WWTT? Planters Kills Off Mr. Peanut in Viral Marketing Effort Ahead of the Super Bowl

Mr. Peanut survived two World Wars, as well as the white-mold rot crisis of 2012, but at the age of 104 his time had come. Or maybe his death is a hoax. Either way you try to shell this nut, it’s clear that Planters has opted to invest in a viral marketing effort ahead of its Super Bowl ad debut on Feb. 2.

[Update, Jan. 27: Planters announced that following the news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26. the company would be pausing the current promotion of the death or Mr. Peanut campaign, however that ad and the “funeral” ad spot are still scheduled to air during the Super Bowl.]

Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here this day to mourn the untimely death of everyone’s favorite dapper legume, Mr. Peanut. Donning his monocle and jaunty hat in 1916, Mr. Peanut survived two World Wars, as well as the white-mold rot crisis of 2012, but at the age of 104 his time had come. Or maybe his death is a hoax, as some would believe. Either way you try to shell this nut, it’s clear that Planters has opted to invest in a viral marketing effort ahead of its Super Bowl third quarter ad appearance on Feb. 2.

On Jan. 22, Planters announced the death of its mascot via social media, which resulted in an outpouring of responses from both brands and consumers alike:

With brands like those above, as well as Toyota, Shake Shack, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Chips Ahoy, and more “mourning” the loss of the nutty icon, Planters followed up on social media with a Super Bowl teaser ad, showcasing just how Mr. Peanut met his untimely demise:

Samantha Hess, brand manager for Planters, said in a statement:

“It’s with heavy hearts that we confirm Mr. Peanut has passed away at 104 years old. He will be remembered as the legume who always brought people together for nutty adventures and a good time. We encourage fans to tune in to Mr. Peanut’s funeral during the third quarter of the Super Bowl to celebrate his life.”

I suppose turning a Super Bowl ad into a funeral for Mr. Peanut is both 1. a fairly unique use of advertising dollars; 2. one way to get people to start talking about the ad before they watch it; and 3. a good opportunity to either surprise viewers (he was never dead!) or launch a new branding initiative.

That said, while supposedly “killing off” an iconic mascot (remember, we didn’t see the body) is quite the branding switch-up, there is no question that this well-timed stunt is the epitome of viral marketing. Just take a look at this Google Trends chart for starters:

Google Trends chart showing the effectiveness of Planter's viral marketing campaign surrounding the death of Mr. Peanut

Mentions about Mr. Peanut (and thus Planters) have jumped significantly due to the viral marketing effort. A Google search for “Mr. Peanut” netted 107 million results Thursday afternoon, showing me media coverage about the anthropomorphized legume’s death from CNN, Deadline, New York Post, Sports Illustrated, AdWeek, Forbes and more.

So sure, people are talking about Mr. Peanut, but does that translate into anything more meaningful than talk? The campaign’s reach was thoroughly amplified, especially due to the #RIPeanut hashtag, but what does going viral mean for Planters?

I think Jason Aten’s article “Yes, Mr. Peanut Is Dead. But Old-School Advertising Is Even Deader” makes an important point about the viral marketing campaign. Referencing Oreo’s tweet during a power outage during Super Bowl XLVII and Arby’s hat tweet during the 2014 Grammy’s, Aten writes:

But the beauty of those tweets was that they happened in reaction to real-world events. That isn’t the case with Mr. Peanut. In fact, there’s literally nothing more manufactured than a pre-planned marketing campaign featuring a tweet announcing the death of a made-up brand character just to generate buzz for a pretend funeral for said character.

Think about the creative meeting for this: Some social media-savvy account manager pitched the idea that this tired mascot really needed to be permanently retired. And, desperate to attract the attention of salty-snack-craving Millennials, the company agreed.

Aten hits the nail on the head: While we can all laugh at the ridiculous responses from other brands to the the social media announcement of the death of a brand mascot, what purpose does this campaign really serve? Mr. Peanut is not a real person, and is this use of social media even real marketing? You tell me.

And, for anyone interested in a little conspiracy theory regarding the death of the mascot, check out this Jan. 14 Facebook post from the Mr. Peanut account … “dying to hit the road”? Talk about some foreshadowing.

Because it’s Friday and we probably could all use a giggle, I will share with you one last Twitter thread:

Pop Tarts responds to Planter's viral marketing effort regarding the death of Mr. Peanut


Earn Consumer Trust Through ‘Surprise and Delight’ in a Post-Privacy Age

Recent consumer research from Pew Research Center shows we have some work to do persuading consumers to let us use data about them for marketing. Right now, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, in consumers’ view. At least for now.

Recent consumer research from Pew Research Center shows we have some work to do persuading consumers to let us use data about them for marketing. Right now, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, in consumers’ view. At least for now.

Marketing may be an annoyance to some — but too often, it’s conflated by consumers (and privacy advocates, and some policymakers) to our detriment into real privacy abuses, like identity theft, or hypothetical or imagined outcomes, such as higher insurance or interest rates — to which clearly marketing data has no connection.

There needs to be a bright line affixed between productive economic use of data (such as for marketing) — and unacceptable uses (such as discrimination, fraud, and other ills).

As consumers feel they have lost all data control — perhaps one might describe the current state as “post-privacy” — it is doubtful the answer to consumer trust lies in more legal notices pushed to them online. Consumers also have told Pew the emerging cascade of notices are not well understood or helpful.

Consumer Trust
Image Source: Pew Research Center, 2019

When Pew explores more deeply the root of what consumers find acceptable and unacceptable, opportunities for marketers may indeed arise. For example, the study summary states:

“One aim of the data collection done by companies is for the purpose of profiling customers and potentially targeting the sale of goods and services to them, based on their traits and habits. This survey finds that 77% of Americans say they have heard or read at least a bit about how companies and other organizations use personal data to offer targeted advertisements or special deals, or to assess how risky people might be as customers. About 64% of all adults say they have seen ads or solicitations based on their personal data. And 61% of those who have seen ads based on their personal data say the ads accurately reflect their interests and characteristics at least somewhat well. (That amounts to 39% of all adults.)”

This is why regulating privacy — from self-regulation to public policy — is so challenging. A broad brush is not the right tool. We want to preserve the innovation, we want to improve consumer experiences, while giving consumers meaningful protection from data use practices that are harmful and antithetical to their interests.

An Industry Luminary Lends Her Perspective

Image: Martha Rogers, Ph.D. (LinkedIn)

Martha Rogers, Ph.D., who co-authored the seminal book “The One to One Future”with Don Peppers in 1993, helped to usher in the customer relationship management (CRM) movement. Today, CRM  often manifests itself in brands seeking to map customer journeys and to devise better customer experiences, and a lot of business investment in data and technology.

Reflecting on privacy last month in New York, Rogers said, “The truth of the matter is, we always judge ourselves by our intentions. Yet we judge others by their actual actions. The problem is that everyone is doing the same thing with us [as marketers].”

How much of that business spending resonates with consumers? “When 400 chief executive officers were asked if their companies provided superior customer experiences, 80 — that’s eight-zero — percent said ‘yes.’ Yet only 8% of customers said that companies were providing superior customer experience. Customers also judge us by our actions, not by our intentions.”

Rogers told two “surprise and delight” stories that illustrate how powerful smart data collection, analysis, and application can be.

“We need customer data to get the job done. A regular Ritz-Carlton customer I know once asked hotel staff for a hyper-allergenic pillow for his room. Now when he goes to a Ritz-Carlton, he always has a hyper-allergenic pillow in his room. He told me he just loved how the Ritz-Carlton had changed over all its pillows to hyper-allergenic ones.”  Rogers said she didn’t have the heart to tell him it was just his room — and the hotel simply had recorded, honored, and anticipated his preference.

Another story came from insurer USAA. Upon returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, USAA sent a refund on auto insurance premiums in the form of a live check and a letter. The letter thanked the soldiers for their service, and reasoned that a car must not have been used much or at all, while a soldier was overseas — hence, the refund. “Do you know 2500 of these checks were returned by customers, uncashed?” Rogers reported, noting that many of these military families have limited means. “Wow, stay strong … keep your money — some of the policy holders said to the company. How do you compete in that category if you’re another insurance company?”

These two cases both show smart data collectoin — applied — builds customer trust and loyalty, no matter what their feelings may be about privacy, in general.

“There are three reasons why we care about privacy,” Rogers said. “One is because there are criminals out there. We don’t want to give data to the robbers or the hackers. Second is because some of us do have secrets — and I’m not naming any names. And we don’t want people knowing every blessed thing about us. And the third reason that we just want our privacy is because [our lives] can be embarrassing.”

Consumer Trust Is Like a Pencil Eraser

“Privacy in an interconnected world is a pipe dream, an oxymoron,” she continued. “Still, we have to access and use customer data to give those great customer experiences. So what happens now? We have to do things [with data] that are good for customers, and not for ourselves [as marketing organizations]. Regulations and laws are really just a floor.”

“If you want to be truly trust-able, it’s about doing things right. One lie can ruin a thousand truths,” she said. “Trust is sort of like the eraser on a pencil. It gets smaller and smaller with each mistake we make. So we have to be careful. Do things right. Do the right thing. Be proactive.”

“No matter how fantastic technology is, it can’t top that trust,” she said.

How many Ritz-Carltons and USAAs — surprise and delight — does it take to undo a Cambridge Analytica or an Equifax? I’m actually optimistic on this. Because better customer experiences, brand relevance, and resonance through data insights will continue to win. We just have to prove it, to the customer, millions of times, one by one, every day — in the very important data-driven marketing work we do.


How Social Causes Can Become Part of Your Brand

Social causes can be aligned with your brand’s mission, positioning, and messaging. Some of the greatest brands have connected with causes that promote positive social change.

Brands have a unique role to play in our lives. From being superficial choices that express our style and sensibility to reflecting deeper preferences and loyalties that go beyond reason, brands occupy a space that can be personal and social. Large swaths of people can rally around a brand, and everyone has a personal origin story about the brands they love and hold dear in their hearts.

Brands are also global, and cross media and language barriers to knit into the daily threads of our life. Moreso than government agencies or public service programs, brands have an opportunity to change attitudes and behavior that can be meaningful and long-lasting.

Of course, brands exist as businesses to earn profits, but we all know that we human beings are emotional and social creatures, and we naturally seek out ways to belong and identify — even with the products we buy.

In the 21st century, we can buy pretty much anything we can afford. We can get great coffee, nice clothes, watches, good food, etc., and we rarely have to worry about the quality and effectiveness of things we buy.

So what is that added ingredient to influence our choices? It’s that magic stuff of brands that help us show and tell others – and ourselves — who we are, who we’re not, and how we want to present.

As brands continue to understand this, and a massive generational wave approaches the planet, I’m seeing more evidence that brands are moving more intentionally than ever to connect with the deepest belief systems we hold.

More than how we look and what we present, brands are opening ways that help each of us show and tell others – and ourselves – what we believe.

Should you align with a social cause? What is the risk? What is the reward? Why would it make sense for your business and your brand? These are questions only you can answer, but here are some examples of brands who have strongly and boldly connected themselves to a cause that aligns with their business and their brand.

Starbucks “All You Need Is Love” — Possibility of Peace in Our Time

This was a very simple concept from 2009. How do you get as many people representing as many countries as possible to sing the same song at one time?

Starbucks had yet to achieve the global reach they have now, but they were able to capture an idea and implement something beautiful. At a single moment, they recorded folks from around the world to sing “All You Need Is Love.” Proceeds of Starbucks drinks went to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is also a major source supplier of their coffee products.

This isn’t really controversial — who doesn’t want more love? But it shows singers from Rwanda, Israel, and other countries where there has been an overcast of violence, shining a light on the idea that there is more that brings us together than pulls us apart.

Dove “Campaign For Real Beauty” and Always “Like a Girl” — Promoting women’s & girls confidence

For over a decade the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty has been promoting a mission to help more women feel beautiful every day, and a message that asks all of us to reflect on “What is Beauty?”

Through numerous, thoughtful, and compelling ads, they have struck right at the heart of beauty standards, how we see ourselves, and what we want to show our young girls. They’ve been consistently, brilliantly, fighting for a cause that’s worthwhile and global in nature.

Here’s one from this year that’s amazing. There are tons more. Visit the Dove YouTube Channel and bring your tissues.


And, I’d argue that Always followed in the wake of Dove’s approach with their newer ads promoting “Always Like a Girl’ campaign to lift girls’ confidence. These ads ring true to the product, business, and brand, and push a social change that’s positive and uncontroversial. Who doesn’t want girls to be more confident and grow to be more confident women?

Lush — Organically-made self-care products with no animal testing

When you walk into a Lush store, it looks like a farmer’s market. The soaps and bombs look and smell yummy enough to eat…and they are! You can eat them! Because they’re made with natural and organic ingredients, the business is able to authentically promote a movement of pro-eco friendly.

And, since they never test on animals, they also promote animal welfare causes, too. The alignment of the business model and the cause is perfect, and reflected in the branding, typography, and in-store experience. The employees absolutely walk the talk, and believe in the company and the social causes they promote.

See some employees talk about their fresh handmade cosmetics:

I would argue that any business can find a cause that makes sense for their model and brand. The question is if the leadership in your brand is compelled to make a stand for that cause, and how the cause knits into the culture and overall position and messaging.

What about you and your business? Is there a cause you believe in? Does the cause make sense? Can it become something that makes your brand stronger?

I’d argue that Starbucks, Dove, Always, and Lush are extremely strong brands, and are made even stronger with their alignment of social causes. Of course, I’d enjoy your feedback.

3 Ad Campaigns That Resonated With the Gen Z Audience

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations.

Gen Z is completely shifting the way advertisers work. The long-held mindset of heritage, comfort, and familiarity is being upset by this up-and-coming generation of digital natives. Gen Z approaches the world differently than previous generations, and their way of thinking is coming to the forefront of today’s society. Their passion for social justice, demand for authenticity, and short attention spans have forced brands that target Gen Z consumers to shift their advertising strategies accordingly.

Today, brands are starting to get better at picking up on what Gen Z values and learning to adapt. From a company structure perspective, this can mean implementing more corporate social responsibility initiatives; while in advertising and marketing, this can mean deploying messages, media, and strategies designed to resonate with Gen Z consumers. There are a number of one-off ad campaigns that have redefined success with this generation, as well as continuous campaigns and brand behaviors that are molding and shaping the way marketers and advertisers target this audience.

Here are examples of three very different ad campaigns that have resonated with Gen Z in unique ways, and how they did it.

Aerie ‘Real’ Campaign

Historically, clothing brands have promoted themselves with bombshell supermodels who possess unattainable beauty. It may seem simple, but Gen Z is challenging that paradigm by calling for and responding to ad campaigns that feature “normal” people, and by rejecting impossible beauty standards.

In the early ’00s, brands began receiving backlash for digitally enhancing the faces and figures of their models in noticeable ways and removing anything that might be seen as an imperfection. Once it became clear that this imagery was harmful to the development of young girls’ self-esteem and confidence, American Eagle’s intimates brand Aerie decided to connect with its target consumer, Gen Z, with a different approach — body positivity.

In 2014, Aerie’s “Real” campaign was born. American Eagle started by announcing that it would not only cease the use of supermodels, but would also refrain from digital retouching. That campaign received a flurry of attention as the first-of-its-kind and was a big success. Since then, Aerie has continued to expand the parameters by which it chooses lingerie models. Campaigns have included women with curves, cellulite, small chests, large chests, disabilities, medical illnesses, stretch marks, body hair, and more. Furthermore, the “Real” campaign has expanded by including Aerie consumers. The brand encourages people to feel positive, confident, and comfortable in their own bodies and show it off by joining in with the hashtag #AerieReal on social media.

Not only has this approach helped Aerie stand out in the market and build a positive reputation with Gen Z, but it’s also increased sales year-over-year, with a 38% increase in Q1 of 2018, alone. Overall, the “Real” campaign enabled Aerie to earn credibility in authenticity, diversity, inclusion, and body positivity spaces. Aerie was also ahead of the curve, and many brands are now embracing body positivity and inclusion in their own branding.


Casper is a new age mattress company that has completely shaken up its sector. A traditionally brick and mortar industry, Casper took a direct-to-consumer approach to mattresses that appeals to a younger-skewing audience. Casper has succeeded with this business model by incorporating selling factors that are important to Gen Zers.

Before Casper, the idea of getting a bed-in-a-box was unheard of and viewed as impractical. Casper, however, had a deep understanding of its target audience and realized a DTC approach could be effective, if the brand positioned itself as a master in the mattress space. To that end, Casper deployed a robust content marketing campaign. The company leveraged social media and retargeting to garner attention and create brand awareness. Once its audience was engaged, Casper established itself as the expert in the space, using product comparisons, customer reviews, and influencer marketing to move the consumer down the funnel toward purchasing a mattress they had never even touched before.

In addition, Casper invested in building a sense of community around its brand. Campaigns like Staycation Story Hacks, unboxing videos, “Waffle Crush Wednesdays,” and the publication Winkle were all geared toward giving consumers many different ways to engage and interact with the brand, and with fellow brand customers. Together, Casper’s marketing efforts have brought in upward of 100,000 video views; 2,000 to 10,000 likes per post; and increased its valuation to $1.1 billion, in just five years.


Revolve, an e-commerce clothing brand geared toward Gen Z, has targeted and engaged these consumers, not with traditional advertising campaigns (like Aerie), but by putting its marketing dollars toward a large group of Instagram influencers — 3,500 of the most successful fashion influencers Instagram has to offer.

When influencer marketing really began to take off, Revolve saw an opportunity to grow its relatively new brand and build buzz. The company established an ongoing relationship with Instagram’s most popular fashion influencers, including Kendall Jenner, and began throwing #RevolveAroundtheWorld events in popular destinations, including Palm Springs, Turks and Caicos, and the ever-important Coachella — a super hub for influencers and Gen Zers, alike.

These lavish trips and events are invite-only and create a space where influencers can come together and do what they do best — advertise Revolve’s products by modeling the clothing and publicizing them all over their Instagram accounts. An event exclusively filled with popular Instagrammers effectively gets the brand name out there and capitalizes on the “wish you were here” mindset that Instagram seeds in its users. Consumers have their attention grabbed by the glamorous photos and then may feel inspired to buy the trendy clothing they see. They both relate to and aspire to be like their favorite influencers. Clearly, this approach is working, as Revolve was recently valued at $1.2 billion.

Final Thoughts on Gen Z Ad Campaigns

In today’s world, it is vital that brands— old and new, alike — continue to evolve in the ever-changing advertising landscape. Brands that target Gen Z have to shape their marketing and advertising strategies to convey authenticity, relatability, consistent engagement, and progressive social values. American Eagle’s Aerie, Casper, and Revolve have each taken a highly distinct and unique approach, and each has succeeded in its own way. There are lessons to be learned from their similarities, and their differences. There are many ways to craft campaigns that resonate with Gen Z, but they won’t look like campaigns of the past.

The Danger of a Single Story for Marketers in the Age of Storytelling

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers. Instead of coming up with those clever ads we once used to live to create, or live POS promotions when people actually went to stores, we now live, breathe, and exist pretty much to write and share stories.

Facebook stories drive SEO and build our network, so we can troll for new business. Instagram tells our stories visually and helps our brands come alive. Linkedin allows us to tell our business stories to peers and prospects in a “news” orientation.

Our websites, white papers, and content marketing are written just like classic novelettes. A teaser to create intrigue, a climax that builds with all of the reasons a customer needs us and needs us now, and a conclusion for how customers can get what they need from us. For a price.

Brands that win the most likes, posts, shares, retweets and resulting web traffic, live traffic and ultimately sales  are those same brands that know how to tell the best stories. Stories about our founders, our values, our products, our mission, and how customers can be part of our tribe. Patagonia is a master storyteller. Its catalogues read like diaries in the life of a customer who is living the life we’d like to live: canoes over white water to school, rock climbs at 80 years old, treks in Asia with sherpas, and more. In fact, its stories have been so well-received Patagonia’s published several books with content from its catalogues which you can buy on Amazon. True story!

Most reading this post likely have mastered the art and science of crafting solid brand stories and sharing them across all of the diverse communications channels we use today. So let’s shift perspective for a moment and look at storytelling another way.

What Are the Stories of Your Customers?

We invest enormous energy into CRM programs and systems that tell us about customer transactions, anniversary dates, revenue spend, demographics, and so on. This information helps us form “mass personalization,” as we lump them into categories of like customers and try to make them feel singularly special. They’ve caught on. Personalization at this level does little for sales and loyalty these days. Largely because we are telling a Single Story and trying to make it fit many diverse people.

My amazing daughters introduced me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author famous for her TED Talk on “The Dangers of a Single Story.”

She points out just how much people within all societies look at others, issues, the world from the lense of a single story, instead of multiple stories that, when combined, present a more accurate story of a person, a population, an issue, culture, a brand, and a customer. She discusses what it was like to go from Nigeria to school in the U.S. and how she was put into a story that others believed, as it was the only one they knew

You are from Africa. You must be poor, hungry, uneducated, and so much more.

Marketers are so often guilty of listening to and acting upon a single story when it comes to our customers. Women in a given demographic all shop alike, want the same products, have the same values. Men from coastal cities like purses, men from middle America do not. We craft our customer profiles around these stories and build messaging, content workflows, and experiences, accordingly. And it works, to a limited degree.

But what if we went a little deeper in researching our customers, so we could really tell amazing stories about them or to them that really struck at their heart and soul?

What if we asked them for their stories? Not testimonials about how wonderful we are; but instead, stories about them? How they feel about the world in which we live? Their communities? What inspires and moves them in life? How they like to spend their free time? Their favorite jobs, hobbies, and so on?

If we could create customer profiles that go deeper than transactions captured in our CRM systems, we would see our customers from many different perspectives. We would know what moves them to do what they do, choose what they do, and how we might be able to be part of a more meaningful story than just what they value enough to buy. In other words, a story about their life.


Slow down for a moment and listen to your customers speak about anything BUT your product. Discover those fascinating stories that make customers more than statistics. Move away from the “Danger of a Single Story” about customer groups you manage and sell to. As you do, you could just compete with Patagonia someday for the top-selling book on loyal customers!

How to Be a Better Brand Spokesperson Than Mark Zuckerberg

Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good brand spokesperson?

Recently, during a live stream of Facebook’s weekly internal Q&A meeting, Mark Zuckerberg shared, “I do such a bad job at interviews.” When the CEO of a company with a market cap of over $500 billion admits that he does a poor job at press interviews, it makes you wonder: What makes for a good interview?

For starters, the quality of an interview should be judged from both the perspective of the interview subject (and their company) as well as the reporter (and their publication). I’ve worked with dozens of spokespeople over the years and have facilitated good, bad and, quite frankly, ugly interviews.

The likelihood of a good interview increases greatly if you identify spokespeople with certain innate qualities. Good interviews are also the result of proper preparation and training.

4 Requirements of Good Brand Spokespeople

Whether a company is big or small, there should be an arsenal of spokespeople to cover a variety of topics that will boost the corporate reputation. The best place to begin selecting your spokespeople is with these four requirements: interest, availability, knowledge, and title.


If a spokesperson isn’t interested in participating in interviews or doesn’t see the value, then guess what? They won’t be good at them. Public relations teams should educate their spokespeople on PR goals and share examples and results, especially over time, to maintain interest.


In the digital and social media age, the news cycle is rapid. If a spokesperson can’t respond within minutes or hours, they will miss out on opportunities.

Don’t assume travel means a spokesperson isn’t available. I’ve worked with colleagues who are road warriors, but make the time for interviews from airports, hotels, and cars. I’ve even done chat and email interviews with spokespeople who are in-flight.


An interview is an opportunity to share knowledge specific to a story topic. If a spokesperson doesn’t know what they’re talking about, they make themselves and their company look bad. A brand spokesperson should be a subject matter expert and, in partnership with the PR team, the interviewee should do additional research ahead of time.


Not all brand spokespeople are created equal in the eyes of the press. Certain roles and titles garner more media interest than others. More often than not, reporters prefer the opportunity to speak to a CEO or other member of the C-suite. It’s very difficult to get a reporter excited about speaking to a sales leader.

Going From Good to Great

Now that you’ve got someone who is a willing participant and knows what they’re talking about, there are a number of other factors that will make for an engaging and valuable interview, for both the company and the publication.

Unique and Timely POV

Contrarian and provocative points of view make for more interesting stories and help reporters provide a balance of ideas. A brand interviewee should be able to speak to relevant and timely matters, and provide perspective on what’s to come.


A good brand spokesperson, much like a good politician, is likeable, genuine, and sincere. When Mark Zuckerberg sat down with CNN in March 2018, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, he was robotic and dodged a lot of the issues, as noted by the BBC.


Interviews can last a few minutes or hours. However, that doesn’t mean a brand spokesperson should ramble. It’s important to be clear and concise. The best spokespeople repeat their key points and pause periodically to allow reporters to ask follow-up questions. Training and preparation provide an opportunity to pinpoint key messages and practice concise delivery.

Good Judgment

Even with extensive preparation and a public relations representative facilitating an interview, there’s onus on the brand spokesperson to exercise good judgment when asked a tough question, or in general. Elon Musk’s erratic behavior in interviews and with the media makes him a liability, not an asset, when it comes to interviews.

Open to Feedback

There’s always room for improvement, when it comes to interviews. Feedback, during the pre-interview prep work and post-interview, is critically important for a successful partnership between the brand spokesperson and the PR team.


Journalism has transformed in the last two decades. Many publications have shifted to digital platforms, while numerous publications have folded. Reporter deadlines are tight and workdays are long. Spokespeople who can empathize with the position a reporter is in will be better interview subjects.

To help my spokespeople understand the reporters they speak with, I’ve not only focused on general media training (i.e. message development, interview tactics) but have also shared “a day in the life” of a reporter.

Ready for Prime Time

Rarely, will you find a brand spokesperson who has all of the skills and characteristics outlined above. However, with the right partnership between PR and spokespeople, companies can be well-represented in press interviews and can forge relationships that will help tell their story and improve their reputation.

The Data-Inspired Big Idea: Why That Matters in the Ad Business

We are amid an age where consumers are royalty — and it’s the brands that serve them. Yes, data science is required to uncover insights and inform the creative strategy, for both prospecting and retention. But that big idea still lies in the creative execution.

I just got schooled this past week at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, along with 3,000-plus industry colleagues.

You see, I’m a data- and direct marketing- junkie. Advertising is worthless if it’s not accountable and measurable (check and check). As I was reminded repeatedly this week it also must be memorable (not always checked).

What does this mean? That in today’s always-on but distracted consumer marketplace, the ad message must tell a story. It needs compelling creative, a message that resonates, and a big idea that’s transparent and authentic and unique to a brand.

We are amid an age where consumers are royalty and it’s the brands that serve them. Yes, in the customer experience mix, data plays a pivotal role. Yes, data science is required to uncover insights and inform the creative strategy, for both prospecting and retention. But that big idea still lies in the creative execution that’s the clincher. If it doesn’t hook, then it’s not going to stick.

Brand-Building Requires Purpose and Perspective

Consider some of these executions showcased at the conference, and look for how the brand creates an emotional connection:

Disney | The Little Duck

Target | Design for All

Chipotle | Bee For Real

Ally | Banksgiving

Dunkin | Fuel Your Destiny


The Data Play in ‘Brand Crave’

Then ask yourself, what role does data play in these brand stories?

At the conference, there were plenty of CMOs discussing first-party data, customer journey mapping, personas, net promoter scores, operational data, transactional data, and sentiment scoring among other metrics and inputs. Even second- and third-party data were mentioned (albeit briefly here) about how to expand reach, discover new customers, and deepen understanding with existing customers. These data points also inform the creative brief, as well as shape the media strategy.

Researchers still report that consumers still base many of their buying decisions on impulse, and on emotion. According to Kirk Perry, president of global client and agency solutions at Google, as much as 70% of advertising success depends on creative; and Kai Wright, lecturer at Columbia University, reported on how emotion weighs into consumer consideration and purchase behavior (see Image 1).

Image 1:  Emotion & Experiential Data Motivate Consumer Behavior, Perhaps More Than Audience Data

Data-Inspired big idea image
Credit: Kai Wright, Columbia University, ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, 2019.

SAP CMO Alicia Tillman reports that humans experience (and act upon) 27 emotions (Image 2). “Any one can make or break a brand or category.”

Image 2: Lots of Sentiment Scoring

Data-Inspired big idea sentiment scoring
Credit: Alicia Tillman, SAP, at ANA Masters of Marketing Conference, 2019

“Nobody can differentiate on data! It’s data-inspired storytelling that is going to win the future,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe.

We are great at curating audience data. For a next-generation data ecosystem, what are we doing to help create more effective marketing through finding innovative ways to score emotion, at-scale?  What are we doing to include these consumer motivators in our business rules, algorithms and to help enhance creative prowess in authentic ways? You solve for these opportunities and there are many brand leaders and CMOs likely ready to talk to you.

It’s time to help brands tell their data-inspired stories.


2 Steps to Making Brand Transformations Stick

Brand transformations are like our own transformations — we shine a light on our salient qualities and then amplify that for everyone to see. Brands can make sure that as they transform, their strengths and most positive qualities are continually revealed.

My wife and I are big fans of the new “Queer Eye” on Netflix. We’re into the second season, and the guests have been a splendid variety of people from Atlanta and Kansas City. From an older, single, heavily-whiskered straight gentleman to a young, single gay woman redefining her space, all the people featured fit into the paradigm of a great story.

Like I wrote about in “5 Aspects of Storytelling,” the essential element of a story is a hero who faces a villain, meets a mentor, and then transforms. In each of the Queer Eye episodes, the Hero (the guest), has an internal villain. There’s a block or a weight that prevents the guest from moving on to the best version of themselves. Then through discovery, love, compassion, and talent, the Mentor (“Fab Five”) help to pull the person out of his/her funk through a Journey, and arrive at a visibly better transformation. It sure seems authentic to me, and the follow-up articles online seem to reinforce that the transformations seem to stick.

It’s a remarkable show about a fundamental, and beautiful, part of our human nature: an innate ability to transform.

We — all of us, at our core — want to transform to a better version of ourselves. Every healthy person I’ve ever known wants to get better. We often don’t know the path forward, are perhaps too scared to make a first step, or are possibly afraid of failing to transform. We frequently get in our own way.

Yet the keys to personal transformation — as evidenced in Queer Eye — is calling upon the best part of our nature. Each person’s backstory — and their struggle point — is revealed through the discussions s/he has with the mentors of Queer Eye.

And what is also revealed is his or her salient positive quality. Whether it’s kindness, tenacity, devotion, it’s there. Everyone has one. What the Fab Five do is artfully amplify that positive quality to push the transformation powerfully forward. At the end of the show, the person’s transformation — driven from their salient positive quality — is visible to their cohort, family, and friends.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe brands are like people. They have the same traits — personality, trust, a purpose — and are subject to analogous journeys. And one necessary journey that a brand will go through is transformation.

Since an Immutable Law of The Universe is that everything changes, brands need to adapt. Yet just like people, they need to adapt while remaining true to their core traits. So when a brand goes through a transformation, look at two simple steps that Queer Eye teaches us about personal transformation: Shine a light on Your Salient Trait … then Amplify.

Step 1: Shine a Light on Your Salient Trait

Brands like Coca-Cola have the challenging job of remaining relevant in a world that recognizes that Coke isn’t healthy. We all know it’s not physiologically good for you to drink it. It has syrup, carbonation, and a degree of unnatural chemistry. There isn’t a single medical professional today who would recommend that you exclusively drink Coca-Cola instead of water.

Coca-Cola has had to continually transform its brand to stay relevant. It does this by continually revealing its salient quality: people feel happier when they drink it. It’s fun. It tastes yummy and bubbly. It’s a pleasure and a treat. Coca-Cola’s purpose is not to make you healthier … it’s to make you happier.

If you search “Coca Cola Happiness” on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of consistent, focused ads that speak to what they’re about. This is an older one, but one of my favorites, and it’s all about Coca-Cola’s salient trait:

Step 2: Amplify

Every brand has something they do well. And if you’re transforming your brand, you need to make sure that everyone knows the transformation is real and authentic. Everyone you know who has made a real, deep, lasting positive change in his or her life proudly communicates that change one way or another.

Brands need to do the same thing when they transform. The best ones continually remind the market — and their audience — of who they are, what they do well, and why they should be remembered. They simply don’t let up.

Southwest Airlines does a brilliant job of amplification. While they had a run marketing low fares — which is helpful to most travelers — Southwest’s salient trait is that they treat everyone just like folks.

Their positioning and messaging reinforces that their brand is not about a luxurious, special, stylish airline travel experience. It’s about folks getting other folks to places to meet folks. Just us and everyone.

Check out their ads. New digital ads show their employees in travel destinations. The walkways to the plane show photos of real, happy Southwest employees, with their names, who welcome you on the plane.

YouTube commercials that are focused on the trips we all take, and why we take them, are consistent with this. They continue to transform — some might say evolve or refine — their brand and continue to amplify their salient trait.

If your brand is going through a transformation — and I’d argue that it should be continuously transforming — remind yourselves what your brand’s salient trait is, and make sure you’re amplifying it. If you do, you’ll make your audience believers. As always, I welcome your comments.

Why a Brand Not Responding Is Sometimes the Best Response

I recently engaged in a thoughtful Twitter debate (no, this is not an oxymoron) with industry peers over my belief that non-response can be a valuable PR and reputation management strategy. Silence may not be well-received by everyone; especially reporters, who expect that PR representatives will be responsive and helpful.

I’ve written about the importance of transparency — by brands, when it comes to owning up to their mistakes; and by companies, as they consider privacy and security. And I do believe that transparency, openness, and honesty are the best policies, most of the time. But there’s still a place for what I call “strategic silence.”

I recently engaged in a thoughtful Twitter debate (no, this is not an oxymoron) with industry peers over my belief that non-response can be a valuable PR and reputation management strategy. Silence may not be well-received by everyone; especially reporters, who expect that PR representatives will be responsive and helpful. However, a public relations response requires weighing the needs of your business, leaders, clients, and other stakeholders.

Choosing not to respond comes with the understanding that you are leaving the media to interpret and speculate. You also run the risk of damaging your relationship with a reporter and publication.

Somewhere between non-response and response lies “no comment.” Formally telling a reporter that you can’t comment acknowledges the inquiry, but also protects your interests. There are instances, which I will highlight shortly, when saying “no comment” is better than not providing a comment.

Still, there are circumstances where not responding is the best response.

Times to Be Tight-Lipped

Legal & Regulatory

Legal matters are an obvious example of situations where the needs of the business outweigh media relations goals. When I led communications at a company that was impacted by a data breach, we could not speak on the record to anyone about the incident and investigation, beyond a very brief public statement. I received hundreds of calls — some from reporters I had deep relationships with for years. The value of these relationships didn’t trump the legal and regulatory risks of commenting.

Sheer Volume

Even if I were able to comment on the breach, I simply wouldn’t have been able to respond to the sheer volume of inquiries I received, including some from publications I had never heard of. When a company draws the attention of hundreds of reporters in a short timeframe, PR teams must prioritize publications. Unfortunately, many reporters end up with the silent treatment.


Publicly traded companies, subject to Reg FD, face legal ramifications if they prematurely disclose material information. So they must operate in an environment of extreme caution when it comes to public relations activity. Furthermore, for public as well as privately-held companies, transactions such as mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures cannot be discussed until the appropriate time. Speaking to reporters, on or off the record, when a company is facing a deal is risky, not to mention potentially illegal.

Personnel Matters

Leadership departures and reorganizations, especially at large companies, draw rumors and speculation, which can lead to media attention. Speaking to the media about executive exits sets a dangerous precedent. When leaders are leaving on good terms, you may think it’s beneficial to discuss the circumstances. However, when you’re faced with a #MeToo scandal, you will not want to have set a precedent of discussing departures. To protect corporate reputation, I’ve always advised my clients and executives to maintain a standard policy of not commenting on personnel matters, beyond simply confirming a departure.

Final Thoughts

Be comfortable with your response strategy and your limitations. You can be committed to transparency and have clearly defined exceptions. Make sure leaders are on board with your strategy of silence.

Build out a publication and/or reporter prioritization that clearly outlines your most important media relationships. If your top priorities would benefit from a brief explanation as to why you’re unable to discuss a matter or would appreciate a more formal “no comment” response, try to engage with them accordingly.

Lastly, assess over time if your response, or lack of response, strategy is working or not. See what other companies, especially ones that you respect and aspire to be like, are doing when they’re facing challenging circumstances.

You can’t unsay something, but you can decide to share more in the future.

A Higher Brand Purpose Brings in Customers, Profits

When we act like consumers and contemplate a higher brand purpose, we most often think about the importance of corporate social responsibility, and look for postings about how the brand supports the environment, employee rights, community causes, and the like.

When we act like consumers and contemplate a higher brand purpose, we most often think about the importance of corporate social responsibility, and look for postings about how the brand supports the environment, employee rights, community causes, and the like.

However, there is another form of purpose that we don’t really talk about much. The kind of purpose that can’t be measured by donations to charities, the number of free items given away, or employee volunteer hours. It’s the kind of purpose that changes our lives in little ways. Like what we learn in “A Dog’s Purpose,” which is the narrative of a dog who was valuable in the lives of all those he touched in all of the many lives he led.

In this popular story as a book and movie, we learn the purpose of a dog’s life is to teach his and her humans that life is about fun, helping and saving others, focusing on the present vs. regrets, living for today with someone who loves you back. If we define purpose for brands accordingly, that would mean a brand’s purpose is about sharing happiness; helping others live their best, most joyful lives; and being present.

So if your brand looks at purpose from the life values you share, teach, and nurture, what would those be?

We remember how brands make us feel — about a transaction, a product or service, about ourselves — more than we remember how many donations a brand has made to serve the needy. If we define a brand from its ability to help one achieve happiness, we have to take a look at how we define happiness. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychology professor at NYU, researched this question and came up with “The Happiness Hypothesis,” a book he wrote that suggests the following values are what we seek to find that ethereal “happy place.”

Elements of happiness include:

  • Nurturing others
  • Making a difference in the world
  • Fairness and justice
  • Associating with others who have like values

Brands that deliver on these values create happy customers in ways that go further than the product or service sold. The above values are aligned with something far greater than products. Self-actualization, which Maslow defined in his hierarchy of needs in 1943 in his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” According to Maslow, “Self-actualization is “achieving one’s full potential, including creative abilities.” This is the apex of life’s journey — reaching the goals you set and realizing the dreams that keep you awake. However, brands can achieve “happy” customers — happy being happy people vs. just customers happy with transactions — by fulfilling the other steps of Maslow’s hierarchy, which are:

Step 1: Physiological needs — clothing, food, water, shelter, sleep

Step 2: Safety and Security — Health, employment, property, family and social stability

Step 3: Love and Belonging — Friendship, family, intimacy, sense of connection,

Step 4: Self-Esteem — Confidence, achievement, respect of others, becoming an unique individual

Step 5: As defined earlier

Many products are designed to achieve the basic needs listed in Steps 1 and 2 in ways that others do not. Luxury, prestigious, delicious, and other attributes go beyond basic human necessity. And many others fulfill our need for Love and Belonging, and Self-Esteem, or at least by making us think they do. The way a brand fulfills these steps influences our purchasing choice, our public opinions; a brands’ reputation, Net Promoter Scores, and so on.

Defining a brand’s purpose by the above, and not just the Corporate Social Responsibility purpose aligned with your mission, is key to defining the ways you deliver happiness. And there are many ways you can do this.

  • Coke defined happiness with its Open Happiness campaign that was one of the brand’s most visible and talked about, debuting in 2009.
  • Apple defines happiness with imagery that shows happy people, in happy places, being simply happy!
  • And Target holds First Place on the Forbes list of happy brands because of its upbeat, energetic atmosphere with fun, trendy products that make us feel fun and current.


The key to success today, and elevating your brand to a higher level, is to define your brand’s “life” purpose in ways that are realistic, meaningful, and actionable for your customers.

As you continue to look at your brand’s purpose and build marketing and customer programs around it, think beyond what your brand actually does for the world and your communities, and ponder more about what your brand does to help people find their higher purpose.

  • How do you further self-esteem?
  • How do you further one’s ability to nurture and help others?
  • How do you help people be the difference they want to be in this world?

Aligning with life’s higher purposes, not just happy transactions for customers, sets brands apart in ways that take price, selection, and even convenience out of the equation.