Coca-Cola “Wants you”

Anyone who watched the Super Bowl ads of 2012, will surely remember Coke’s animated iconic polar bears who reacted to the action on the field throughout the full four hours or so of the game, coupled with a live feed during the game showing the bears watching. According to reports nine million people across various platforms checked in to see the polar bears.

The Polar Bowl was creative and forward thinking, but it was still about watching…

This time around Coke “wants you” to get involved in the narrative of their “Coke Chase” story — which is about “three teams of people – cowboys, showgirls and badlanders – who are lost in the desert and see the mirage of a glistening bottle of Coke — then vote in real time to decide who wins a battle for the Coke, and the result is revealed at the end of the game.”

But here is the kicker in the game – players are pitted against other players. They can also sabotage—in other words, vote down—the teams they oppose. It triggers a competitive spirit geared to propel engagement.

According to Coke executives, they want to “gamify the game” via a real-time television, web and social media campaign that taps consumers’ votes to determine the storyline of the spot. They hope that consumers are up for another game, while watching the Big Game.

Pio Schunker, SVP of integrated marketing at Coke said, “People aren’t going to necessarily interact with your product unless you tell a compelling story. This is the most engaging and compelling way in to talk about Coke as the ultimate thirst quencher.” A bit promotional I think, but on point with the interaction part.

It is clever. It is about cross-media storytelling and engaging players in a narrative. It is about extending the conversation through a host of platforms across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, for which custom content has been crafted. Additionally a press conference with the losers has been recorded for YouTube. It’s a marked change from last year’s Polar Bowl that had a singular tactic for social-media channels.
By the looks of the game Coke conceived, it is likely that they will beat their numbers of last year. It is also a very cool way for Coke to maximize their estimated $11 million investment.
But more importantly, Coke may very well be responsible for permanently turning around expectations of the Super Bowl ads of 2014.

It’s what we would expect from a market leader.

Hurricane Sandy & Sales Bungles

Hurricane SandyI think that some marketers have gone nuts. Piggybacking on Hurricane Sandy to sell something is akin to selling your grandmother.  What on earth were the marketing teams at the Gap, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and Groupon thinking when they thought up ways to sell their wares during the storm?  It’s not only the companies that were dinged with a flurry of online outrage, but also the marketers who, by association, gave a greedy black eye to the category itself.

So, as all now know, what happened was that the Gap suggested via a tweet for “doing lots of Gap shopping at,” while Urban Outfitters offered free shipping Monday morning, attempting to capitalize on the college students stuck inside all day. Groupon offered a daily deal to midtown Manhattanites for a dinner at a restaurant serving a surprise meal in complete darkness and American Apparel offered a Hurricane Sandy Sale.


Gap apologized quickly for its marketing tweet during the devastating storm, but not really. What they said was, that “what they really meant was” – etc.  Sometimes apologies are not enough. If it was greed that spurred them on to take advantage of a national disaster, they could have garnered far more visibility by putting on their corporate social responsibility hat and thinking through how to garner customers’ loyalty in a time of need. They could have offered to send free apparel for the displaced, the ones that lost homes, or were flooded out of homes, losing everything.  Maybe they could have set up a center for distribution of the clothes through their retail outlets after the storm or, minimally, offer warm clothing to children whose homes were burned down by fire within days after the storm.

Altruistic maybe, but socially responsible…

Groupon could have offered “best deals,” negotiated through restaurants that had power, to feed those that did not.  Urban Outfitters could have just kept quiet about their shipping ideas and American Apparel, well not much can be said for a company that thinks there is nothing wrong in holding a storm sale as the devastation unfolds.

It may be small potatoes in the scheme of things, but such poor judgment should be written up by the marketing textbooks as examples of what not to do.

Jobs Creation, the American Way

It takes a village, in this case tens of millions inside the village, to pitch in and help.  It is, and has always been, the American Way – you know, helping to “pull someone up by their bootstraps” type of thing.  We have a history of that.  When disasters, as in hurricanes, foreclosures, terrorist threats, or others strike, it is the people in our big USA “village” that come to the rescue in whatever personal way they can — with blankets, food, money, simple ingenuity or maybe just an extra shoulder on which to lean.

But the present joblessness calamity in our country has triggered no such response to date.  It has left both Washington and Corporate America divided, dumbfounded, frozen and bent on playing the “blame game.”

But then — along comes Howard Schultz, Starbucks Corp.’s CEO who said, “Right now we can’t wait for Washington… Businesses and business leaders have to recognize that we have a shared responsibility in trying to make a difference.”

And there you have it.  Starbucks, with its “Create Jobs USA program” initiative, just jumpstarted the “American Way” and is roping in masses of people to support it…

Starbucks is pinning its hopes on customers who may be willing to part with $5 or more, when they stop in for their morning cup of “Joe.”  Maybe it sounds like not much, but just do the math — $5 times millions of people who visit its nearly 7,000 company-owned U.S. stores each day!  And the reward — a red, white and blue wristband that says “Indivisible.”

Smart… part of that ‘ole spirit.

The facts: Seattle-based coffee chain is collaborating with the Opportunity Finance Network, a nonprofit that works with nearly 200-community development financial institutions to provide loans to small businesses and community groups. Starbucks says 100 percent of the donations will go toward loans for firms and organizations that can add jobs or stem job losses.

It’s not the first time that Schultz has addressed the nation’s economic woes. In August, he sent more than 200,000 Starbucks employees a memo urging them to do what they can to help business through hard times. After that, he hosted a national telephone forum, bought full-page ads in two major newspapers and started a website,

Schultz says he feels personal responsibility to do something to stimulate the U.S. economy.  Are you listening now, Corporate America?

Sure, Starbucks is growing and will gain by hiring about 200 people a day in the U.S. as it remodels thousands of stores and adds another 200 locations next year. But the key word is hiring, when others take the cautionary road and stay the course.

It may take a village to make a final difference, but it takes a leader to carve out the path. Let’s face it. We need more Schultzes!  I know where I will drink my coffee tomorrow morning, and happily part with $5.  Want to join me for coffee?

The Ultimate Poor Judgment Call

Vanish NapiSanMost would have titled this blog the “ultimate PR stunt” but truly it would be an insult to the Public Relations community to suggest that PR had anything to do with it.

The pinnacle of poor judgment was recently exhibited by an Australian laundry detergent brand, Vanish NapiSan, in their attempt to become the official detergent of the White House. Yes, believe it. Literally.

The company created a video for President Obama, hoping that in light of the stock market woes of this week, perhaps the President would actually consider the deal —
$27.3 million to sponsor the White House for five years. Just imagine a huge banner over the White House with the laundry detergent brand boldly displayed.


Now — clearly they had no hope whatsoever that this would ever become a reality. So why do it? To grab attention, stand out from the crowd, generate buzz and grow brand awareness — all the right stuff with the wrong tactic. They did get the buzz, though. Yes, the video is doing very well indeed virally, mostly because of the ridiculousness of the premise.

And I am guilty of aiding and abetting in this comedy… By writing about it, I am giving this campaign credence. Couldn’t help it. The foolhardiness of it was the lure.

But what did the company actually hope to get or achieve? What message was it supposed to send? That the company has “chutzpah” or gall? It certainly did not intend to endear consumers or trigger trial, with hopes of adoption as to its product.

I recognize that all this is but a blip in the greater marketing landscape. But there is a lesson to be learnt here that comedy for comedy’s sake without a message or take away may have worked back in the 80’s and before, but now in this world of interactivity, it will not work even as a stunt that will never be realized.

As everyone in the industry knows, using comedy is an easy way to make a brand more relatable to consumers. It helps the brand stand out from the crowd. Taco Bell is a great example of this. This company uses comedy through its Twitter handle to engage with customers, helping them to stand out from their competitors. Delta, among a slew of companies, also stands, likewise engaging conversations that trigger customer loyalty.

There’s no argument that stunts can attract, if only for a nanosecond. But a $27.3 million campaign needs to go past the first “WOW and attract something more lasting.

Like — maybe customers?

Gap Gets With It — A Year Later

They say mistakes are often the cost of learning what not to do…

But sometimes the price of those mistakes are simply too steep. Such was the case with the Gap when it rolled out its new logo design last October. It received a very public outcry of protests that flooded the Internet with derisions, mockeries, parodies as well as amateur re-design suggestions. It cost the company two years of work in developing the new logo, oodles of money for its retraction as well as damage control, not to speak of a solid dent in reputation and loyal customer base.

The lesson learnt at that time had little to do with the logo itself and everything to do with the manner in which the new logo was introduced — autocratic and not inclusive. In short, they misjudged their 2010 customer. In my blog of October 12, 2010, and similarly in a blog about the Starbucks logo change, I posed the question as to who owns a brand — the company or its customers?

The answer became very clear, very quickly…

So now in mid-2011, and in the face of poor quarterly profit showings, the Gap is happily changing course, with a new focus on Millennials – the more than 60 million 18-to-35-year olds in the United States, about 20 percent of the population, according to the recent census. This is a sharp shift in focus for a company that had traditionally lured a wide audience with neutral workplace basics, classic denim and bright scarves. The clothes, however lost their allure in recent years. Still, anyone under 30 has most likely never worn Gap jeans and it could either be an uphill battle to unseat that generation from its favorites such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co., American Eagle Outfitters Inc., Aeropostale Inc. and Urban Outfitters Inc. or prove to be a lucrative untapped market.

But this time around, the Gap’s campaign seems to be heading in the right direction, making engagement a key component of its new campaign roll out.

The focus is on interactivity, inclusivity and transparency — much valued elements by this generation. Videos showing “real” stories of how Gap clothing is designed and manufactured in their redesigned “start-up look” LA design studio, will be released on blogs and social media websites, making them available to influential bloggers and other social media mavens. The videos will appear on websites frequented by the young crowd such as Daily Candy, Hulu, Pandora and Rolling Stone. Even the traditional aspects of the campaign have social, digital tweaks in that Gap’s new print ads will feature real-live people dressed in Gap clothes found on the street, in places from NY and Texas to Manchester, England and Nakameguro, Japan, for they will direct people to the online videos.

But the Gap is not above using some time-honored lures, as in feeding people. Taco trucks will be parked in front of stores in major U.S. cities, some with celebrity chefs on board who will create gourmet concoctions at cheap prices and offer free food to anyone wearing Gap clothing, And yes, the photographer will be waiting to take their pictures of anyone wearing Gap clothing for the Gap’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Clearly, Millenials will decide for themselves if the Gap is to become a cool brand once again. But wouldn’t it be cool for the marketing “poster child” of 2010 to now roll out a marketing template for engagement that other manufacturers could adopt as their own?

It’s always true that a good idea bears repeating…