Up in the air

Commercial flying – the worst, right? Herded like cattle into increasingly smaller seats, nickel-and-dimed on every little aspect of the experience, flights constantly delayed or cancelled…we could keep going.

dogSo what could we possibly learn from airlines when it comes to marketing? A lot, actually, especially when it comes to how some of them are approaching an often-overlooked part of the flying experience.

We speak of the in-flight safety video, of course! For years, airlines paid little attention to these videos, communicating to passengers only what was required by the FAA, without any concern for the tone or personality of the video. Consequently, the videos had no personality.

And most in-flight safety videos, to be sure, still have no style or identity. Over the past few years, however, an increasing number of airlines are recognizing the incredibly unique opportunities these situations present and infusing their in-flight safety videos with a refreshing dose of personality and humor.

What makes these opportunities so unique and, from a marketer’s perspective, prized? Well, the entirely captive audience is rare, of course, and you can certainly use the very low expectations of that audience to your advantage by surprising and delighting with a humorous video.

What does this all mean for you? Ideally, and assuming you’re not in the airline industry, it means you’re already busy thinking of nontraditional touchpoints you have with your customers – and you’re thinking of ways you can add a flair of creativity, personality and even humor to them.

We spend so much time – and rightfully so – focusing on our traditional marketing efforts that we can overlook unconventional ones that offer a rare opportunity to stand out and connect on an emotional level with customers. And that emotional connection, as we know, can be worth more to brands than an unexpected bump up to first class.

Marketing Madness

Yesterday was the first day of March Madness, as you may have noticed, and it certainly lived up to its name…buzzer beaters, overtime games, upsets and close calls. If you’re like basketballmany folks – including most of us here – your brackets were a flaming pile of fail before sundown.

The good news: There are lessons we can take from March Madness, especially when it comes to how we fill out our brackets, and what it means for our approach to marketing planning and strategy.

Sure, there are some people who take a bit more, well, unorthodox route to filling out their brackets each March – mascots, team colors, etc. But for most, we follow a pretty tried and true process each year, a process that offers some parallels in how we develop a marketing strategy:

  • Do your homework. Most of us like to put some thought into our picks, of course. We closely read the sports page and scour the Internet, researching teams and reading the experts. We put the time, attention and effort into feeling like our brackets are the best we can do. How we plan out our marketing should be the same.
  • Be predictable. One-seeds are one-seeds for a reason – they’re really good. The same goes for the most common or proven platforms when building a marketing plan. They offer a higher level of success because they’ve shown that’s what they can do in the past. That being said…
  • Pick your spots to be unconventional. While taking a 16 seed to beat a 1 is pure folly, picking a 14 to beat a 3 or a 5 seed to make it to the Final Four can help our bracket work its way up the rankings if those picks come through. Likewise, it’s important to look for opportunities where we can supplement the more predictable aspects of our marketing efforts with something – or some things – more unconventional. This could be platform or content – or a combination of the two.
  • Trust your gut. All the homework, all the research, all the expert opinions…we’ll still run into situations where we’re just not sure which way to go. When this happens, our intution can be the ultimate tiebreaker. We know our organization, our product/service, our customers, etc., better than anyone. That knowledge can translate into a feeling in these situations that can help guide our decision-making.

– Blow it up. Sure, we can hold out hope for some rally in our brackets, even after two 3 seeds lose in the span of an hour and we lose a Final Four team. But deep down, we may as well torch that sheet and reduce it to dust. The same can go with a marketing plan or campaign – we hold out hope for success in the face of evidence to the contrary. It’s more important to be honest in our assessment, recognize when it isn’t working – and make the adjustments necessary to change its course.

Through all of its chaos and joy and heartbreak and hope, it turns out March Madness is a lot like life as a marketer. Hopefully that discovery gives you some small solace as you cast your bracket off into the garbage for another year.

To see or not to see

The BIG GAME is this Sunday, as you may have heard, and outside the actual game and discussions of deflated balls, the thing people get most excited about is something near and dear to our heart – the ads, of course.
Over the past several years, thanks to the continued growth of YouTube and other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, an interesting debate has arisen around the Super Bowl’s ads. More specifically, those brands ponying up to pitch their wares in the Super Bowl have to consider – and answer – an important question well in advance of game day.
In the “good ol’ days” prior to social sharing and buzz, seeing the ad itself for the first time during the game was the big deal. It was the spectacle and the thing to get people talking.
Now, in the age of social sharing, the debate is about whether or not advertisers should show their ads ahead of the Super Bowl. Not necessarily on TV, but simply through their own branded platforms (YouTube channel, Facebook page, website). Many Super Bowl advertisers have found success in releasing their ads prior to game day; so many, in fact, that there seems to be more noise when actually do wait until Sunday.
There are compelling arguments for and against releasing your Super Bowl ad ahead of the game.
Running your ad ahead of the game
  • Pro: Get your money’s worth. These things cost a lot of money, as you may have heard. (A 30-second spot in this year’s game ran $4.5 million.) Why not get as much mileage out of your investment as possible?
  • Con: No more element of surprise. The more people are exposed to your content ahead of its official debut, the less they’ll be blown away by it when they see it during the game. This may not be a big deal depending on ad format and approach; then again, it may render certain ads much less important.
Waiting until the game
  • Pro: Make a splash. If you’re paying that much for the spot, the last thing you want is to ruin the surprise, no? If people already know what your ad is, how excited are they going to be about watching during the game?
In the end, the best strategy may be somewhere between the two sides of this debate – devising a small but clever teaser campaign containing basic elements of the spot itself without giving away too much of whatever story or hook it contains. This can often increase interest in the spot and make people want to see it more.
And while you’ll probably never have to worry about making this decision for your brand when it comes to advertising in the Super Bowl, everyone has their Super Bowl – that event or date or season most important to them and when all their world is watching. How you communicate your brand for that Big Game is just as important as the Big Game is for its advertisers.

When is it good to be bad?

shamwowRecently, a local TV commercial for a regional mall in Missouri gained national popularity and widespread awareness. Not because this particular commercial was good, however, but because the commercial was bad. Really, really bad.

So bad, in fact, that it had the more skeptical (or cynical, if you must cast aspersions) among us thinking that it just maybe the commercial was made bad on purpose, as a way of generating extra publicity. Which isn’t as outrageous as it may seem, spending money to make something bad on purpose. At some point several years ago, brands figured out that creating purposely putrid content on behalf of their products or services could actually work in their favor, and this “terrible-on-purpose” phenomenon has only grown as the Internet has become more and more pervasive in our media-consumption routines.

The list of wildly successful examples of “terrible on purpose” marketing by brands is a long and well-known one – think Blendtec, Snuggies and Shamwow – but it’s important to remember that this path fraught with peril. Because just like investing in bitcoin or hunting for Sasquatch, developing a terrible-on-purpose marketing campaign brings with it the potential for great rewards – but also significant risk.

So before you set out making the next overnight-sensation YouTube video, let’s look a bit more closely at the risks and rewards involved with developing terrible-on-purpose marketing content.


  • It’s off-brand. If you’ve never really associated humor or edgy marketing with your brand before, is this the best or most appropriate place to start? If your brand is generally conservative or straightforward, jumping headfirst into this type of content marketing may be a bridge too far, both for you and your core audience.
  • It’s so bad, it’s really, really bad. There’s a fine – but very definite – line between something that’s so bad it’s good and something that so bad it’s just really, really bad. You can’t even define the difference, but you certainly know it when you see it. And you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that line.
  • Your audience spots your game from a mile away. Trying too hard to make it bad – being completely over-the-top and gratuitous with your approach – is equally dangerous. It can quickly and completely turn your audience off. It makes you look like your chasing whatever it is the cool kids are doing. And, just like the risk listed above, there’s a fine line between just the right amount of bad and trying too hard to make it bad. Not necessarily a line you can define, but one you’ll know has been crossed when you see it.
  • The potential reach doesn’t match your reality. Have a real sense of just how much impact this can have on your brand and your bottom line. It’s great that the terrible commercial for the mall in Missouri has more than 2 million views on YouTube. But how many of those 2 million viewers are going to get in their and drive or hop on a plane and travel to Missouri to shop at that particular mall? It’s a brick-and-mortar business with a defined, limited geographic scope, which in turn limits the scope of potential impact this newfound fame can actually have on its bottom line. Blendtech, on the other hand, sells its blenders directly through its website, meaning anyone who’s watched their terrible videos is a potential customer, regardless of geographic location.


  • You get a lot for a little. No budget for a high-quality production? No problem! This is one time when a lack of production value can help you. Terrible-on-purpose should look terrible, after all.
  • People think you’re funny. A sense of humor is one of the strongest and most potent brand attributes consumers can hold of you. It helps you be perceived as human, accessible and relatable.
  • You strengthen your brand. You can look really smart by being really dumb. The ability to laugh at oneself, not take oneself too seriously and have a bit of fun all cause consumers to see your brand as more sophisticated and advanced.
  • Boom goes the bottom line. How many people got Snuggies as gag gifts for Christmas the first year those commercials hit the airwaves? For those products and services positioned the right way, terrible-on-purpose marketing creates a movement among consumers they want to be a part of, even if it means wearing in a blanket with sleeves ironically.

So tread carefully – and consult a professional – before taking on the “terrible on purpose” phenomenon for your brand. There may seem to be a lot of home runs, but strike outs are plentiful, too, and painful.

Viral’s vital ingredients

“Hey!,” someone usually exclaims during the brainstorming meeting, trying to figure out how to maximize brand awareness and audience engagement while keeping budget to a minimum, “I know! Let’s make a viral video!”

Oh, that it were so simple. Unlike a print ad or a brochure or a press release or a mobile app, a viral video isn’t something you can produce. Sure, you can make the video itself; it’s just the “viral” part of the equation that isn’t under your control.

Or is it? As this article from the Wall Street Journal points out, while you surely can’t force a video to go viral or spread organically, there are certain ingredients – the element of surprise, for example, as the WSJ details – that virtually no viral piece of content can be prepared without.

Which got us to thinking – what are the other ingredients? What else does a piece of content like a video need to increase its likelihood of strong, exponential organic growth and reach (i.e., going viral)?

In addition to the element of surprise, we tend to see three other key ingredients in the creation of successful organic content:

1) Make ‘em laugh. Or cry. Triggering emotion creates an emotional connection to your content. The safest way to do so is to inject some humor; although, tugging at the heart strings with some inspirational angle is always your friend, too. Just remember not to be funny for the sake of being funny; any attempt at humor needs to align with your brand voice and personality.

2) Keep it real. Give your video an authentic, hyper-realistic look and feel. Go with a hand-held camera and keep the production values to a (tolerable) minimum. Highly produced videos tend to go viral less often than more realistic, documentary-type ones.

3) Let them in. Briefly setting the scene for viewers (“we’ve secretly switched his regular coffee…”) makes viewers feel like they’re in on the gag, which in turn strengthens the connection they’ll have to the video. It also makes it easier for them to follow along, recall the narrative and, most importantly, share with friends and family.

Again, even crossing all four of these ingredients off your shopping list does not a viral video make; however, as with anything, there are common attributes to most videos that spread like wildfire. The more you understand them and keep them in mind as you develop your branded content, the tastier your video can be.

The move beyond marketing

“Marketing is the means. Brand management should be the goal.”

We’re big fans – as we’ve discussed here recently – of saying that it’s not you who owns your brand. Your customers do. This brings with it some inherent challenges, as well as some growing contradictions with how we (agencies, marketers, etc.) have traditionally promoted products and services.

P&G_Company1803283hsxsuxIndeed, the phrase “marketing” itself is slowly becoming an anachronism, as some of the biggest companies out there are realizing. Procter & Gamble, for example, made some waves in our world when it recently announced that it would no longer have a “marketing” team made up of “marketing managers” anymore; instead, the consumer-goods behemoth said it would now focus on “brand management.”

What’s the difference, you ask, outside of mere semantics? Aren’t marketing and brand management one in the same? To the contrary, and as the quote above helps to explain, they can – and should – be quite different in how brands view and approach them. Marketing, at its core, is about driving demand and creating actionable sales opportunities and leads. In essence, marketing is spending money to make money.

You_need_only_one_soap,_Ivory_soap_-_Strobridge_&_Co._Lith._-_Restoration_by_Adam_CuerdenBrand management, on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach. It recognizes products as assets, ones with a longer arc of a life cycle that lasts well past the point of sale. It recognizes the story of a product and how it helps define it and make it distinct, in turn making it more competitive and appealing. Success in marketing? Defined by leads, sales, volume. Success in brand management? Those same metrics, to be sure, but it’s broader (and more intangible) than that, too. “The focus is less on how…and much more on why,” as the article notes.

The impact of marketing can be felt by helping to drive top-line revenue through sales; brand management strengthens the bottom line by increasing overall corporate value. You can market a product to no end, but its potential value in the eyes of consumers is severely limited if the value of the brand delivering that product is diminished in its perception and value.

The question, then, to ask yourself: are you marketing your products, or are you managing your brand?

The write stuff

Copywriter, wordsmith, content generator…whatever they’re calling it these days, if it’s you, we want to talk.

We’re looking for an over-achieving freelance writer  with the bandwidth (brainwidth?) to help out at one of northern Indiana’s largest and fastest-growing agencies. First choice? Someone in the area who is readily available for collaboration. But we’re flexible. And we’re fun.

Drop us a line at gena@fai2.com and njw@fai2.com and tell us a little about yourself.