Given the field I work in, I pay a lot of attention to billboard campaigns. I suspect this makes me different from many of the publics we target.
One thing I’ve noticed in my years of careful Billboardspotting is how remarkably similar all outdoor advertising is for colleges and universities. It’s eerie. It’s almost as though everyone is watching what everyone else is doing and copying it in some sort of marketing feedback loop.
This is likely what is actually happening, which explains the creative entropy. Read more…
Microsoft and Google are currently engaged in a battle over business productivity software; Microsoft Office vs. Google Docs. Here’s Microsoft’s attempt at humor:
Here’s why this first salvo is an epic fail:
1. Who gets the “Moonlighting” reference? (I’m a TV nerd – I don’t count). That show ended its run in 1989. Could they have possibly picked a less culturally-relevant theme? What’s next – an “Alf” gag? Here’s some context for anyone under the age of 53 so you can “get the joke”:
2. “You want us to be your lab rats?” - “Pioneers.” I’d rather be Google’s lab rat, knowing that a FREE product isn’t fully-developed rather than plunk down a ridiculous amount of money for Microsoft’s products that are in constant need of patches and fixes (and which don’t even communicate with each other). Don’t get me started on XBox Live…
3. The video is hosted ON YOUTUBE. Which Google owns. So Microsoft’s argument is “Google’s products is inferior – that’s why we use them?” Derpity derp derp.
4. One of the jabs Microsoft lobs at Google is an attack on cloud computing. Cloud computing … like Microsoft 365
360? (Microsoft’s answer to the growing popularity of Google Docs).
5. Google killed off Wave and Buzz? So … how is that different from Microsoft’s own versions of Office 2007 not being backwards compatible without patches?
Good luck Microsoft – you’re going to need it given that apparently your ad agency is actually staffed by people who look and act like John Hodgman’s PC parody. Can’t wait to see what Google comes up with in response.
Earlier this week, a YouTube video from a security camera made the rounds showing a FedEx employee carelessly tossing a package (containing a computer monitor) over a fence to deliver it. As of today, the original has over 4 million views and opportunistic content-scrapers who have re-posted to their own profiles have garnered hundreds of thousands more.
Huge public relations crisis, right? Nope.
FedEx delivered a master class in crisis communications with its response that should be taught in PR classrooms. Check it out:
Let’s break down what happened (which is an affirmation of the principles articulated by Arthur W. Page):
- They responded quickly. They didn’t wait for the situation to reach a tipping point; only two days passed between the uploading of the original video and the response. Can you imagine the kind of effort it takes during the heaviest delivery season to negotiate and organize a well-crafted video response to a negative customer service experience for a global corporation? Right now the response video is the #2 video, right under the original negative video which is #1. It has over 116,000 views – six thousand of those were accrued in the time it took me to draft this blog post, so it’s gaining traction.
- They told the truth. At no point did they try to write it off as an isolated incident, a hoax, or try to blame a third party contractor or regional human resources department. They embraced it.
- They made it right with the customer (a YouTube user with the alias ‘goobie55′). Before anything else, they reached out to the party affected and fixed the situation. Unfortunately, goobie55 has not (yet) done the right thing – which is to post an update to the video noting FedEx’s response – hopefully that will still happen.
- They took it seriously. FedEx knows how quickly information is shared online and they responded swiftly with senior management. They didn’t let the situation linger unanswered or task local staff to handle it. They also likely used all the resources in their arsenal – which may have included a traditional public relations pitch campaign (given the over 150 articles covering the response).
- They internalized the problem. According to FedEx Senior VP Matthew Thornton, they are also are now sharing the video with employees as a case study in why careful handling of packages is important.
- They gave the organization a face. You could hardly find a better face for the organization than VP Matthew Thornton; the nonverbal communication is fantastic. He’s in a shirt and tie (no suit coat), with thick-rimmed glasses and a similarly-thick mustache – he looks like a working-class executive who is personally-invested in the company and doesn’t shy away from rolling up his sleeves. Though he’s likely reading from a prompter, Thornton is convincing nonetheless. In a way he projects the feel of a small business owner who knows well how accountable he is to his customers.
- They had a track record to stand on. This is perhaps the most important part of any crisis is what happens BEFORE the crisis – something that can’t be emphasized enough. Every organization needs to make quality service and products a priority (which should go without saying, but it doesn’t – plenty are operating on an old model of sub-standard quality upholstered in glitz and style). No crisis response, no matter how eloquent, can save an organization that sucks at what they do from a high-profile example of their suckage – the companies that conduct themselves that way are only able to do so because they’re a monopoly (think AT&T or Comcast).
The only improvement I might have made is to have Thornton add an action item at the end of his video (you can provide hyperlinks within YouTube videos very easily) that invited any other customers with a bad experience to immediately share, or link directly to the process for resolving disputes, it so it could be fixed. But that’s just me nit-picking.
Hopefully a lot of people are able to learn from this – kudos to FedEx.
Every time OK Go releases another “viral” video, a new crop of marketers sets to work reverse-engineering it and trying to identify the magical keys to producing the same type of success for breakfast pastries or real estate services. This phenomena happens with alarming regularity, and I’ve already commented on it (Be Careful of Broad Strokes). It’s the wrong approach, and it’s the reason there are so many “also-ran” campaigns (like Orbitz attempt to repeat Old Spice’s success).
The idea of “viral videos” and trying to understand works of art and culture that the masses embrace highlights the problem I have with marketing as a discipline.
My beef with marketers is that they’re all about doing anything to avoid the real work of engaging people one-to-one and instead trying to game the system. Marketing has its place (and always will), but in the era of social media it’s on the decline because it doesn’t suit the medium (which grew, in part, out of a rejection of the advertising-saturated, over-marketed traditional media).
Videos don’t go viral; ideas do.
If you don’t have an idea worth sharing, you can’t have a viral video (or a viral anything). Marketers ignore the videos OK Go has produced that haven’t been wildly-popular. ”Here it Goes Again” notched nearly 54 million views, but “Do What You Want”? – 2.6 million. “WTF”? – 808k. Even “Last Leaf” has only hit 215k views this far.
OK Go produces music for themselves and their core fans – so they’re not worried about pleasing everyone. That’s what gives them the intangible and invaluable quality of AUTHENTICITY.
I should disclose that I feel a certain overprotective obligation to OK Go; I’ve been a fan since I blundered up to their merch table at a show in Ann Arbor and asked to buy both of their three-song EPs by mispronouncing the band name as “Ock-go” as a result of their logo smashing the words together.
They hooked me by choosing an obscure B-side (“Kiss me, Son of God”) from They Might be Giants “Lincoln” album to play as a cover tribute when opening for TMBG at that first show. Since then, I’ve seen them spontaneously break out into an a Capella Les Miserables performance, invite the entire audience up on stage to dance with them, and publish a kampy boy-band dance video.
In the space between those performances, they kept me hooked by staying in contact with me online and hitting the pavement (I was at a Tenacious D show in Grand Rapids and Tim Nordwind, bassist for OK Go, handed me a flyer for an after-show performance at a local bar).
The success OK Go has experienced is primarily because they’ve rejected the traditional marketing dogma:
- They labored for years creating interpersonal relationships with fans centered on their unique, catchy alt-pop and the performance art that goes along with it. The creativity in their videos is the same creativity they bring to live shows (fortunately now they have more resources with which to express themselves). Their videos are spread so quickly because their rabid fan base forms a strong platform of TRUSTED NETWORKS who share them.
- They left EMI Records because the company (among other things) refused to allow their videos to be posted to YouTube so that they could be embedded anywhere (ie easily-shared). The company thought it was more important to drive traffic to the band website. (Sound familiar?)
- When their album “Oh No” was released, part of the promotional campaign included a racing video game where players retrieve kidnapped members of the bands amid references to lingonberries (a nod to Sweden where the band had recorded the album). They’re not afraid of aiming small with the audience. They don’t want ALL the ears to hear their music – they want the RIGHT ONES.
Here’s a perfect metaphor for where marketers usually get things wrong:
The Rube Goldberg-esque video for “This Too Shall Pass” STARTED with the idea for the video, and the sponsorship by State Farm Insurance came after the idea (as a means of realizing the idea).
If you START with the advertisement or the money and try to add the idea after – you’re bound to fail.
It’s the same with creating an audience for anything; you have to do the hard work of earning trust one-on-one before you can expect financial returns from that trust. Since when is anything “worth doing” easy?
Memes have long been the coin of the realm online, and now the tools are available for the average geek to act on his/her geeky impulses to mash the detritus of pop culture together to create new art forms. It looks like this:
Sword fights = Cool. Lightsabres = Cool. Sword fights + Lightsabres = Nerdgasm.
In the course of my academic and intellectual pursuits (read: goofing around) I ran across an entire subculture of Youtube mashups where digital video artisans (yes, I mean artisans) photoshopped lightsabres into movie swordfights. The process probably began with the Star Wars kid, and has gone deliciously viral. Here are my 10 favorites:
1. Count Roogan vs. Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)
2. Cap’m Barbosa vs. Cap’m Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
3. The Spartans vs. the Hordes of Xerxes (300)
4. Arwen vs. the Nazgul (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
5. Freddy vs. Jason (Freddy vs. Jason)
6. Deadpool vs. a Room of Thugs (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) – PS – I demand someone photoshop lightsabres over Wolverine’s claws IMMEDIATELY.
7. Indiana Jones vs. Egyptian Thug (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
8. Benjamin Martin vs. British Soldiers (The Patriot) – Incorporates blasters too! Sweeeeeet.
9. Beatrix Kiddo vs. O-Ren Ishii (Kill Bill)
10. Robin Hood/Little John vs. Prince John’s Thugs (Disney’s Robin Hood)
[Blog Title courtesy the Linkbait Generator]
Mashable had an intriguing post about the social media activity surrounding the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill today; chiefly that activity is on the decline. The title asks “Are We Losing Interest in the Oil Spill? [STATS]” The answer, obviously, is yes.
For the public relations world, this new era seems to hint that no matter how bad an organization or individual misbehaves, eventually we’ll talk ourselves out of interest in seeing consequences meted out for that misbehavior.
Where’s the outrage over the mismanagement and systemic problems in the financial industry back when it was Enron, Tyco and Worldcom? How about more recently over Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Washington Mutual? Isn’t it likely that the outrage over the next impending financial scandal is already waning?
- Our Access to Information has Reduced our Attention Span
There are many studies on attention span that have measured its decline over the past few decades. It stands to reason that with more accessible information, we have more incentive to move on from one bit to another. Guided by our reptilian impulses, we move on when something no longer stimulates us. Tired of depressing photos of pelicans covered in oil? – Just see what
- We Can’t Process Long Term Costs
As the frog in the boiling pot aphorism goes – gradual change goes unnoticed. Even though there are direct costs borne by all of society by industry-wide malfeasance, if they’re paid slowly over time – they go virtually unnoticed. Pick virtually any large problem; the imperial ambitions of most developed nations, global climate change, the health consequences of our high-fructose diet – and we’ll always opt for short-term gain over long-term benefit.
- We Only Want to Dwell on the Pleasurable
As our access to information has sped up, it appears to have dramatically reduced the amount of time we’re willing to tolerate unhappy news. In fact, that’s frequently the complaint of the news media: that they focus too much on the negative. ”Where are the happy stories?” people demand – so they crowbar in irrelevant stories about the latest American Idol contestant or the latest viral video of an animal doing something unlikely and adorable.
- The News Media is Less Capable of Keeping Crises on the Radar
The budget for most news outlets has not kept pace with the demand to do investigative journalism. Why bother with a months-long investigation that may or may not prove a local politician was involved in real-estate speculation when you can send a camera crew out to interview the early adopters in line for the next iPhone or publish a poll on how the US public feels about gays in the military?
- This Has Happened Before
The public relations case studies for crisis mismanagement often don’t stand up to scrutiny. Just look at the Exxon Valdez disaster; though the company was guilty of extraordinary negligence – it’s still a viable brand two decades later and the massive $5 billion judgment against the company was whittled down to $507.5 million after years in the courts. Or take Firestone; that company was guilty of deadly negligence not once but twice and yet it survives today.
I really, really hope I’m wrong about this.
[Thanks again to the Linkbait Generator for the title of the post]
The Linkbait Generator suggested this title for a blog post and it was too good to pass up. Fortunately there actually are a lot of really great examples of Social Media-themed Halloween costumes crafted by some very creative people. To wit:
- The “Fail Whale” Costume
- The Facebook Profile Costume (not to be confused with Jim Halpert’s “Facebook” Costume)
- The iPhone Costume (and the Blackberry Costume)
- The Rickroll Costume
- The MySpace Profile Costume
- The Youtube Costume
- The Chris Crocker “Leave Britney Alone” Costume
- Foursquare Merit Badges
On YouTube today I noticed that BP has purchased premium access on the front page of the site to promote its flight of videos in response to the mounting Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill crisis. The videos are well-produced, but the effort is a complete failure because BP is attempting to cram the square peg of the traditional mass media into the round hole of social media.
Even though BP has paid for premium access and set the controls for their site to their specifications, their efforts to cap the gushing negative public sentiment is about as effective as their efforts to cap the gushing flow of oil have been:
- Ratings: Comments are disabled, but Youtube users are still able to rate the videos – all of which have dismal ratings that hover around one star as well as “dislike” ratings that vastly overwhelm the “like” ratings.
- Response Videos: The recommended or related videos that appear on the right menu next to BP’s videos are overwhelmingly dominated by negative content about BP.
- Website: BP doesn’t even have full control over its own web presence; Google Sidewiki (currently underutilized, fortunately for BP) allows the discussion about the oil spill to take place on BP’s site unabated (to say nothing of the myraid other venues people have for connecting and sharing opinions).
The bottom line is that social media is a democratic meritocracy in which we have only the illusion of control. Trying to crowd out public opinion by buying up search terms or premium placement is ultimately ineffective because as John Gilmore once said “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
The question PR pros should be posing to their clients is: “If it ALL were to come out – what would you do differently?” – that’s the new reality. It’s mind-boggling to think that BP’s leadership actually thought they could conceal the repeated violations, the damning internal reports, and the scientific data showing other leaks and massive underwater plumes of oil – all of which are made far worse for BP’s having attempted to conceal them in the first place.
BP is literally facing the spectre of dissolving as a corporation – what’s the harm in allowing the public to have its say? Could things possibly get worse than they are now?
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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