If the truth is the absence of a spin, then how can we scan and avoid the presence of one? And is that a requirement or a choice?
Last week, our class guest lecturer Brandon Rochon, Managing Chief Creative Officer at Kastner & Partners and Founder Chief Creative Officer at SNKRINC, talked in depth about consumer research and his take on always staying truthful to himself and his clients even at the risk of losing them. Bias-checking has become as essential as the research when assessing a brand, company, or campaign. We can’t build a plan based on observations, because as Brandon said, “Not all observations are actual insights.”
As a Research Analyst, Brandon’s lecture made me reflect on the research I conduct on daily basis and how to counter biases. I had a conversation about it with the Senior Vice President of Research at Crown Media Family Networks (CMFN), Jess Aguirre. We discussed the state of research in a world where access to information is one click away and where claims are presented as truths most of the time. Jess spoke about the transitions that the marketing and creative industry is going through. He stated,
“The days of throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks are long over.”
He shared that while there is no substitute for brilliant creative, production and marketing today has turned into a paint by the numbers business where good research determines the canvas on which a producer or marketer can paint. Staying neutral is the key to good research.
CMFN’s Research Department pride themselves for their neutrality under Jess’ leadership. Eliminating their participants’ and researchers’ biases is the secret. For example, for their primary research, participants are picked after a thorough process to ensure the reliability and neutrality of the research. Another process includes keeping an eye on participants and researchers to make sure they don’t hold any biases. But even then, what is shared depends on the motive and the department behind the research. For instance, the Sales department needs a different set of information than the Programming department.
In the end, the absence or presence of a spin
in the research is a choice. It can depend on the person’s principles or values
when conducting the research. However, it may also depend on the goal or motive
when revealing the findings. In some cases, objectivity and the truth is the
priority. In other cases, serving the client’s goal or winning an account may
be the priority.
As Brandon mentioned last week, whatever choice you pick, it is about the foresight as much as the insight in this business.
I’ve recently noticed that most of the ads on my social media feeds are for direct-to-consumer brands – whether it be for American Giant hoodies, Rothy’s sustainable shoes, Warby Parker sunglasses, or Away suitcases.
So, what is a direct-to-consumer brand? A direct to consumer (or DTC) brand is a company that promotes and sells a product directly from the seller to the consumer. This means that the brand is able to cut out any middlemen along the way, sell their product for less than a traditional retailer might, and build a direct and trustworthy relationship with consumers. These new-wave brands, specifically in the retail space, are upending traditional companies and causing what the Interactive Advertising Bureau is calling a brand growth crisis for traditional companies. One thing is certain: these new direct-to-consumer brands know how to market damn well. Below are three major learnings from DTC companies and their marketing activities.
Build your own army.
Traditional brands like Revlon or Maybelline buy shelf space at big box retailers like Target or Walmart. While it guarantees them eyeballs from the millions of customers that walk through these retailers’ doors, it also means that they are missing out on leveraging brand advocates. Conversely, DTC brands like Warby Parker have developed strong, one-to-one relationship with consumers. The result? A devoted, engaged and loyal audience. Warby Parker was able to capitalize on a digital engagement strategy designed to take advantage of their millennial audience’s social media behavior. Early on, they asked customers to post photos of themselves wearing their Warby Parker trial frames via social media, asking their followers, friends and families to weigh in on which frames looked best. In this way, Warby Parker was able to leverage their customers to reach other potential customers, thereby building their own army from scratch. Rather than paying celebrities to endorse their products, Warby Parker has tapped into user-generated content to tell Warby’s stories in authentic ways, growing brand advocacy and achieving greater engagement.
Product design is a marketing strategy.
Historically, product design was often meant to be a form of advertising. Think of traditional shampoo companies. Images on the front of a bottle usually list out all the benefits of the shampoo solution and include a photo of a happy, healthy and beautiful model with a gorgeous mane to boot. Now, DTC companies are ripping up the marketing playbook. Since 2014, new wave beauty brand Glossier has attracted hardcore fans – part of this strategy was their product design. Positioning itself as the antithesis of the beauty industry’s big players, Glossier’s product design and packaging is deliciously upfront. Rather than purporting all the benefits the beauty products offer, Glossier products are decidedly minimalist. One of their best-selling products “cloud paint,” is a small white bottle that just says “seamless cheek color” in tiny font. The cap is a shade of pink that reads the specific hue (e.g. Haze, Dawn, Storm). Glossier leaves the marketing up to their customers, who wax poetic on their products on social media. In taking a more under-the-radar and alluring approach to product design and marketing, Glossier has been able to seize “it” brand status.
Customer (feedback) is king.
As mentioned previously, one of the strengths of DTC brands is their relationship with the customer. With a very direct relationship to the customer, DTC brands have troves of invaluable data they can use to better inform business and product strategy. We can look to sustainable shoe company (and disclaimer: my client!) Rothy’s for an inside look. Rothy’s is a DTC flats brand for women, offering beautiful and comfortable shoes made nearly entirely out of recycled plastic water bottles. Because they own the relationship with their customers, they’re able to know their highest-penetration markets (DC and Boston are two of their biggest markets). Just last week they announced they’d be opening 5 stores by the end of the year – DC and Boston are part of their brick-and-mortar strategy. Additionally, Rothy’s is able to understand their customers’ preferences and purchase trajectory. For example, they know that the Black Point style is usually a woman’s first purchase on the Rothy’s site (probably because it’s a neutral color and safe bet), and then after that first purchase that some woman feels more adventurous and is more comfortable playing with color, adding a red or printed pair of Rothy’s to her closet later. Understanding the path to purchase and repeat purchase has never been more important.
Once a harmless idea of connecting users and content, social media platforms have routinely found themselves in the center of controversy. These controversies have caught the attention of large organizations and marketers as their choices and operations are now impacting others advertisements.
Some organizations deal with more minor difficulties, such as their ad being placed next to another distasteful ad or ad that is being paid for by a company known for negative practices. Other organizations, must deal with more complex consequences.
Earlier this year, many advertisers pulled out of YouTube as it was discovered their algorithm was directing viewers to exploitive videos of children. This catapulted the discussions towards responsible practices and the stricter monitoring of content.
To this, many of the world’s leading organizations (and top ad agencies) have joined together to create an organization called the Global Alliance for Responsible Media which will focus on the importance of digital safety. Still new, there is much left to be determined in terms of what operations will actually look like. However, this is a positive step towards uniting marketers and protecting brand images.
Some of the advertisers include names you know like General Mills, Adidas, NBCUniversal, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and others. Additionally, they have convinced Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and others to join the alliance as well.
This alliance will be critical as we continue to move forward in the digital media landscape. While platforms still have a long ways to go in terms of monitoring exploitive or offensive content while balancing the freedom of expression and not “over-policing,” this alliance is a step in the right direction to create more credibility and accountability.
What do you think the first actions of the new alliance should be?
Ha, A. (2019). Advertisers and digital media companies form a new Global Alliance for Responsible Media. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/18/global-alliance-for-responsible-media/
Romm, T., & Timberg, C. (2019). YouTube to ban comments on most videos featuring minors to combat child exploitation. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/02/28/youtube-ban-comments-most-videos-featuring-minors-combat-child-exploitation/?utm_term=.ec6e6a6d867a
Earlier this year, my childhood friend came out as bisexual to her friends and family. This was of course a tough revelation not only for her but for her very conservative family as well. Growing up in a catholic household myself, I understand the repercussions and mentally draining consequences this kind of announcement may have to the life of a member of the LGTBQ community. Therefore, when she asked me to join her and her girlfriend at this year’s pride celebration I ecstatically agreed.
I have to admit that I am fairly new to this whole celebration and movement and as a fashion enthusiast, the first thought that crossed my mind was, “what am I going to wear?” (as if my outfit would somehow resemble the support and advocate I have for the LGBT community). Needless to say, I took a trip to the mall and was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of rainbow flags clothing each retailer offered. Stores like Bloomingdales, Nike, H&M, and even Mac Cosmetics had a whole section dedicated to pride.
The symbolic support of the LGBTQ community through name-brand retailers is prevalent, most notably as we enter pride celebration. But what exactly are these store promoting? And most importantly, what issues are they supporting? Where does the money consumers spend on ‘pride gear’ go to? Do our dollars actually support LGBTQ rights or is it all just part of a marketing scheme? How much percentage of the merchandise sold is appropriate for retailers to pocket for them to have the ability to call themselves true activists?
As we reflect on these questions, it is important to understand the history of the LGBTQ community and what pride months really celebrates.
“Major corporations have turned LGBT struggles into marketing moments to make themselves look good,” said Bill Dobbs, a longtime New York gay activist. “The modern movement for gay rights was jump-started by Stonewall, and it’s still a battle for the lives of LGBT people — not about selling trinkets and clothes with rainbow colors. They’re a distraction.”
It is easy to lose track of what it means to be proudful and a supporter of equal rights when you have retailers trying to sell you rainbow-themed gear right and left that would make for a cute outfit for that Instagram post, however it is important to remember the history and the continuous effort this community has gradually overcome. At the end, I can guarantee your friend or colleague will appreciate you for simply showing up and not praise you for what you are wearing.
As someone who has studied communication for many years now, it might seem ironic, but I avoid news media outlets and marketing unless I specifically go looking for information to help me make an informed purchase (or if I have to for homework). As a mother with two small children I decided to get cable again. I hadn’t seen commercials in years (with the exception of YouTube ads every here and again). The blatant and unapologetic, not to mention loud, advertising on children’s channels is absolutely unreal, annoying and insanely effective. My daughters, age 2 and 5, used to come home from grandma’s house talking about toys I had never heard of or had any interest in. Since getting cable these commercial ads have invaded our conversations and since I’m usually in the room I get interrupted with the shrieking screams of “I want that!!!!! See mom, that’s what I was talking about!!”
Now my daughters aren’t allowed on YouTube (I’m a Crime Prevention Specialist and can tell you all the ways children are targeted on YouTube), but there are ways that children are targeted for products as well. Unboxing videos are the most obvious way children are being sold the latest toys.
If this isn’t enough exposure to marketing for a group that has no concept of money management let’s talk about McDonald’s for a second. USA Today published that 20% of all sales at McDonald’s included a toy. McDonald’s is the largest toy distributor in the world. Yes, you heard right. McDonald’s distributes more toys than WalMart and Target. Notice, I didn’t say toy seller. It’s all marketing. The toys keep your kids up to date with the latest movie or toy sensation to drain your wallet. Which brings me to the point of this blog: Whose wallet is being drained? Yep, it’s yours (and mine).
Are you really choosing to buy these toys? We, as adults, like to think we have a say in it, but do we really? If you’re going to buy any child a toy, what is the first thing you do? Ask the child “What do you like?” Does any kid not have an answer to this? They begin their enthusiastic and almost rehearsed monologue about some show or some toy and begin to rattle why these toys are the absolute best thing in the world and that they need it more than the air they breathe. At this point, whatever commercial or ad got them all worked up has affected your purchasing decisions and there you are in line or online about to buy something you still know nothing about because of an ad you have never seen.
According to an article in Revel Advertising kids consume your entire life the moment you even know you’re pregnant. Extended family and friends begin to invest their interest in this new little life. Clearly, this is common knowledge that is absolutely a way to exploit innocent minds into pestering the wallet holders in their lives to buy into the latest cheaply made and overpriced fad.
So why is this such an important demographic beyond the concept that they’re just easy targets? Well, let me tell you. Being impressionable also means that it’s a way to hook them young. Sound familiar? Just like the claims against the tobacco industry, brands are attempting to create a solid foundation of future consumers. Obviously, toys aren’t the same as tobacco but it’s still sort of unethical to bombard children with ads for things they can’t buy for themselves with money they made themselves just to re-wire their brains that aren’t old enough to make decisions for themselves so that they keep buying these brands as adults.
The communicator in me is in awe, but the mom in me is just a little bothered.
While on travel for work last week, I finally got around to watching Brené Brown’s The Call to Courage on Netflix. While I respect and enjoy her work and the way she influences personal growth among many, I couldn’t help but think about vulnerability in marketing – whether that be in social media, a brand’s “about us”, or a new advertising campaign.
There are many examples that showcase how vulnerability in marketing is effective. Most obvious, Brené Brown herself. The act of being vulnerable about her vulnerabilities has been the foundation for her entire brand.
You don’t have to scroll through social media for long before you will come across a profile that is exuding anything short of vulnerability.
Apparently, vulnerability seems to be a hot topic among the workplace, social media, and marketing. However, I can’t help but notice the irony in vulnerability. The online community girlboss, writes of exactly that.
When people or brands put an extreme amount of effort into trying to be vulnerable, do they overlook the authenticity of being vulnerable all together? Are they approaching the concept of vulnerability and shaping their message in terms of thinking about what would come across as vulnerable to consumers, as compared to being in and feeling the rawness of vulnerability?
Have you taken a social media break lately? If so, you are part of a growing segment of the population. According to Pew Research Center, 42% of Facebook users have admitted to taking a break from checking in on the site, in the last year. And, 26% of those have gone so far as to delete the app from their phone completely (Perrin, 2018). One reason that users feel the need to step away for a while is due to increased concern over online privacy and how social media platforms are protecting personal data. Most Facebook users, 74% of adults over 18, are unaware that the app collects and distributes their data to advertisers and is also unaware of privacy settings currently available to minimize this (Gramlich, 2019).
The overall feeling amongst many American’s is that they no longer have the ability to protect their personal information from being collected. In another Pew Research study conducted in 2014, 64% of social media users said the government needed to step in and provide more protective regulations (Rainie, 2018). Unfortunately, to date, little has been done to protect them, and the conversation continues to drag on in Congress. Bi-partisan movement is being made, albeit at a slow pace, to pass legislation to address the constant data breaches and misinformation campaigns. Fingers crossed that they can work to pass the Data Care Act of 2018 that would “ require companies to reasonably secure identifying information and vow not to use it in harmful ways.” (Lapowsky, 2018)
The need for this legislation is immediate and becoming more necessary every day as those affected by the lack of protection is broad. There is, however, one particular socio-economic group that is often not considered when considering the victims of this targeted advertising approach, low-income communities. The advertisers that apps like Facebook share their info with vary in intent and product. They are given a long list of demographic and economic data from which they develop their target audience. With the personal data collected advertisers can dissect and focus on a very finite group of social media users. The ads that focus on this particular group are those for pay-day loans, high-interest mortgages, and for-profit colleges, which can have devasting financial consequences to the less educated. Social media user’s information regarding gender, race, zip code, and age are currently protected as a result of previous lawsuits between user’s and Facebook. However, poverty is not a protected category according to current laws or the Constitution. That means it is open season on those who can least afford or are not educated about privacy protection on social media sites. These predatory advertisers can have long term effects on one’s ability to secure a loan, get a job, or a lease approval for that new apartment (Fox, 2019).
Proponents of data privacy legislation have looked to Europe for examples as they recently implemented the General Data Protection Regulation, which has rights explicitly created to address the needs of lower-income social media users. The law has several beneficial provisions that afford low-income users the ability to protect their data, such as “the right to be forgotten.” This provision requires that personal data be scrubbed when it is no longer needed for a specific purpose or when asked for by the person whose information is in question. The benefit of this provision is that as one’s financial picture improves, they can request to have old data removed and would not be weighed down by their past adverse financial history (Fox, 2019). This new legislation has received positive adoption by both consumer groups and businesses and should make an immediate impact due to strict enforcement laws.
The data privacy wars are heating up, and with a divided Congress, it is still up for debate if anything will soon be passed to protect U.S. users.
Ehlers, R. (2018). Data Care Act of 2018. Retrieved on June 15, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.natlawreview.com/article/data-care-act-2018
The other day, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed as I usually do once a day, I came across this article from KTLA 5 News: “Reynolds Wrap Seeks Someone to Eat Ribs and Travel Around the U.S. – for $5,000 a Week.” As soon as I read the headline, I knew this would be the subject for my blog post – especially because I remembered seeing a similar article months back, but for a different ‘dream job’.
The Reynolds Wrap website describes the “job” position as a “Chief Grilling Officer” whose purpose is to find the best BBQ ribs in the U.S.A. In two weeks, this person will visit various BBQ places and is required to have an online presence throughout the process by sharing photos, tips, etc., both on the Reynolds Wrap website and on their own social media accounts. In addition, as the news headline stated, there is a $10K stipend ($5K/week) and not only that, but pre-paid travel and lodging for the person AND a friend. Only a 200-word essay required to enter.
In a similar move, and only a few months before the Reynolds Wrap dream job, CableTV.com announced their “Marvel Movie Marathon Dream Job” opening. Similarly to the Reynolds Wrap job, this chosen person (who also had to write a 200-word essay) got paid ($1K + additional rewards such as Blu-Ray copies of the movies) for binge-watching 20 Marvel movies, and live tweeting and tagging CableTV.com while watching each movie. CableTV.com launched this right before Avengers: Endgame was due to come out in theaters.
about both of these situations makes me wonder if this is the new tactic to
attract young people who are clearly more invested in social media and their
online presence. If you think about it, both of these companies are probably
getting more than they are paying out, in free advertising. What are your
thoughts on this tactic? Has anyone else seen any other company do something
similar to this?
Trying to solve a problem? Look at it from fresh angles. The Far Side comic above shows how diversity in your team can broaden problem solving and creative work. This works for new approaches in marketing or any creative pursuit connecting with an audience. Writing for Forbes Community Voice, Nysha King recommends tapping online resources (King, 2019) to discover the life experience of your audience. This move doesn’t exactly bring diversity into your creative team, but it brings in diverse ideas and is step one in diversity marketing.
While addressing a Power of Women luncheon, Tina Fey, former head comedy writer on Saturday Night Live, explained that in comedy writing rooms “women are treated like expensive cappuccino machines. Where it’s like, ‘We have one. Why would we have two?!’ That’s too much pressure on that one person – to carry that, to be the African-American writer, the female writer. It’s always about changing the chemistry of the room. The more diverse the room is, it automatically becomes better,” (Chuba, 2018). Later, in an interview with David Letterman on his Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Fey expands on the issue, citing a time when another writer, Paula Pell, had an idea for a Kotex classic commercial parody and the pitch died in the room with not enough laughs voting for it. The room did not understand the gag. Fey stood up for it, it got made, and it was a success. Fey realized she needed a second laugher to vote for the idea. I would take it even further, creatively it would be great to have even more laughers with that shared experience to debate or take the idea further. This leads us to the old concern that more diversity will sow more divisiveness and slow down decision making for a team.
As a leader, if you are getting: “Yes!” “Perfect!” “100%” be wary. Your homogeneous but cohesive creative team may have consensus clearing the way to success and acclaim, but could just as easily be headed for mediocrity or public embarrassment. Diverse views and dissenting opinions expose your creative team to better choices, better results, and possible greatness. King, writing for Forbes Community Voice, states that a creative team can miss that their PR or marketing ideas are offensive due to their lack of diversity (King, 2019). This is the problem of many yeses leading to one big, public, “Oh, no they did not.” King recommends hiring people with diverse backgrounds and to find them by investing in programs that enhance inclusion. “This can take people out of their comfort zones and help your organization avoid a loss of respect in the marketplace,” (King, 2019). Instilling diversity programs is the duty of management, those in the position of power.
In her autobiography, Becoming, Michelle Obama describes several times in her childhood when representation would have helped her feel more confident that her dreams were achievable. Visualizing and internalizing your own success may seem simple, but it takes work and input from community. Consequently, for White House events, she made it a point to bring in school children from the surrounding public schools of D.C. and not just from the elite private schools that the White House staffers and her own kids attended (Obama, 2018). Her actions reminded me of a powerful U.S. archival photo, showing the power of inspiration from childhood experience. Below is future president William Jefferson Clinton meeting sitting president John Fitzgerald Kennedy, when Clinton was a Boys Nation senator in 1963 (“World History Project”).
Though his own presidency interrupted the recent U.S. presidential dynasty of the Bush family, Clinton did not come from a U.S. power family where political careers are expected. Clinton cites this early access to Kennedy as inspiration to dream big. These are examples from public service, but they show how vital it is to inspire those from diverse backgrounds to aspire to reach new levels . When staffing an organization keep in mind that access and representation do not happen magically. Action must be taken to build future diversity.
Diversity Don’ts & Handy DOs
Don’t skip market research. Do tap into your audience’s experiences expressed online.
Don’t keep tokens the minority. Do hire many tokens for your creative team so they have the space and support to disagree and transcend token-hood.
Don’t be lulled by your agreeable homogeneous team. Do trust a diverse team to be on the look-out for pitfalls, missed opportunities, and areas for growth.
Don’t keep access points closed off. Do inspire others through representation from diverse backgrounds.
In today’s world, social media marketing has taken on an entirely new form as result of sponsored content and influencers. Just five years ago, digital marketing and social media marketing was creating a business Facebook or Instagram page. Today, it is less about being present on those platforms but rather how many consumers, viewers, and users you can reach. Sponsored content is what maximizes this– by having Kendall Jenner post a picture holding your product, a photo that you can share with your followers as well, you’re now reaching both your consumer base and her fans and followers.
As much as sponsored content can broaden the scope of reach for a company’s marketing communications, it can negatively impact both the individual making the endorsement and the company itself. For example, Khloe Kardashian has been continuously bashed for promoting products that may not be healthy for consumers, with fans also lashing out saying that there is no way she uses the products she endorses. This is problematic for her brand because it diminishes her sense of authenticity, and is negative for the company because it brings about negative press and commentary. How far is too far? Is it worth the potential backlash that may come about a sponsored content post, or controversial partnership/endorsement with a celebrity in order to further a brand? And lastly, without sponsored content, how does one tackle the new wave of online, digital marketing communications?
There’s other ways that sponsored content has backfired and further complicated marketing communications for businesses. The Atlantic reported in an article from December of 2018 that influencers are now faking sponsored content to further their brand, forcing company’s to speak out and distance themselves in instances where they have not paid the individual to promote their products or services (Lorenz, 2018). So now, not only is there the possibility of the company’s brand and image being damaged by poorly integrated sponsored content, but business owners have to also be aware of any faked sponsor content posts. Another influencer who recently watched her “speaking-tour” meets “workshop” project unravel into a scam said that a brand sponsored the event and provided beverages; to the company’s surprise, they quickly corrected her assertion to distance themselves from the increased scrutiny and negative commentary. Sponsored content can diminish company brand’s and their reputation to be seen as disingenuous, again, posing the question of how to grapple with creating modern, engaging, and far-reaching digital marketing content to supplement a brands marketing communications.
I am not sure what the right way to approach this issue is; the influencer crowd is only growing, as are the names of products, brands, and services that are seen in Instagram posts and stories. What I do know is that both influencers, celebrities, and public figures, as well as companies and brands, need to find a more authentic middle ground to maximize the effectiveness of their collaborative advertisements.
Lorenz, Taylor. “Rising Instagram Stars Are Posting Fake Sponsored Content.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 18 Dec. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/12/influencers-are-faking-brand-deals/578401/.