What Crocs, Uggs and Earth Shoes can teach us about good marketing

I distinctly remember the season I spent walking up hill. It was the year that earth shoes were all the rage. For those who weren’t yet born, or would just like to forget them, earth shoes had a sole with a higher rise at the front than the back. The width of the toe was also decidedly broad, presenting a less then sleek and glamorous look poking out from your jeans. Thank goodness flares were also in fashion, or we might all have looked like clowns. Take that back, I think I did anyway. Graced with size 11 feet at the age of 12, the variety of available sizes for my footwear fashion choices peaked early and has been pretty much in decline ever since!

But back to earth shoes. They were ugly, but they sold like hot cakes.


Just like Crocs, those very comfortable, colourful, holey things that really don’t belong in the same sentence as fashion.

crocsLikewise for Uggs, a decidedly bizarre hot weather footwear choice to emerge out of Australia that became all the rage with teen girls a couple seasons ago.


Each of these three items touted comfort over style, but in evoking desire for their comfort attributes, they became stylish despite themselves. Such is the strange world of marketing and creating demand.

What might we learn from Uggs, Crocs and Earth Shoes for our own marketing?

1. You can create desire for almost anything with good marketing.

2. But nobody will buy your product or service more then once if it doesn’t do what is promised.

While simple enough in principle, in practice we often overlook number 2, thinking that number 1 is where our efforts should be. Summed up another way – get good first. Then worry about how to broadcast your value. This message becomes particularly important in an era where word of mouth and word of mouse (online through social channels and off line the good old fashioned way) is so important. It’s also where earned media kicks in when your business becomes newsworthy. And as regular readers will already know, that earned media then begs to be leveraged through your owned and rented channels.

Have you ever bought something because of really catchy advertising, then been disappointed in the product or experience? Likewise have you ever bought something and been absolutely delighted, and then gone off telling everyone?

It’s all about getting good first. That’s the best marketing out there.


Taking a risk! How a new audience can grow awareness and business

Last last week I conducted a little experiment. I was curious about expanding the audience for my written work about marketing in the Huffington Post. I usually publish to the business section, targeting an entrepreneur audience. However, this past week I did a personal branding piece and went on a bit of a rant about grammar, and how your written word in private and public forums is a reflection of your personal brand. I targeted millenials as the largest offenders in my piece. Admittedly it was a well-articulated rant, and a bit of a poke with a stick into the hive of 20-somethings. But here’s the key. With some trepidation, I deliberately left a grammar error in the article. I was hopeful that the editors at Huff Post would miss it – and they did. And so to press it went, fully exposed and vulnerable to criticism, with a piece about using good grammar, when I knew there was a mistake within it.

What I was counting on was a new audience sharing it, commenting, and being confident that eventually someone would find the mistake, out me on it, and the sharing would then accelerate even further.

Lower torso of woman standing with arms crossed

I had my fingers crossed that a 20 – something would be the one to find the error, and not one of my older, word-wise editing type colleagues. It went live on Huff Post Living section on Monday and generated considerable likes, share and lively discussion. And then on Wednesday, it exploded. A young gal in high school criticized me about using “poll” instead of “pole” in one sentence. Her millennial friends immediately pounced on board too, vindicated and adding to the discussion. Admittedly it was uncomfortable for a while, but I let it roll along before responding about the social experiment that had gone down, and then asked her if I might hire her! I have a number of clients who could use a good writer and proofer, and I was quite serious about connecting her to the opportunity.

If you’re curious to read the piece, “You’re being judged, you just don’t know it” – here’s the link. The grammatical error has since been revised however.

So what was at play here?

  • Exposure to a new section of Huff Post and by default a new audience interesting in personal branding.
  • Exposure of the Facebook post, Huffington Post article, my website and blog to a new audience.
  • But here’s the kicker: measureable spiked traffic to my “owned media platform”(website and blog), plus increased enewsletter sign ups, where I then get permission to engage one on one in the future. Experience has taught me that future business is generated from those that I engage with and share useful information on a regular basis. We buy from those that we know, like and trust.

My point with all this is – sometimes we need to shake things up and do something different to grow our businesses. And sometimes we need to take a risk, or become vulnerable. I’d love to hear about what risk you have taken that paid off for your business.

5 Tips to get more earned media

You can’t beat the credibility of earned media. In an era where it seems we are all fighting to be heard above the noise within social media, it is easy to dismiss the simple and massive reach of more traditional media methods. All successful print and broadcast channels these days are also amplifying that content via digital means online, which means you actually achieve even further clout should you get coverage. And, once that coverage is online, it is there for you to further broadcast it through your own channels. The magic of course being that it is third party endorsement, and you can attach your success to the media’s brand.


Achieving media coverage is a pretty compelling value proposition and certainly one worth devoting some effort towards. So here are five tips to make the task simpler and increase the likelihood of success.

1. Know a reporters expertise. Reporters are inundated with press releases and pitches daily. If it’s not related to their area of coverage, they will hit delete. Ideally you are familiar with a reporters beat and have read or heard their stuff. Over the long term this will also gain you a respectful relationship with them, so that when you do send them something well targeted, they are more likely to respond. If you’re always shouting to everyone, nobody will listen.

2. Make the reporter look good and help them serve their audience. Your real job in writing the pitch is to make that reporter look good to their boss. The best way to do that is to help the reporter serve his/her audience. The reporter lives and dies by how they serve their audience. The media outlet is also in the rating and social sharing game. They are obsessed with going viral. They want a story that readers or viewers will share online. The bottom line here is: it’s about them, not about you. If you can frame your pitch from that perspective, you will be ahead of 95% of the pitches sitting in reporters email boxes right now.

3. Send media a story they are hungry for. What is in the news right now that is hot? (Britain’s bid to exit the UE? Donald Trumps bid for presidency? Forest fires? Global warming? Foreign ownership and real estate prices? The Tragically Hip’s final tour?) The news can be international, national or local, but you should frame your take on it from the geographic area where you are and where you want to achieve coverage. What are some trends of interest? Is there a celebration day that is relevant for timely coverage? (Father’s Day in June, July 1st Canada Day or the 4th of July in the US for example) Lists are hot. Browse the headlines of Buzzfeed or the Huffington Post and you’ll see lots of lists – The 5 things you need to know… How to get a promotion in 3 easy steps…) Lists are good because they are finite, organized, have a takeaway and are shareable. They’re also idea for a population conditioned to receive information in bite size nuggets, which is increasingly the case in our time-starved society. The key here is to look at the publication or station you would like to target and see what would fit with their editorial style and reader or viewer interest. This of course requires you to do some homework, but it is that work which will help you stand out from others.

4. You absolutely, positively need a compelling subject line. I’m talking email subject line here, but it could also be a catchy headline on Twitter if you were tagging or personal messaging a reporter on Twitter. Make the subject line clever, but simple. Shorter is better, and if you’re not sure how it will display on mobile (which is where it is most likely to be previewed or deleted), send yourself a test to your mobile device. These days your subject line needs to be mobile friendly. You want that headline to display fully and grab the reporter to click and read more. Frankly it doesn’t matter what is in the email if the recipient never makes it past the headline. Do your research, and model the existing style for the particular media you are targeting with your pitch. Check what kind of headlines they write. Get creative and draft yours in a similar light. Just remember while clever is good, don’t over complicate it.

5. Keep the pitch short, simple and tight. If your communication is written poorly or is unclear, a reporter won’t have time for you. Make sure you tell the reporter what is in it for them and their audience right at the very beginning. Essentially respond to questions such as, why is this relevant, and why now? Try to make a human and emotional connection. Put a short bio and contact information at the end. The reporter will read the headline, if it captures their interest, they will skim the text. Keep all of this relatively short, and again, remember the context of mobile viewing. Send yourself a test copy. Did it grab you? How long did it take to skim the copy? Sometimes an image within the body of the email (no attachments!) can tell the story quickly and hit an emotional hot button. If you’ve got an image that tells the story in fewer words, by all means use it, but be sure to size it right for the email so it loads quickly and displays properly. Again, send yourself a test first to your mobile device.

Of course these points are just about how to get the reporters attention. There is a lot more to consider if you score coverage, especially if interviewed. Practice thinking and talking in sound bites, since your interview will likely be edited.

Just in time for the May 2-4 weekend: Molson Canadian – meet Budweiser “American”

Last week I received an email from a former marketing class student about Budweiser beer reportedly changing the name on cans over the summer from “Budweiser” to “America”. She thought for sure it was a hoax, or at the very least a publicity stunt meant to garner headlines for an established brand in a mature category fighting for every last incremental decimal sales increase. On the latter point, she was correct, but evidently the plan to change the name is real. Go figure, only in America.


The campaign, called “America is in Your Hands,” will run from May 23 through November and will include on cans and bottles passages ranging from Pledge of Allegiance to lyrics from “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” It will all fall into the hands of a drinking public bracing itself for a presidential election unlike any before it. The new cans and bottles will include images like a magnified view of the Statue of Liberty’s torch and Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. It’s important to note that Budweiser has ventured into this patriotic territory before. Following the 911 attacks, they showed in a commercial, Clydesdales crossing the Brooklyn Bridge pausing by the World Trade Center.

Within hours of the news breaking, FOX quoted Donald Trump saying he took the name change as an endorsement for his campaign. Perhaps someone should inform the Donald that he hasn’t yet trademarked the term America, but whatever…

Not withstanding the fact that Budweiser’s beer sales will likely tank in Canada this summer, they no doubt will climb in certain parts of the US, since the new brand name will resonate with many, despite political connotations otherwise. Indeed we have had Molson “Canadian” for years, and it has served the company well.

My point this week however is about how Trump attached himself to the headline. Budweiser was all over the news, and he grabbed yet another opportunity to ride their coat tales. Love him or hate him, the man knows how to get publicity.

Publicity is “earned media” – that stuff you get for free, usually the benefactor of the broad reach of an established players broadcast or print footprint. Here are 3 ways to leverage headlines for publicity gain:

1. Monitor the news. Follow what is gaining momentum, and if you can, attach yourself to it while the item is taking off. Headlines are usually short lived, so you need to act fast.

2. Be creative. Use play on words, tap a common held inference, or be slightly sensationalized or unbelievable. Keep in mind whatever you do must make sense for your brand and be in keeping with your values and culture. Otherwise you risk being seen as unauthentic and chasing the headline purely for monetary gain.

3. Be provocative. Newsmakers and the internet love controversy. The trick with using shock headlines is to always be able to back it up with substance.

When Prince George was born a couple summers ago to Kate and William, and the Royal family, newsmakers went nuts. It was an absolute publicity gift to baby industry businesses in Prince George BC, in fact, any business in Prince George BC. I wrote about it on this blog that week, but largely the opportunity was lost, except for a few government officials capitalizing on it. However Tourism Las Vegas did pick up on the news. Hot on the heels of Uncle Harry’s Vegas indiscretions, they declared in an ad “Congratulations on the Royal Addition. See you in 21 years!” The ad of course was paid, but the media publicity hype and coverage they garnered around it for a well-played inference was brilliant. They attached themselves to the news item and gained far more coverage then what they paid for.

Vegas_PrinceGeorgeThat’s my point with all this. In an age where earned media can give your brand tremendous reach, and then further give you the golden gift of that earned media being infinitely shareable on social media to earn word of mouth, I think it’s worth our while to leverage news headlines where we can.





Guiides.com founder Daniel Dubois’ five key insights for entrepreneurs

When a desirable offering meets a growing audience at the intersection of trends and technology you likely have a winning business prospect. When you compliment it with the disruptive forces of the sharing economy and add passion and purpose, you get Daniel Dubois and Guiides.com, likely to do for adventure tourism, what AirBnB did for global accommodations.

Guiides.com, launched earlier this month was created with the goal of increasing access to outdoor adventure. It lets people search for and book activities led by local outdoor enthusiasts or certified guides depending on the risk involved. Offering an alternative to big tours and travel packages, participants are invited to experience a new area like a local. Guiides.com, essentially acting as a portal uniting buyers and sellers, takes 15% of each booking with the balance going to the trip leader. Currently operating in the Vancouver/Sea to Sky corridor, the company plans expand the offering across BC, the Rockies and Calgary during the summer. They have plans to be coast to coast by year-end, and to have taken the concept North America wide by next year.


It all started when Dubois watched a TED Talk by Rachel Botsman on the rise of collaborative consumption. At the time, the concept of the sharing economy, and the idea that “It’s not what you own, but what you have access to” was in its infancy, so Dubois packed his bags and went to meet with the mayor of San Francisco and the founders of AirBNB and Uber to learn more. What he found was a shift in economic thinking that really aligned with his values and purpose. Doors opened up. He subsequently went on to launch ShareShed.com, a website where people could gain access to outdoor gear and equipment based on borrowing from others near by, through an access portal online. While that business venture proved a great testing ground to learn, and is now at the core of MEC’s retail rental offerings, the testing of various trip options as an additional offering to Share Shed helped Dubois realize users were seeking community in the outdoors in addition to the use of gear. Guiides.com was an answer to that bringing together buyers and sellers of authentic outdoor experiences. This concept is infinitely scalable and is right on target with a future we crave that uses the power of technology to connect with humans again.

Dubois has raised over $1 million and has a dream team of investors including Ryan Holms founder of Hootsuite and Mike Walsh the founder of Uber. He won the Global Student Entrepreneur Award to represent Canada along side 50 other students from 50 countries in Thailand this summer. He shared the stage with a director of AirBNB and an Apple co-founder while speaking to an audience at Interdome in Banff last summer. In 2015 he spoke to 20,000 youth at WE Day, sharing the stage with Kofi Annan, Romeo Dallaire and Martin Luther King III, about the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. He’s lectured at MIT to a class of entrepreneurs. Last summer he was a G20 delegate to Istanbol, and this summer he will again be joining the G20 Summit in Beijing as part of the Young Entrepreneur Alliance to shape international policy.

Not bad for a guy who still hasn’t graduated from Capilano University. Still five courses short of earning his degree in business, Dubois figures he’ll “graduate someday.” Arguably, he’s learned far more outside the classroom then the balance of those credits will ever merit.

Dubois’ 5 Key insights for aspiring entrepreneurs 

1. Follow your passion and purpose. Dubois notes that entrepreneurs that are growing their businesses are the ones that are aligned with their purpose. He suggests making decisions based on your values. Use your values to ask, “What’s my big why for doing this?” If you want to be excited about something that keeps you up late and gets you up in the morning, understand why you are doing what you’re doing.

2. Understand trends & disruptive forces. Big trends viewed from the 30,000-foot level can offer a sweet spot for innovation and disruption. Dubois notes that the sharing economy and the notion that “It’s not what you own, but what you have access to” has disrupted the traditional economic model. It’s the reason why Uber and AirBnb have been so successful. The one-click economy and on-demand economy with real time inventory control are forces that are shifting demand. The sharing economy is part of that bigger overall trend. Security, automation, the mobile internet, effects of demographics and population shifts, disruptive payment and delivery systems are also areas creating opportunity.

3. Storytelling is key. Being able to articulate the story about your business creates an emotional connection and gives people a reason to care. Sharing it verbally and in writing goes a long way to gaining a following, be that investors or customers. While it’s not mandatory, it’s even better if you as the founder are comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Dubois has learned at a very young age to deliver his story in a relaxed, passionate and charismatic manner which charms all who listen.

4. Make connections and do your research. Very early on Dubois ventured to San Francisco to interview the founders of Uber, AirBnb, Google and others in the hotbed of technology innovation and the sharing economy. It formulated his knowledge of opportunities, but it also allowed him to score a pretty impressive list of connections that later fueled investment in his business.

5. Test the market and make your offering scalable. Dubois talks a lot about market testing both the supply and demand side of guides.com since the offering as an online portal for adventure is at a unique intersection of both sides of the economic model. He stresses the importance of testing the market, making mistakes and doing corrections prior to expanding. Ultimately for a business to be wildly successful it will require scaling. Be sure to have the systems in place to do that.

And what’s with the two “ii’s” in Guiides.com? Far from a typo, Dubois notes it makes the brand unique and it represents two people getting outside for an authentic adventure. He’s an impressive young man with an incredible grasp at a very young age, on what it takes to be successful.

Content marketing & the REACH factor

It used to be that advertising was all about planning reach and frequency. To a certain extent it still is for paid efforts, but when you’re trying to milk free platforms, like your own anchored content through blogs and enewsletters, as well as social media, earned media and embedded editorial, REACH is the name of the game. You CAN control frequency of your own platforms, but not the frequency of earned media. And earned media is a major pillar in your media empire.

Media reach matters.

That point was driven home to me this past week. My son Alex Charleson is a professional longboard racer. He was the 2015 IDF World Junior Champion. We don’t get to choose what our kids get good at! He is currently ramping up for the world circuit, and in an effort to promote himself and benefit his sponsors who pay for his travel, he got his branding and media in order. Call it a prompt from Mom, and a little insider consulting advice. He now has his website up and running www.alexcharleson.com, and linked out and back to all his sponsors and social media channels. While doing that, he finally posted a video to Youtube that was shot last year in Colorado. That prompted the guy who shot and edited it to submit the video to “People are awesome” which has a substantial media reach through Facebook (over 3 million who follow the page and receive daily featured videos), Youtube (with over 1.1 million subscribers) and the www.peopleareawesome.com website  (with over 3.6 million subscribers) and countless media features on platforms such as CNN, FOX, TED, Huffington Post, TIME and SUN media.

Low and behold, the video got featured April 27. Link here and scroll to that date to watch it.

My son got the heads up it was being featured about 8 hours after it was posted. The friend from Sweden who had filmed and edited it was a few time zones ahead of him. I watched it on Facebook over coffee in the morning and then shared with friends. It was at 164,000 views, which I thought was pretty remarkable. I went to refill my coffee, and then checked back on the post. It had gone to 167,000 views – up 3,000 in about 2 minutes. That’s when I went investigating the REACH of this channel and was blown away. Within 24 hours it had gone to 276,000 views. Currently it sits at over 335,000 views.

PeopleAreAwesome_FBpost Why the fixation on a longboarding video?

Besides being out marketed by an 18 year old, which still hadn’t had a shower that morning, he had taught me an incredibly important lesson.

The REACH of your media matters. Few of us have platforms with that kind of subscriber base, but if we can tap into earned media with that kind of reach, their vehicle will do all the heavy lifting for us. All apparently while you’re taking a shower!

We of course want to build our owned media platform reach as well as followers on social media platforms, but at the end of the day, we’re unlikely to have the same degree of reach and influence as an established media player. So why not focus on getting earned media on those big number platforms, and then share it out on our other channels – our owned and rented platforms?

In Canada those big reach players might include: The Globe and Mail, Canadian Living, CBC, Huffington Post or Buzz Feed. In the United States CNN, Fox, NBC, the New York Times and Time magazine are but a few. Obviously crazy popular video sharing platforms fall into the mix too. I am now officially addicted to “People are awesome” for my daily adrenaline dose!

3 insights from Sweden to harness media & generate word of mouth

The “Curators of Sweden” was a great example of tourism marketing. The campaign featured an overall initiative where the controls of the countries @Sweden Twitter handle were handed over to Swedish citizens for rotating one-week stints. People from all over the world were invited to ask questions and exchange thoughts in an unedited forum. The trust and openness was meant to reinforce the values the country wanted to portray. Plus it certainly earned them some significant media coverage, especially in a global political era where freedom of speech is not had by all. Learn more about the Curators of Sweden campaign in this summary video.

Well, Sweden is at it again.

And they certainly know how to churn up word of mouth to leverage social media and both online and offline traditional media. The latest campaign by the Swedish Tourist Association launched April 6. Sweden now has its own international country phone number, +46 771 793 336, where callers are connected to speak to a random Swede. Once again, people are encouraged to ask ordinary Swedes about anything they want from hiking, feminism, snow, gay rights, parental leave, northern lights, Ikea meatballs – whatever! Volunteer Swedish ambassadors, who have downloaded the app, are the ones who receive the random calls. So far more then 11,000 calls have been placed. The initiative is to celebrate 250 years since the country abolished censorship. Pretty cool eh?

Watch a video about how it works here.


Admit it, you’re going to try calling the number aren’t you?

And that’s the point, there’s and irresistible temptation to this campaign that taps human nature.

So far the video has garnered over 378,000 views, and has earned them media coverage from the New York Post, The Guardian in the UK, Time Magazine, Australia TV, and countless other smaller media outlets worldwide.

This initiative is a great example for learning how to harness social media, traditional media, and generate word of mouth. Key insights:

1. The power of story. To leverage word of mouth, mouth and mobile online and off you need to wrap your message in a story. People love to hear and share a good story. Who wouldn’t want to hear about crazy random phone calls being made to Sweden with uncensored responses?

2. Video + visuals. While the PR folks can send out releases and contact traditional media, nothing brings a story to life like visuals and video. Having a video that is searchable and linked to the publicity push helps gain coverage. Media love stories with visuals, and visuals are what will get posts shared to social media noticed.

3. The unbelievable / remarkable / absurd / funny element. Whenever a story has an angle that prompts people to scratch their heads or react with a “OMG – I have to see that” you know you’ve got something word of mouth worthy. This particular campaign screamed trust and authenticity, something sadly lacking in many parts of the world.

Of all these three, I have to say it really does all evolve out of great storytelling. Without that, the other two really don’t matter. When you learn tell great stories, you have truly mastered one of the key elements of marketing. And when you are constantly on the lookout for an interesting story, or how to frame a story around your business, it makes leveraging your media so much easier.

What stories do you tell about your business? How could you make those stories irresistible for others to tell?

Disruption: How Tesla changed automotive marketing

Mark the date April 4, 2016 in your memory. At some point in the future, this date will have huge significance. Elon Musk is also likely to roll off your tongue with the same broadly shared recognition that the name Steve Jobs from Apple does. That’s because April 4th is the day that Tesla pre-sold 276,000 Model 3 cars worldwide, with an estimate to hit over 500,000 well before production even starts. Each person parted with $1,000 down payment on a $35,000 electric car that won’t even physically be available until late 2017. Other then photos, nobody has even seen one. They are however familiar with the very expensive high-end design savvy models currently coveted by many and driven by few.

Sound familiar?



Elon Musk has done to cars what Steve Jobs did to computing. He has disrupted everything. Although the existing premier Model S and Model X helped position the company as exclusive, no doubt the plan all along was for a major launch mid-market. In fact the survival of the company long term likely depended on it.

From a marketing perspective, the new Model 3 not only disrupts the existing automotive industry, it frankly blows it out of the water. I say that because it goes well beyond business, and enters the realm of economics, politics, and world power to have global energy not necessarily driven by oil. That shift now seems not only possible but also likely, with countries such as Norway and the Netherlands stating that they will prohibit the sale of gas powered cars after 2025.

Tesla’s disruption…

Product: Tesla makes electric vehicles only. And the cars are the epitome of art and industrial design meeting German engineering. This isn’t a pet project on the side, like their other major competitors. Nor is Tesla tied into the oil companies like some of the large existing manufacturers. Tesla has also demonstrated that they intend to build out the charging network, further altering what they are actually selling. Is it a car, or a transportation system? Will you buy charges? Get them free with purchase? Buy an annual membership? Whatever transpires, it will no doubt shake up all products and services within the automotive industry – delivery of power included.

Price: Previously Tesla vehicles were for the rich, clocking in close to $100,000 Cdn. The new Model 3 will retail for $35,000 US, putting it squarely in the range of many existing vehicles on the market. Because previous Tesla cars have been seen as so high end, and the Model 3 promises to have the same design sensibilities, it is perceived as being premium by the masses. That really disrupts the existing price structure of competing electric cars. How do they position against price now?

Distribution: Their distribution model doesn’t rely on dealers, or a showroom necessarily for that matter. Tesla sells direct. To date orders are in person or online. Sample cars are on display in a small showroom and test drives can be booked. Not that that mattered to the 276,000 people who put a $1,000 down on one recently. Further demonstrating that even a showroom isn’t needed. Truly, the cars can be bought online and then delivered.

Promotion: Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, Tesla has become a darling of the media, garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars of free global media publicity, simply by being newsworthy. What print and online they do all oozes class.

So why should we care about this type of disruption? Beyond the super cool factor of the car, how it will potentially change industries, politics, economics and world order (that’s a lofty list!)  it’s also just a great reminder that disruption represents both threat and opportunity.

How do you plan for disruption in your industry?  And more importantly, do you take time to think about how YOU or YOUR business could disrupt and do things differently? Think the 4Ps –  product (or service), price, place (distribution) and promotion. What of the four could you challenge or change from accepted convention? Perhaps you can disrupt multiples. Lots to think about for sure – but that’s the way tomorrows leaders are thinking today. What about you?

How to manage negative publicity: 5 lessons from Coors Light #BraveTheCold out of bounds skiing campaign

Somebody at Coors Light had a horrible, no good, very bad day last week. Several people at Rethink, a well respected Vancouver advertising agency responsible for the #BraveTheCold campaign, also likely had a sleepless night trying to put the breaks on creative that was set to launch that week, after negative publicity threatened to take over. And that doesn’t even credit the hundreds of thousands spent on scripting, casting, filming and editing in the first place that became unusable. Ouch.

The first ad in the #BraveThe Cold campaign featured amateur athletes competing in a crazy toboggan race. Appealing squarely to fun loving millenials, that ad went off without a hitch in February. But the second commercial that was to have launched last week, was called into question for how it encouraged out of bounds skiing and boarding. The ad featured an illuminating blue sign that doubled as a go ahead signal for the question “are you brave enough?” The signs used in the campaign were meant to promote the brand’s new temperature sensitive printed cans that feature a Coors logo turning icy blue once the can reaches optimum cold drinking temperature.

molson-out-of-bounds-ad Out on the west coast of Canada, the leaked online footage of the campaign set off a firestorm of negative media with BC Search and Rescue Associations. Members hit social media in outcry, and their concerns, picked up by newspapers and TV news stations gave the story prominence. We loose people in the mountains every winter through ill advised out of bounds skiing. They die a senseless death, and often rescuers risk their own lives in an effort to save them. There’s a huge financial, social and human cost.

I was initially contacted to provide comment from an expert marketing perspective, and by the time the story actually went to press, the Youtube channel previously displaying the video had been set to private. By the next morning the ad had been pulled, and by that evening Coors Light had apologized and promised to make a donation to Search and Rescue. Of course we all know that nothing ever really goes away once it has a life online, and the original ad can still be viewed by the curious here.

A quick Google search for “Coors Light out of bounds” reveals several pages of linked negative media coverage, including VancityBuzz, Global TV, CTV, CBC, the North Shore News, and of course BCSARA (BC Search and Rescue Association).



CTV news

CBC news

North Shore News

BCSARA (BC Search and Rescue Association) Statement on the ad:

The lesson here is social media and traditional media can work for you and against you. Rethink, a darling of the ad industry, well known for leveraging social media and traditional media to the benefit of their clients quite simply goofed on this one. They’re from Vancouver and should have known better. As I noted in one North Shore News media quote:

“It’s not like they’re in Toronto and they’re talking about skiing out of bounds being off the back of a hill in Barrie. With Rethink being in Vancouver, it’s no secret to them that when you talk ‘out of bounds,’ it’s a sensitive issue, especially on the North Shore Mountains.”

This is not the first time Coors Light, under the helm of Rethink, has fallen under the wheels of the media bus. In 2014, they made CBC’s “Marketing Fails of the Year” with their “Search and Rescue” campaign, where briefcases of Coors Light where left in public spaces throughout Canadian cities, inviting people who found them to take a selfie with the case and post it to Twitter, where they would be sent a code to unlock the case of cold beer. The package at Spadina and Dundas was reported as suspicious, and caused the TTC to reroute traffic as police shut down streets during rush hour. It was a great promotional idea that didn’t execute well with increased terrorism threats.

Sometimes brands invite media coverage to leverage their message further. In the age of social media and online sharing, that tactic can be a fantastic tool to harness word of mouth, mouse and mobile. But sometimes the result can be an unanticipated negative outcome. That’s when it becomes important to act quickly. To their credit, Coors and Rethink handled the out of bounds skiing situation in a very professional manner. There were five key insights:

  1. Research is important. Sometimes campaigns tested at the concept stage can kill cutting edge creative, but research can save the expense, grief and negative publicity if a campaign goes sideways after launch.
  1. Know your market. Being from Vancouver, Rethink should have been knowledgeable that out of bounds skiing was a highly sensitive issue. Had the campaign been created in isolation on the Prairies there might have been an excuse for this lack of market awareness.
  1. Act quickly when things go negative. On this front both Coors and Rethink deserves credit. They responded quickly to complaints and pulled the ad within two days.
  1. Triage the messaging. Coors initially stated they hadn’t wished to provoke, and then acted quickly to apologize once the ad was removed.
  1. Spin the positive. Although an amount and a date when the donation will be made has yet to be confirmed, Coors has said they will donate to the Search and Rescue Association to help fund back country rescue in the future. It’s a positive outcome unlikely to actually sell any beer, but a solid gesture.

Sometimes producing great creative means taking risks. Things don’t always work out. But in the age of social media, online sharing, citizen reporting, and transparency that works at the speed of light, you’d better have a plan in place if it things don’t go as planned.

March 30 update: Curiously someone alerted me to the ad playing on the Huffington Post site beside my article on this actually being the Coors #BraveTheCold out of bounds spot. Seems they have simply updated the sign to say “Take a new run” rather then “out of bounds” when the blue light goes on. It’s a clever way to dodge the bullet of accusations, since I suppose the waiting helicopter could be a heli-ski run. Click here to watch the revised spot. Coors Light and Rethink have taken a new run indeed.


Link here to my Huffington Post original article on the campaign. Link here for Outside Magazine‘s “Coors Under Fire for Out of Bounds Ski Ad” article featuring my thoughts as a marketing expert.

Content marketing: A strategic slow boil to sales success

Content marketing is when you produce content (articles, images, videos, podcasts, white papers, info graphics, blog posts, books etc) or earn coverage that is tied to your brand, and distributed in such a way that it positions you well in the mind of your target consumer, and over time it causes them to do business with you.

Think of it as a slow boil.


Here are 5 tips to becoming more effective at using content marketing as a strategy.

1. Know your audience. Who do you serve? You need to know whom you are speaking to, because that will drive both the message and content as well as the media choices. Is it B2B or B2C? Think demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural profiles.

2. What are their needs? This will drive the content. If you’re selling cosmetics to teen girls you might produce videos about how to apply eyeliner. If you’re a realtor you might show before and after staging photos to sell a home. If you’re a landscaper, you might share helpful spring pruning tips. You get the idea. Content marketing should be valuable to your target audience.

3. Where do they hang out? This will drive your media choices. To a certain extent some of your choices for producing useful content will drive your media used, but this step needs to be purposeful. I suggest you consider what combination of owned, rented, earned, embedded and paid media will work best. If you want to learn more about these concepts, link here. Essentially you want to think strategically about what platforms are going to have the greatest clout with your target audience. For my particular audience it is a combination of an enewsletter, blog and several published books (owned), LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (rented), news features such as CBC, BC Business (earned), writing articles for publications Huffington Post and Business in Vancouver (embedded), and strategically boosting Facebook posts and Google ad words, as well as traditional direct mail (paid).

4. Outline your content and media-planning calendar. Once you know who your audience is, what they need, and where they hang out, it’s then a matter of mapping it all. This is where you can refine it even more. Perhaps they need certain content at particular times of the year. Diarize a cycle that you will contact media with an earned media pitch. I readily admit to having a plan and then deviating from it sometimes. I think you need the flexibility to respond to timely events that may be of interest to your audience. Ditto when pitching media.

5. Manage your time. I diarize days and time to write weekly, since that is my primary content marketing tool. What you do will vary. I also suggest diarizing when you will post content to social platforms. Tools like Hootsuite are great for helping you schedule time released content all in one go. I set my stuff up weekly and then leave it alone. Social media can be a huge time waster. I suggest focusing only on those platforms that really matter to your audience, and use scheduling and dashboard management tools to minimize the time to set it all up and monitor it. It can take time to contact media pitching an idea, but the resulting coverage if earned, can be very valuable. This is especially true once you re-purpose it through your other owned and rented channels.

Of course you might have a few other ideas to add. Feel free to comment if you’ve found something particularly effective!