Trust and targeting: Two reasons to love word of mouth

We all know that word of mouth works. It’s one of THE most effective forms of marketing, and it doesn’t cost a cent. But have you stopped to consider WHY word of mouth is so golden?

It’s about trust. And it’s about targeting.

re-targetQuite simply we trust what our friends tell us. Generally they have our best interest in mind. Helping you reflects positively on them, and in the end, they are your friends after all. Friends are supposed to help friends.

But it’s also about targeting. In the vast world of marketing and advertising messages out there, good content can get lost in the clutter. Friends tend to filter content, selecting what to share based on their knowledge of your needs, interests and passions. Nobody filters content better then friends, not even a Facebook boost campaign! The beautiful thing is that friends also tend to know what is timely content. Timely is important because it is what will resonate with you at a particular moment. It could be that they know you are looking to get your roof replaced. Or they know you’ve been thinking of going back to school. Or maybe they know you just needed a good laugh this morning after a stressful week. Friends share what you need and what will make them look good.

Did you catch that last line? It’s about what will make THEM look good.

If you provide content that will make someone look smart, insightful, funny, or connected to an inner circle of knowledge in some way, they are more apt to share it, because it makes them look good. Couple that with the friend filter of known interests, and you have marketing gold.

So the next time you’re thinking about what to share on your business Facebook Page, blog, or social media, frame your content from the perspective of what will make your reader look good to their friends. Make it easily shareable, and then trust them to fan it out accordingly to their self selected friends. Know someone who might benefit from reading this blog post right now? Share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn right now. Or better yet, sign up here for my weekly 5-Minute Marketing e-newsletter. It’s insider marketing knowledge and tips aimed at entrepreneurs, small business owners and marketing managers.

This approach to content creation works not only for online campaigns, but good old fashioned real word of mouth chatter. Your customer wants to look smart, funny and connected to their friends. Just help them do their job!



What’s your purpose? Your flag?

Five years ago February 28, 2010 my hometown Vancouver wrapped up hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics with an epic men’s gold metal hockey game. Downtown became one massive street party in a sea of red and white, with people hoisting the Canadian flag proudly.

Canadians, we get a little excited about our hockey, eh?

6753076837_710f9506b3_z This 5-year anniversary of all that crazy flag waving patriotism got me thinking about flags in general, how we support what we believe in, and our purpose.

So what is your flag?

Your flag summarizes what you stand for, your ideals and why others should gather around you. Really it comes down to three simple questions:

Who do you serve?

How do you help?

Why do you do it?

I put these same questions out to my newsletter community recently, and it was amazing the comments I got back about how helpful it was for them to focus on their purpose.Here’s how I define my purpose. I’d love to hear about yours. Just respond in the comments field below and get the conversation rolling!

  • I serve entrepreneurs, marketing managers, students and anyone who wants to market their business or ideas.
  • I speak, write and consult, but ultimately teach and inspire.
  • I help you connect what you do well with an audience that cares. It’s about helping you sell your products, services or ideas.
  • I do it through teaching, consulting, speaking and writing.
  • I share, so others can be successful. That’s what gets me up in the morning.

And here’s the golden question to add at the end, for those of us who have a way of becoming distracted.

  • Is what’s on my “to do list” today advancing those goals? (And if it’s not, get it off your list!)

If you’d like to get into the “inner circle” of where I share my best stuff – marketing insights and ideas weekly, why not subscribe to my weekly e-newsletter? It comes out every Sunday morning. Loyal readers make it part of their weekend morning ritual, and a few crack it open Monday morning. Really it doesn’t matter when you get to it. I find the weekend seems to work for many entrepreneurs. It’s a time they can actually take 5 minutes to read it, and get ideas to start off their week. Link here to sign up directly.

If you’re curious about what I share in the newsletter, link below to some samples.

5 Steps to fuel word of mouth

The 4 pillars of your media empire

2015 social media trends

So wave your flag proudly this week. And always be learning!


Recycling content for media publicity and social sharing

Weather is news when it is extreme. It generates a lot of word of mouth and sharing. And the last couple weeks have been host to some pretty crazy weather in Canada. Eastern provinces have been hammered by extreme cold. The west, Vancouver specifically where I live, has seen unseasonably warm with sunny conditions. Basically we have flowers and they have snow. This bizarre weather pattern has been of great interest to the media and the public at large.

CBC_weather_contrast_FBpostSo what better time to latch onto weather as a “media hook” with your content? That’s exactly what Terry O’Reilly, the voice of CBC’s radio program and marketing podcast “Under the Influence” did with his mid February show titled, “How the Weather Affects Marketing.” While not immediately obvious, if you listen to the episode it becomes apparent that it was actually created last year. He references “This years Super Bowl” being played in an open-air stadium in New Jersey. While I’m not much of a football fan, I do know that that game was played in 2014.

Terry recycled his content.

He used the weather hook to get further media interest and generate social sharing. This was brilliant marketing to further gain exposure for his personal brand and the show.

In a world where content is king, knowing how to leverage and potentially recycle it for media publicity and social sharing gain is really important.

But before we look at three insights to help you recycle your content, check out these facts from Terry’s show and how weather relates to marketing. It’s fascinating stuff. Or better yet, tune into the episode here.

  • When temps hit 21 degrees C (70F) BBQ sales jump 200%
  • When temps hit 21C hair removal products increase 1400%
  • Sunny and 22C (72F) is the busiest day of the week for motorcycle sales
  • Car battery sales soar after 3 consecutive nights of below 0C (32F), since many batteries older than 5 years will die in those conditions.
  • Anti frizz hair care product sales increase during humid weather, and volume-producing products increase in low humidity conditions.
  • Then there’s the “1 degree” phenomena of how sales are affected by only a slight change in temperature. 1 degree hotter leads to 240,000 more units of ice cream being sold each week in the summer, 4,875 more bug zappers being sold each week, and 2% more sandals being sold each week. 1 degree colder leads to 2% more soup being sold each week and 25% more mouse traps being sold. Who knew?

Here are three things you can do to leverage your existing content:

  1. Look up blog posts that generated comments or the most social shares. Come up with 4-5 new snappy headlines that could go with the content and share the link on your social channels. Keep the headline short and post an image with the link on Twitter and Facebook. I bet you’ll generate considerable views or more followers.
  1. Take a look at topics trending on Twitter or showing up in your Facebook feed. Check #hashtags, then go back into your content as see if there is anything you could creatively attach to that topic. Then re-post the link to your content, using hashtags of course.
  1. Read the paper and watch the news. Find out what is big news. Then try to attach your content to it. If the writer gave a Twitter handle in their article (most do) be sure to tag them in your Twitter post about the topic along with a link to your old content. The added benefit of this tactic is you will be viewed as an expert in your field, and the media might seek you out in the future for quotes or appearances.

In the spirit of this week’s theme, I’ve pulled 3 links below from previously published content on my blog, refreshed with new catchy headlines. Why not check it out?

Top 10 online marketing trends for 2015 

8 Trends to track in 2013 (Hey, why not see if they actually transpired?)

How Facebook found my luggage when Air Canada couldn’t (True story! For those who have heard me speak, you’ve likely heard this one as a signature story. For everyone else, have a read – truly this is social media at work and the power of word of mouth, or should I say word of mouse and mobile)


5 steps to amplify your content marketing

This week I’m pleased to introduce a guest blogger, Ivan Serrano. Ivan is a social media, business and finance journalist living in the Bay Area of California. He has written on notable sites such as Jeff Bullas, SAP and Tech Soup. I’m thrilled to have him on board to share his knowledge, great writing style and awesome infographic. Enjoy! - Mary

86 percent of brands are utilizing creating content as part of their digital marketing strategy. Interestingly, only 38 percent say that it has been effective. So does this mean content marketing has become ineffective? Not at all. The problem now is that there is too much content available to people that they cannot possibly consume everything within their lifetime. While great content is still important to build interest and brand loyalty, it’s even more important to distribute it. After all, if no one sees what you create then you have more or less wasted your time. You need to find ways to amplify your content.

Steps of Amplification

Many companies make the mistake of thinking about content amplification after they have already created their content. The problem with this is that you won’t know what metrics to track or what audience you are trying to appeal to. This can make content amplification much harder. For a more successful strategy, you should:

  • Set goals – Before you create the first sentence of your content, you need to first ask yourself what you want to accomplish: increased revenue, brand awareness, links, increase engagement or generate leads. Depending on your goal, the audience you reach out to, content you create and metrics you track will be different.
  • Find your audience – Creating the ideal profile of your audience will make it much easier to craft content specifically for them. This, in turn, will improve audience engagement.
  • Use your owned channels – Once you’ve created your content, promote it through your social profiles, email lists and business website. Make sure you update frequently so your business stays in the forefront of your audience’s mind. In general, you should post to your social profiles at least once a day and your website two to three times a week.
  • Utilize paid social ads – The problem with owned channels is that it is only as good as the audience you already have. With many of these sites decreasing the organic reach of updates, your posts will likely get buried quickly. After all, the half-life of a tweet is only four minutes. Paid social ads help put your updates at the top of your audience’s feed. Best of all, they are highly targeted to match your exact audience profile.
  • Get earned media – You can’t really control this one, but the more your content pops up in front of people the more likely they are to share it. Eventually it might even get in front of influencers who will address it on their own site. While there’s no magic bullet to accumulating earned media, you can and should perform outreach to influencers and news outlets that might find your content interesting.

The infographic below provides additional information on amplification from tools that can help you find influencers to remarketing methods.


Ivan SerranoIvan Serrano is a social media, business and finance journalist living in the Bay Area of California. Ivan has written on sites such as Jeff Bullas, SAP and Tech Soup. When Ivan’s not typing away, he’ll most likely be off practicing photography or watching his favorite sports teams with his friends. You can follow him on Twitter: @IvanSerrano55

Solving your marketing challenge in 3 hours or less. It CAN be done!

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of students to Montreal, Quebec in Canada as their coach, to compete in the Vanier Case Challenge. This annual competition draws on the best and brightest from 33 university colleges nationwide to test their mettle in applying marketing analysis and presentation skills in a 3 hour pressure cooker simulation. They present their solution to a panel of industry experts and university professors during a 20 minute presentation and 5 minute question and answer time period.  But before getting down to work, we did a little team building, exposing some who had never skated before to frozen waterway skating in minus 20 degrees! There’s nothing quite like a field of white before you in peaceful silence, being broken only by the sound of a gliding blade across snow-covered ice.

Montreal_team_skateBack at the competition the students delivered their personal best, but in the end were not one of the 6 teams out of 33 to advance to the second round on day two. There was a lot of excellent work presented that day that didn’t make it through. The real accomplishment was to have represented their college in such a highly regarded competition in the first place. Plus, there’s always next year! Essentially those teams did in 3 hours what I do for clients over several weeks in a consulting contract. Now there’s a humbling thought!

The process that my team was coached through is one all marketing managers and entrepreneurs could benefit from. Let’s have a closer look at the steps:

  1. Situation analysis: What are the known facts? What are our internal strengths and weaknesses? What are our external opportunities and threats? What possible strategies exist to combine strengths and opportunities? Strengths and threats? Mitigate weaknesses and opportunities? Mitigate weaknesses and threats? What time frame and budget constraints are we working within?
  1. Competitive landscape: Who are our primary and secondary competitors? How are they positioned? What is the bargaining strength of our buyers and suppliers? Is there a threat of substitute or new entrants?
  1. Our positioning: What is our unique selling proposition? – what we do that our competitors don’t, that our target market cares about, that is not easily copied? What segments of the market do we serve? Who is our target market? Where are we in the product lifecycle? Are we leaders? Followers? Challengers? Or nichers?
  1. The problem or opportunity: Stated simply, what problem or opportunity are we addressing?
  1. Alternatives: Given responses to the many questions above, what are some possible directions we could take? Specific actions to solve our problem? Specific actions to realize the opportunity?
  1. Evaluate, select and justify: What criteria should we consider to evaluate alternatives? – Cost? Profit? Customer satisfaction? Market share? Resources? Values? There are many possibilities.
  1. Execution: How would our recommended plan be executed? – Who would do what? When? And how? How would it reflect in our product or service? Price? Promotion? Distribution? What specific actions would be taken each quarter? How would we allocate our budget? Finally, how would we measure success?

I know, that’s a lot of questions…

If you have a business problem or opportunity you’re facing, try going through some of these questions to approach it in a methodical way. And if you’d like some guidance in the process, or to just have someone do it for you, give me a call. Triage and a remedy can be bought!


5 Super Bowl spots that deserve acolades for creative or strategy

Super Bowl Sunday came and went with great fanfare, even if it was just for the half time show. Seriously, didn’t Katy Perry rock it? The game was filled with drama and tense moments, that can only be summed up as, “The Patriots won the game, but really Seattle lost it.” What a nail biter ending. Here on the South Coast, which is darn close to Seattle’s Pacific North West, it was generally Seahawks territory, so we’re all wandering around shaking our heads in shame this morning.

But how about those commercials, the other piece of entertainment on showcase Sunday?

In Canada, the CRTC prohibits commercials that air in the US from being shown during the Super Bowl on Canadian networks. We got our own mix, which were largely unmemorable, except for the Budweiser hockey goal light spot, which easily could have been a Tim Horton’s commercial with a logo switch at the end. It’s a bummer, but thanks to the internet, our largely outdated communications policy hasn’t yet caught up to technology, rendering the blockage irrelevant. Plus, pre-releasing ads has become part of the ad buy strategy. Paying $4.5 million for 30 seconds during Super Bowl certainly might garner attention from the 184 million estimated viewers, but it’s also the price of admission to online viewing before and after the game, media publicity coverage, word of mouth and social media chatter that goes with the whole package. So, for my Canadian friends, and those in the US who may have missed the Super Bowl, here is my pick of five that will give you something to talk about in the office this week.

Here are 5 spots that deserve creative strategy accolades:

Budweiser’s “Best Buds: Lost Puppy


Clydesdales and puppies have little to do with beer, except when they’re buddies, and your beer is a bud. Building on last years “Puppy love” this spot has already won viewers hearts in pre-release being posted and shared widely on social media and #BestBuds trending long before the big game started. It was at 17.5 million views BEFORE the game? Not bad. Expect this one to be the most talked about.

McDonalds Pay with Lovin’

McDonalds_lovinThis one hits the emotional hot button as well. McDonalds reveals during the spot that from Feb 2-14, they will randomly select customers to pay with lovin’. The spot sets up some beautiful moments of exchanges between loved ones, and will no doubt generate a build up of media coverage and online sharing approaching Valentines day. Well timed for maximum spin.

Carl JR’s All Natural Burger

CarlJRBefore I’m called out for promoting this over the top blatantly racy, raunchy and sexist ad, I think it’s important to remember the male audience that was largely watching the game, and how this ad was to stop them in their tracks. That was the intent. It is full of inappropriate innuendos to be sure, but the strategy was to cause a stir during pre-release and play directly to Carl JR’s 18-24 year old male target. They didn’t make a national buy, so it is only viewers on the west coast who saw it during the game, but by being controversial they were betting that it would attract media coverage and be viewed online nationally by their target market, which it was. This was accomplished at a fraction of the cost of a total national buy. Well played strategically but I think the creative rolls back feminism at least 40 years.

NFL’s PSA against domestic violence

NFL_911When this ad landed it left rooms silent. It’s a first for the NFL to air a Super Bowl commercial against domestic violence. This haunting spot pairs a women calling 911 pretending to order pizza, with images of a house in disarray. We never see the perpetrator or the victim, but we become engrossed in the audio. It’s a clever representation of a woman unable to leave an abusive situation. Of course the NFL had good reason to get onside with this cause after the regrettable behaviour of some of their players caused the whole league shame. This one is a chilling and emotional touch down.

Dove Men+Care “Real Strength”

Dove_Men_CareThe Dove Men+Care spot hits the mark in a subtle way for how it reinforces the role of caring Dad against the backdrop of the brute physical strength of football players, and some instances of family violence at the hand of players, that the NFL has battled this last year. Dove is getting onside in a positive way, with a message that resonated with the middle aged, middle America males who watched the Super Bowl. It was on brand and on target.

So as entrepreneurs or small business owners, without a spare $4.5 million to spend on a Super Bowl ad, what was the take away? A resounding theme was that “emotion sells.” Capturing and sharing human moments associated with your brand or business could be as easy as using your iPhone and a little creativity. Strategically leveraging publicity, media coverage, word of mouth and social sharing is another area these brands excelled in. Again, you don’t have to have a big budget to accomplish any of those. Something to think about as you go about your business this week! What was your favourite ad?

Five keys to marketing success – learning from Target’s failure to hit the Canadian bullseye

This last week the announced exit of Target from the Canadian market was a piece of business news that dominated discussions. One does not enter a market with 133 stores and then pull the plug less then two years later without feeling an effect. That’s a lot of rent per square foot, retail sales and lost jobs you hear rushing for the drain hole being flushed from the Canadian economy. And there’s really no good reason for it to have ended the way it did. Many Canadians harboured a secret love affair for “Tar-jay” with all its chic savvy offerings and shelves of intrigue. At least that’s what they found south of the border. In Canada, the retailer seemed mired in supply chain and inventory issues, poorer quality of product, and a higher overall cost structure that was reflected in higher prices compared to competitors. They thought we’d accept it all in blind love, but we didn’t.

If anyone should have understood strategic competitive advantage it should have been retail battle veteran Target. And yet it would seem they misunderstood the competitive landscape, their target market and what was at the heart of their unique selling proposition.

All that to say, even the big guys fail. And when they fall, they fall hard.

target-logoI found the Target story an interesting backdrop for two events I spoke at last week, right in the middle of all the breaking news: A Small Business BC Marketing seminar for entrepreneurs on Friday and Mini Enterprise Conference, held at UBC on Saturday, the largest conference of its kind in Canada for grade 12 students looking to gain insight into the world of entrepreneurship.

There’s something inspiring about engaging with hundreds of the Lower Mainland’s future business leaders and those already rolling out their plans and dreams. While the questions from both groups where varied they all in some way lead back to five key areas. Curiously, one could argue, these are areas where Target also drifted when it entered the Canadian market. Let’s take a look, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Unique selling proposition: What do you do differently, that your competitors don’t, that your target market cares about, that’s not easily copied?
  1. Strategic competitive advantage: What combination of resources, systems, supply chain, cost structure, culture or product or service offering give you that unique positioning?
  1. Target market: How do they define their primary and secondary target market from a demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural standpoint?
  1. Competitive field: Who are your primary and secondary competitors? What are their unique selling propositions and competitive advantages?
  1. Trends and external forces: What societal trends or external forces could affect your business over the next several years? And how have your prepared your business to benefit?

What makes small businesses viable and able to thrive is really no different than big business. That became very evident while discussing entrepreneurial dreams and marketing plans with the backdrop of Target’s failure with both groups.

So here’s my challenge to you this week. How would you answer the above five question areas? Can you define your answers clearly, without hesitation and with pride?

Top 10 online marketing trends for 2015








1. Content will continue to be king
This trend will continue, simply because social media and mobile devices have provoked and enabled the growth in content available for consumption. Content can position a company or brand like nothing else, and it can drive prospects to points in the pipeline closer to becoming a customer. And creating content and leveraging it online through social media is largely low cost compared to traditional forms of advertising.

2. Visuals for short attention spans will dominate
Be it photos, video or infographics, visuals communicate a subject in a timely and simplified manner. In 2015 visuals will be hot. Just look to the explosion of Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Youtube and Vine. Visuals are also the perfect antidote for a perpetually time starved, attention deficit disorder society that we have quickly become while absorbing the content coming our way online. But the scientific reality is this: it’s human nature to respond quickly to visuals. Expect visuals to rule in 2015.

3. As Facebook matures – pay up or flee
The reach of Facebook Pages dramatically decreased in 2014, and we have now entered the era of “pay to play” on this platform. It’s really just the maturing of a media channel. Facebook is in the business of making money for shareholders. That said, of all the social media platforms, Facebook likely has the broadest demographic and geographic coverage of any, and if the selection of criteria to boost posts is done well, it can be a viable for some businesses. It’s just that you’re going to have to pay for it. Look for this trend to continue, at least for enhanced services, as social platforms mature.

4. Online communities and membership for exclusive content will grow
Niche communities already exist for the mundane to the obscure. Communities within blogs or more private groups such as subscribers to an e-newsletter or a course will be of great value to the business that hosts them, as well as participants. Expect to see more businesses harness and leverage the communities that they host through owned assets such as blogs, podcasts and e-newsletters. This will become especially important and prevalent as the reality of paying for access on social platforms becomes more accepted as those platforms mature.

5. Privacy concerns will remain high
In the age of social media, we’ve been conditioned to accept that the trading of personal information is the price to pay for free access. It still doesn’t mean we’re happy about it. And as more and more social platforms monetize the ability to broadcast, we will become even more guarded about having shared our information. Canadian Can-Spam legislation in response to email spammers was an attempt in 2014 to legislate. Expect more backlash in 2015 over privacy, and the possible growth of platforms such as Ello, that boast they will not collect or sell personal information – ever. Bottom line? Practice good ethics when it comes to privacy in 2015.

6. Leveraging influencers and brand ambassadors will be critical
Influencers and brand ambassadors are the folks online with tremendous klout within the circles that your customers travel. Having a third party endorse you has always been better than shouting from your own soapbox, but in the age of social media it carries even more weight within such a cluttered content space.

7. Think Mobile everything
Content is now consumed through the mobile internet and apps at a staggering pace. You need to consider that in planning your “real time” and “right time” marketing efforts in 2015. Think not only what should be put out, but when, and in which format.

8. Social listening will be key
Social listening involves monitoring and responding to conversations online, be it through websites, blogs, and social media or using hashtags to monitor channels of content. It could also mean monitoring competitors channels so a ready response can be made in a time of opportunity. Social listening means you are marketing in real time. Companies who get ahead of this curve will be served well in 2015.

9. #Hashtag your channel will be like claiming your URL
In 2015 brands that own hashtags will build community. Hashtags are a branding tool that cross all platforms and create a channel for those who tune in to see what is happening in their area of interest. In 2015 you want to dominate your chosen hashtag channels by consistently picking several that appear in all your online content.

10. Use digital to amplify an analogue message
And finally amidst all these digital trends, 2015 could be a year to stand out by tapping an analogue approach. I mentioned last week 2 campaigns that made my top 5 marketing wall of fame – simply because they poked fun in a clever way at how dependent we have become on technology. Both the Ikea “book book” spot and the Lululemon “give presence” campaigns held up a mirror that reflected a simpler time – when we actually read books, or put down our devices and spoke to people. They were both brilliant creative and I think they each illustrated our collective craving to occasionally escape this crazy digital world we have created for ourselves. That sentiment might we well worth remembering as an insight for 2015.

2014 Top 10 Marketing Wall of Fame & Wall of Shame

I was inspired to pull some thoughts together on this when I was approached by a producer at CBC TV to add a Vancouver spin to a national “Marketing Fails 2014″ piece they were airing by Dianne Buckner. If you’d like to view that segment, which aired Dec 29, 2014 you can link to it here.

CBC Vancouver Marketing Fails 2014: Rene Filiponne interviews marketing strategist, Mary Charleson – who comes on at the 2:39 minute mark to talk about Vancouver examples.

2014 Marketing wall of fame

1. Ikea’s Book Book
In a world of high tech, going low-tech or no-tech can be a way to stand out. Witness Ikea’s brilliant spoof on an Apple product release to preview their new catalog and its distinctly analogue features.  You can view the ad here or link to my original article about the campaign.

2. Lululemon Give Presence for the holidays
The #givepresence Christmas campaign from Lululemon gets top marks in my book for it’s simplicity of drawing attention to the obvious – our collective obsession with technology and multitasking at the expense of real connection with the person we are with. You can view the original ad here, now at over 3.5 million view or read more about it in a blog post I featured on it.

3. Westjet’s Christmas Miracle 2014
Quite simply it was the authenticity that the company can claim by supporting a community in the Dominican Republic that makes this true spirit of giving spot a winner. You can view it here or read about the campaign.

4. Sam Sung, former Apple employee auctions off his Apple gear on eBay for a cause
This isn’t a campaign you’ll find in the awards books, but it’s a winner from a personal branding standpoint as well as the simple gesture to help others. Read more about the campaign here.  Or you can get the original background story on how it is a guy from Vancouver with a real name of Sam Sung found himself working as a product specialist for Apple. You can’t make this stuff up!

5. Wren clothing’s “First Kiss” viral hit on a $1,500 budget
The idea of pairing up 10 couples, that did not know each other and filming their first kiss was edgy and original. Then toss in the fact that they just happened to be wearing Wren clothing, but that’s about as commercial as the spot gets. It was immensely shareable, tapping emotion, vulnerability and voyeurism and achieved over 69 million views in the first week, and substantial media coverage for doing so. You can watch the video here or read more about the campaign.

2014 Marketing wall of shame

And now for the ones that were memorable for all the wrong reasons…

1. Malaysia Airlines bucket list contest
A bucket list is generally accepted as a list of things one wants to do before they die. How seemingly inappropriate it was then, as a contest name for an airline that lost two planes this year. Did the term get lost in translation?  You can read more about it here. Old

2. Air Canada got #rouged
It’s never a good thing when your new discount carrier name “Rouge” becomes a trending negative hashtag on Twitter. But that’s exactly what happened when some Air Canada pre-booked seats were switched to Rouged flights and passengers were left with less leg room and no seat back entertainment. You can read the full story here.

3. Old Spice taps Moms insecurities to sell to teen boys but forgets who buys the product when they’re living at home
This is one of those ones where I actually think the creative is brilliant, but I’m just not sure it sold product. The crazy portrayal of pathetic Moms taps Freudian attachment theory and societal shifts as boys live at home longer. But while the target user may have loved it, Old Spice offended many of the actual buyers – Moms. View the spots here. And read more about the campaign.

4. Veet’s Don’t risk dudeness
While women may hate to shave their legs, they certainly don’t need their man to infer they’re a hairy beast, which is exactly the trap that this ad fell into. It was yanked promptly after consumer backlash on social media. You still view the spot here.  Or read about how a campaign that was supposedly tested got through.

5. Joan Rivers Tweets from the grave about her new iPhone 6
It wasn’t enough that Apple paid U2 a ton to be able to gift the new album to customers this year, and then had to promptly add a remove button for customers who were angered that it showed up without permission. Yes, Apple appears to have had a deal with Joan Rivers to Tweet about her new iPhone 6. Problem was, Joan died unexpectedly and the pre-scheduled tweet wasn’t deleted. Oops. Apparently Steve Jobs could not be reached for comment either…

And that wraps up the Top 10 list of marketing fame and shame for 2014. I’ll be back next week with some marketing trends and predictions for 2015. If you enjoyed this post and you’d like to receive my 5-Minute Marketing tips enewsletter directly weekly, you can subscribe here. I share lots of insider marketing knowledge and insights with content aimed at entrepreneurs and marketing managers.

Christmas ads and the power of storytelling

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for sentimental. With only a slight guilty conscience I will readily confess to harboring my kid’s kindergarten works of art, old letters from friends, and photo albums filled with childhood memories in treasured locations throughout my house.  I’ll also readily admit to being a sucker for history. I was that weird kid in high school who actually loved history class, perhaps because I had several amazing teachers who didn’t so much teach, as engage us in storytelling that was captivating. It’s with that backdrop, that we take a trip to Britain, where the competition for best Christmas ads (or adverts as they like to call them), is like sport – watched closely and fiercely fought for attention. These Christmas ads and their ability to communicate on such an emotional level is based on great storytelling techniques. As marketers we can learn a lot from that.

Best pause right now to grab a box of tissues. Both of these ads will push the emotional triggers with story, images and music.

1914 Christmas Day truce on the western front

Check out Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas ad here. This ad captures brilliantly a piece of British world history.

Sainsbury_Christmas_advertAnchored in historical events during WWI where it was documented through letters home that the front trench lines between Britain and Germany laid down arms for a 24 hr truce 100 years ago on Dec 25, 1914, sang Silent Night together, and engaged each other as comrades, exchanging small gifts from home. I remember clearly being told this touching story in my high school history class, and this commercial authentically brings the moment to life. It was made in partnership with the Royal British Legion. You can watch a short film of the story behind the Christmas ad here. Of course the chocolate bar, appearing in a hero role, was made available in its historically retro wrapper at Sainsbury’s. But before you shout bah humbug at the retail consumption angle, you should know that profits from the choc bar, made in Ypres no less, are going to charity.

John Lewis – Monty and the Penguin

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this cute penguin ad making the rounds from John Lewis, another British retailer. Currently at over 20 million views, it has all elements of an emotionally packed segment: great music, a story told through pictures, a friendship between a boy and a penguin, and a magical ending transcending the world between childhood imagination and reality. Watch it here.

John_Lewis_pneguinSo what might be the marketing take away from these two segments, other than to keep the tissue handy? I think what’s really at the heart is the incredible power of storytelling. Both ads featured a classic storytelling formula:


  1. The intro
  2. The hero versus the villain
  3. The low point
  4. Overcoming the villain
  5. The climax
  6. The outcome and resolution

They both told the story vividly through images and music, featured characters that we could immerse ourselves in for their point of view, and they were rich in the recording of everyday gestures, habits, manners and details. Really, when you analyze them from a cinematic point of view, they were mini movies.

I think there’s a powerful lesson there for marketers if we embrace it. Storytelling works. Good storytelling is riveting and universal, which brings me full circle back to that high school history class and why I loved it so much.

So here’s my question to you: What is your business or brand story? How would you make it into a 2-3 minute movie? How would you tell it in a 1-minute pitch? Those are the thoughts I’ll leave you with over the holidays.