Enroll at our school, or Granny’s a goner
Tuesday October 25th 2011, 10:37 am
Filed under: advertising,Internet,US economy

Fear-based advertising is nothing new for auto manufacturers and personal injury law firms, but colleges?

Capella University is running a wild TV campaign that shows all the terrible things that can (and WILL!) happen to you if you don’t get a Capella degree.  My favorite is the one that implies that your mother/grandmother will meet at ignominious end if you don’t act now:

Here’s another – this one threatens that your kids won’t reach their “full potential” unless you go to Capella.

And lastly, here’s one that seems to be saying that you will be able to help save people from a terrible tragedy – or maybe stop a terrorist attack (“help prepare our first responders”) if you have a Capella degree.  I love it.

Who knows? Maybe the Ivies should go this route…

Trump Is Just Being Trumpy

Today, I was asked what effect Donald Trump’s supposed presidential run is having on his personal brand.

In my opinion, Trump’s flirtation with the presidency doesn’t impact his brand value one way or the other.  This is because – whether he originally intended it or not – Trump has had a bifurcated brand for years.

Trump has a business side and a farcical side. The farcical or “personality” side is what’s enabled him to create (and – hellopublicize) entertainment properties, because it drives him to behave in an entertaining way.  In his real life, he’s a paunchy, weird-haired real estate guy, so to be entertaining, he needs to be over the top.  Brad Pitt can just stand still and attract attention; Trump cannot. Donald’s got to jump up and down to draw interest.

This means that people expect to see Trump behaving in an outlandish sort of way, so his “presidential bid” isn’t new news: it’s just The Donald being wacky again.

Therefore, his recent jaunt through Kookytown (a) doesn’t impact people who expect it (and that would be everyone by now), and (b) wouldn’t put off anyone who actually wants to do real business with the Trump Organization (those who ignore stunts and would be interested only in the deal they were getting), so… this is Donald Trump status quo.

Let’s clarify: I loathe what’s happening and agree with The New Yorker’s David Remnick regarding the reasons for Trump’s behavior.  But that wasn’t the question and, unfortunately, our pseudo-celebrity culture – in which many don’t think any deeper about a person’s character than what dress she wore to court – will simply bump along the surface before moving on to its next source of amusement.

The Ad Agency Is Dead. Long Live The Ad Agency.
Monday March 21st 2011, 8:37 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,cmo,Internet,social media,Twitter,web 2.0

One of the new business friends I’ve made on Twitter is an agency in Pittsburgh called Fitting Group, run by Andrea Fitting. Check them out at http://fittingroup.com. We found each other based on our mutual interest in and work with challenger brands, or big category-leading companies who need to change and can learn from challengers.

Anyway…  Andrea wrote a blog post referring to a January 2011 Fast Company article, “Mayhem on Madison Avenue.” In “Mayhem” (and numerous articles just like it) the author essentially explains how and why digital marketing – particularly social media – will precipitate the extinction of advertising agencies.  And while she did spend four years at an ad agency (during which time I’m sure she saw plenty of function and dysfunction), the writer has never been a client, let alone a CMO.

Andrea called her blog post “Calling All Chief Marketing Officers (or Those Who Play Them on TV)” and asked several CMOs to read the magazine article and offer our points of view. Here’s mine (as posted on the Fitting Group site).


Personally, I think the hype about social media being different, experiential, never finished, “perpetual beta…” is hooey. Or rather, the process of smart learning for a CMO is – at a high level – unchanged.

Every channel, every communication vehicle, every media outlet and interaction capability… each has its own ways and rules. TV had its own ways and rules we CMOs had to learn. Email. Radio. Whatever. Now it’s today’s version of social media – it is a living channel with its own characteristics, feedback loop, expectations, organizational demands – all new to the channel, but not a new way of approach to assessment and action for the good CMO. For the great CMO, everything we do lives in a state of constant learning and improvement – it’s how we work with our CEOs, CFOs and teams every day.

And as with all things new, a CMO will always seek real experts and advisors who understand the organization in which s/he operates, can help build a case for new initiatives, can help shorten the organization’s learning timeframe and get sustainable initiatives up and running. Oh, and help the CMO look and feel smart and confident.

The problem is NOT that ad agencies SHOULD be moving toward extinction. It’s quite the opposite: CMOs need and welcome the help. The issue IMO is that too many analysts and agencies are stalled in the shiny object phase, where social media is new and exciting and OOH! look at that Facebook page, and see how smart I am, etc. etc. – as opposed to truly understanding the client’s brand, objectives, operating environment, organizational/budget limitations, the various stakeholders whose concerns must be addressed… all the factors that make an agency a true partner vs. a hit and run “guru” who has no real interest in the less flashy parts of the world in which the CMO operates.

Agencies that can do that will be in business forever – whether the topic is social media or the next big thing or the next one after that.

Stephanie Fierman Gives Her Seat To Darth Vader
Sunday July 25th 2010, 4:07 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,Internet,social media,stephanie fierman,word of mouth

Branding gets a bad rap.  I’ve always thought this was fascinating because – without branding – there would be little else in the world of consumption.  That’s because a “brand” can be defined as what a product, place or person means to you: it’s the place in the mind occupied by our real or anticipated experience with that person or thing.  And it drives many of our decisions. 

Think of it this way.  You get up in the morning.  The soap and toothpaste you use, the cereal you eat, the car you get into or the subway stairs you descend, the maker of your briefcase or backpack or handbag, the coffee shop you favor (or avoid), the newspaper you pick up, the particular vacation spot you research when you get to your desk: your real or perceived experience with each of these things drives your choices.  That’s brand.  You can’t (and don’t) live without it.  It’s all over, all the time.

And man, there’s a lot of competition.  And distraction.  And price pressure.  And etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So if this is the case, then it’s the job of a brand owner to create positive associations – a positive experience – associated with the person, place or thing in question.  Life is hard: great experiences are priceless and they’re something  you want to share with others.

Thanks to my Twitter compatriots David Ansett (@brandamentalist) and Story Worldwide (@storyworldwide), I came upon this wonderful NY-based company, Improv Everywhere,  which describes itself as an organization that “causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.”

What does that mean, you ask?  It means that Improv Everywhere creates “missions” that create an attention-getting public event that creates positive buzz – a positive experience – that is very unexpected and equally as impactful.

Here’s one that got a lot of press in NYC: “Star Wars Subway Car” (if  you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

The one that made the biggest impression on me was “High Five Escalator.” The video was shot literally on the escalator/stairs of New York City’s E/V/6 subway stop at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue.  Now, this stop is a friggin nightmare during the morning commute: you’re squished, it’s hot, it’s unpleasant… just a major potential misery at 8 or 8:30 in the morning.  But on this particular morning, a few Improv Everywhere “undercover agents” got 2,000 people to smile and give a “high five,” and many more just had a great experience on their way to work (if you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

Here’s an interview with Charlie Todd, the founder of 9-year-old “prank collective” Improv Everywhere (if you cannot see the video below, click HERE):

Improv Everywhere says that it takes on commercial clients only here and there, and that this is what allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.  But while Improv Everywhere “works to live,” if you will, hasn’t it cracked the very essence of the brand manager’s job?  What if your brand was associated with such a positive, memorable experience? 

This guy’s on to something.

P.S. I’ve signed up to be an Improv Everywhere undercover agent, so – the next time 200 people freeze in the middle of Grand Central – look around…

You Know How Stephanie Fierman Feels About TMI
Saturday May 08th 2010, 12:34 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,cmo,facebook,Internet,social media,Twitter

Pringles has a new funny online campaign that skewers folks who “overshare” on Twitter and Facebook.

A key feature of the campaign’s website – http://www.helptheoversharers.com – has a “Best of” Twitter feed that streams some classics: “My arm is itchy,” “Cleaning the kitchen,” and “New shower gel – hooray!”

Amazing: “hurray” is just the utterance I was planning – too bad P&G got to it first.pringles-stephanie-fierman1.jpg

So anyway, the website offers tips for recovering oversharers, a plug-in that allows you to “shame a friend with just one click” (very popular, I’m sure) and even an interactive video into which you can drop some of your favorite inane comments.  And you can buy a t-shirt with a dopey tweet on it.  Of your choice.

The site is accompanied by a utility on Facebook that Pringles’ 3 million fans (and anyone else who feels like it) can download and use to label boring Facebook updates.

To me, the campaign feels a wee bit derivative of Burger King’s 2009 “Whopper Sacrifice Challenge,” which offered a free Whopper to anyone willing to unfriend 10 people on Facebook. That campaign was semi-criticized for being an “anti-social” social campaign – a page that Pringles appears to have torn out of the fast fooder’s playbook. And there have been a number of other brands – like Nestle and Skittles – that have leveraged the riskiness and “nowness” of featuring a live Twitter feed in their promotions.

social_media_overload-stephanie-fierman.jpgBut so far, this has been a conversation focused on techniques and tools – a plug-in, a feed, interactive videos and custom t-shirts.  I love tools just as much as the next marketer, but… what does the Oversharers campaign have to do with Pringles’ persona and the ultimate goal of selling more product? 

If there’s a second phase of this campaign that ties the downside of oversharing online to oversharing your Pringles (because you want to eat them all yourself?), P&G better get moving. It seems like that’d make sense… but I’m guessing and this connection isn’t made at the moment.

So from a business point of view, I don’t get it.  You’re the Pringles brand manager: what consumer insight led to this campaign? What are you trying to communicate? What differentiation would motivate trial, or make an existing Pringles eater feel good about the brand?

Don’t “overshare” social media tools because they’re cool.  It’s tempting – and I recommend social media experimentation all the time – but all of the standard rules of branding, communications and marketing (and revenue and market share and shelf space) apply.

Stephanie Fierman’s Ugly American Moment
Thursday April 08th 2010, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Internet,market research,social media,Twitter,web 2.0

Last week, I attended Columbia Business School’s Brite Conference 2010. “Brite” stands for brands, innovation and technology, and the event is sponsored annually by the school’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.

The two-day happening gave me enough material for quite a while, but let me start here.cj-entertainment-logo-stephanie-fierman.jpg

There was a real mix of speakers.  On the first day, one of these presenters was Miky Lee (Mie Kyung Lee), Vice Chairman of CJ Entertainment & Media, the entertainment division of Korea’s CJ Corporation.

I know – I never heard of it, either.*

Ms. Lee carefully read her prepared remarks in English, sprinkling her comments with video clips from Korean films, cable television, games, recording artists and the like. 

While watching what appeared to be the Korean version of American Idol, I began thinking of my grocery list and wondering if the conference organizers had planned the session to seemingly wander off this way.

The Q&As came.  Ms. Lee answered a few questions here and there.  She was gracious and considerate.  Then an audience member asked if CJ was going to try to break into the United States.  The speaker wasn’t nasty or arrogant; he was simply saying that – to be truly successful – CJ would need to access the American culture market.

Ms. Lee stood oddly frozen at the podium until until one of the event moderators jumped in to say that Korea was far – far far far – past the U.S. in terms of digital sophistication and social media in all its forms.  Facebook, for example, is pre-historic news in Korea, where a vastly superior social networking site, Cyworld, has been operating since 2000. 

Clearly relieved, the polite Ms. Lee thanked the moderator for his comments and then proceeded to explain that the U.S. is no longer the center of the cultural universe in Asia.

“Having grown up in the 50s,” Ms. Lee said that she and her friends worshipped American music and celebrities.   American culture was the center of their universe.  No more. Today, Japan is the center of Asian life.  Kids look to Japan for what’s cool, hip and trendy.

At this point, Ms. Lee was on a (respectful) roll.

stephanie-fierman-cyworld.jpgShe shared a few details about Korean’s online lifestyle. Did you know that Korea is #1 in the world for broadband penetration in the home? This 2009 article puts that percentage at 95%. Ms. Lee said 98%.  They’re probably both right.  And the United States? As of 2009, we were 20th with 60%.

20th.  That’s 2-o-th.  Behind Singapore (88%), Taiwan (81%), the Netherlands (85) and others.  Estonia has higher in-home broadband penetration than we do (62%). Did you know that Estonia, a country with a population the size of Idaho‘s, has an extremely sophisticated information technology sector?  I didn’t.  How about the fact that the creators of both Kazaa and Skype came from Estonia? Nope, ‘hasn’t come up in the line at Starbucks recently. 

I do know, however, that a moving van showed up at Sandra Bullock’s and Jesse James’ marital home last weekend. Whooo-eee! Come back later: my brain is full.

Anyway, Ms. Lee went on to explain how Korea has leapfrogged everyone else in the world with respect to broadband and mobile usage. Downloading full-length feature films at home or playing games and watching TV on a cell phone are run-of-the-mill activities. And then there’s Cyworld, that social network owned by SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless provider.  Ms. Lee described Cyworld as essentially a millionth generation of the sites we use in the U.S.: a sort-of Facebook meets MySpace meets Flickr meets IMing meets Blogger. Characterized by CNN as “a license to print money,” Cyworld is used by 90% of all Koreans in their 20s (but also across all age categories) and produces 3x the revenue per user as does MySpace.

And although perhaps she had a right to be, Ms. Lee wasn’t smarmy, or poke-America-in-the eye arrogant: her remarks came across as a 100% sincere call for us to get our *** out of our *** and realize that the U.S is no longer the singular epicenter of cultural or technological innovation.  Seek out what’s happening in Japanese culture, she told us, as well as several other sophisticated countries, including her own. Learn. See. Question.

So – wow. I was intrigued. Who was this woman who read awkwardly from prepared comments and seemed uneasy on stage? (You know what’s coming, right?)

I’m going to make this short so it’s not too painful: Lee received her MA from Harvard in 1986, and served as a teaching fellow there for three years. CJ Corporation – the parent company of CJ Entertainment – built the first and largest multiplex chain in Korea. It also operates the country’s #1 cable network. And CJ’s Mnet Media is the leader in cable music television, music distribution and live concerts.  Variety considers Ms. Lee to be one of the world’s leading film industry executives, and she was the recipient of the CEO of the Year Award from a prestigious business association in her country.  Prior to joining CJ, Ms. Lee was a director or cultural and educational projects at Samsung America. In perhaps her spare time (?), Ms. Lee managed to establish the Parsons School of Design in Seoul and likes to chit-chat with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (two CJ partners) about their mutual love of movies.samsung-stephanie-fierman.jpg

Oh, and of course there’s also the fact that she’s the first grandchild of B.C. Lee, the founder of Samsung Group, the LARGEST CONGLOMERATE IN THE WORLD by revenue ($173.4 billion in 2008), and owner of Samsung Electronics, one of the top 20 most valuable brands in the universe and the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics. CJ, you see, was originally a part of the Samsung world, although it specialized in some sort of foodstuffs before Lee and her brother transformed it into a media juggernaut.

This woman has seen, accomplished, hungered for and achieved things that only a tiny fraction of the world’s citizens ever will.

I… have no real end for this post, other to say that I’m still cringing a week later.  The world isn’t hanging on our every word and – in many arenas – has already pulled way out in front of the United States. 

And we’re going to use this to recognize that we must be more curious, more open, more interested in seeking out worlds other than our own, right? Right?

Dear Posers: There’s Only One Stephanie Fierman. Move Along
Tuesday March 30th 2010, 2:28 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,Google,Internet,luxury,retail,web 2.0

There’s a real reputation-meets-revenue battle happening between online.

Today, any advertiser with a Google AdWords account can buy virtually any keyword to advertise its own goods, regardless of whether said advertiser has the rights to use the word.  This is particularly troublesome for brands that have spent decades burnishing a brand and consider the associated brand names to be reputational assets of great value.  If you go to Google right now and type in “LVMH” (the owner of numerous brands including Louis Vuitton and Hennessy), one of the sponsored ads shouts “Designer Handbags 70% off,” with a URL that includes the Louis Vuitton name. That has LVMH steamed and the company sued Google in Europe for trademark infringement.

Well the ruling is in… and it’s a split decision, advantage: Google. Upon Google’s appeal of earlier rulings (that didn’t go its way) the highest court in the EU has determined that – on its face – the mere fact that an LVMH-protected word is available for sale by Google does not mean that Google is in violation of LVMH’s trademark protection. stephanie-fierman-louis-vuitton1.jpg

Specifically, the court has said that the search company is not violating trademarks if (a) its automatic ad system is judged to be “merely technical, automatic and passive” in its operation, and if (b) the company is not aware and cannot be expected to fully police all the words that advertisers purchase.

Since computers are programmed by humans – and those folks at Google are pretty darn smart – this is fishy to me, but ok.  It was not a flat-out win for Google, however, as the court also ruled that Google must remove said ads if the brand owner formally complains about an advertiser infringing on its marks.  If Google fails to do this, the court says it won’t be so helpful in protecting Google’s revenue stream the next time around.

The court also reinforced that Google could be held liable for selling keywords that openly encourage or facilitate counterfeiting, which – in luxury categories – is a win (or at least a booster shot) for the brand owners.  And lastly, the court also clarified the responsibilities of advertisers who mustn’t be found “using such keywords arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users to easily establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate.”

stephanie-fierman-brand1.jpgI don’t know about you, but if I’m an advertiser that gets into hot water for legally buying a word that Google sold to me – and I’m not trying to sell knock-offs – I’m naming Google in my legal response.

LVMH has been on the attack re. this issue for a long time, which is understandable. eBay has also been in the conglomerate’s in the past. This is a worldwide, high-stakes game such a company must play in all sales channels: right here in New York, LVMH was front and center in the effective elimination of a thriving Louis Vuitton counterfeit trade on Canal Street. The company will flood Google “Don’t Be Evil” Inc. with complaints until the search company will at least have to question what (and how much) it is defending by taking on massive legal expense (and bad PR) in order to make money from advertisers leeching off others’ trademarks.

And speaking of buying Louis Vuitton knock-offs on the street, a LVMH board member point of view has been (quote) “Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names. “Why make an exception for the digital world?”

 As the division between online and offline “worlds” continue to disappear, why indeed?

Stephanie Fierman Can’t Replace The Personal Touch
Saturday January 16th 2010, 2:28 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,customer service,Internet,loyalty marketing,US economy

brand-love-stephanie-fierman.jpgThere was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Firms Hold Fast to Snail Mail Marketing.”  It seemed to be about small businesses who gave up their direct mail efforts in favor of email to either save money and/or because it seemed like the hip thing to do.

The particular companies profiled in this article told personal stories about how email didn’t generate the same positive results. In some cases, the owners actually heard from long-time customers asking what had happened to the letters/reminders/postcards they had received in the past.

This is because email is beside the point.  Establishing a connection with a prospect or customer is and always has been what’s most important.  Think first about your history and what type of communications have worked in the past. What kind of outreach prospects or clients appreciate. What makes them feel special. What generates orders, referrals and repeat business.  One of the owners profiled in the article discontinued his art-based postcard mailings, only to discover the cards permanently displayed in his clients’ offices.  His customers started calling him asking whether they’d been taken off the company’s mailing list.

What we have right there, friends, is some serious brand love.

Testing is fine.  It would be foolish not to test new technologies, which are usually cheaper and more easily wielded than the old ones.  And compromises must sometimes be made in order to preserve cash.  But – putting dollars aside – the beginning of the value chain is the relationship with the customer, and at the distant far end is the tactics you choose to reinforce and grow that relationship.  Too many executives (particularly those in small companies, who either can’t afford good marketing help or get less-than-great advice) are putting social media at the forefront of their thinking because they’re reading about whatever the heck it is everywhere they go. 

I tell these folks that they were right the first time when their gut was to do something special – something that showed they cared.  If you can replicate this more cheaply, by all means do it:  but don’t let any new whiz-bang communications vehicle get in the way.  

Stephanie Fierman Is Not Offended By The Loofah! Loofah!

I am sensitive to dumb and/or insensitive imagery and statements in advertising and the media – I thought that the “How I Met Your Mother” Frosty the Snowman spoof was a little over the top, for example – but this is pushing it.scrubbing-bubble-stephanie-fierman.jpg

A new commercial for the all-natural line of cleaning products, Method, has already been pulled – and that’s a pity.

Droga5’s “SHINY SUDS” is a silly send-up of Dow’s Scrubbing Bubbles commercials.  Method created the video to support the Household Products Labeling Act, which would require full disclosure of harmful chemicals in cleaning products. Here’s the ad (if you cannot see the ad below, click HERE):

Right after the video was posted online, women began to react negatively – and harshly.  A blogger accused the company of “humiliating women” and effectively saying that – if you don’t know exactly what’s in the products you use – “you deserve to be sexually harassed” in your own home.  A reader of the same blog post called Method to tell them that she was “curious of [sic] their perpetuation of rape culture.”

Rape culture? Sexual harassment? The “pornification” of a dull House act about cleaning chemicals? What am I missing here?

Apparently a lot, as the company received hundreds of calls and emails from outraged women before declaring itself a “values-based company” and pulling the spot.

Of course, there are other interested parties who struck back, most notably (a) the advertising community (which asks when brands are going to – ahem – “grow a pair” and tell zealot “idiots” to bug off) and (b) both men and women who say that this “overreaction” is just another example of why many believe that feminism has become a joke.

I’m not going to lean that hard in either direction… but I didn’t see the danger in this video.  What do you think?

New Balance Balances Oldest And Newest

stephanie-fierman-newbalance-574s.jpgNew Balance has created an online/social media campaign and (offline) line of shoes that marries both worlds in the most elegant way.

The 574 men’s and women’s collection is made entirely of left-over scraps of cloth in the company’s Lawrence, MA factory and, as a result, each pair is just a bit different each has its own personality, you might say.  A very special, limited line deserves equally powerful promotion, and the company’s ad agency, Mother, knew it.

When you buy a 574 pair from one of ten boutiques in the U.S., there’s a special Polaroid photograph in the box.  The owner can then go to 574Clips.com, and match the Polaroid to a special mini-film about the shoe.  Once the film has played, the happy shoe wearer can add his/her name at the end of the film.  The film for 106Red appears to show a man dipping a carrot into the shoe (for dip, or course), while 115Green has a lovable furry muppet (with green nose to match) admiring a pair of shoes.  Each is very short and fun check out one or two for yourself, and see if it doesn’t make you want to buy the shoes.

574Clips.com also features links to Facebook, MySpace, De.li.ci.ous and Tumblr, so buyers of these unique shoes can tell (and show) all their friends.  The campaign is also tied to sneaker culture blogs like High Snobiety and Nice Kicks.

Anyone who watches Entourage (Episode 3, Season 6) knows how culturally important “sneakerheads” are the (mostly) men who must have the hottest, most limited sneaker available tend to be heavy influencers and leading indicators of pop culture trends and information.  It’s a valuable and in their own milieu sophisticated crowd, and Mother has delivered an equally sophisticated communications plan.  The blending of manufacturing, blogs, web, community, video and product is exceptional.

And now I must sign off – I’m on my way to Reed Space: the only shop in NYC to carry the $75 shoes with the special Polaroid inside…

Stephanie Fierman’s Not Interested In Toothpaste, Either

A new study released by Q Interactive indicates that – while women may be flocking to social networking – they’re not yakking about the favorite baby food or burgers.  While 52% of 1,000 women said that they’d become a “friend” or “fan” of at least one brand, 75% of women in the study overall say that social networks do not influence what they buy.

I had to smile when Q’s president scrambled to make sure that marketers (with money) didn’t interpret the results in a negative way: Q calls the “disconnect” a “huge opportunity” for marketers and says that brands need to catch up to the needs of women online. 

If I were an agency relying on clients, I’d say the same thing!

But what if that’s not true? What if the social media frenzy that’s been whipped up among advertisers is…  overhyped?  What if we find out that women love discovering new ideas and interacting with new people and new communities, but the commercial promise in these interactions isn’t there? What if online engagement doesn’t lead to sales?  What if talking just leads to… talking?

I’m going to watch for new news and information about how women are interacting with social media because – if Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and all the other social sites do not turn out to be a brand bonanza for advertisers, we could see a major reset in expectations, involvement and, most importantly, dollars.

Stephanie Fierman Lies For Tappening
Wednesday July 29th 2009, 7:01 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,blogs,branding,environmentalism,Internet,Twitter,web 2.0

Well, my Tappening idols – Mark DiMassimo and Eric Yaverbaum – are back with a new campaign that got a big write-up in The New York Times yesterday.  Boo-yah!

As you may know, Tappening is a grass-roots effort DiMassimo and Yaverbaum started together as a laboratory for a social world marketing experiment focused on the negatives associated with bottled water (which – outside of convenience – turns out to be pretty much everything about bottled water).  I first interviewed them nearly two years ago about the initiative and covered their first ad campaign back in March of this year.  To date, Tappening has sold about $5 million worth of re-usable BPA-free plastic and stainless steel bottles, much of which is plowed back into the effort.

The team’s second campaign turns up the heat.  “Lying in Advertising” includes several treatments featuring such claims as “Bottled water causes blindness in puppies” and “Bottled water is the primary cause of Restless Leg Syndrome.” If you cannot see the posters below, click HERE and check out the bottom of the page.

restless-leg.jpg   polar-bears.jpg   puppies.jpg   add2.jpg

The new campaign has a dedicated website at www.startalie.com from which you can easily “spread” your lie about bottled water via email, Digg, Twitter and Facebook (a nice touch).  My first contribution was “Ben Bernanke says that bottled water caused the global recession.”

Hey, it could happen…

Stephanie Fierman Finds Satisfaction, But It Won’t Fix A Guitar
Wednesday July 08th 2009, 6:38 pm
Filed under: branding,customer service,Internet,loyalty marketing,social media,word of mouth

Ah, the sweet satisfaction of being able to vent.  You know the feeling: you have an awful customer service experience and vow to tell every man, woman and child all about it until the day you keel over.

And so you do.

But how many people is that – 5, 6, maybe 10?  And how quickly did you stop telling anyone about it – a week?

Brands often still behave as if they live in that world when – in reality – that world is gone forever.  The “social media” phenomenon has seen to that.  And I preach this as often as possible, even making presentations on the topics of online reputation management, the implications of new sites and technologies for marketers and how companies need to adjust to survive.

But we all know that this doesn’t happen.  Three of my all-time favorite this-reputation-disaster-could-have-been-avoided stories are Jeff Jarvis’ Dell Hell, the recording of Vincent Ferrari trying for 15+ minutes to cancel his AOL account and KFC/Taco Bell doing nothing for hours and hours while local NY news crews shot video through the front window of a closed store while rats scurried here there and everywhere, thereby turning a gross story into a global event (not a good day for Yum Brands…).

Today, I share my latest fave: Sons of Maxwell creating an absolutely masterful video and song, “United Breaks Guitars,” about an awful experience it had with United Airlines.

It seems that the band, Sons of Maxwell, were on the tarmac in Chicago when some fellow United Airline passengers looked out the window and saw one of the bandmember’s $3,500 guitars being thrown by United baggage handlers. The guitar was severely damaged and unplayable.  United did not deny responsibility, but tortured the band for nine months until finally refusing to compensate the guitar’s owner, Dave Carroll, for the loss.

Mr. Carroll subsequently vowed to “write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world.”  HERE IS THE FIRST of the three:

The video was viewed 150,000 times in its first 48 hours and several comments on the page are from those who say that the band’s experience has negatively impacted their opinion of United Airlines.  One person remarks that, based on the video, he shifted a group’s travel plans to another airline, thereby costing United about $10,000.

Now I’ve worked in plenty of places, and know that sometimes individual employees can be dimwits (the video dramatizes the apparent reaction three in-flight airline employees had when first alerted to the problem).  I also know that it’s a fact of life that a company can’t resolve every customer service complaint to a person’s satisfaction: some companies even calculate the likelihood and cost of getting sued, based on past experience, and consciously do not address costly errors.  History dictates that it’s more cost effective to take the risk of a lawsuit.  But this… is not that.

The guitar cost $3,500.  United Airlines does not deny responsibility.  By the time Carroll is finished, I predict well north of 1 million views of his videos: videos that will last forever and be “rediscovered” from time to time.

We’ll see.  United says it has contacted Carroll, but first reports say that the airline likes the song (gee, thanks) but has not yet offered remuneration.

In the meantime, the band sold 40 albums on its website in 24 hours after releasing the video. It usually sells one per day.

But It’s Hard For Stephanie Fierman To Wear That Mask On The Beach
Monday June 22nd 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,blogs,branding,Internet,US economy

Which entities would have a really tough time attracting positive attention right now?  AIG, yes. GM, no question.  Bernie Madoff, no doubt.  

Added to the list are two little words that have to got to shake any agency to its core: Mexican tourism.

Yes vacationers, remember Mexico? That was the place to which thousands of you were headed before the swine flu outbreak… and the resulting fears have weighed heavily on Mexico’s economy. 

The United Nations World Tourism Organization says the country boasts one of the largest tourism businesses in the world, welcoming more than 20 million tourists a year.  It’s the only country in Latin America on the list of top 25 most popular vacation destinations, and tourism is the third largest contributor to the economy.  70% of all visitors come from the United States.

But that was before the cooties came.

President Calderon plans to spend $92 million on new advertising and promotion to bring tourists back.  With t-shirts boasting “I went to Mexico and all I got was the swine flu” in circulation, he understandably feels he’s got to do something.

There’s no real point to this post.  I think I just wanted to express a certain kinship and sympathy for a brand that feels it must include a medical update, the phrase “keep the people safe” and a quote from the dean of the Harvard School of Public Health in its new television ad.  

Oh, well now I’m definitely in the mood for a Cancun vacation! Que es muy terrible.

Stephanie Fierman Hovers Like A UFO

I have no idea if they’ll sell even one tampon, but P&G’s Tampax is the stealth sponsor of a series of viral videos that tell the story of a 16-year-old boy who wakes up with – uh – “girl parts.” And at least from an art point of view… they’re good. Click HERE if you do not see the ad below.

Leo Burnett created the campaign at Zack16.com.  Its big link to the brand thus far is when our hero, Zack, gets his first period in French class and sneaks into the girl’s bathroom looking for a Tampax vending machine.

P&G calls it “a learning lab out on the net” that’s “not very heavily branded at all.”  Hmm.  And so far the videos aren’t a huge hit, with about 10,000 views in the past week on YouTube and elsewhere. 

I really wanted to dislike this campaign and – if I were a P&G stockholder – I probably would.  I also wonder if the best way to pitch tampons to young women is with stories about young men baking brownies, but what do I know? I hope it sells something. 

The title character, Zack Johnson, wakes up one morning to find his 'guy parts' gone.In the meantime, I’m enjoying the work of a good copywriter and have started following Zack on Twitter at @ZackJohnson16.  He appears to be trying to figure out how to manage menstruating while at soccer camp.

 Note: the “hovers like a UFO” comment is from the Day 3 video.  Really – these are pretty humorous.

Stephanie Fierman Says Her The Boss Is Best Ever! (On Twitter)
Thursday May 14th 2009, 10:07 pm
Filed under: blogs,facebook,Internet,stephanie fierman,Twitter,Wall Street Journal,web 2.0

So yes, this is another post about Twitter.  What can I say?  It’s the fastest growing, probably weirdest social media phenom thus far, and I’ve been sucked in.

One of today’s interesting tweety tidbits is a quite lengthy email that Rupert Murdoch – sorry, I meant the Deputy Managing Editor at The Wall Street Journal – recently sent to employees outlining “do’s” and “don’ts” for employees on Twitter or otherwise engaged on the “social Web.”

It’s sort of a doozy.

Don’t “friend” confidential sources, don’t criticize colleagues, and my favorite (verbatim): “Don’t engage in any impolite dialogue with those who may challenge your work — no matter how rude or provocative they may seem.”

Employees may cite (but not push) their own reporting and – well, that seems to be pretty much all they can do.  And even that rule, as you can see, comes with a murky qualification.

Some of the restrictions make perfect sense, such as not detailing how an article was edited.  Others are ripe for wrongful discharge lawsuits, such as the “don’t” that says you mustn’t recruit family or friends to promote your work.

In most instances, this particular restriction would be nearly impossible to dissect and prove.  If I retweet comments from a former colleague who then talks up my work, did I solicit that positive feedback?  And, I’m sorry:  if my mom claims that I’m just the cleverest person ever ever ever, there’s nothing I can do about it.oracle-twitter.jpg

So I was thinking that the whole thing seemed very 1984… until I spotted a blog post detailing real tweets that some knuckleheads have posted on Twitter.  A sample (with all grammar errors intact):
– “I just got to work (Oracle) and I am doing as little as possible”
– “Huh, with my boss on twitter, maaaybe I should take down that sexy picture of her… but her reaction will be priceless!”
– “hate my job!! i want to tell my bosses how dumb they are and how meaningless this job is, then quit, and be happy!”
– “Workin… This job sucks worse then [sic] the economy!”

The title of this blog post? “TwitterFired: The Top Ten Tweets to Get You Fired.”

Huh.  Maybe The Wall Street Journal Twitter police knows what it’s doing.

Stephanie Fierman Knows It’s Nice To Be On Certain Lists
Monday May 11th 2009, 4:14 pm
Filed under: branding,cmo,Internet,Twitter

Kent Huffman, Chief Marketing Officer at BearCom Wireless, a published author and all around smart, nice guy is doing something so smart on Twitter.

He’s publishing and frequently updating a list of the “top” CMOs on Twitter those with the largest number of followers.  So what does this mean?

–  It makes Kent a leader in the marketing community on Twitter.  It makes his “personal brand” stand out in a positive way among friends and colleagues with shared interests.
–  It’s likely that many on the list will retweet the post but, just as importantly, they’ll send it to others outside of Twitter (Hey Mom, look at this list I’m on!).  This exposes Kent and his work to an ever-widening, friendly crowd on the Web.
–  It connects everyone on the list to one another.
–  It gives Kent fresh content to create meaningful tweets over time.  Not always easy.
–  It drives traffic to not only Kent’s Twitter page, but also his own website, which is where he posts the list.
– Each time he posts an update, everyone on the list has their names, their brands and their Twitter addresses repeated, thus making it likely that they’ll get even more followers, and giving the search engines yet another page to crawl for their name. 
– And of course, each new update can potentially bring changes to the list, thus given a new CMO a fresh spotlight and creating renewed interest as everyone checks the list anew.

Kent leveraged his profession – which any of us could have done but didn’t – into its own mini-phenomenon that spreads learning and excitement across the Web, simply by calling attention to a community in which he’s already a member.  It’s a marvelous example of social media marketing at its best.

I’m proud to be on Kent’s list (#30 with a bullet!). For those of you on Twitter, take a quick look at the list:  you may want to follow someone who is the CMO of a brand you care about.  At #1 is Best Buy ‘s Barry Judge (with more than 6,800 followers!) and it goes from there.

Stephanie Fierman Knows It’s Not April Fool’s Day, But…
Wednesday May 06th 2009, 5:50 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,Internet,retail,web 2.0,word of mouth

SFMOGD came across two ads this week that are real… which just seems sort of impossible!

Ad #1 was brought to our attention by our friend, Jonathan Gilbert, and has some disturbing things to say about the condition of German underwear.  Here is a billboard currently posted in Berlin’s shopping district:


That would be Chancellor Angela Merkel on the left posing in front of various undressed members of the German government, with her “weapons of mass destruction” in full view.  The ad is part of an underwear company’s national ad campaign. Modeled after the country’s successful ads promoting “cash-for-clunkers” exchanges, the ad’s copy offers Germans who trade in their old underpants a €5 credit toward a new pair with the slogan “The country needs new undies.” No mention of whether the old panties need to be (*gag*) washed before you trade them in. 

Ad #2 appears to be a real television commercial for a North Carolina furniture store that takes race relations very seriously.  Based on the company’s perfectly normal description of the ad on YouTube, the weird humor and full-on racial context appears to have been lost on The Red House.  Luckily, it’s not lost on us:

“I’m Stephanie, aka Big Head…”

Stephanie Fierman On Shooting The Messenger
Wednesday April 29th 2009, 6:36 pm
Filed under: blogs,Internet

There have been a number of lawsuits in the last 24 months or so that basically seek to determine the responsibility an online delivery mechanism has for the content it carries.

There’s the fashion model, Liskula Cohen, who sued Google for a number of personal remarks that a blogger wrote using Blogger – a Google property.

Or one of my personal favorites, AuditAdmit.com, which raced to wipe its system of the IP addresses after comments about Yale law school students (females) became so vicious that the victims sued.  They got somewhere, but mostly because the two owners of the site cracked under pressure.

Note to Ms. Cohen: Google isn’t likely to crack under pressure.

The latest, of course, is the call for Craigslist.org to eliminate its “erotic services” section, following the murder of a woman who went to a hotel and meet a man she first encountered on the site.  And now there appears to be attempted copycat crimes, as well.  And it’s pile-on time now, too: people who try to sell stuff on the site and subsequently are assaulted by would-be buyers they met on the site, etc.

It’s all pretty awful.  The question is: who’s responsible and – once we determine responsibility – does it matter? Do the attorneys general urging Craigslist to remove the section really care about the legal backing they have for asking the site to cut the section?  I’d say no.

It’s challenging for me to fault Craigslist for individuals knowingly and legally advertising their services and then coming to some harm in the fulfillment of those services (the illegal ads gotta go).  Craigslist is the Internet version of all the personals and “massage” advertising that’s run at the back of local newspapers and magazines for decades. 

I’m processing this, but my first conclusion is that there is no reason that Craigslist couldn’t start a ratings system much like Amazon’s – so you know something about the “seller” and the “buyer” – and also make it very clear that IP addresses are kept and will be turned over to authorities if any illegal activities result.  There’s clear precedent for the former, and the latter… Craigslist would merely be enforcing its existing TOU (Item 6).   This is “bare minimum” stuff.

This isn’t over, as it’s no different that the contentious debates over free speech that take place in the “real world” today.  Do I believe in the First Amendment?  Absolutely.  Would I want to be Google or Craigslist when the mother of a dead girl goes on national television claiming that (perfectly legal) content on my site killed her child?  Absolutely not.

Stephanie Fierman Is A Little Coupon Crazy

There have been several articles recently pointing to the rise in both offline and online coupon use.  While consumers 65+ are more likely to use newspaper coupons and younger individuals prefer online coupons, there’s no real news here given that these stats will change over time as newspapers become less available and older consumers become more and more comfortable on the Web.

In the meantime, don’t leave home – or buy online – without it!

I’ve become accustomed to checking online for coupons and promotion codes prior to making either a store or Web purchase.  There is an art to this and, once you get the hang of it, you’ll become savvier about what sites are likely to bear fruit and which will not.

There are four general categories of sites I’d recommend you consider:

1.  Aggregators – these are sites whose sole purpose in life is to offer coupons and “promo codes” from many retailers, typically across multiple industries.  Some examples would include:

Coupons.com: the best-known source for printable online coupons



2. Industry-specific couponing/deal sites:

Rental cars: RentalCarMomma
Grocery: CouponMom, GroceryCoupons, TheGroceryGame
Hotels:  Roomsaver, HotelCoupons
Computers, peripherals and accessories: TechBargains
Restaurants: Restaurant.com,

3. Clubs and affiliations that may offer codes and deals:

WorkingAdvantage, StudentAdvantage and VeteransAdvantage
Alumni clubs (check yours)
Bulk buying clubs such as BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco
www.entertainment.com (Yes, the old Entertainment Books still exists…)
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
AAA (American Automobile Association)

4. Forums – some activities tend to make people want to vent (like having to take your shoes off at the airport…), and folks on these sites love to let others in on a deal:

Airline travel, rental cars and hotels: FlyerTalkWebFlyer, FlyerGuide, MileageManager
General shopping (usually bricks and mortar stores): ShoppingForum

If you’re set on a particular brand, it only takes a second to check out that company’s own site, too.  KFC, for example, has a pre-set button on its home page pointing visitors to printable coupons.  I’m actually surprised that more brands don’t take advantage of this simple way to build a solid customer database.  If a consumer is a fan, he will part with valuable demo and psychographic information in exchange for a steady stream of deals delivered by email.

And as a final tip: consider opening a brand new email account exclusively for your interactions with coupon and promotional sites.  You’ll be able to see all your coupon- and deal-related email in one place without clogging your own email inbox.

So start looking for coupons online and, pretty soon, you too will understand the nirvana of “stackable codes…”