Storytelling

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.

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.

Don’t Be Put Off by the Term. Newsjacking Works.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

Newsjacking is a way to ride the crest of breaking news or a popular event to tell your story and gain valuable exposure that would be virtually impossible any other way. And mostly for free.

“Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.”

David Meerman Scott hijacked this term to describe a new type of media relations that hops aboard a trending story or topic instead of trying to launch a story from a cold start. Not everyone in the public relations world thinks newsjacking is a great term or idea.

“As a public relations executive with more than 20 years of experience and a track record for creatively connecting clients to top-tier media opportunities, I was initially amused by the mashup ‘newsjacking’ – but only for about 30 seconds,” writes Tracey Boudine, vice president of Wise Public Relations. “Who wants to position themselves as an expert on hijacking news?”

Seen as a form of hijacking, the concept isn’t all that attractive. But that’s not really Scott’s point. In explaining his view on newsjacking, Scott says:

“When there is news in your marketplace, reporters and analysts are looking for experts to comment on the story. Newsjacking gets you media attention. With little effort.

"As a story develops in real-time, buyers become interested in products and services based on what’s happening now. Newsjacking generates sales leads and adds new customers. For free.”

One of the most appealing elements of newsjacking is that anyone who is plugged in can do it. “Newsjacking is being used right now by nonprofits, political campaigns, business-to-business marketers and individuals,” Scott says.

Since a lot of newsjacking involves social media, the cost is minimal. The premium isn’t on how much money you have in the budget, but on how much imagination you have in the brain. “News gathering happens in real time, and it can encompass anyone who steps forward quickly with credible input,” Scott says.

Boudin takes issue with calling Oreo’s Super Bowl tweet about dunking in the dark an example of newsjacking. She says the trending tweet is better described as “real-time, social media marketing.” But that’s semantics. “News” isn’t restricted to what’s covered by newspapers or TV stations.

In an amusing recent segment, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon noted that more people now get their news from Facebook than any other source. Then he provided some Facebook “news” examples: “Nobody Knows When to Unfriend a Dead Co-Worker” and “Wall Post Discussion About Pumpkin Spice Latte Still Ends Up About Obama.”

Those are fake headlines, but you get the point. News is what people make it. Newsjacking is just a tactic to surf on whatever news wave is sweeping by your target audience.

Don’t crinkle your nose over the term newsjacking. The concept works. Here is a great example from my PR colleague, Dan Keeney:

The Society for Heart Attack Prevention & Eradication (SHAPE) was frustrated by the slow adoption rate of its techniques to identify people at risk of an imminent heart attack. In the hours after former President Bill Clinton’s heart attack scare, Keeney coined the term “The Clinton Syndrome” and used it as an example of how SHAPE’s assessment process works to save lives. Keeney’s rapid response earned quality media coverage in major print and electronic media across the nation, including a cover story in TIME magazine. The exposure SHAPE gained from Keeney’s newsjacking of the Clinton heart attack scare created grassroots pressure and eventually led the American Heart Association to adopt guidelines based on SHAPE’s recommendations.

If you haven’t added newsjacking to your media relations arsenal, you are missing opportunities that literally are at your fingertips.

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.

Brand Stories Where Brand and Story Are Inseparable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Jimmy Fallon and Integrated Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook in the News for News Bias

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook has continued to surge as the leading social media site to become a trusted news source. But news reporting suggests that it’s Trending stories may be different than advertised.

With a billion active daily users, Facebook is a commanding platform for news. In the United States, 41 percent of adults are on Facebook and nearly two-thirds of the site’s users say they get their news there, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

However, one of Facebook’s key news features – the Trending story box located in the upper right corner of the newsfeed – isn’t as objective or automated as Facebook proclaims. In reality, the workers behind the scenes – called curators – apparently have kept popular conservative stories from showing up in the feed.

Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez broke the news in a series of stories over the last two weeks, picking apart the inner workings of the Trending news team.

“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Nunez concluded after interviewing a handful of former Facebook contractors hired for the project. “Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing, but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists ‘topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.’”

The Trending feature has been marketed more or less as an automated aggregator that pulls in and promotes the most popular stories on the web. However, the operation actually relies on a lot of help from real people who handpick what makes it on the list and what gets cut, regardless of how much web traffic a story attracts. As Nunez learned, the sausage-making is heavily shaped by personal biases.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,’ said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. ‘I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Facebook executives initially denied allegations of censorship and liberal bias in their news promotion, but they now admit the company’s curators exercise some editorial control over the Trending section. The Guardian’s Sam Thielman dug much deeper into the situation after receiving leaked internal guidelines that not only confirmed Nunez’ reporting, but revealed how deep the rabbit hole really goes:  

“The guidelines show human intervention – and therefore editorial decisions – at almost every stage of Facebook’s trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people:

  • A team of news editors working in shifts around the clock was instructed on how to ‘inject’ stories into the trending topics module, and how to ‘blacklist’ topics for removal for up to a day over reasons including ‘doesn’t represent a real-world event,’ left to the discretion of the editors.
  • The company wrote that ‘the editorial team CAN [sic] inject a newsworthy topic’ as well if users create something that attracts a lot of attention, for example #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Facebook relies heavily on just 10 news sources to determine whether a trending news story has editorial authority. ‘You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,’ reads the trending review guidelines for the US. ‘We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.’
  • Strict guidelines are enforced around Facebook’s ‘involved in this story’ feature, which pulls information from Facebook pages of newsmakers – say, a sports star or a famous author. The guidelines give editors ways to determine which users’ pages are appropriate to cite, and how prominently.”

Following the eye-opening reporting, media scholars, journalists and news consumers alike are taking a collective pause to reconsider Facebook’s role as a news source. The stories could be a game-changer for the site, which continues to outpace the online marketplace in raising ad revenue, partly due to how heavily the public has come to rely on Facebook for news.

Not surprisingly, the strongest reaction has come from right-wing pundits and news organizations and conservative politicians. Key Republican leaders, like Congressman John Thune who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee , are demanding an explanation from Facebook and an investigation into how its Trending section works.

Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg plans to meet with conservative leaders to discuss the controversy over the next few weeks. That will be particularly awkward for Zuckerberg, considering that Facebook is sponsoring this summer’s GOP convention. 

The company launched the Trending feature in 2014, hiring a small team of young, Ivy League-educated journalists to serve as its curators. The group is responsible for writing headlines and summaries and linking back to news stories inside the Trending feed. The curators work on a contract basis, and Facebook seems to be showing signs of cutting the contractors and moving instead to a more automated operation as the company improves its algorithm.

Exactly how this flurry of scrutiny will reshape Facebook’s Trending section and the social network's role as a news provider will take some time to play out. 

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.

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. 

Bowl Season TV Ad Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design Online Content for Skimmers

People do more skimming online than reading, so you need to design and package your content to convert skimmers into readers.

People do more skimming online than reading, so you need to design and package your content to convert skimmers into readers.

Content providers beware. The explosion of online content has turned readers into skimmers. We still read what interests us, but we typically skim over most everything else.

Say what you want about shrinking attention spans or rising visual IQs, the evolving patterns of viewership have less to do with verbal and visual intelligence and more to do with survival. There is simply no other way to cope with masses of online material than to skim.

Developing content creation strategies that recognize our reading/skimming habits is essential if you want to be noticed. Here are some suggestions:

1  Create online content that people can skim. Design content with concise verbiage, good imagery and clear packaging that makes it easy to get the point even when skimming.

2  Include more visual content. Not pictures for picture’s sake, but quality visual content that tells your story better and more quickly than words. It can be photography, video, a chart, an infographic or a doodle that grabs the eye of a skimmer. Take consolation in data suggesting people remember more of what they see than what they read.

3  Place content where skimmers congregate. User data shows social media sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram are growing rapidly because they cater to cursory readers.

4  Leverage the online capability of layering content. As people skim, they look for what interests them, which they read more intently. Online architecture and links let people drill down on what interests them, even as they skim. Embedding links needs to be an integral part of content creation.

5  Offer content that answers questions or solves problems. Readability assessments reveal people will read content that answers their questions or offers problem-solving assistance. This requires sharp targeting, drawing on credible research, to find who is asking the questions you answer and problems you solve – and where they go to find reliable information and advice. People are more apt to read your content if they trust it.

6  Provide content that is pleasurable to read. Evidence indicates people take more time reading – or actually reading – material they enjoy. You may have to tell the boss to deep-six his merchandising message and substitute other content, perhaps content generated by other consumers or site users. Instead of describing the features of your product, show how a consumer can enjoy it.

7  Think about riding a bus. This is a useful metaphor for designing content aimed at increasing numbers of mobile users. If you can find ways to stick out as someone thumbs through sites amid jostling and looking for your exit, then you are probably creating content that is tailored to skimmers.

8  Make your content appealing to share. Sharing is a trait of skimmers. They assume other skimmers may miss something they should see. Don't get your heart broken if sharers haven't read your entire content. Getting into circulation is a form of validation of your content that will impress some skimmers to treat it as trusted content – and actually read it.

If this seems a little discouraging, don't let it get you down. You have to walk before you can run, and you may have to abide skimming to convert scanners into readers.

Personalizing a Brand Promise

TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie fits a Peruvian child with shoes. The company recently utilized virtual reality to help tell its story. 

TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie fits a Peruvian child with shoes. The company recently utilized virtual reality to help tell its story. 

Virtual reality could expand from video gaming to empathetic storytelling, placing viewers in the middle of the action worlds away.

TOMS developed a virtual reality video that transports its shoe buyers to a dusty, mountainous village in Peru where they see the faces of children who receive free shoes as part of the company's buy-one, give-one philanthropy.

The TOMS store on NW Burnside Street in Portland is just one of seven around the world with the equipment to play the 4-minute video, which had its inspiration in a TED talk by virtual reality film producer Chris Milk. TOMS executives saw virtual reality video as a way to dispel disbelief in its cause marketing One-For-One brand promise.

Critics don't dispute the reality of TOMS donating shoes. They take aim at its claims that half of all TOMS profits go to philanthropy, asserting instead that buyers actually pay for two pairs of shoes in the purchase price. Other critics condemn TOMS for failing to locate factories in the countries and communities where it gives away shoes to poor people.

The TOMS virtual reality video is unlikely to dispel those criticisms. However, it will make the TOMS brand promise more personal for its loyal customer base because it draws them deeper into the giving experience than a regular video or a photo gallery.

Produced for VRSE by Oregonian Susan Hebert, the video zooms over the remote area where the Peruvian village is located, takes you along the bumpy road into town and plops you among the villagers. You see children in their schoolyard, watch as they are measured for new shoes and enjoy dancers in native costumes. At times, the children look straight at you and, in a couple of cases, actually greet you.

The video is part of what TOMS calls its "Give One, Experience One" campaign. Other than flying to Peru, it is the next best thing to actually being there to see your contribution to philanthropy at work.

Carole Conkling experiencing TOMS new virtual reality experience at the company's Portland store. 

Carole Conkling experiencing TOMS new virtual reality experience at the company's Portland store. 

Virtual reality filmmaking involves using a camera array to shoot a panoramic, 360-degree scene. The technique produces four simultaneous frames that when viewed through special goggles give the illusion you are watching something occur around you.

The TOMS viewing site in Portland is in the corner of a store, next to the coffee bar, which supports improved water supplies in rural villages. It consists of a single swiveling chair. You move your head or swivel in the chair to scan the full scene. You are, in effect, there.

In his TED talk, Milk calls virtual reality video an untapped format for storytelling, especially for stories that draw on empathy. You don't have to paint a picture to fire someone's imagination; you place them at the scene to experience it first-hand. You are not part of an audience; your experience is unique, much as it might be if you were on location yourself. 

It was an adroit choice by TOMS to use this pioneering storytelling technique, which adheres to the company's social entrepreneurship reputation. (The Portland TOMS store has a wall-sized map depicting the various pathways of its business philanthropy, which also include eyewear donations.)

While virtual reality video may not be a tool that is available or affordable enough for most companies and organizations to pursue, it will be, especially as its 360-degree format is adapted to computer and mobile device screens so you don't have to wear special headgear. Google Cardboard already exists for DIY "immersive experiences."

The lesson for today taught by the TOMS video is that fresh approaches to storytelling can make tried-and-true stories come alive again.

A Picture of Storytelling

The photograph shows a table with uneaten eggs, a cold teapot, shattered glass and a blood-stained curtain. It was taken in Donetsk, Ukraine. It could have been taken anywhere experiencing the ravages of war.

The photograph shows a table with uneaten eggs, a cold teapot, shattered glass and a blood-stained curtain. It was taken in Donetsk, Ukraine. It could have been taken anywhere experiencing the ravages of war.

The photograph shows a table with uneaten eggs, a cold teapot, shattered glass and a blood-stained curtain. It was taken in Donetsk, Ukraine. It could have been taken anywhere experiencing the ravages of war. 

Titled "Kitchen Table," the photograph is one of the winners in the 2015 World Press Photo Contest. The more enduring message of the photograph is that a great picture can tell a great story.

Data overwhelmingly shows pictures do much more than substitute for a 1,000 words. Pictures tell stories in ways words never can. They attract our eye. They hold our attention. They linger in our memory.

The gallery of photos in the World Press contest speaks volumes about the power of pictures. Three empty dresses underscore the horror of the mass abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram. A woman in chains with her head drooping evinces the inhumanity of illicit sex trafficking. An outstretched Odell Beckham making a one-handed catch in the end zone celebrates amazing athleticism.

While the subject matter of many of the photographs is emotionally charged, the common value of all the photos is their well-framed simplicity. Winners titled "Family Love" and "Vegetables with an Attitude" don't have grand subjects, just great photography that tells a story.

The point is not to argue for pictures without words, but for a marriage of equals. Pictures can tell a story that words cannot match. Words can fill in the blanks of the stories pictures begin to tell. That is nowhere more obvious than the new trend in websites that focus on scrolling stories. 

The communication channel really doesn't matter. Websites, press releases, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, memos and proposals all are stronger when visual images reinforce words, and words add value to pictures. 

Great photographers have immense skill. But technology has made it possible for lesser skilled people to take great photographs. 

Crack open your digital camera, drag out your old Polaroid or figure out where the shutter button is on your smartphone and start shooting the stories occurring all around you. Don't be surprised when people take notice of the visual storytelling that you post.