Is Offensive Marketing Just Cheap PR?

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Sometimes I wonder if brands intentionally launch offensive campaigns for the PR. Are we as a society really that soulless? The conspiracy theorist inside me thinks so.

Firstly, let’s look at a recent tasteless campaign for context. A few months ago, Bud Light printed a slogan on their cans that suggested removing “no” from one’s vocabulary. The brand messaging is about having a good time, so at first this seems plausible. However, considering they sell an alcoholic beverage and their primary demographic is males 21 – 30 who are trying to pick up girls at a bar, and… you see where I’m going. People weren’t happy.

While at first it seems like an innocent mistake that somehow passed through several layers of approval before being printed on millions of cans, it also makes me think that perhaps there’s something else at work here– that perhaps there are marketing departments so clever and conniving, that they intentionally launch something offensive, knowing that people will give them the benefit of the doubt (all the while assuming that nobody would ever intentionally launch something that offensive) and shamelessly cashing in on the free, widespread PR.

I’m also pretty sure that the movie The Interview had some layer of PR genius behind it (the movie wasn’t that bad either). And Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during Superbowl XXXVIII? I’m sure she sold a few more albums after that.

Any other offensive marketing conspiracies you can think of?



Persona-lly, I Don’t Give a Damn

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I feel like building personas is a necessary step in marketing, but whatever result comes out of the process eventually gets swept under the rug. As marketers, we take the time to craft the perfect representation of who we believe is our target customer, give it a clever name using even cleverer alliteration (Engineer Ernie, Hipster Hal, etc.), share it with co-workers and then rarely (if ever) use it again.

What gives? I think there are three main issues that lead to this:

  1. A persona is a subjective profile of an individual. Who’s to say it’s wrong or right? Who’s to know for sure? People at the company will disagree on who the persona is. When people disagree, the less cooperative they are in marketing/selling/servicing that particular persona.
  2. People don’t understand how they can actionably use a persona they’ve created. It’s not just a one-and-done deal. The profile you’ve created should be used in the content you produce, the email copy you write and the types of products or services you develop. It’s universal throughout the organization, not a static piece of content you finish up and brush aside.
  3. There’s no easy way to measure the effectiveness of a persona. You can probably enforce some sort of lead scoring around the various metrics you attribute to your persona (revenue, # of employees for B2B businesses; income, eduction for B2C, etc.) there’s no clear cut way to see if the profile you develop is impacting the bottom line. This is probably the most important aspect in my opinion, especially as businesses today are shifting towards tracking ROI to the dollar.

When you combine the subjectivity of its development with a lack of actionable next steps and no means to measure the success of the whole ordeal, it’s difficult to become motivated to create and consistently refine a persona.

Sure, we’ve filled out powerpoint templates and shared them around, but there’s got to be another way, right? Or maybe this is just a persona-l struggle (see what I did there?)

What do you do to show value in building a persona?

Your Social Media Disaster Survival Guide

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**Guide not actually included.

More often than not, the Internet’s social scene can be very similar to middle school. One embarrassing, unintentional slip-up can completely destroy any social competence you (or a brand) possessed. And the trolls are always ready to pounce on your blunder– they can smell it like a shark senses blood in the water.

However, the big difference between the Internet and middle school is that exponentially more people are watching, judging and sharing whatever mess you may be trying to snuff. So the stakes are much, much higher.

Whenever PR disaster strikes, I think the best people/companies play it cool and figure out a smooth way to redeem themselves. Take the Red Cross for example. A few years ago, an employee accidentally tweeted the following from the main Red Cross twitter account (she thought she was tweeting from her own account when in fact it was still connected to Red Cross):


Not something you’d want tweeted on behalf of an employer who’s all about providing emergency assistance, disaster relief and education. Thankfully, they bottled it up quick and apologized.

I think the best brands are the ones that chime in and assist those that messed up (like Dogfish Head starting a campaign based on the hash tag to donate to the Red Cross). It’s kind of like that kid in middle school that sees you’re quite embarrassed for spilling your lunch all over your pants and offers you his extra pair of sweats. Yeah, that never happened.

You’re Fired

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I think we’ve all had “oh sh*t” moments in our careers, but only a select few of those came from when you actually thought you were doing something really awesome (which makes the fact that you screwed up even more painful).

The following story is true, but I’ve omitted the names of the companies (and the business they’re both in) so I don’t get any flak. Alright, here goes:

When I was working at an agency several years ago, one of our clients discovered that their primary competitor had mis-labeled one of their products and was falsely representing what they were selling to the public.

Our client, wanting to exploit this, asked that we create a smear campaign video and complementary social media campaign to raise awareness against this deliberate act of misconduct.

Well, we had quite some fun putting the campaign together. It involved me interviewing people on the street (think Michael Moore) and a supporting hashtag (it was pretty clever actually, in hindsight I was pretty proud of my wit) to call out the company for their mislabeled product.

We launched the campaign and within the hour got a cease and desist from the competitors legal team. After about ten minutes of shifting between panic and disappointment that we might need to scrap all our hard work, we pulled the video, severed ties with the client and had a whole mess to clean up.

We got so caught up in the cleverness of the campaign that we never considered the bloodbath that would ensue. To be honest, my gut always questioned the integrity of what we were doing, but I don’t regret it. They say any press is good press, amiright?


A Guaranteed Way to Go Viral


[Tweet this comic]

For those of you reading this for the first time or just catching up: <synopsis> Mink (our entry-level marketer protagonist) got his first job at Cobblr, a social media network designed to connect people with odd-sized feet so they can go shoe shopping together to save money. During his first day on the job, he was asked to non-intrusively interact with potential followers.</synopsis>

Alright, so on to my complementary editorial piece.

I’m sure that if you’ve ever been in a marketing-specific, client-facing role at a time in your career, you’ve probably been asked to create a viral campaign. Or at the very worst, expected to create a campaign that goes viral. I’ve been there a few times and it’s a “talk-the-client-off-the-ledge” type of scenario.

One particular individual from a client was under the impression that creating viral campaigns was a core piece of any marketing agency’s repertoire. That relationship didn’t last long.

So what makes something go viral? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you exactly– but after seeing quite a few over the years, I can narrow down the similar qualities that each share to give you a better idea on how to at least think about creating one:

  1. Timing and Location: It’s literally everything and probably the hardest piece to nail down. It’s like being struck by lightning– your content needs to be in the right place (media channel, social network, etc.) at the right time. Okay, being electrocuted is more of the wrong place / wrong time scenario, but you get the point.
  2. Incongruity: One of my all-time favorite professors was an honors writing teacher I had in high school. He always preached having “incongruous detail” at the beginning of a writing piece to hook the reader. It’s a technique that places two radically different ideas together and is essentially used to grab the reader’s attention. Viral content has this in spades.
  3. Originality: Has it been done before? You’ll lose a ton of credibility if you repeat what someone else has done (or capitalize on it) — unless you iterate on something that brings a completely new idea to the table.
  4. Legs: Will it last long enough to be shared but not too long so that it drifts into obscurity? Viral campaigns see diminishing returns very quickly upon peaking, so the idea needs to be fleeting, but not too ephemeral. Easy, right?

And while the odds of having something go viral seem to be in one’s favor (2.8 billion people online in the world, an endless supply of Internet cats, puppies, babies, etc.) there are several things wrong with this belief, especially when observed through a business lens:

  1. Just because a lot of people will see whatever the piece of content is, it doesn’t mean that they’re the right people to see it (i.e. your target market)
  2. Even if you do go viral, there’s a chance the element that is so shareable has nothing to do with your core message (or goals). If Old Spice didn’t sell a ton of product after their big break, do you think they would’ve done it again?
  3. You’re competing with millions of other messages out there. Couple that with people’s diminishing attention spans and you’ve got less of a chance to break through, kid.

And there’s more. In fact, there’s so much working against you that you shouldn’t rely on promising viral campaigns and instead just view them as a happy surprise. When it comes to marketing, there’s too much else out there that you can control.

What’s your experience with viral campaigns?

Retweets Are My Favorite


Has anyone uncovered the true meaning or purpose of favoriting a tweet? It’s like the social media equivalent of saying “that’s funny” to a joke instead of laughing at it.

I’m always slightly disappointed when someone favorites my tweets. Was the content not remarkable enough to share through a retweet? What types of content do I need to publish to get you to advocate for me? Is there any value beyond the self-actualization triggered by that little yellow star?

Thoughts and opinions are welcome.

It’s a Long Way to The Top In Your Marketing Role


One of the clients I worked for during my first job at an agency built a digital platform where girls ages 5 to 12 could design their own clothes online, have them manufactured at a warehouse and then delivered.

Originally, I was not enthused to work on this account– I mean, girls fashion isn’t on the top of my list of things I find interesting– but work was scarce so I swallowed my pride and learned just about everything about pre-teen girl clothes.

One of the marketing strategies we devised was a “mommy blogger” outreach campaign. Moms were the primary decision-makers in this purchase (aside from the occasional girl who “borrowed” mommy’s credit card) so targeting them was the main directive.

To engage the moms in the blogging campaign, I scoured the web for mothers blogging (for reference, this was relatively easy because there are a ton– seriously, a ton), crafted a pitch email that involved trying out the clothes creation platform and writing a favorable review (a gift card was involved to sweeten the deal) and reported back the published blogs to the client.

A few of the moms assumed I was a female marketer (probably because they didn’t realize that a 23-year-old college graduate male was taking any job he could get) and referred to me as “Allie” in their replies, despite the fact I signed emails as “Al”. To save us from mutual embarrassment, I never corrected them.

This gig wasn’t the most glamorous work in the marketing space, but I got some moderate PR experience under my belt and began to understand digital strategy.

While it sometimes may seem like a slog starting out with any job, there’s never a wasted moment. You just need find the value in the experience.

They Want My Sole

If I knew more about creating and fostering a company culture, I could probably lend some insight into how important it is, how to build one and how companies that fail to define them end up being some sort of dystopian workplace. Having my sole (it’s today’s buzzword!) experience be entirely with HubSpot’s culture (it’s quite good) I can only look at others from an orange colored lens, observe, and poke fun at those who most likely have no idea what they’re doing.

One place I visited for a potential job opportunity back in 2011 before working at HubSpot was a company being run by a college drop-out who had installed a ball pit in the main meeting room. He made a point to tell me that the reason for having such a thing was because he wanted to embody a culture that was all about “having fun.” A bit misguided to say the least. I remember Googling the company again about a year after working at HubSpot– the website 404’d and the social accounts had been deactivated. Now, a quick LinkedIn search shows the company’s founder has positioned himself as a freelance “Growth Ninja.” All reservations of me not having enough content to keep this comic fresh can forever be dismissed.

HubSpot is the only place I’ve worked that has actually acknowledged its culture, defined its vision and done something about maintaining it for future new-hire generations. To learn more on it, I’d recommend checking out Dharmesh Shah’s blog post and supporting slideshare deck.


Oh, The Laces You’ll Promote

Mink#11 Getting an entry level job can be one of the hardest moments of your entire career. Unless you work an internship at the company first and get transitioned to full-time (and even that isn’t a sure thing), proving you can contribute enough to justify a salary with little to no real workplace experience beforehand is very difficult.

In my entry-level searching heyday, I brought many creative ideas to interviews that garnered quite some interest. One agency had me come down to Brooklyn to interview with the team for an afternoon. Before my trip I  scoured social media, researched each person I was meeting with and designed a little infographic on how I could contribute as a team player at the agency, given that individual’s interests and Twitter history.

In hindsight, this approach was a little creepy, but the team was impressed with my ingenuity and personal touch. But after interviewing that day and several emails later, I got the same “we like you, but we need someone more experienced” rigmarole that added itself to this ever-growing trend of post-interview followup.

The problem? Experience always trumps creativity.

Eventually, I swallowed my pride and decided to stop shooting so high for a full-time gig. I worked as a freelance consultant at an agency after about six months of job searching. While it wasn’t the most glamorous position (I still worked and lived at home), it did fill in the work experience void on my resume. Plus, I didn’t make enough money to qualify for taxes the following year.

My advice for those in this position is to dial it back and prove yourself out through experience. You might want the short term results (and paycheck), but paying up front for experience is an investment.

So, on a related note: What type of animal companion should Mink have?