truth is, Peterson wasn’t viewed as a peculiarity. He was a Portland icon.

A victim of overreach and overwhelming debt, Peterson filed for bankruptcy in 1991. At his wife’s suggestion, Peterson talked candidly about his financial pickle on his TV ads as he was reduced to working on the sales floor to clear inventory.

Ever the optimist, Peterson became a motivational speaker and he and his wife emerged from bankruptcy to start a similar business in 1992 on a smaller scale, but with the same personality-forward brand – Tom Peterson's and Gloria's, Too! Tellingly, the sale of Tom Peterson memorabilia helped raise funds for their new venture.

Les Schwab, Orville Roth and Fred Meyer were the faces and often the voices of their brands. They were also the personification of their brands, the person customers trusted – Schwab with his tire guarantee, Roth with his signature green tie walking the aisles of his grocery stores and Meyer promoting one-stop shopping.

No one, however, has quite reached the iconic status of Peterson in Portland. Perhaps because no one thought about branding the way he did. When asked why he put his image on and his voice in an alarm clock that he gave away, Peterson said, “If you can put your face in 5,000 Portland homes, it certainly can’t hurt.”

Apparently not. Even the attorney for Peterson’s creditors in his bankruptcy case wore a Tom Peterson wristwatch.

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.

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.

The Face of News Media Keeps Changing

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

We may be trading dominance by communications conglomerates for dominance by a handful of gargantuan technology companies that are emerging as prime arbiters of our news feeds.

Given the recent flap over Facebook’s censorship of certain trending news, that could be a growing concern, rivaling worries over the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s influence over what is considered news.

It is no secret that newspaper circulation has continued to dive as many print publications have struggled to cash in on their digital siblings. But it has gone relatively unnoticed that eyeballs tracking the news have shifted so dramatically to Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter – with $40 billion in digital advertising trailing along.

Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn puts it alongside Google, Facebook and Apple as digital platforms intent on creating bubbles that users never have to leave to do their work, share information, network with friends or potential employers, be entertained and view the news.

According to the Pew Research Center's 2016 State of the News Media report, 2015 was the worst year for newspapers since the Great Recession. Circulation dropped 7 percent, advertising fell 8 percent and newsroom staffing shrunk 10 percent.

Michael Barthel, a Pew research associate focusing on journalism research, speculated, “Coming amid a wave of consolidation, this accelerating decline suggests the industry may be past its point of no return."

Meanwhile, TV and cable news operations held their own, thanks in part to a long and lively presidential primary season with lots of candidates and SuperPacs. News podcasting and live streaming are experiencing audience growth, but not revenue growth. If there is good news, they also are not cannibalizing traditional radio listenership and revenues, Barthel says.

Mobile devices are gobbling up audience attention and attracting more ad bucks -- and Google and Facebook are raking in the lion's share. The transition is more rapid than some may realize, with mobile advertising now outpacing advertising geared for desktop devices.

The question begged by the mounds of data in the Pew media report is “So, what does it all mean?” For one, it’s clear people appear more, not less interested in the news. They are shifting where they get their news, which is pulling advertising to new places and creating a demand for different types of advertising. But there is no promise current trends will persist. They may just be dog legs to the left on a course that is inexorably going into a water hazard on the right.

It seems obvious there is increased channel segmentation and a sharp divide in the news viewing habits of younger and older adults. But where does that lead? In an age of videos and visuals, why are audio-only communications picking up steam?  Will cable TV news retains its appeal after the November election? Would TV networks and stations have benefited as much by a more traditional contest such as Hillary Clinton versus a candidate like John Kasich?

Local TV stations have been buoyed by the buzz and business bump of morning TV shows, which feed into national news TV shows. Even evening TV news shows, which have been stretched over a range of “getting home” times, are prospering or at least holding their own. But how is this sustainable when younger adults no longer tune into traditional TV?

Media trends have a remarkable ability to mirror general societal trends. They show, as Pew reports, that people still thirst for news, but are willing to gravitate to different platforms and non-traditional sources to find it. Apple and Yahoo aren’t permanent emplacements. They can be as temporary as yesteryear must-sees, such as “Laugh In” and “Dallas.”

One thing is clear. In times past, all people could do is complain about the faults of their local newspaper or the bias of TV networks. But there is a lot more to fret about today when it comes to the news.

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. 

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. 

The Seven Big Problems of Marketing

Marketing has some big problems in today’s economy, ranging from how marketing works in the digital world and global marketplace to coping with exploding numbers of communications channels and disruptive technological change.

The American Marketing Association unveiled what it calls an “intellectual agenda” that identifies seven big marketing problems in the face of ever more fragmented and distracted groups of would-be customers.

AMA CEO Russ Klein says the seven big problems are intended as “above-the-din context” for addressing an increasingly challenging marketplace while maintaining objectivity and an action orientation.

Here are the seven big problems as described for AMA by Bernie Jaworski, Rob Malcolm and Neil Morgan:

1. Effectively targeting high-value sources of growth

Long gone are the days when brands could be one-trick products. Market segmentation is a bigger factor now than ever, which forces more critical choices about what segment to target that offers the best opportunity for a positive return.

After locating the ripest opportunity, brands need to decide how to position products and influence consumer decision-making. That can involve bumper-car competition with other brands that are trying to win in the same segment. Effective marketers call this “demand landscape mapping,” which still is more like the Lewis and Clark expedition than precise digital cartography.

2. The role of marketing in the firm and C-suite

Historically companies have focused on making and distributing products efficiently – the supply side of the equation. In today’s marketplace, consumer demand has become a more dominant driver, which means the marketing department that had been assigned a room down the hall has been summoned to the C-suite.

Company executives must decide how to integrate marketing into organizations weighted toward production. They also need to figure out whether marketing should be centralized or farmed out to individual product groups. There are company culture aspects to consider by switching to products consumers want from products you want to make.

3. The digital transformation of the modern corporation

The Internet of Things is forcing all kinds of companies to go from “dumb” to “smart.” This transition transcends Big Data and social media and goes to the heart of business models, company hierarchies and the consumer interface.

One way to think of this evolution is to imagine brands are going from a world of two-dimensional videos to three-dimensional video games. There is constant, often real-time interaction with consumers and competitors. There is less time to react and a higher premium on being nimble. The marketing department is arguably best suited to be the front line soldiers in this advancing battle.

4. Generating and using insight to share marketing practice

Research has always been a fundamental building block for disciplined marketers, but today’s challenge is a mound of information. There is a lot of data and plenty of analytics, and there also is the potential for overlooking insights gained by direct consumer contact.

The heart of this problem is whether it is better to analyze consumer behavior or actually observe it. Traditional research methods can reveal why a consumer chooses one brand over another and why. It may not reveal daily experience that could suggest an openness – or even eagerness – for a different alternative, a breakthrough product. A key question is to decipher what tools and techniques are more effective at breaking the “insights code.”

5. Dealing with an omni-channel world 

Even the most efficiently run companies have to face a world of chaotic communications and channels. Nothing illustrates this point better than the surging rise in online sales. A brand not only has to worry about shelf space and in-store promotions; it also has to contend with how to sell on Amazon. Bigger brands need to sort out the brick-and-click interplay. 

Brand marketers must engage consumers on what to buy as well as where to buy it. Many brands already have parallel marketing universes online and in-store, which often includes the option of buying online in a store for merchandise not in local inventory. However, this seems like just the beginning, not the end scene of effective omni-channel marketing.

6. Competing in dynamic, global markets

Globalization is usually described as manufacturing products offshore in low-wage countries to cut production costs. The recent release of the so-called Panama Papers reminds us that capital flows across international borders are a very big deal. But we may just be witnessing a burst of a different kind of international competition with the seemingly sudden introduction of brands we’ve never heard of before.

It wasn’t that long ago when Samsung and Kia became recognizable brands in our marketplace. Expect more. At the same time, wider arrays of U.S. brands have spread their wings and flown on to foreign markets, raising questions about supply chains, unfamiliar regulation and the cultural competency of marketing. The marketing role must take on a deeper role to perceive how a brand can withstand foreign competitors at home and abroad, to take advantage of global opportunities and to see trends as they emerge, not after they turn into tsunamis.

7. Balancing incremental and radical innovation

“Firms need to compete in two time periods: the present and the future.” How can companies achieve the ambidextrous skill to manage in dual universes that may be hugely different? More important, how will the customer experience evolve, especially given the growth of mobile devices that can be used to compare prices, search other distribution channels and pay for goods?

AMA suggests this balancing act will require thinking more about platform products, franchises and product ecosystems. Concepts like “fail fast” may become standard operating procedure. Are there models to emulate successful reinvention and what metrics matter for innovation? How do you go beyond product innovation to organizational, financial and marketing innovation?

Content Marketing Personas

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Buyer personas are established elements of marketing plans, so why shouldn’t a content persona be appropriate for a content marketing plan.

Buyer personas show how existing or potential customers think, their perceived needs and where they get information. A content marketing persona is similar, but it zeroes in on what kind of content customers view as useful, informative and entertaining.

Buyer and content personals all have the same objective – to convert someone from a viewer into a customer. They both search for triggers for that conversion. They seek ways to establish a bond of trust between brand and buyer.

There are subtle differences. A content persona places more emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Marketing personas are ways to humanize customer statistics. It is hard to conjure a marketing plan for metadata. It is easier to envision a plan that addresses people with certain kinds of common characteristics. 

Personas reveal "pain points,” “priority initiatives,” “perceived barriers” and “decision criteria.” Marketers like to track the “buyer’s journey” and “success factors.” Content marketers must be mindful of all that within the framework of creating content.

A pain point could involve finding a way to get rid of mold in the shower. A buyer persona might focus on a product. A content persona would show the process of how to use a reputable product to scrub away the mold. It is the difference between promoting a product directly or demonstrating how your product works.

This example illustrates that some “buyers” just want a solution, while others want to be involved in the solution. That oversimplifies the difference between buyer and content personas, but it does show how they differ.

Another key difference is perspective. A buyer persona is intended to mark the path to a sale. A content persona is a roadmap to winning the customer’s trust and, ultimately, loyalty.

Many companies have shifted marketing dollars to content marketing because it matches well with customer relationship management. If all you do is pitch products, you aren’t distinguishing yourself from competitors. If a competitor comes up with a snappier, cooler and cheaper product, your buyer persona is hasta la vista. Competitors have a tougher time busting through the rapport you establish with layers of successful content marketing that deliver continuing value.

Content marketing and personas don’t require throwing away all you know about marketing or buyer personas. They do require a marketing master's degree in how to generate content from the vantage point of a helpful neighbor with a garage full of unbelievably useful tools.

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.

From Brand Journalism to Branded Entertainment

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

First came brand journalism. Now we have branded entertainment. 

Tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra sketch sponsored by American Express. Other shows such as “The Voice,” “Blindspot” and “Today” have slipped sponsored content into slots normally occupied by traditional advertising.

Branded entertainment, in the form of comedy sketches, extra interviews or extended segments, reduces the amount of advertising while still making the cash register ring. It is a response to more viewers moving to services such as Hulu that offer content without advertising breaks. TV networks are banking that fewer advertising slots will fetch higher prices and different kinds of slots will appeal to gold-star advertisers like American Express.

The notion of branded entertainment is as old as radio and television. Way back when, individual sponsors were associated with shows. The Jack Benny Show was originally called “The Lucky Strike Program.” Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show was primarily sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. 

Native advertising, where the ads look and feel like the content or medium they appear with, has been gaining in popularity. But it is still advertising, which some readers and viewers want to avoid. Branded entertainment, which involves sponsorships, is an attractive alternative.

National Public Radio has a form of branded news and entertainment, with sponsors that receive Twitter-size acknowledgements. Weather and traffic reports on radio and TV are another common form of branded content.

According to The New York Times, American Express approached NBC last December about its branded entertainment idea, which it will use to promote one of its credit cards. An American Express spokesman called the partnership with NBC an opportunity “to create a different kind of paradigm” for TV advertising in an increasingly segmented market. 

If the experiment works, expect to see it replicated on more than TV shows as well as promoted on popular online news sites. NBC invested $200 million in BuzzFeed, which “will produce online posts related to sponsored programming,” the New York Times reported.

Avoid Snap Judgments about Snapchat

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

If you want to direct a message to young adults, consider delivering it on either Instagram or Snapchat. Yes, that Snapchat. 

For many people, Snapchat, which launched in 2011 and was originally called Picaboo, is a quirky social media platform where you post something, then it goes poof. Well, that impression is so yesterday. Almost literally.

In the last two years, Snapchat has added new functionality that allows users to tell more complex stories that hang around longer, send direct messages and conduct video chats. Snapchat’s popularity has exploded, with 100 million user visits per day, a user base nearly the size of Twitter’s and 7 billion daily video views. That is close to Facebook’s 8 billion daily video views, but Facebook has an audience 15 times larger than Snapchat.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

Snapchat appeals to young adults because it is relatively frictionless. Tap and shoot. Hold the button down for video. Snapchat is more personal than Instagram. You can share with a chosen group, not broadcast to the world. For the impulsive, Snapchat offers nearly guilt-free, real-time sharing, with the knowledge that the post will soon disappear. (After a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat settled and admitted that posts aren’t absolutely deleted and in some cases can be retrieved with the right forensic tools. For intentional users, this is a meh moment.)

Writing for socialmediaexaminer.com, Suzanne Delzio says Snapchat’s audience is growing and highly engaged – appetizing metrics for advertisers and anyone who needs to reach a young adult audience. For example, Snapchat could be a perfect crisis response vehicle to tell college students about an infectious disease outbreak and the steps to combat it. Snapchat might be the right vehicle for a continuing campaign to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse on dates.

Delzio says Snapchat endured early criticism for its vertical-only video format. However, data indicates mobile device users strongly prefer vertical versus horizontal video formats. Score this as a built-in advantage for Snapchat. The video completion rate, Delzio adds, on vertical formats is nine times higher, which is good news for marketers who often place their calls to action near the end of a video. Think of how this might work with a video about a car or car insurance aimed squarely at young adult consumers.

Instagram has staked out a strong position with Millennials, but Snapchat is catching up. Delzio reports that a study of Millennial smartphone users shows they spend 5.9 hours per month on Snapchat versus 7 hours on Instagram. Millennials spend almost 26 hours per month in Facebook, but it is a different experience. The key takeaway, Delzio writes, is that 76 percent of Millennials are already plugged into Snapchat.

The network that started in a Stanford classroom may be ready to dress up and go out on the town. Delzio says advertising rates have been lowered on Snapchat to sweeten its appeal for a broader group of advertisers.

In the world of social media, yesterday’s news is ancient history. Snapchat may have been a punch line, but it has quickly grown into a significant network for a key demographic group. Reconsider any snap judgments you may have made about Snapchat and consider how you can put it to work. 

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.