Thursday, July 17

Accounting For Brand: McDonald’s

In Nevada, a large McDonald’s franchisee pleaded guilty to supplying illegal workers with false identification and agreed to pay a $1 million fine.

Surprising to some, the franchise, which was raided last year, is located in Reno, Nev., where illegal immigration tends to be less of a hot button issue than it is eight hours south in Las Vegas.

While the owner of the franchise was not charged, the company's current director of operations, Joe Gillespie, and former vice president, Jimmy Moore, could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The franchise has since promised it will never allow this to happen again.

In a statement, McDonald's Corp. has already said the case "was an isolated incident and not part of any ongoing investigation into McDonald's USA."

The case does, however, mirror another odd story where the manager of a Minn. McDonald’s allegedly turned down a Hispanic applicant after he revealed he was born in St. Paul, Minn. According to the story, the manager said he only hired Mexicans from Mexico.

While McDonald's Corp. handled the issue appropriately from a crisis communication standpoint, its at arms-length handling of franchise owners seems slightly off center of its longstanding brand protectiveness. After all, it was Ray Kroc who once said "the basis for our entire business is that we are ethical, truthful and dependable."

The trend to allow increasing autonomy to franchises began in 1991.


Monday, July 14

Advertising Conflict: TBWA Worldwide

Omnicom Group Inc.'s TBWA Worldwide is discovering just how difficult it can to be a global company without a consistent message. Two of its offices produced two different advertising campaigns for the Olympic games.

As covered by The Wall Street Journal, its Beijing office is running a campaign on Chinese pride for Adidas while its Paris office worked on another for Amnesty International that showed Chinese athletes being tortured by Chinese authorities.

According to the story, Chinese bloggers, spurred by a report in state-run media of the Amnesty campaign last week, are now calling for a boycott of all TBWA ads, among other measures.

While Amnesty International decided not to run the ads throughout the Olympics, they did give permission for the agency to run them one time so the agency could enter them in the Cannes competition. Yep, another award blunder. The TBWA ad won a Bronze Star at Cannes.

TBWA’s headquarters in New York has since dismissed the advertisement as “the action of one individual at our agency working on a pro bono account." But some people have pointed out the obvious. More than one person was credited with the Cannes win. And that is nothing compared to the timing of the debacle — TBWA’s major stake in the VISA account is undergoing a global ad review.

Times are changing. As advertising becomes more personal (in part because of social media), consumers seem to want the message makers to be as transparent or at least as authentic as the clients they are writing for — a trend that originally began with consumers scrutinizing which marketers supported (or did not support) which television and radio programs. I’m not always sure this is such a good thing, but it is what it is.

Even more obvious to me, once again, is that agencies and clients lose anytime the decision to do something is tied to awards. Awards are easy. Results are not. While these ads were creative, all they really succeeded in doing was damage everyone involved. And no matter how you spin it, that is not very effective at all.


Friday, July 11

Paying For Politics: Hillary Clinton

Ever since online merchandising became possible, candidates have been looking for ways to employ it for fundraising purposes. According to the Tribune’s Washington Bureau (hat tip: The Hotline), at least one candidate is looking to push the possibilities.

Hillary Clinton is hoping to erase $20 million from her campaign debt by selling a T-shirt that was originally meant to raise campaign funds. The T-shirt is “limited edition” and costs $50. Clinton promoted the T-shirt in an e-mail blast to supporters and the New York Daily News has a shot of her pushing the shirt, mentioning how it sounds a little bit like a Budweiser rip off and what the contest-winning designer has to say about it.

A Clinton spokesperson would not comment, nor has there been much mention that a good part of that debt is money she loaned herself and shirt purchases could detract from fundraising efforts by Sen. Barack Obama or other candidates, regardless of their party affiliation. Of course, Obama doesn’t seem to mind. He is also urging supporters to help his former rival out.

While there is nothing wrong with helping to retire a candidate’s debt, some people might wonder what’s wrong with a little fiscal restraint before asking voters to foot another bill caused by too much spending. Oh right, never mind. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted by the T-shirt site.

Now if only some politicians would propose a T-shirt to help erase the United States’ national debt then they might be onto something. Now that one really would be for you.


Thursday, July 10

Marketing Softly: Apple iPhone 3G

Apple's new iPhone 3G will be in stores tomorrow, and its newest product represents a continued shift in marketing as much as computing infused telecommunication. In a little less than 30 minutes, Apple illustrates what’s new and improved on the iPhone 3G in a guided tour.

Adweek, speaking to Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research, points out the obvious — it's advertising. Not only is it advertising, but it also makes several references throughout the tour for existing iPhone customers who might be less quick to buy a new phone.

In addition, Apple provides more information about iPhone 2.0 software that will add many of the same features sported by the new phone, including its ability to add applications and display iWork and Microsoft PowerPoint files.

Equally striking, there is no hard sell nor does there need to be. Apple casually presented information in a “matter of fact” style that makes sense without being boring. So sure, Apple might be criticized for not approaching social media the way some might think it should, but it really has been blurring the lines between marketing and customer service, using social media tools and real people to do it.

Does it work? Considering most advertisers struggle to capture customer interest in 30 seconds, I’d say engaging someone for 30 minutes is pretty smart. As for Apple being criticized for not having a transparent social media outlet? Well, it seems to me that its customers do a fine job of filling that so-called absence.


Tuesday, July 8

Thinking About Socialprise: Geoff Livingston

Have you ever joined two different forums on the same topic and had different experiences? Most people have, but few ever consider the reason.

Both forums create their own unique cultures, which is largely dependent on preexisting but unwritten guidelines within those forums. You know, the communication that takes place there.

In most cases, it’s defined by the participants. In some cases, it’s defined by volunteer moderators. And in a few cases, it’s defined by the developers who interact with the population. But what most people do not realize is that the forum owners, even if they do not know it, have a choice.

Communication defines cultures, online and off.

It’s not just forums. Walk into two convenience stores with the same name, and you might have two different experiences. Walk into some coffee shops with the same name, and they feel somewhat the same. It has nothing to do with proximity, and everything to do with the communication structure.

Geoff Livingston touches on this in his newest white paper on social enterprises, which is very close to being right. The next step goes well beyond implementing two-way communication models across multiple departments.

The suggested shift swings too far.

It seems to me that the only real challenge is some people apply too much prevailing social media think, which was largely driven by Shel Israel and Doc Searls, on a model that was meant to be two-way communication, but not customer-driven one-way communication. As Livingston points out...

… “Shel believes that companies need their people to act as individuals on behalf of the corporate entity in socialized worlds. Because of the very nature of social media, it will be much harder for companies to diffuse their messages as an entity.”

… “In the “Cluetrain Manifesto,” Doc Searls said there’s no market for messages. Ten years later this still holds true. Canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.”

Because these ideas are only half right, it’s driven some to conclude that the customers always need to drive the company. And a lack of messages will surely help drive a company in that direction.

Can messaging work in the world of two-way communication?

It’s essential that they do. No, I do not mean “canned messages meant to manipulate customers into buying bad product are disregarded.” But messages that provide a context for the culture they hope to create are vital to a vibrant company. When it’s done right, it’s natural — not necessarily top down, but always from the inside out.

If more companies realized that they can have the best of both worlds — authentic two-way communication between top management, departments, and the company and its customers as well as a manageable (not controllable) message that helps define the company — then social media might not seem so unmanageable. At times, it can seem like a free for all, but it does not have to be.

The challenge isn’t so much controlling the message. It’s defining “what” or, more precisely, “who” the company is to its employees and customers. If a company can get what I call its core message right then the rest is much easier. As authentic messages move from the inside out, it can help create a culture for the company internally and externally.

With such a center — a properly (and accurately) defined company — then the rest is always easier. Ironically, most companies, even Fortune 500 companies, don’t really have one. In fact, it’s one of the very reasons the top five toughest interview questions remain “what does your company do?” and “why should anyone care?”

Don’t believe it? Go around the office today and individually ask several employees those two questions. At most companies, you’ll find as many different answers as the number of employees asked.

Socialprise, as Livingston has adopted it, is worth taking a look at. Yet, until companies have a working definition of “what” or “who” they are, the concept falls flat (but not because the concept is flawed). Why? Because it’s not just the conversation or the engagement alone. It’s also about the context in which they occur.

Monday, July 7

Advertising Engagement: Pod-busters

The New York Times is featuring several commercials that may have set the pace for the 2008-9 television season. Called pod-busters, the goal of these new commercials is to introduce more pull marketing by producing advertising that is tied to the program.

While the New York Times features Last Comic Standing Honda commercials, AT&T’s “The Office” video, and Ford’s Knight Rider commercials, the original success of reintroducing programming-infused commercials seems to be American Idol. American Idol frequently featured campy music videos centered around a product and the concept dates back as far as 2005.

Joe Uva, president and chief executive of Omnicom Group’s OMD, which buys ad space, told the Wall Street Journal it was all about “what the content inside the pod of tomorrow will look like.” You’ve already seen the direction...

• Mini-sodes sponsored by marketers.
• Clips that blend in program elements.
• Promos that occur inside another program.
• Matched commercial content to program content.

While there are different approaches, commercial content is shifting to be more engaging, entertaining and educational, which matches the trend toward advertising frankness. Customers don’t want to be “SOLD!” as much as they want to be sold.

By presenting some common sense that seems to fit the content, pod-busters represent the bridge between marketing engagement and spots that entertain without connecting us to the company.


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