WWTT? La-Z-Boy Campaign Offers Comfort and Thanks to Healthcare Workers

If you’re a bit of a YouTube watcher, or a fan of The Office, you may have heard about “Some Good News,” hosted by John Krasinski. So in that vein, here is some more excellent news, along the lines of a new La-Z-Boy campaign that combines a considerate donation with some heartfelt user-generated content.

If you’re a bit of a YouTube watcher like me, or a fan of The Office, you may have heard about “Some Good News,” hosted by John Krasinski. If not, watch through some episodes, and take joy that there is still plenty of good in the world. So, in a similar vein to SGN, here is some more excellent marketing news, along the lines of a new La-Z-Boy campaign that combines a considerate donation with some heartfelt user-generated content.

To offer some physical comfort to healthcare workers, La-Z-Boy is donating $1 million worth of furniture to frontline nurses. According to the furniture retailer’s CMO, Eli Winkler, the company is working directly with the American Nurses Association to select nurses in areas of the country most heavily impacted by COVID-19, and those individuals will be able to receive their choice of a chair, recliner, or sofa.

But the La-Z-Boy campaign doesn’t just end there. Dubbed “#OneMillionThanks,” the furniture retailer has created a microsite that encourages the public to find creative ways to thank healthcare workers — and to share those thanks on social.

#OneMillionThanks La-Z-Boy CampaignI had the opportunity to ask Winkler some questions about the La-Z-Boy campaign earlier this week, and of course my first question was about the campaign’s inspiration, and why the retailer wanted to get the public involved. Winkler responded:

“La-Z-Boy has always provided comfort to those who need it most. Frontline medical professionals have had to live without the normal comforts of home for the last while. In many cases they have had to distance themselves from their families, while also enduring an incredible amount of stress. We saw an opportunity to say ‘thanks’ in the way that we know best — by providing furniture to nurses who deserve both physical and emotional comfort.

“This is our way of showing thanks. But we wanted to create a million more ways to say ‘thank you.’ People have shown an incredible amount of creativity while at home. We wanted to harness all that creativity and generate one big “thank you” for medical professionals. A simple show of thanks goes a long way.”

Participants are encouraged to get creative with their thank yous and post to social, tagging with the hashtag #OneMillionThanks. The campaign is supported by 15 and 30 second video clips, created by creative agency RPA and supported by a digital buy.

La-Z-Boy campaign, featuring Kristen BellIt’s great that La-Z-Boy has its brand ambassador Kristen Bell participating in the project, but I feel like there’s more to this than having a Hollywood sweetheart encourage UGC.

When I look at the microsite, the impression I get (whether intentional or not) is that this campaign does more than just help healthcare workers feel good. #OneMillionThanks is also a creative exercise to help the people doing the thanking feel good, too.

Scrolling through the site, you come across myriad activity ideas to help create your thank yous, from origami heart-folding to DIY sidewalk chalk paint.

La-Z-Boy campaign ideas for showing thanksDespite the fact that these activities are geared toward creating thank yous for healthcare workers, at the end of the day they’re also great activities for individuals, couples, and families to work on while under quarantine — whether they’re creating a thank you or something else. I’m certain the DIY sidewalk chalk paint instructions will be put to use for many more projects down the road, and perhaps the origami heart folding will inspire people to look deeper into the Japanese art form as way to de-stress and be creative in general.

Practicing the act of gratitude is a great way to improve your mental health and well-being … something I’m sure we could all use a bit more of nowadays. And while the #OneMillionThanks La-Z-Boy campaign probably wasn’t aiming for this, I’m glad that by asking people to create thankful content, La-Z-Boy is helping us all be a little more creative and gracious.

Speaking of practicing the art of gratitude, one of my and favorite authors and YouTube personalities, John Green created a wonderful Vlogbrothers video about it, as well as gratitude journaling. I highly recommend giving it a watch — once you’ve finished making your own #OneMillionThanks post.

Marketers, tell me what you think about this campaign, how you’re practicing creativity and gratitude, or anything else on your mind in the comments below!

WWTT? Ad Council and Partners Remind You to #StayHome and Save Lives

It’s another week spent working from home, practicing social distancing, and doing what we can to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic. And to help spread the word, the Ad Council has teamed up with a bevy of partners to show people why they need to #StayHome in order to save lives.

It’s another week spent working from home for many of us here in the States, practicing social distancing, and doing what we can to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, as directed by guidelines from the CDC and WHO. During an interview with TODAY’s co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in:

“The real data are telling us that it is highly likely that we’re having a definite positive effect by this mitigation, things that we’re doing — this physical separation … But having said that, we better be careful that we don’t say, ‘OK, we’re doing so well we can pull back.’ We still have to put our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the mitigation and the physical separation.”

Dr. Fauci’s message is important, and comes one day after the announcement of a major initiative from the Ad Council. Known for its long history of creating public service communications in times of national crisis, the Ad Council in partnership with Google, ANA, and other leading advertising, media, and marketing associations came together to bring forth the “#StayHome. Save Lives.” movement.

#StayHome builds on the #AloneTogether PSA platform previously created by ViacomCBS, and both efforts support the importance of social distancing during the pandemic.

Google created “roof” iconography that can be added to brands’ logos, and there are myriad creative assets available in broadcast and digital video, social media, radio, print, and out of home (OOH) formats. All assets drive audiences to www.coronavirus.gov, a centralized resource from Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC that provides up-to-date information about COVID-19.The creative toolkit is full of #AloneTogether assets, which the #StayHome movement further amplifies. There are multiple asset options per channel, and honestly makes it beyond simple to jump in, spread the word, and do your part. I was really impressed by the variety of assets, as well as the additional social copy, overview documents, and more. Seriously. It’s so easy.

#StayHome #AloneTogether print marketing to combat COVID-19
Courtesy of The Ad Council

Of course, there are also some Dos and Don’ts that marketers need to commit to if they’re going to take part. From the #StayHome overview document:

DO integrate the “#StayHome. Save Lives.” message and iconography across your communication touchpoints, beginning Wednesday April 8.

DO share and support the existing #AloneTogether PSA assets in conjunction with the #StayHome hashtag and message.

DON’T use the #StayHome messaging and materials in conjunction with any commercial marketing messages, or you risk appearing opportunistic.

DON’T just post once on April 8 and stop. We hope you’ll join us in amplifying the #StayHome message that day, then continue to reinforce this important messaging in the weeks ahead.

The following is just a smattering of the 30-plus brands, agencies, and media companies made commitments to begin using the #StayHome creative assets on April 8:

  • Ally Financial
  • AMC Networks
  • Google/YouTube
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • IBM
  • OKCupid
  • Oreo
  • Postmates
  • Reddit
  • Roku
  • Twitter
  • ViacomCBS

The following trade association partners and groups also have encouraged all their members to join the #StayHome movement:

  • American Advertising Federation (AAF)
  • Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM)
  • American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As)
  • Association of National Advertisers (ANA)
  • Digital Content Next
  • International Advertising Association (IAA)
  • Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)
  • Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)
  • News Media Alliance
  • Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA)
  • PTTOW!
  • Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB)
  • Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB)
  • Video Advertising Bureau (VAB)

Commenting upon the effort, ANA CEO Bob Liodice stated:

“There is no more important message that we can deliver but to #StayHome. Save Lives. I urge all ANA members to join this effort and drive home this point to their staffs, to their consumers, to customers and, especially, to Millennials. Everyone needs to do their part to fight the spread of COVID-19 by staying at home. We’re holding hands with the Ad Council, Google and all of our sister trade associations to make a difference in our nation’s fight against this pandemic.”

Millennials have been called upon multiple times to focus on social distancing … but as many tired Millennials have pointed out in knee jerk-fashion, we’re a bit too old for Spring Break, and most of us haven’t been in the partying mood (then the finger points to Gen Z). But, as Dr. Deborah Birx explained, the Millennial generation (born 1981-1996) is good at sharing information widely, and that’s why we’re the generation to lead the cause.

Either way, this is a global pandemic that goes beyond the generational divide when it comes to sharing important info, in my opinion. We are all in this, and we all need to do our part, and I think this effort by the Ad Council and their partners is a good step forward, pairing the #StayHome movement with #AloneTogether.

Because we can do this. We have to do this. And we can do it together … while staying apart.


WWTT? Bud Light Promotes #OpenForTakeout During COVID-19

We’ve all heard about breweries and distilleries making hand sanitizer, as well as automakers producing medical equipment. But for this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” I have something a little different, but important: a campaign from Bud Light that supports the restaurant and bar industry, badly hit by COVID-19.

March 2020  which felt like it was a year long  is finally over. However, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over; many of us are staying at home under order of our local, state, or national governments, and doing the best we can personally and professionally. Through it all, it’s been uplifting to see communities come together to support each other (of course, while practicing the phrase of the year: social distancing), as well as the myriad brands stepping up and away from business as usual to also do their part.

We’ve all heard about breweries and distilleries shifting production to hand sanitizer, as well as automakers realigning their plants to produce the much needed medical equipment that healthcare workers need. These are such important stories, which have been covered a lot (as they should be). But for this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” I have something a little different, yet still important: a campaign from Bud Light in an effort to support the restaurant and bar industry, badly hit by COVID-19.

Our local restaurants and bars feed us; give us a place to come together with friends and family; and they make up so many of the important small businesses in our communities. While some have had to shutter, there are others who have managed to stay open (again, depending on local and state regulations here in the U.S.), offering takeout and delivery options. And this is where Bud Light steps in.

On Mar. 25, Bud Light debuted a new campaign, “Open for Takeout.” Powered by Bud Light, the new website encourages those establishments still open within the restaurant and bar industry to submit their info to be included on the website. The site’s focus is to help consumers across the U.S. locate spots that are #OpenForTakeout, while still practicing safe social distancing.

While money might be tough for a lot of people right now, there are those individuals who do have the spare cash for a takeout meal, which means Bud Light using their extensive reach can go a long way in extending the reach of the restaurant and bars they aim to help.

For me personally, there are at least 157 restaurants or bars within a 10-mile radius of my ZIP code, which gives me a lot of options after being cooped up all day in front of a computer and having no desire to cook (it happens from time to time).

Bud Light also is diverting some of their media spend to drive awareness of this consumer resource, offering added visibility for #OpenForTakeout, and their parent company, Anheuser-Busch has the following initiatives planned to support other COVID-19 efforts:

  • $5 million donation to the American Red Cross, as well as the donation of media air time to the Red Cross for PSAs.
  • Working alongside sports partners, Anheuser-Busch will identify available arenas and stadiums to be used for temporary blood drive centers.
  • The company’s tour centers in St. Louis, Mo. and Merrimack, NH will be made available to the Red Cross.
  • Anheuser-Busch’s supply and logistics network will produce and distribute bottles of hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer will be used at Red Cross blood donation centers, as well as in an effort to support shelters for future relief efforts.

This partnership between the macro brewer and the Red Cross is, again, just another example of brands stepping away from business as usual, and considering what they can do with the resources and talent they have to play a role in the fight against the pandemic.

As for Bud Light’s initiative, this is personal for me (and I’m sure many others). I’m fortunate to know a lot of wonderful people in Philadelphia’s vibrant food and drink scene, and it crushes me to see so many of them out of work, many fighting to obtain unemployment, uncertain of their futures, and the restaurants and bars that once employed them facing the heartbreaking question of if they’ll ever be able to open their doors again.

I hope Bud Light’s Open for Takeout campaign truly helps those in the restaurant and bar industry across the country who are still open and feeding their local communities.

And finally, in my previous post from a couple weeks ago, I looked at two well-done email messages about COVID-19 that hit my inbox. Some readers shared publicly in the comments, as well as privately in emails to me, about what they had worked on and the response received, as well as about some of the good pieces they received themselves.

Feel free to keep commenting, and send me messages about what you’ve seen and done as well. As I’ve said, now is the time for sharing good news, and celebrating the little victories.

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.

WWTT? Budweiser Shares Spooky Mugshots in ‘Drink Wiser’ Campaign

In celebration of the spooky season, Budweiser put a Halloween spin on its “Drink Wiser” campaign, enlisting the help of those who know how much it sucks to be arrested for irresponsible drinking.

Halloween isn’t just for trick-or-treaters, however it seems that many of the “treats” for adult revelers often involve bars, parties, and alcohol, and thus many of the tricks can be less than amusing … especially when drinking and driving are combined. So in celebration of the spooky season, Budweiser put a Halloween spin on its “Drink Wiser” campaign, enlisting the help of those who know how much it sucks to be arrested for irresponsible drinking.

The Drink Wiser campaign kicked off originally in 2018, taking on the topic of binge-drinking and alcohol-impaired driving. In the original effort, Budweiser promoted the importance of hydrating in-between beers, as well as planning ahead regarding safe transportation options home.

For Halloween, Budweiser continued to promote the same efforts, but with a season-appropriate twist for its social media and digital out-of-home (OOH) visuals: The macrobrewer worked with actual individuals who were arrested for irresponsible drinking during Halloween seasons of the past.

Budweiser 'Drink Wiser' Campaign
Credit: Budweiser

While these aren’t the actual mug shots of Sharyn W., Cesar O., or Ameneh K., Budweiser opted to re-imagine these three individuals in Halloween costumes that had clearly seen better days. With the tagline of “Don’t Let Halloween Haunt You Forever,” the campaign’s digital OOH ads will be present in Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia.

For the social component of the campaign, Budweiser has advised fans to follow it on Twitter, @BudweiserUSA, as well as turn on tweet notifications to receive reminders to drink responsibly and hydrate with water between beers.

According to an Anheuser-Busch (parent company of Budweiser) press release, Budweiser has been involved in cause marketing for over a century. “Budweiser Means Moderation” was the brewer’s first responsible drinking message — dating back to over a 100 years ago — and its first responsible drinking campaign “Know When to Say When” debuted over 35 years ago.

Halloween can be quite the party holiday for many, and it’s smart of Budweiser to come out ahead of it, reminding people to consume its products responsibly. The Halloween costume-themed mug shots are a great visual to use, and hopefully have people thinking twice about drinking and driving.

We see a lot of campaigns that — rightly so — show just how horrible drinking and driving can be for all involved. But I appreciate that Budweiser mixed humor and shame together to get the point across about irresponsible drinking this Halloween.

How Passion Projects and Cause Marketing Can Power Your Marketing

Cause marketing can tie passion and product together and help you connect with your target audience on an emotional level.

It’s not news that your marketing can’t be all about you. To borrow a pop culture expression, your prospects just aren’t that into you. They’re into what you can do for them.

But once they’ve established that what you can do for them will address the problem they’re trying to solve, your prospects will want to know what kind of company you are and what it’s like to work with you.

Tie Passion and Product Together

A great way to do this is to get behind a cause that ties into your business mission. One of my favorite examples of this is Honda’s support for Project Drive-In, which is an effort to save the remaining drive-in movie theaters in the country.

It’s a fun project, it’s as close to controversy-free as can be imagined, and its automative focus ties in with Honda’s business.

“Sure,” you might be saying. “Easy for Honda. Cars and drive-ins are fun and interesting. Who wouldn’t love that?” That’s a fairly common refrain from those of us in less exciting businesses, particularly in the B2B world. There is, after all, no “Project Fax Machine” to save the last beeping, whirring, thermal-paper spitting wonders of the 1980s.

So anyone marketing copiers may have a little more work to do, but consider the approach of Skody Scot & Company. It’s an accounting firm. Not too sexy, right?

‘Boring’ Industry Doesn’t Have to Mean Boring Marketing

Boring or not, Scody Scot is so passionate about its mission to help non-profits manage their financial reporting — it works exclusively with non-profits — that it provides its services free to any non-profit with annual revenues below $50,000.

Some of those firms are non-profits that are just getting started. Some will grow and eventually become clients. Others are simply small operations that will never grow — and they’ll never provide revenue.

What they do provide, though, is arguably more important: a concrete demonstration of Skody Scot & Company’s commitment to its mission of helping non-profit organizations.

Adding Cause Marketing to Your Marketing Mix

The trick for marketers is to find a cause that you and your team are passionate about, identify how it aligns with your message, and how you can support that cause. It may be a very personal approach, like that taken by Skody Scot, or a much more public effort, like Honda’s.

These kind of passion projects provide the perfect counterpoint to parts of your marketing that attract your target audience with a focus on how you can help them. By also demonstrating how deeply you believe in your work, you can deepen the emotional connection between you and your audience.

And if you really, really, really can’t find a cause to align your business with, it’s not because you’re in a “boring” industry. Chances are, you have a brand and positioning issue to solve before you can tackle you marketing questions.

Stonewall | LGBTQ+ Pride Turns 50 — And the World Comes Together

When I was judging the ANA International ECHO Awards last year, many of my judging colleagues saw this data-inspired Destination Pride campaign from PFLAG Canada.

When I came to New York in the 1980s, working as a media relations manager at the Direct Marketing Association, the city was a very different place than it is today.

New York was crawling out of bankruptcy, awash with graffiti, litter and crime, and thousands of people dying from a virus which our president barely would mention. ACT UP  AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, American Foundation for AIDS Research, God’s Love We Deliver, Housing Works  this was the new “industry” that rose up in New York (and elsewhere) to find a way to halt a crisis that was robbing the world of bright, young minds  people from all walks of life.

Straight or gay, we were all running and hiding from a virus … in advertising, in media, in fashion, in the arts, in finance, and so on. It didn’t matter who you were  it could find you, and you’d probably die. My own Stonewall was not a riot in Greenwich Village in 1969, it was joining the fight against AIDS 20 years later, and a fight for those who were afflicted, marginalized, and isolated as pariahs.

Welcome to New York From Thousands of People I Never Got to Know

One of my first experiences upon moving to New York was giving food to and hugging a homeless man outside McDonald’s on Third Avenue. He was covered with lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a manifestation of AIDS. He said, through crying eyes, that I was the first person to have touched him in two years. He was so frail, but his hug was so strong. I know he probably did not live long thereafter. I cry for him, even today, as I recall this happening. I wonder, too, about all the thousands like him, whose contributions we’ve been denied ever to know.

This fight against AIDS must continue today  a cure must be achieved. Thankfully, drug treatments have emerged to help those who have HIV infection, to become undetectable, or to prevent infection altogether, but these therapies are expensive and research toward better treatments, and a cure, must be funded. For those who become HIV+, it may no longer be a death sentence, but I’m certain it’s still no picnic. There are too many population segments living outside affordable, accessible, quality health care.

Pride and the Pursuit of Happiness

Through all this, I came to New York City because it represented a place where all of the world’s individuals could be who they are  no matter who you are and the city fosters such individualism, collectively. Stonewall, having claim to the birth of our modern gay rights’ movement, was part of this allure. Growing up in small-town America, I loved small-town values, but I could barely find myself thriving in the restrictions, expectations, and judgments that served, in my mind, to repress my own freedom-loving path and pursuit of happiness. New York would be my catalyst. In fact, New York even as a global city is, to me, a quintessentially American city where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can be very hard, but well worth the reward.

In 1994 on the 25th Anniversary of Stonewall I marched down Fifth Avenue, with people from all over the world who gathered to show our pride.

Twenty-five years on, we are prouder still. In 2019, I’m going to march again in New York  this time on the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. I march for me, liberated, yes and for all of those who live still in repression, who are denied equal access under the law, and who are hated, harmed, or ignored, simply because of whom they choose to love. World Pride is a celebration of boundless, limitless love but also a love with responsibility toward ourselves and each other. Love respects. Love is compassionate.

Plan Your Travel Accordingly: Love and Education in a Campaign

When I was judging the ANA International ECHO Awards last year an extremely rewarding experience that I’m hopeful you choose to make happen for yourself this year many of my judging colleagues saw this data-inspired Destination Pride campaign from PFLAG Canada (agency FCB/Six, Toronto):

The Association of National Advertisers just posted this updated commentary about the campaign on its own site and YouTube Channel.

This campaign earned a GOLD ECHO, among many other advertising honors. The campaign shows how technology, data and creativity came together to truly help make the world more safe, tolerant and enjoyable for everyone, providing global destinations with a LGBTQ+ friendliness score. (New York City scores a 72 with room for improvement. How is your city doing?)

I’m hopeful to see more such innovative, provocative, and engaging ECHO entries this year. Great work toward positive business and social outcomes matter.

Stonewall50 | World Pride, march on!

WWTT? Burger King’s ‘Real Meal’ Campaign Falls Flat

This week, the home of the Whopper debuted a new line of “Real Meals” with the tagline that “No One Is Happy All the Time.” Which, of course, got the attention of media outlets, with many claiming the campaign is an attempt to troll McDonald’s and its Happy Meals. But there’s a bit more to this campaign.

This week, the home of the Whopper debuted a new line of Real Meals with the tagline that “No One Is Happy All the Time.” Which, of course, got the attention of media outlets, with many claiming the Real Meal campaign is an attempt to troll McDonald’s and Happy Meals. But there’s a bit more to this campaign, and in my opinion, not all of it falls neatly into place, so let’s take a look, shall we?

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and according to a press release from Burger King, the fast food chain has partnered with Mental Health America (MHA) as it debuts the “Real Meals.” President and CEO Paul Gionfriddo of MHA is quoted on that org’s site:

“MHA is very pleased to partner with Burger King. While not everyone would think about pairing fast food and mental health, MHA believes in elevating the conversation in all communities in order to address mental illness Before Stage 4. By using its internationally known reputation to discuss the importance of mental health, Burger King is bringing much-needed awareness to this important and critical discussion — and letting its customers know that is OK to not be OK.”

Yes, it is OK to not be OK … but is Burger King really using its reputation to start and sustain a conversation about mental health? First, this partnership does not mention anything about BK making donations toward mental health advocacy groups or nonprofits. Or, really, doing anything beyond the specialty packaging, video, and social posting. Exposure of an issue is great and all, but funds to help programs to directly support those who deal with the effects of mental health issues day in and day out have a bigger effect, I’d say.

WWTT? Burger King's 'Real Meal' Campaign Falls Flat
Credit: Burger King

Or, as Eater so aptly put it: “Feed your sadness or anger with a Whopper, won’t you? Lexapro can wait.”

The Real Meal options are essentially all the same: a Whopper, fries, and a drink, but they come in one of five boxes, each with a different mood or feeling: Pissed, Yaaas, DGAF, Salty and Blue. Or, translated a little bit closer to terms used when discussing mental health and feelings: angry, elated/happy, indifferent (and/or really angry?), angry/agitated/annoyed, and sad/depressed. However, the Real Meals will only be available in five specific restaurants in five cities (that’s what all the fine print is in the image above).

Again, how does this actually raise awareness about mental health?

According to AdAge, the campaign was created by MullenLowe U.S., and includes the following music video-style short film to support the campaign, which will be aired across social media nationally. The video seems to be the bigger part of the campaign with ties to elevating the issues surrounding mental health, and overall the message is decent … until it turns into a commercial to sell you a burger (that is, if you live near one of the five places where you can buy one).


So we have a campaign running nationally for an existing product that comes specially packaged in a container marked with a “feeling,” but available at only five specific locations across the country … SMH.

The Takeout hits the nail on the head pretty well I think:

“… isn’t this just commercializing emotional vulnerability? Brands Are Not Your Friends™, so how good should I feel about BK telling me it’s okay to be furious or depressed or whatever else? Aren’t they just using my mess to sell fries?”

As for the Real Meals taking on or trolling Happy Meals … they really aren’t. One is directed at children — or at least parents — and the other is, in my opinion, a virtue-signalling attempt to sell a Whopper and targeted at adults, and probably teens — but not children.

If Burger King really wanted to make strides toward elevating the issue of mental health, they would do more than put a combo meal in a box with a cute phrase printed on it. Packaging isn’t going to help anyone in regard to supporting and treating mental illness. Nor do I think it’s a fastfood chain’s job to do so! Burger King’s job is to sell burgers … but if they’re going to act as if they’re using their platform to elevate an issue, then mental health awareness needs to be truly elevated and supported. Not turned into a marketing campaign to sell a few more burgers.

And here’s how some people on Twitter feel about the #FeelYourWay hashtag and Real Meals:

Marketers, what do you think? Is Burger King stepping up and bringing mental health issues to the forefront of the minds of its customers … or making a buck off selling Whoppers to, well, anyone in general (just with some cute packaging in this case). Let me know in the comments below!

Great Marketing Starts With Powerful Insights: Here Are 5 Rules to Find Them

All inspiring marketing rests on a powerful, catalyzing insight. Most marketing misfires stem from a miscue masquerading as an insight. As the starting point for any innovation, communication or experience effort, nothing is more foundationally critical than a sound insight for staying on-target as work progresses.

All inspiring marketing rests on a powerful, catalyzing insight. Most marketing misfires stem from a miscue masquerading as an insight. As the starting point for any innovation, communication or experience effort, nothing is more foundationally critical than a sound insight for staying on-target as work progresses.

If an insight is even two degrees off at the start, by the time you’re reviewing work weeks or months down the road, you’ll likely be miles off the mark. So getting the insight right from the outset is essential to developing resonant marketing and avoiding the agony of round after round of unproductive work.

As a recent case in point, we have two examples of brands that tried to take on the issue of the polarized, strident state of our social reality: Pepsi and Heineken.

With its Kendall Jenner ad, Pepsi showed the quasi-celebrity resolving social crisis by opening a can of cola.


In World’s Apart, Heineken showcased pairs of people with wildly divergent views discovering they could talk calmly and reasonably to each other.


The Pepsi work was instantly and universally panned, leading to its embarrassing and equally instant withdrawal. The Heineken work was widely viewed as thought-provoking, moving and appropriate.

While it’s easy to pick on a variety of issues with the Pepsi ad (as so many have done at this point), I believe that the difference in the success of the two efforts comes down to the difference between how well the two brands adhered to what I consider these cardinal rules of good insights.

1. No Room for Wishful Thinking

One of the worst — and most common — sins of insights is allowing wishful thinking to creep into the mix. I shudder to think how many times I’ve sat with a brand manager who showed me a positioning statement containing an insight along the lines of, “I wish there were a breakfast cereal that was healthy AND tasted good.” This is an insight pre-engineered to invite the circular brand promise, “Only Toasty-O’s are healthy AND good tasting!” You’ve got to tune your BS meter to 11, rigorously sniff out any trace of self-delusion, strategy or aspiration, and stick to reality.

A Bee’s Seeds, Easy as 1-2-3 for Cheerios

As you’ve probably heard, in recent years there has been an alarming decrease in bee populations worldwide. Last week, General Mills and Veseys launched a marketing campaign to #BringBacktheBees, and I’m a huge fan.

The seed packs mailed out in Cheerios's ongoing "Bring Back the Bees" campaign.
The seed packs Cheerios is using to “Bring Back the Bees.”

March is halfway through, but it’s been a long cold month so far, at least here on the East coast. (I had to rock n’ roll my car out of ice twice yesterday, the second time my dentist had to step in to help!) But, this week I saw a campaign from an internationally renowned brand that put a smile on my face, so I thought I’d throw a little light on it here to warm things up.

As you’ve probably heard, in recent years there has been an alarming decrease in bee populations worldwide. This isn’t great news for pretty much anyone, since we all rely on the crops which rely on the pollination bees provide. In a particularly topical plot twist on Doctor Who, we learned the bees were disappearing simply to find their home on another planet; assuming this isn’t the case in reality, we’re left wondering what we can do about it.

That’s where General Mills, in partnership with Vesey’s, stepped in last week, with Honey Nut Cheerios front and center of their #BringBackTheBees campaign. Making clever use of the cereal’s well-known honeybee mascot, Buzz, the brand released a line of boxes with a blank white space where Buzz should bee be.

“Where’s Buzz the Bee?” is the question posed on their https://bringbackthebees.ca/. “Buzz is missing because there’s something serious going on with the world’s bees.” On the website, you’ll find kid-friendly and beautifully designed infographs, videos, and fun facts breaking down exactly why it’s so important to help the bee population. You’ll also find the explanation of a central pillar of the effort: GM will be giving away over 100 million packets of wildflower seeds with purchases of Honey Nut Cheerios boxes. The aim is for everyone to successfully plant the seeds and create a more bee-friendly environment.

It’s a fantastic plan of action, really, appealing to even the youngest Cheerios fans. It’s often kids at the helm of Honey Nut Cheerio consumption, and kids who want to grab that free prize that comes with the cereal box. That child reads the cereal box at breakfast, grabs their seed packet, and no doubt will be excited to run outside as soon as it’s nice enough and help mom or dad plant them. And they’ve learned something about environmental conservation in the process! Maybe even taught their parents.

To add a little social twist and work the viral marketing angle as all the best marketing campaigns do, you’re also encouraged to take pictures of your seed-planting efforts and eventual results and post them to your social media channels with the hashtag #BringBackTheBees. There’s another little twist of genius here; while many social campaigns have a fairly short shelf-life, it can take quite some time to cultivate successful wildflower growth, so the use of this hashtag could conceivably stretch out for months or years.

And of course, at the heart of it all? The brand is spreading environmental awareness and education, and trying to take concrete action. You love to see that done so creatively! Now, I have come across some less positive takes on Buzz’s approach, as the blend of wildflowers included in the giveaways may not be the best options for every environment. But while huge, seemingly philanthropic marketing campaigns sometimes have less-than-altruistic intentions, even those criticizing the approach overall agree that this is a great effort and General Mills is already doing what it can for the environment.

Whether the wildflower seeds result in billions of bee-topias or just result in a few aesthetically pleasing patches or get accidentally thrown away with the cereal box, the value of the educational resources on https://bringbackthebees.ca/ and http://www.cheerios.com/weneedthebees cannot be understated, not to mention the … wait for it … buzz that a campaign like this generates around its topic. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of this sort of thing in 2017.

Hats and stingers off to you, General Mills. Cheerio!