Thursday, December 2, 2010

Power to the people: How brands are rallying consumers to engage

by Kim Hennig

"Power to the people: How brands are rallying consumers to engage" appears in the latest issue of Social Media Marketing magazine. Check it out at

Four years ago, Jeff Howe, a contributing editor at Wired magazine, coined the term “crowdsourcing” to describe what was then an emerging trend: using the Internet to reach people with specialized talents, and harness their skills. Not long after, he published a book on the topic, aptly titled, Crowdsourcing: How the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. Call it crowdsourcing or just a good, old-fashioned contest, evidently that future is now.

Rarely does a day go by, for instance, without stumbling across yet another brand inviting consumers to create their own commercials, one of the most popular crowdsourcing tactics.

Doritos, a pioneer of this approach, launched its “Crash the Super Bowl” ad contest in 2007, generating both widespread participation and consumer interest in the spot. Two years later, the winning entry scored at the top of USA TODAY’s popular Super Bowl Ad Meter. “For the first time, it wasn't an ad agency that created the best-liked Super Bowl commercial,” quipped USA TODAY, “ it was two unemployed brothers from Batesville, Ind., whose ad for Doritos — created for an online contest for amateurs — won them $1 million from Doritos maker Frito-Lay, and leaves ad pros with a lot of 'splaining to do.” Beyond the live Super Bowl audience, the winning Doritos spot generated more than 2.3 million views on YouTube.

Other brands getting into the crowdsourcing act include CareerBuilder, whose 2010 winner “Casual Friday” has generated more than 1.2 million views on YouTube, and, which used the 2010 Indy 500 as the stage for their contest-winning spot, “Go Momma”.

Since not every consumer has the wherewithal to actually create a commercial, some brands have taken the idea and made it more accessible. PetSmart offers a great example. Housed on their Facebook page, the “Scare Your Way into a TV Commercial” contest invites pet owners to submit a photo of their pet in a Halloween costume. PetSmart does a lot of things right with this contest – after consumers enter, they are provided with a link to post on their own Facebook pages to extend reach beyond contest participants, they post weekly winners to maintain interest in the contest, and they award random gift cards on a daily basis. They’ve also made their voting rules clear and fair, specifying, “Remember: you can vote for as many entries as you'd like, but you can only vote for an individual entry once per day.”

Clear and fair rules are essential in such efforts. Consider the ill-will generated by the indomitable Oprah Winfrey in the “Win your OWN Show” contest for the new Oprah Winfrey Network. More than 15,000 people entered the contest, either by submitting audition videos on which viewers could vote, or showing up at a casting call at Kohl’s stores. Why participants should choose to audition at a Kohl’s store or to send in a video was unclear, as was how many finalists would come from each. There were no rules ascribed to the voting process, allowing participants to vote over and over for themselves, or worse, to utilize auto-voting software to do it for them. Consider this: the top vote-getter generated 9.1 million votes…with only 1.3 million views.

Not all crowdsourcing efforts involve television. Take the Pepsi Refresh Project. In 2010, Pepsi took $20 million it would have spent on advertising on the Super Bowl and created a massive social good program in which consumers voted on non-profit programs to fund. At the Mashable & 92Y Social Good Summit in September, PepsiCo’s Bonin Bough pointed out that the project generated more votes than the 2008 U. S. Presidential Election. Pepsi extended the reach of the program by partnering with Major League Baseball and its legion of fans, with MBL teams nominating worthy projects to receive funding. Two million fans casted votes in the MLB portion of the program alone.

Non-profits have engaged consumers in similar – if not quite so grandiose – efforts. Habitat for Humanity, for example, launched a photo contest, inviting friends of the organization to submit images “that communicated something vital about the organization’s life-changing work”. The contest was promoted, and hundreds of photos shared, through a variety of social media channels, including Habitat’s Facebook page, and

Some crowdsourcing programs are less about marketing, and more about the products themselves. A great example is Electrolux’s Design Lab, an annual global design competition open to undergraduate and graduate industrial design students who are invited to present innovative ideas for household appliances of the future.

Every day in social media, brands are utilizing crowdsourcing approaches to name a product, sing a jingle, pick an all-star team, create a recipe, nominate a winner. The drawback? If such programs become ubiquitous, their talk-value will diminish and their effectiveness is bound to decline. Further, if consumers are given more rein to shape corporate messaging, brand strategy objectives could become more difficult to meet.

But make no mistake: the consumer now expects to be not just part of the conversation, but also part of the decision-making. As Jeff Howe predicted, they’re driving the future of business.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sharing Secrets with Friends

"Sharing secrets with friends" appears in the latest issue of Social Media Marketing magazine.  Check it out at

One thing friends just love to do: share secrets. But what if you've got a million friends? All the better. For many consumer marketers, sharing secret behind-the-scenes videos, short films on the making of commercials, and exclusive interviews with celebrity spokesmen has become a great way to engage customers in the social media space.
Hollywood has been doing this for years, since long before the advent of social media. Celebrity interviews and behind-the-scenes videos are de rigeur in the pre-release marketing of any film. Check out the YouTube video on the making of Avatar to see a great example. Film producers understand that engaging moviegoers with the actors and filmmakers creates a more personal relationship that ultimately helps to generate buzz and ticket sales.

Some retailers have borrowed a page from Hollywood's book. For example, for its holiday television shoot, Victoria's Secret spawned no fewer than three separate, behind-the-scenes videos, plus a digital greeting card with the lingeried beauties expressing their holiday wishes exclusively to Facebook fans. The Victoria's Secret strategy is clearly working: their Facebook page has amassed two-and-a-half million fans.

It's a bit of a surprise, actually, that more television advertisers are not sharing behind-the-scenes videos from the making of their commercials. What many are doing, ineffectively, is inviting consumers to "preview our new commercial." Not particularly exclusive or viral-worthy, unless it's a banned commercial—like the PETA spots banished from last year's Super Bowl or its more recent Thanksgiving effort—or one that's just plain steamy, like the Kim Kardashian spot for Carl's Jr.

Even if the finished commercial is too self serving to have genuine viral potential, outtakes versions often do. Consider the huge success of E*TRADE's hilarious outtakes video of their well-known "Babies" spot: more than five million views, with a five-star rating. And Sears generated several hundred thousand views of its Brett Favre spot outtakes pitching big-screen TVs.

While movies and TV commercials provide an easy transition to behind-the-scenes videos, some marketers have had to think more creatively. Book publisher Simon & Schuster invites readers to get "the story behind the story" on, housed on YouTube. Authors talk about their lives, their inspirations, and the challenges they faced in writing their books, an opportunity previously available only to the precious few who landed a talk show appearance.

Hallmark, another consumer retailer playing almost exclusively in the world of print, had a unique idea in the development of its 100th anniversary blog, designed to give consumers a peek under the tent at corporate headquarters. However, instead of posting interesting features about how cards are developed, facts about card giving, the most popular cards ever (and the like), the site disappoints with videos of talking-head executives and photos of the anniversary cake. One entry, "High-Tech Hallmark," comes the closest to having real consumer appeal, but it leaves viewers wanting more.

Which brings us to the Golden Rule for marketers who wish to share behind-the-scenes secrets in social media: share material that consumers find interesting. As simplistic as that sounds, a sizeable number of consumer marketers seem to think that we're intrigued to know that they are running out for a latte or are keen on viewing the CEO's speech. Avoid the mundane; the best secrets are juicy ones.

And a final thought. Sharing behind-the-scenes material can be highly effective, but be sure to give fans and followers an opportunity to comment, question, and respond. Remember that there is a social part of the social media equation.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Have you tried our soup today?

"Have you tried our soup today?" appears in the inaugural issue of Social Media Marketing magazine.  Check it out at

The scene: two strangers sitting on a park bench. One turns to the other and tentatively says, “Hello…” The other spins around, grabs the first by the shoulders and bellows, “HI, THERE! HAVE YOU TRIED OUR NEW SOUP TODAY?!?”

A little off-putting, to say the least.

Yet this is the scene played by far too many consumer marketers as they seek to establish themselves in social media today. The traditional marketing playbook – seek (or build) a sizeable audience of potential customers, then pummel them with “sell” messages until they buy – doesn’t work here. In fact, it can be downright damaging to the brand.

While consumer marketing in social media is no longer in its infancy, it’s not much beyond toddlerhood. A number of marketers, however, have grown up quickly and learned to execute well…in a variety of ways, but always consistent with the brand personality. Newcomers, as well as established players, would do well to learn from them.

These marketers probably didn’t start with the questions, “Who will we have tweet for us?” or “Should we manage our fan page internally, or outsource it?” For them, the real question was, “”What’s the appropriate voice for our brand?” While much has been written about the hugely-successful efforts of several marketers, like Whole Foods, Jet Blue, Best Buy and Starbucks, what they share in their approaches, each unique, is a relentless adherence to the voice of their brands.

Take a closer look at just one of them, Whole Foods. What comes to your mind when you think of the brand? It might be a passion for good food, a fresh-market of specialty purveyors, experts in all that is organic and natural, an accessible boutique of gourmet items. If those characteristics capture the essence of the brand, we certainly wouldn’t expect messages like, “One week only! Two-for-one frozen peas!” What we’d expect -- and get -- from Whole Foods, is expert advice, like insights on cheeses from Whole Foods Fromagerie on Facebook or from Cathy Strange, @WFMCheese on Twitter. Like a visit to your local farmers market, through Whole Foods’ social media channels, you can establish a relationship with the cheese monger, the vintner, the butcher.

Which is not to say that price-point messages don’t work in social media. Old Navy, for example, does an excellent job of sharing “exclusive” offers with their fans and followers, like their Deal of the Week. But the Old Navy brand is about deals, right down to their warehouse-like store d├ęcor. Do we really want a relationship with Old Navy, or are we looking for a heads-up on jeans at half price? The “value” voice plays to the brand.

The recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas provided social media fodder to a plethora of players, many of whom did it very well. Let’s look at one…Sony Electronics. Sony clearly knows what its customers want: news about the latest-and-greatest technology, a firm grasp of what’s hot, a peek under the tent. Sony delivered access for its fans and followers, with a virtual booth tour before the show, a live stream of their press conference (featuring Taylor Swift) by way of a button on their Facebook page, an opportunity for camera buffs to ask questions of celebrity photographer Nigel Barker on Twitter. The Sony brand spoke with the voice of authority, experience and expertise.

Small businesses can establish a social media brand voice, as well. When “meet us on Facebook” popped up on the sign at my local dry cleaners, I visited their fan page, and found not just coupons (though those were welcomed), but also advice on how to treat holiday party stains, what types of clothing to store professionally, how to recycle hangers and laundry bags. With all of the dry-cleaning options I have, Best Cleaners has become the voice of the expert in my little world.

Recently, I came across a colorful analogy that social media has become something akin to trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. While our social media journey in recent times has been largely focused on amassing friends, fans and followers, for most of us, the fire-hose stream of messaging has become downright overwhelming. As a result, 2010 is likely to become a year of constriction and selectivity, as consumers begin to pare their streams to those marketers who are most meaningful to them, and most consistent with the consumer vision of the brand. Those marketers who can’t update the old playbook will quickly learn the power of unfollow.

Establishing a social media brand voice, then, is more than just a way to begin in social media – it’s an imperative for survival there.

To make friends on a park bench, you need some social skills…and you need to use the right voice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A marketer’s personal dilemma: targeting versus privacy

In the Mad Men-days of advertising, targeting usually meant little more than selecting a TV show (from among three networks) that the “ladies” were inclined to watch. My, how we’ve focused.

As a marketer today, armed with the necessary data, I can find you, my potential customer, with microscopic precision. I know where you live, how much the houses in your neighborhood cost. I know your age, your sex. I know the websites you visit, the products you buy. This makes my job ever so much more efficient, and my marketing dollars more effective.

If I weren’t a marketer, the chances are still good that I could ferret-out a great deal of information about you. I could probably ascertain not just your age demo, but your exact birth date. I could determine whether or not you are married, the names and ages of your children, your cell phone number, your email address, your street address, and where (and when) you are going on vacation.

How? You told me. You probably didn’t mean to, but there it is…right there on the Internet. And armed with what I know – as a marketer or not – I can invade your email, your mailbox, your Facebook, your home, your bank account, your privacy.

Two things happened this week that gave me pause…should give ALL of us pause.

The first is the much-anticipated draft of a Congressional bill that would provide privacy protection both on the Internet and offline. The draft made no one happy. Advertising industry groups issued ominous predictions about the certain death of direct marketing, and the inability for consumers to be served valuable, relevant messages. Privacy advocates argued that the bill did little more than tell consumers to read the digital fine-print.

The New York Times describes the legislation this way. “The proposed bill would greatly extend what information should be considered sensitive. It would require companies to post clear and understandable privacy notices when they collect information ranging from health or financial information all the way to Internet Protocol address (which many companies are using to target now as a way of getting around privacy concerns), name, any unique identifier including a customer identification number, race or ethnicity, precise location or any preference profile the customer has filled out.”

“Essentially, whenever any information can identify a single person — or a single computer or device — companies would need to alert consumers about that with a notice.”

According to the bill, once that information is provided, the user has the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of allowing the data to be used or shared.

Industry groups argue that the process will interfere with the user experience, and that a free Internet depends on sophisticated targeting models. They suggest a better approach would be to follow their recently put forth self-governing principles. Hmmmm, to all of that.

The second thing that gave me pause this week was the release of a new Consumer Reports study that suggests a majority of people seem unconcerned with online privacy – or safety – as they post risky information on their social-network profiles. Fifty-two percent of American adults have posted personal information, like their full birth date (38 percent), photos of children (21 percent), their children’s names (13 percent), street address (8 percent) and mention details about being away from home (3 percent).

The study says that one in four households with a Facebook account have users who aren’t aware of, or don’t choose to use, Facebook’s built-in privacy controls.

Are we really unconcerned about online privacy, or are we simply unaware of how exposed we are? I suspect it’s the latter. As a professional marketer, I am keenly aware of how precisely I can find you – and people quite like you – in order to serve up my product messaging. As an Internet user, however, I resent being targeted, and find it to be enormously intrusive. I’m a “mature female” consumer, and thus I am barraged with wrinkle-cream advertising. It makes me mad.

Unlike many of my fellow Internet users – and the majority of the 300+ million Facebook users – I’m pretty careful about maintaining my privacy online, although I could probably be even more vigilant than I am. I look for, and share, articles that provide privacy tips, like 7 Things to Stop Doing on Facebook, and Mashable’s recently-released guide to disabling Facebook’s insipid "Instant Personalization" feature. I repost warnings from friends and colleagues about the newest privacy attacks, such as the creepy website It bills itself as an online phone book, but offers photos of your house, your credit score, profession, age, income level, horoscope, how many people live in the house…most of it erroneous, but available nonetheless. Astoundingly, you must provide them with your email address in order to opt-out through their privacy program!

Our collective tolerance for such matters may be running out.  In a recent SmartBrief poll regarding legislation that gives consumers more control over their personal information online, nearly 62% said it's about time Congress took action.  According to SmartBrief blogger Jesse Stanchak, "It's not every day you get 60% of a group to advocate federal intervention in private industry."

Marketer or not, I’m going to support any legislation that takes steps towards allowing ME to decide what information about me is shared, and what information is private. The industry will get over it. Remember how the email industry was going to be obliterated with the introduction of the Unsubscribe button? We’ll live.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Super Bowl ad circus


The marketing mavens at had their work cut out for them. It’s getting harder and harder to achieve the real Super Bowl prize: having the network reject your ad.

But CBS handed them their touchdown this year, rejecting Lola. In a press release quickly posted on their website, GoDaddy CEO and Founder Bob Parsons said, “Of the five commercial concepts we submitted for approval this year, this never would’ve been my pick for the one that would not be approved. This is about a guy who starts an online business and hits the jackpot. I just don’t think ‘Lola’ is offensive, in fact we didn’t see this one coming –were absolutely blindsided!”

Here’s some insight: national marketers do not produce five commercials in the hopes that the network will approve one of them. They would only shoot five commercials hoping the network would REJECT one of them.

GoDaddy became the second Super Bowl ad declined this year, and the third to stir public debate.

ManCrunch, a dating site catering to gay men, was also rejected. Evidently, the CBS sales department additionally questioned the company’s ability to pay for the ad time, calling into question whether it was ever considered a viable option to air, or if the folks at ManCrunch were hoping for the wave of publicity that accompanies rejection, and the viral activity that follows. Rejection-pioneer PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) enjoyed a viral bonanza when their 2009 spot, Veggie Love, was given a pass by NBC. Other rejects from the class of 2009 included Airborn's entry, featuring a gratuitous shot of Mickey Rooney’s butt, and a particularly repugnant effort from, a website aimed at promoting extramarital affairs.

This year, many observers were stunned when Focus on the Family, a conservative religious organization that opposes abortion – as well as homosexuality, gambling (including church bingo) and premarital sex – got a green light from CBS for their Super Bowl ad entry, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. The spot reportedly tells the story of Tebow’s mother, Pam, whose doctors recommended that she have an abortion while serving as a missionary in the Philippines. Experts have questioned the veracity of the story, pointing to the fact that physicians and midwives who perform abortions in the Philippines face six years in prison, and may have their licenses suspended or revoked, and that women who receive abortions - no matter the reason - may be punished with imprisonment for two to six years. A coalition of more than 30 women’s and advocacy groups have called on CBS to pull the ad.

Why all the hoopla about commercials in the big game? It may be because the commercials are bigger than the game.

According to recent research from Nielsen on trends and effectiveness of paid Super Bowl advertising, more than half of those who tune in are watching for the commercials, not the game itself. Add in those who are watching primarily for the on-field action, but admit to an interest in the commercials as well, and you’ve got the attention of a significant percentage of the nearly 100 million Super Bowl viewers.

And with Super Bowl ads, viewership translates directly to consumer action. Super Bowl ads can boost the web traffic of the companies that run them, especially in the short term. Among all Super Bowl XLIII advertisers in 2009, overnight web traffic as measured by unique audience grew an average of 63%. Growth in unique audience from January to February 2009 grew an average of 6%.

It’s ironic, though, that the ads that are deemed the most offensive are the ones that generate the most buzz and drive the most web traffic. These are the spots that do the best job of demeaning, insulting, stereotyping and shocking. These are the spots you don’t want your kids to see.

The “Catch-22” for the networks is that by rejecting the ads (and foregoing the $2.5–3 million revenue that each spot generates), they contribute to the viral value. Online news articles and blogs that link to rejected ads generate unparalleled click-through.

The proof point? How many ads did you watch here? I know…me too.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blah, blah, blah

A funny thing happened over the holiday break. I became less social.

I’m not talking about traditional social activities…I spent plenty of time with family and friends, doing my part in the annual eat-drink-and-be-merry season. What I didn’t do was make a whole lot of effort to keep up with social media.

Ordinarily, I’m all over it. I scan more than a dozen newsletters each day, both for my own personal edification and to spot interesting articles to share with friends and followers. I review my Google Reader feed, where I track around 60 news feeds and blogs. I keep up with the twitterverse in TweetDeck – at least with the people and keywords in which I’m most interested – and in HootSuite, where I manage multiple accounts. I link, I friend, I digg, I blog. Every day. All of that, plus my “real” job.

Over the break, when I did check in, I found myself punching the Mark As Read button, rather than actually reading. My updates were fewer, and further in between. I actually unfollowed a couple of hundred tweeters, finding myself tired of sifting through that which is mundane, self-serving or duplicative. I hid a bunch of Facebook fan pages that barraged me with updates that bordered on spam.

I trimmed the “blah, blah, blah.”

What I noticed along the way was that others seemed to be doing the same thing. Twitter seems to have flat-lined since mid-November, according to Quantcast, and in my non-scientific observation, even my closely-followed tweeters have become notably less prolific. As January begins to roll towards February, the post-holiday uptick I expected just hasn’t occurred.

Perhaps in this season of resolutions and reevaluation, we’re taking a closer look at the value of all this effort. We’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, calling to mind one of my favorite social media management analogies: it’s like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. How many are admitting, as my friend Barry did in a recent post, “I still don’t know what I’m doing, or why.”

I’m not deluded, though. Social media is here to stay. It has changed, and will continue to change, the way we communicate and the way we go to market. But I’m wondering if we have come to – or are nearing -- a turning point in social media…a period of constriction and selectivity as the novelty of social media begins to wear off and each of us begins to establish personal “value screens” for messaging we’ll allow in.

Ironically, social media itself is predicting this. With frequency now, the ubiquitous “10 Steps to Success in Social Media” posts now include advice to quit the relentless counting of fans, followers and subscribers. For marketers, that means worrying less about how many people are listening, and more about whether the RIGHT people are listening. For the rest of us, we’ll keep that which enlightens, enriches, entertains and educates, and get rid of the blah, blah, blah.