Dove patches: from tricks to truth & remaining true to their positioning


I am a huge fan of Dove. I love the approach they have taken over the last 11 years with their “Real Beauty” campaign, advocating empowerment and beauty from within. I’ve commended them many times for remaining true to a big idea, as part of their brand values.

That said, they’ve taken some heat with their latest campaign installment called “Dove patches.” It was launched globally in 56 countries last week to prove that beauty is a state of mind. The video documents a social experiment where several women wear a “beauty patch” for two weeks, supposedly containing a breakthrough medical ingredient. They were to document through a diary and video how they perceived their own beauty while wearing the patch. The women recruited were not actors, and there was no association with Dove up front. They were thought to simply be participating in a clinical experiment by Dr Ann Kearney-Cooke, a clinical psychologist. During the two-week trial, the women experienced a boost in self-esteem. However at the end of the experiment, the patch is revealed as a placebo. It has no magical powers, rather beauty is revealed to be a state of mind. View it here:

It’s an empowering message, and one certainly in keeping with Dove’s positioning.

The idea of conducting an experiment with hired professionals is not new to Dove. In April 2013 they hired a forensic artist to sketch how women viewed themselves and to contrast that with how they were viewed by others, in an effort to dramatize female self-criticism for the “Dove sketches” campaign. Dove Real Beauty sketches was a run-away viral hit, shared widely on social media and viewed by over 62 million on Youtube. View it here: Currently Dove patches is at just over 13 million views

The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon, and this application certainly proves it. I have to admit though, I felt for the women initially once the fake medicinal ingredients were revealed. They did appear gullible, and that was not Dove’s intent.

However, I do believe the basis for the experiment and what it reveals, even if I had a hard time sharing their emotional reaction to the results at the end. By taking a risk to demonstrate the outcome, Dove earns credit for celebrating the insight that beauty does not come from a bottle, but comes from within.

Make no mistake; Dove is trying to convince women to buy their products, but what company isn’t? The inspiration to remain true to the “real beauty comes from within” theme takes guts, and certainly separates them from their competition. To sustain that approach and keep it fresh for over 11 years is commendable.

And there in lies the lesson for us all. Competitive advantage is often the result of a unique sustained brand position relative to competitors. So here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. How are you positioned differently from your competitors?
  2. How is that reflective of your values?
  3. And what are you doing to keep your message fresh, while remaining true to your position?

Until next week, be inspired, keep it fresh, and remain true to your brand.

Veet’s Don’t risk dudeness dud: lessons from a consumer backlash


I have to preface this weeks post with an admission that I’ve secretly feared Veet (previously called Neet) ever since I was 13. And it’s not because of some misguided teen hair removal exercise. One of my friends had Neet put in her hair during a high school initiation day, and clumps of it fell out in her hands. This image, as an insecure adolescent, is still vivid in my mind. It will also likely have you questioning what side of the tracks my high school was on! This piece of baggage explains perhaps why, even after all these years, I felt some vindication this week towards a product I grew to dislike.

If there was ever any doubt that the consumer is now in control of shaping brand messages in the age of social media, this week delivered living proof. Veet, a women’s hair removal product, announced with great fanfare, that their new “Don’t risk dudeness” campaign would launch during Dancing with the Stars on Monday. After it aired, consumer weighed in, and it would appear that the reaction is not what the company had anticipated. The backlash was so swift online, that by Wednesday morning Veet had yanked the ads and issued an apology on their Facebook page

For those who haven’t seen it, the man wakes, strokes the leg of his sleeping companion draped over him, to a rude hairy awakening. The person in bed beside him appears as an exceptionally hairy bearded man, who states in a women’s voice, “Yeah, I know, I’m a little prickly, I shaved yesterday.” Then the prescriptive voiceover wraps up, “Don’t risk dudeness, use Veet wax strips. Feel womanly around the clock.” The bearded guy then magically transforms to a women in the final shot. If that description begs for a full visual, you can still view the spot here:

There were two other spots in the campaign. One where a girl in a sleeveless dress hails a cab, only to be passed up, as she appears transformed into the same bearded hairy-pitted man. The hairy dude also appears getting a pedicure, meant to shame all women who thought they could hide their legs while getting those toes painted. The subtext is clear, our norm as a society is men have body hair and women don’t. While shaving, make-up, hair care and heels may well be something many women enjoy, advertising leads us to believe that they’re really not optional.

There in lies the rub.

There’s a certain shaming implied that appears prescriptive. Some viewers even saw homophobic overtones and found that questionable. Beyond the “agree or disagree” with the hair removal argument, I think there was something even bigger wrong with these spots: they forgot who the target market was. Yes they’re edgy, and on some level funny, but in a young male humour kind of way. I usually love funny ads. But the humour in these spots was at the expense of the woman who is supposed to be the target market. One friend summed it up best, “These spots were likely created by a couple guys in their 20s at 3am and approved by a male creative director.” They remind me of how the Old Spice “Creepy moms” ads forgot who actually buys the product for teens boys living at home, when they took aim at Mom. Veet got a few laughs for exposing a known truth, women often host stubble, but in doing so they alienated their buyers by teasing their insecurities and making them look foolish.

There have been other brands targeting women who made this type of misstep. Likely the most memorable was Motrin with an ad intended for young mothers who carry their babies in slings close to the body. Their attempt to bond with their customers backfired when a number of online Mom’s were offended by the suggestion carrying their babies this way was “fashionable” and they were outraged at the suggestion that they looked “tired and crazy.”  Johnson & Johnson, Motrin’s parent company missed the cues of outrage online and didn’t learn of the backlash until it hit mainstream broadcast and print media. Other than the obvious need to monitor social media if you’re going to play there, they learned very quickly to not mess with Mommy bloggers on maternity leave.

At least Veet was closely monitoring consumer opinion, and responded quickly. But it sure does beg the question how the creative could have gotten that far, and been so wrong. Here’s the apology listed on their Facebook page Wednesday:

“Hi…this is the Veet marketing team in the US. We just wanted to let everyone know, we get it – we’re women too. This idea came from women who told us that at the first hint of stubble, they felt like “dudes.” It was really simple and funny, we thought. To be honest, the 3 of us could really relate to these real-life moments and they made us laugh. Not everyone appreciated our sense of humor. We know that women define femininity in different ways. Veet helps those who choose to stay smooth. Our intention was never, ever, to offend anyone, so we decided to rethink our campaign and remove those clips. Thank you for letting us know how you feel.”

It also appears that Reckitt Benckiser, the British company that owns Veet, was trying to distance themselves from this US based blunder, in order to protect their brand reputation globally. The company issued this statement at the end of the week:

“This is a US advertisement, and has only been aired in North America. While the current advertising campaign for VEET running in the USA has been well received by most consumers who appreciate its wacky, tongue in cheek humour, it has also provoked a great deal of comment. We take our responsibilities very seriously and the ad was carefully reviewed before it aired. However we are very concerned by any misinterpretation of its tone or meaning, and in the light of the feedback received we have decided to withdraw it. We would also like to apologize for any offense it may have caused. That was certainly not our intention.”

So what can we learn from this, even if we are not a global brand with a huge marketing budget?

  1. It’s absolutely critical to know your target market well so you don’t offend them.
  2. For many brands there is a difference between influencer and actual purchaser. Again, know which one you’re talking to and don’t offend the purchaser.
  3. Test your creative. Then test your creative.
  4. Consumers will control the final message in the age of social media. Get used to being judged.
  5. The way you respond to being judged is now part of the campaign.
  6. And as any teenager who has ever posted something online that they regret has learned, you can NEVER really withdraw a campaign. The “Don’t risk dudeness” Veet ads will live on popping up like a Whack-a-mole at the fair, because nothing makes folks want to see something more, than being told they can’t view it.

And perhaps this final piece of advice might sum it up best: Be brave, be creative, but be careful!

Facebook shared online quizzes: Frivolous escapism or profiling?

What city should you really live in? What career should you actually have? What is your colour? What actor would play you in the movie version of your life? We’ve likely all seen similar questions poke up in our Facebook feeds recently. The unstoppable rise of the online quiz is an interesting cultural phenomenon, but it also has a potentially dark side from marketing a perspective.

Let’s stay light initially before we dive to the dark side.

Quizzes are irresistible shiny objects. Even before the internet and the insatiable sharing of surveys via Facebook, few people could resist a magazine’s promise of a quiz within. Quizzes allow us to reflect on who we are. They are a platform for social comparison, making it easy to categorize us. They provide instant affirmation that we share characteristics with others. It’s human nature to want to compare. is the author of many of the current quizzes making the rounds. They were the creator of the viral hit “What city should you actually live in?” that rocketed to over 20 million views. For the record, I got New York, but I do love my home – Vancouver. Buzzfeed is a quickly growing news and entertainment website, and with the added draw of quiz authorship, they have increased site visits to over 130 million per month. Not a bad business model. Without exception their quizzes are upbeat, light hearted, fun, and whimsical. They are usually quick to complete and visual. They offer a simple distraction in an otherwise complex world. On some level they tap Freud’s displacement theory, an unconscious process where your psyche transfers ideas and emotions away from things that cause anxiety and towards things that are superficial and distracting. In quizzes we distract ourselves with meaningless categorization in a world of information overload. While Buzzfeed is one of the most prominent authors of quizzes out there Facebook too has gotten in on the popularity of authoring quizzes.

Now on to the dark side…

The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union put together a campaign to raise awareness of privacy issues surrounding Facebook applications, and in particular quizzes. They believe millions of Facebook users taking quizzes are inadvertently revealing far more personal information than they are aware of. Quiz developers have access to all your profile information whether or not it is set to private. If you shun quizzes yourself, your profile information can still be revealed when one of your friends takes a quiz. This in itself should be reason for sober second thought before taking a quiz, especially if quiz application developers were to have an ulterior motive. But it’s an even graver concern for how quiz profile information, however flaky and random it may initially appear, when aggregated against your preexisting social graph, could begin to reveal a valuable method of profiling consumers for the companies financial gain. Facebook has said it has a vested interest in increasing its share of mobile delivered sponsored content, and the resulting advertising revenue, which is currently more than half of total revenue. To do that, they intend to increase the relevance of newsfeed ads, rather than boosting the amount of ads. They’re calling that nascent search. It could also be called stalking. And it appears that our participation in quizzes is feeding the very information machine to make that all the more possible. I freely admit there is some speculation on my part about this, but knowing the motives for collecting information, I think as consumers and as marketers we at least owe it to ourselves to consider the possibility of what is going on here.

Facebook’s collection of profile data, combined with predictive analytics, and location based mobile devices, has rendered the appeal of sponsored post advertising possibilities dizzying. The seemingly innocuous quiz may well be adding to that data warehouse in the sky.

Or we could just lighten up, and have fun with it all.

I do think quizzes have great potential to engage an audience. Gamification of learning and delivery of content is an emerging trend area to watch. I’ve used game mechanics in presentations to engage and involve audiences with great success. I think the same concepts could be applied to business websites and enewsletters.

And if I haven’t scared you off too much and you’re craving some Freudian displacement theory based escapism, here a list of top quizzes to check out:

Or have a look at this light-hearted spin on all this as Ellen riffs on Buzzfeed quizzes:

What do you think about quizzes? Do you participate in them? Do you believe there might be an ulterior motive behind them, especially when authored by Facebook? Or perhaps you accept that a certain amount of profiling is taking place, and you just don’t worry about it?

Disruptive “first kiss” content marketing: taps emotion, vulnerability & voyeurism

This week Melissa Coker did what most advertising industry folks would have thought impossible. On a budget of $1,500 (and she only actually spent $1,300), she created a content marketing viral video sensation for the fall line of her LA based fashion label, Wren, that as of March 24 had achieved well over 69 million views on Youtube. The 3-minute video, shot artistically in black and white, was called, “First Kiss” and featured 20 strangers who were paired up and asked to engage in the vulnerable act of kissing each other for the first time. The content marketing component was very low key. Apart from the word “Wren” appearing in small type in the top corner at the very beginning of the film and then disappearing, there is very little to tie it to a business. The folks participating were Coker’s friends, a collection of singers, designers, and musicians. They were all wearing Wren label clothing, but that is not at all obvious. The film shifts from initial awkwardness, through emotional vulnerability, to discovery, and adds a dash of humour at the end, as one persona asks, “What was your name again?” Amongst the 10 couples, it mixes in naturally what are societal taboos for some: an older woman kissing a younger man, two guys kissing, and two girls kissing. According to Coker, the participants didn’t know the names of the people until they walked on camera (no advanced Googling!), and some were actually in relationships with others. Perhaps they were issued a day pass for the film?!

If you’re curious and you’re not yet one of the 66 million, you can view the video here: Coker pushed the initial link via email to 21 friends last Monday, saying she had produced a new video and requested they share it if they wish. That was it. We can assume the participants likely shared with their circles as well.

The Wren fashion label is positioned as “free spirited exuberance, restrained elegance and low-key sophistication.” Melissa Coker founded the company in 2007 after working in editorial at Vogue, W and Details. The line is now sold globally through retailers in the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Spain, UE, Kuwait, Puerto Rico and Lebanon. She also does significant sales direct to customers online throughout the world.

You know you’ve hit the mother load when you invite a parody on late night talk shows. Jimmy Fallon featured his take on the video this week – pretty much the same as the original, but using puppies and kittens. It’s adorable:

This video success really points to the future of viral branding. And it’s an example of content marketing at its finest. While some called the company out for tricking them, once they realized it was for a clothing company, most saw the universal appeal and vulnerability of a first kiss for what it was: authentic and emotional. That’s what made it so shareable. The fact she did NOT having a big budget or advertising agency behind the idea, further added to the authenticity.

So why did it get shared by so many and hit over 66 million views in less than a week?

  1. It was emotional and showed universal vulnerability
  2. It tapped the “voyeur” in human nature – to get a peek at what you’re not normally allowed to see.
  3. It was surprising and nudged our need to discover – we want to see what happens. It also begs the question; did any go on a date afterwards?

We could certainly argue that the real reach was likely far greater than 66 million, since “First Kiss” also became a news item within traditional broadcast media such as TV and newspapers. Many forget that to reach the many, they first have to reach out to one, and give that one person a reason to share it with their community, thereby achieving the many. I call this the “power of one.” That’s exactly what Cocker did with her artistic film. She made it about others, not about her business. She provided them content, that when shared, allowed them to appear smart, connected, funny or insightful. Her CONTENT motivated others to share because it made them look good. While this is a subtle shift of thinking, it’s an important one. The Wren label was simply tied to the content in an elegant and restrained manner, not unlike how she positions her brand. Brilliant.

And what was the bottom line return on this investment? Coker claims traffic to her website is up 1,400% of which 96% are new visitors. Sales are up 13,000%. No there is not a misplaced zero in there.

Not bad for a budget of $1,300 which apparently covered food, babysitting and lighting.

You can see an interview with Melissa Coker on the making of the video here:

Until next week, be creative, be entrepreneurial and love what you do!
- Mary

PS: A little shameless self promotion follows. I will be moderating this event for Business in Vancouver this Tuesday, and I’ll be chairing the roundtable discussion on social media that follows the panel discussion. You may wish to check it out.

Business in Vancouver presents The Business Excellence Series: Marketing to Increase Sales breakfast, March 25th at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Where are the best places to find sales prospects? And once found, what can you do to grab their attention and engage them in your product or service? Astute marketers know it is essential to get the right message to potential customers via their website, social media and promotional materials, but is the message the same when trying to close a deal? BES: Marketing to Increase Sales will tackle the strategies and processes that get you in front of the right clients and engage them just as they are ready to buy.

7-8am: Registration & breakfast
8-9am: Panel discussion
9-10:15am: Roundtable sessions


Jamie Garratt
President and Founder, Idea Rebel

Jim Little
Chief Marketing Officer, Shaw Communications

Jeff Lucas
General Manager, Traction Creative Communications


Mary Charleson
President, Charleson Communications
Subscribers: $59
Non-subscribers: $69

Register now

Location & behaviour based targeting: When does it get creepy?


Location and behaviour based marketing holds great promise for marketers. The wealth of customer data being collected online via social media use, combined with the ability to data crunch and layer in predictive analytics, plus the rapid growth of personal device use such as smartphones and tablets, renders the possibilities dizzying. This is virgin territory and I fear that our moral compass may be tested long before our legislators can catch up, if that is even possible, given data is warehoused globally and subject to different codes of use. So as we reach for the new shiny object, that is location and behaviour based targeting of messages, I do think it worthy to consider how far is too far. There is a fine line between exceptionally well-timed communications, and feeling you are being watched or stalked.

When does this hyper personal targeting become creepy?

I’m going to lead with a personal story, because it’s the one that brought my thoughts on this topic to the surface. For the past month, my mother has been hospitalized. Complications of poorly managed type II diabetes, high blood pressure and general old age that comes as you approach 90, had taken its toll on an independently living senior. I’ll spare you the details of a system that knows well how to care for patients, but is hopelessly broken when it comes to discharging and supporting independent living. Prior to finally getting her out, I was at Lions Gate Hospital and had had a very emotional conversation involving discussions on assisted living and cognitive assessments with one of several well meaning team members, but hopeless system bound bureaucrats assigned to my Mom’s case. I was feeling exhausted navigating advocacy in unfamiliar territory. I stepped away from the meeting, checked my email and Facebook page, and that’s when this sponsored post appeared in my feed.

It was from Kasel Care, claiming to be BC’s most compassionate home care for your loved ones. On one level it was a timely message of sorts, but it was also incredibly creepy. Had Facebook combed my messages to friends, noted my Mom was hospitalized, knew I was from North Vancouver and by default the hospital would be Lions Gate? Where they able to put enough tags within the predictive analytics to make me a likely candidate to receive this message? Or even creepier, was the GPS on my phone and location being Lions Gate Hospital at that particular moment, somehow tied to it all? In case you think I’m a little neurotic about this, all of the above tactics are possible and are currently being used in isolation by marketers. It all just seemed way too personal to me. It is possible that Kasel simply bought females 45-65 in BC or North Vancouver, knowing the likelihood of caring for an aging parent was high. But I am troubled at the thought of the content of my posts being put into a predictive analytics data bank, which I do think was highly likely.

A friend told me an interesting story recently involving his daughter and her cell phone carrier. Rogers had sent her a text offer for data roaming to the US. As it happens, she was about to take a trip with some girlfriends to California. The curious thing here is, she hadn’t posted via any social media news about the imminent trip. She had however been texting to her travel companions. It was the only medium that had transmitted knowledge of her travel. Had Rogers scraped her messages? It all seemed curiously suspicious to her Dad who works in IT and analytics. It was good timing for an offer, but it left her feeling watched on some level. Another customer might not have thought about it twice and simply accepted the offer, thinking, “How lucky is that to get this deal right now?” That’s why this stuff is so hard to navigate.

I’ve received sponsored posts for Growers Cider at happy hour, right in the middle of online conversations with girlfriends about needing to get together for drinks. Because it wasn’t personal, I dismissed it as serendipitous timing. It did seem a little Orwellian if it was tied to predictive analytics and behaviour based profiling though. Soma with your cider anyone?

Then there’s the infamous story of how Target knew a teen was pregnant before her father did. Their data tracking had allowed them to profile items purchased, to the point where they could actually predict by items bought in the first trimester, if a customer was pregnant – thereby allowing them to engage on a personal level with offers appealing to an expectant mother. Trouble was, they sent a card to a teen girls home, and her father intercepted questioning why it had been sent. Turns out Target knew something Dad didn’t. That’s just too personal. Here’s the Fox news coverage – not really the kind of publicity your company needs! This example goes beyond creepy and ventures into respecting privacy and using data respectfully.

Coming full circle back to home care support. You may be wondering if I called Kasel Care? No I didn’t. I did check their Facebook page, but from a different device and later in the day, since I feared the tracking might escalate on my phone. I simply did not want another reminder showing up in my Facebook feed unexpectedly, of this emotional issue. While they may well have an excellent service that I should know about, the lingering question of feeling tracked bothered me.

What is the ethical application of predictive analytics and data mining? That is a huge issue we will be facing as marketers. The question becomes, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And if you do, how does it reflect on your business?”

Every individual has his or her own personal boundaries of what is acceptable personalization of a message or offer. There might be cultural influence, values, and past experience at play. What is OK to one may not be to another. This is a grey area indeed. Legislation won’t begin to catch up with it quickly enough.

So I guess the bottom line is to let your moral compass guide your ethics on this one and try to think broadly about how the message may be received by your target group. The relationship you secure with your customers may well depend on it.

So, have you received any notable behaviour or location based messages, in particular on your mobile device? Did you respond favourably or unfavourably to them? Why? I’d love to hear your stories. I think this will emerge as a huge issue going forward as marketers are forced to address responsible use of technology and consumer touch points.

Until next week, make ethics a virtue.


Three common traits of successful new business launches

Last week I attended Small Business BC’s annual awards ceremony for business excellence. Since I teach monthly marketing seminars for SBBC, and have helped many entrepreneurs learn to market their businesses over the years, it is always great to see a few of those businesses actually launched and showcased as nominated contestants. Hosted at the Pan Pacific, the event was buzzing with energy and spirit. The event profiles and celebrates five finalists and a winner in eight categories. While all nominated companies where truly deserving, when I reflect on the common characteristics shared by the winners, their approach can be best summarized by three common traits:

1.     They had responded to an unfulfilled need of a defined target group.

2.     They had few or no primary competitors. (At least not yet!)

3.     Their offerings responded to societal trends. (Concerns for medical access, online/mobile/or cloud computing growth, rising awareness of security, and green/environmental interest)

Could it be that a successful entrepreneurial venture lies in simply satisfying all three? I think so. #1 and #3 for sure, and #2 at least initially until first mover advantage is secured. Success often invites competition, but it’s a whole lot easier to establish yourself in a lone field, than battling for share at the introduction and early growth phase. These common traits are also found in some of the most successful large companies and global enterprises.

So perhaps it’s time to consider the following questions as they relate to these success factors, and see how your own product, service or business lines up. Or consider them from the perspective of a client you may work with.

1.     Do I respond to an unfulfilled need of a defined target group? What is it that I uniquely do? And whom do I do it for?

2.    Who are my primary and secondary competitors? How am I different from them? Why does that matter to my target audience?

3.    Is my business aligned to positively take advantage of a growth trend?

If you want some inspiration, here is a list of the Small Business BC winners, a brief overview of their business and links to their websites. It’s so exciting to see entrepreneurial ideas take flight!

Best concept


Innovation in health care, bringing back the house call, by allowing individuals to connect with family physicians through live online and mobile chat.

Best employer

Fully Managed

Giving piece of mind to small business owners through IT support

Best international trade

Xanatos Marine

Maritime security and monitoring for government and private organizations

Best green business

Eclipse Awards

Awards for the recognition industry using sustainable and reclaimed materials

Best workforce


Cloud computing solutions

Best online marketer

Make it!

A production company organizing unique events profiling over 250 artisans with original pieces

Best community impact


One of kind locally handcrafted dolls

Best company

Save Everyday

Mobile coupon platform supporting fundraising for schools and community groups

Premier’s people’s choice award


South Asian specialty grocery story

You can also link here for more background on the winning companies as well as photos from the event:

People don’t choose brands, they join them


People don’t CHOOSE brands, they JOIN them. That’s a pretty powerful statement if you pause to think about what it actually means. “Choosing” is about making a selection for now. It’s transactional and it may or may not be repeated. “Joining” is about commitment, now and into the future. It’s about being with others who share you interests and values. The notion of joining is powerful.

To be in a position where folks might want to join you, rather than choose you, consumers must understand WHY you do what you do, not just WHAT you do and HOW you do it. When you uncover the why, we start to understand what you stand for, what’s your purpose, and why you’re worth joining.

Let’s take beer as an example. At first blanch as alcohol and as a commodity, it would seem an unlikely candidate for uniting values or standing behind a cause. But beer as a category is largely positioned on intangibles and emotion. Enter Molson Canadian, who has done a brilliant job at positioning themselves as being unapologetically Canadian in their values and standing for hockey. They’ve also effectively leveraged content marketing in creating a community around their brand that people want to join.

Last summer Molson Canadian trucked a beer fridge to various countries in Europe, displaying it in crowded public spaces. The fridge would only open once a Canadian scanned their passport, thereby allowing those gathered to enjoy a few cold ones together. The mystery and merriment of getting the fridge to open was of course all documented and shared in a video online, creating community around Canada and being proud of where you’re from. Here’s the link in case you missed it:

Flash forward to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, where the Canadian beer fridge made another guest appearance. Placed inside Canada House, it proved a popular dispenser of victory celebration.


The way Molson has leveraged the fridge appearance through photo shares and posts on Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Vine and Youtube is powerful. They have enabled their community of fans to share their message easily. But the best piece of content marketing they produced was a “Top 10 list of the ways Canada has already won the winter Olympics”. Have a look here. If you’re Canadian it will make you proud. If you’re not, it will make you wish you were. the list that highlights things Canada has done such as giving a Russian XC skier a ski to finish a race, or a qualified speed skating athlete giving up his spot to a team mate who went on to win silver, it ties very effectively back to the VALUES that those things represent: generosity, dignity, humbleness, pride, sharing, diversity, gay rights, family, and at the end unapologetically acknowledging success in the metal count. It appears natural that #5 is the “Canadian beer fridge” being accessed by a Canadian passport as a demonstration of the nations pride and generosity. The bottom of the list shows a graphic “On behalf of all Canadians, SORRY for being so awesome all the time” and a #anythingforhockey hashtag. Make no mistake, top 10 lists such as this are highly shareable, and Molson Canadian, no doubt created it for that purpose.

Content creation such as this is spot on. It not only states the values that Canada stands for, it effectively attaches the Molson Canadian brand to those values as well. People want to join the brand and share the values. It’s about a whole lot more than just choosing a beer.

So, on behalf of all Canadians, we’re sorry we’re so good at hockey, if you come from a country we beat during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games. For now I am unapologetically JOINING brand Canada.




Loyalty = Being made to feel special

Valentines Day having just passed, I can’t help but draw parallels between personal relationships and customer relationships, and the reasons we remain loyal. In it’s simplest form, we are loyal to those we trust and who make us feel special. It’s not about loyalty cards and points, or in the case of personal relationships, gifts unto their own. It’s about the feeling that is evoked from day to day gestures. Of course Valentines gifts are certainly welcomed by most, but they have far less meaning if they are simply stand-alone events.

When I travel for business or pleasure and need to rent a car, I use Budget. Why? Because in the past they have upgraded me pretty much every time I have rented from them. They have fixed me up with a top of the line, all the bells and whistles sedan as a make good when my original booking got messed up, and then dispatched a driver to deliver the convertible I had originally booked the next day some 250+ miles from the airport, since that was my destination. They’ve couriered to me, forgotten electronics when I departed a vehicle quickly trying to make a flight. They’ve even pre-set the seat to the adjustments I like once noted on my file, ensuring the car I was getting felt like my own as soon as I got in. In short, I’m loyal because they make me feel special. Yes I can earn Air Miles and yes they are often competitively priced, but those are simply nice to have features. Alone in themselves they are not the basis of loyalty, at least not in my books.

I’m also loyal to Westin Hotels when given the choice or opportunity. Quite simply, nothing beats the “heavenly bed”, but it’s also the little details that get flagged. They have noted on my file the style of pillow I prefer. And for that, I will be forever loyal. I like a shallow down filled pillow, not something so overstuffed that my head sits at a 90 degree angle, and I will simply toss on the floor anything synthetic, reminding myself to not give the hotel a repeat visit. I realize it’s a demanding and shameful transgression from my backpacking days, or camping trips where a fleece jacket rolled up would do, but when you’re paying for it, and a good nights rest is critical for the next day’s performance, it matters.

I’ve been loyal to my hair stylist for over 25 years. Why? He keeps me hip, and feeling good about myself. He works hard at being the best, he stays current, and at the end of the day, he makes me feel special. It is as much about getting a new do as it is like catching up for a visit regularly with a friend who has seen me through career shifts, dating, marriage, having toddlers to teens, and now taking care of an aging parent. It’s a unique relationship, one I’m well aware he shares with all of his clients.

So what is the uniting element in these three examples? Being made to feel special is the primary basis of my loyalty.

So what then makes us disloyal? I would argue it is being made to feel NOT SPECIAL. I was recently traveling for work to Montreal to accompany and coach some university students in a marketing case competition. I had made the same flight last year around this time, and made the mistake of booking a connecting flight through Toronto that resulted in a 12 hour delay when most flights were grounded or cancelled during a severe snowstorm. This year, perhaps against my better judgment, I had again booked through Air Canada, but the rationale for doing so was reasonably sound. They were the only airline with a direct flight. I simply did not want to chance making a connection through Toronto again, in February during what has arguably been one of the harshest winters for snowstorms on record. I will admit to collecting points and status with Air Canada, but it is only because they at times are the only airline with flights and frequency schedules that make sense for business trips. I freely admit it is the basis of a troubled relationship!

I was accompanying three students, and since I arrived before they did, I asked about checking them in. I had already done so for myself, but I was advised leave it for them to do individually. My flight was extremely crowded with three different schools from Vancouver all sending grade 7 classes on a French exchange trip. They had arrived very early, as was evidenced by the seat selection left available. I decided to make my way through security, since I had a Nexus pass, the idea being that I would then contact my students to ensure they too moved along since it was a busy flight. Imagine my surprise when they contacted me an hour before our flight saying that Air Canada had re-sold their seats because they had not checked in on time. There wasn’t another flight available for 7 hours, and the airline was going to charge a $78 booking fee for each ticket to get them on – a pure and simple money grab. I would be almost certain that Air Canada had oversold the flight, and when so many young grade 7 students showed up extremely early and displaced several highly valued business travelers; the airline had a problem on their hands. They needed to claim and resell available seats at the first opportunity. Simply put, we were made to feel NOT SPECIAL, because other guests were of higher value to the airline.

As a result I was checking into the hotel in Montreal at about the time my students were finally departing Vancouver. Of course I could hardly wait to land so I could Tweet about it. While I was keen to register my complaint, I was just as interested in seeing how long it would take Air Canada to reply. In the past they have not had a great reputation for monitoring social media. To their credit, they replied within the hour. But it was a cold and impersonal reply by someone veiled behind corporate policy. They suggested they were right and I was wrong, and to read the policy. Nice.

My biggest beef with Air Canada is the two-tier system of treatment that favours their most valued customers. On some level I understand their business model for doing so, since those customers bring them the majority of business, and they often pay top dollar. However, from a customer service standpoint, and in the age of social media where client interactions gone wrong quickly turn into ANTI-marketing, surely the decent treatment of all customers has some merit.

So if being made to feel not special equals disloyalty and being made to feel special equals fierce loyalty, the goal for companies should be to make all customers feel special, and then facilitate the amplification of word of mouth to create great marketing. I estimate that my negative story was shared with well over 2,000 people electronically and in person.

As always, hit reply and let me know what you think. What companies are you loyal to and why? Who makes you feel special? And when they make you feel not special, what do you do about it as an empowered consumer?

Hotel overstay policy that challenges convention: A brilliant transparent promotion


Good relationships are based on honesty, and building relationships is at the core of a strong business. Yet for some companies, true transparency, and by default, apparent honesty, can seem lacking when guised in corporate policy. We now seek out brands that are honest, flaws and all, because it feels like we can trust them more.

For a brand, being transparent and honest makes it more human. In the age of wired customers and easy social sharing, dishonesty can be feathered out faster than you can hire a PR firm to fix it. Increasingly, brands will have no choice but to always be truthful. Seems simple enough. But why are there so few good examples? Let’s consider when flaws and brand limits can be virtues rather than faults.



Ever wonder why check out has to be at 11am, when check in is 4pm, and there might not even be anyone taking your room anyway? So did the Olsen Hotel, a stylish 5 star hotel in Melbourne, Australia close to the Chapel Street shopping and dining district. They offer the world’s latest check out. This brilliant overstay promotion means that if your room is not needed by another guest later that day or even the next, you can stay on absolutely free. All you need to do is call reception in the morning and find out when the next guest is due to arrive. It’s simple and it’s honest. There are no limits, so technically if there is no booking behind you, you are welcome to continue as long as you like – quite revolutionary. Of course the hotel is popular, so the likelihood of a huge extended stay is probably limited, and most travelers have some sort of schedule that would prevent over indulgence, but the fact that they’ve erred on your side and were honest about it, makes them a winner. There’s also the notion of a lottery going on here with the potential of winning an extended stay. As consumers we are attracted to the gamification involved and the notion of play. It turns traditional travel industry policies on their ear, and in doing so the Olsen Hotel stands out. Do you think they might just get more bookings because of this policy? And do you think maybe a few people talk about it favourably online and off? In fact the hotel encourages just that, suggesting folks post photos to their Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram telling others about their overstay, or what they did with their additional time in Melbourne. The value of the free publicity gained I’m sure far exceeds the costs of awarding some late checkouts or extended stays for free. Simply brilliant!

Check out the detail here. I love the time elapsed video image of a guest, as he is granted additional nights stay! It’s a cheeky and memorable visual summary of the promotion.

The Canadian McDonalds “Our food. Your questions” campaign tapped this sentiment. The fast food industry has taken a lot of grief for contributing to obesity. They’ve also suffered from appearing like a big impersonal corporation exclusively focused on profit. The McDonalds campaign attempted to pull back the veil a little, by allowing Canadians to post genuine questions, sometimes awkward and negative, and the company answered them publically through their Facebook page, Twitter feed, Youtube and Instagram in exchanges that then became material for the campaign, appearing as print, broadcast and outdoor ads. Responses were also easily shareable through social media. While one could argue about the editing process that could have taken place, the very openness to expose themselves to criticism, giving a public voice to others and a promised response moved the needle in a direction that other fast food companies have yet to go.

Click here for a sample of posted questions from the campaign:

And yes, they admitted to having some freckles and flaws, but by being open and honest, they earned trust along the way. And for the record, freckles can be unique and adorable, rather than flaws. It just depends on whom you ask.

So I’m tossing it back to you now. Are there any rules or limits you could change that would delight your customers? Is there an industry convention that you could break – just because it makes sense to the customer, not your competitors? And do you have any flaws, that if acknowledged in an honest and transparent way, could actually win you favour, simply for being up front and not hiding behind your corporate veil? Press reply and let me know what you’ve done or what you’ve seen out there that are great examples of this.

We trust brands that are honest, flaws and all. Maybe it’s time to be more human.


The handwritten lines of personal connection


There is something sweetly nostalgic about the handwritten word. In a world where increasingly we conduct communication electronically, to receive a handwritten note or letter seems rare. Yet, there is something intimate about handwriting. The personal style says something about the sender. It’s a piece of them left on the sheet. If you’ve ever saved a letter from a loved one long gone, you appreciate the sentiments of permanency.



The son of a friend of mine became the recipient of secret Santa notes and gifts this past Christmas. His Mom took to posting the updates on Facebook, to satisfy the anticipation of others, as the notes appeared daily. The thoughtfulness of a couple friends was very evident in the fun, mysterious hand-made packages that arrived for 12 days. And the handwriting revealed much about the senders, even before they were divulged. It created a platform of intrigue and a great story shared by many as speculation grew about the authors of the notes. In an age of rampant electronic communication, the handwritten note captivated.

One of the most successful marketing stunts I ever did was in advance of a speaking engagement at a conference. I was to be talking about marketing in the digital age. But rather than reaching out in the anticipated way, I asked the conference organizers for the postal addresses of attendees. I wanted to send them a hand written post card from Vancouver, inviting them to my session. I sent the cards to the conference organizers who hand addressed them on my behalf so we would be compliant with personal information legislation, and sent them out. My rational was this: Who wouldn’t read a hand written postcard from the most beautiful place on earth? (A little west coast bias there!) What resulted was amazing. I had attendees streaming into my session later that month, holding their post cards, saying they wanted to meet the person who had sent it to them. Of course I was able to quickly dispel any uncertainties about my knowledge of digital media quickly in the session. I had simply chosen to do the unexpected.

There are marketing lessons in both of the above examples.

1. The unexpected gets noticed.

2. Back to basics communications can be a refreshing way to cut through the cutter of our digitized world.

3. There is something universally appealing about the hand written message.

Did you know that National Handwriting Day was January 23, 2014? Apparently the day was founded in 1977 by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association to fight the loss of penmanship. The hash tag #handwritingday on Twitter was filled with Tweets and photos of handwritten notes as well as news coverage by NBC. Seems even in the age of digital, ink on paper can be celebrated!

Could there be anything more basic than the chalkboard? McDonalds in Warsaw, Poland created an outdoor billboard campaign using large chalkboards. The boards featured menu items and the content changed daily. I’m not sure how this would hold up in rainy Vancouver, but it’s an intriguing idea, and a great way to stand out by doing the unexpected.


Here are a few other clever handwritten chalkboards that are bound to capture attention.


And while you can pay someone to illustrate decoratively your board, I think the imperfections of different handwriting can work to your advantage. It made these businesses personable. The chalkboard puts you back in touch with the art of a handwritten message. The pure impermanence of chalkboards also works. The message can be changed daily. And if you’re clever enough, it can almost become a daily update and check in that Facebook has conditioned us to – what will they put out today? You need to have a look.

Whatever “lines of personal connection” you choose to take, in the world of marketing it’s about doing the unexpected and creating intrigue to stand out. In our increasingly digitized and cluttered world, going back to basics can be a way to stand out. And if done with some creativity, you can give your community a story to share and create great word of mouth.