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!

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.


The Silent Killers for Brands Aren’t What Marketers Expect

What marketers expect is that we marketers must address human emotion when building out a customer experience. How we address these emotions can make the difference between brands that survive chaotic times and those that do not.

As much as we like hitting the snooze button when those wake-up calls come in “the morning after,” the results can often turn the best dreams into nightmares.

Recall the day after the 2016 presidential election, when thousands took to the streets, protesting and chanting “Not My President”? One of the many insights that came out of those protests was the fact that many of those protesting had not even voted. They, like countless other voter-age American citizens, had taken it for granted that their candidate was so far ahead in the polls that they didn’t have to make the effort to stand in line and fill out the bubbles on their ballot. One vote won’t change the outcome, right?

Complacency not only elected a president who has very likely been the most controversial and least respected of any U.S. president in decades, but it contributed to a change in the American psyche. People seem to be more outspoken about their opinions on politics and politicians than in the past, and don’t seem to hold back their corresponding emotions much, either. Many select their tribe, based upon posts and likes that support their now very vocal positions on issues and the people behind them. The lines seem to be drawn and few seem to be willing to change, or even smudge the boundaries.

The display of emotions around Trump’s election are examples of the human emotions we marketers must address when building out a customer experience. How we address these emotions can make the difference between brands that survive chaotic times and those that do not. As marketers, we are constantly developing programs to keep customers positively charged about our brands — enthusiastic, excited, engaged, and delighted.

What we don’t take time to do much is assess our own emotions about our customers.

  • Are we as excited about them as we want them to be about us?
  • Are we delighted when we engage with them?
  • Or are we, like many voters in 2016, apathetic and complacent?

These are important questions to ask ourselves. Consumers have learned to not sit quietly, to not take situations for granted, and they have learned to build consensus and communities to support their views and opinions and help others do the same.

This week while visiting Boston, my daughters witnessed voter registration taking place outside the Statehouse — where people were being sworn in as citizens. Voter registration groups did not take for granted that these new citizens would go register on their own and go vote now that they could. They made it easy, simple, and fast to register and join their “tribe” of voters ready for Election Day 2020.

Reverse marketing tactics are key for brands to really engage in mutually beneficial relationships. Consider doing to your own teams what you do with your customers:

  1. Survey Your Marketing, Sales, Customer Care, and All Employees who interact with your customers. Ask them how they feel about customers. Do they enjoy interacting with customers? Do they find it fulfilling to fill a need? Close a deal? Exceed expectations? Why and Why not? Are customers appreciative, grateful, or just going through the actions? These answers will tell you a lot about your customers’ attitudes toward your brand.
  2. Create Branding Campaigns for Your Staff. Communicate the emotional value you offer customers to your staff, so they can strive to create similar emotional outcomes in each interaction. And then create experiences that create those same experiences for employees. Delight your employees. Trigger those feelings of dopamine and oxytocin that create a sense of belonging. When you love your tribe, you love to get others to join to validate your place in that world. If this weren’t so, religions wouldn’t have missionaries who succeed in bringing others to the fold.
  3. Offer Loyalty: What are you doing to keep your employees loyal? It goes beyond just delighting them with ping pong tables, draft beer, on-site laundry, and other perks. What are you doing to create communities that make them feel secure and appreciated, like the communities you create online to make your customers feel like they belong to something really cool that other brands do not offer? Fun, collaborative, and rewarding communities matter and they make us want to stay with that community, despite attractive offers.

While we are building relationships with our staff and customers, keeping the staff our customers learn to love is critical! That seriously needs to take priority over customers’ loyalty, as losing one staff member who 10 customers depend on and love to work with could lose us 10 loyal customers. Not a small loss.

Complacency not only elects unlikely candidates, it kills brands. Just these three simple steps can create the kind of engagement between employees and your customers that take price and competitors out of the equation at the same time!

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.

Is Quality, Sustainable Marketing the Key, or Is Bigger Better?

We are certainly increasingly “digitally distracted.” How can we not be, with a smartphone in hand, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the toxic Twitter — binging and buzzing with notifications of everything from “the boss wants you in his office right now” to Aunt Mary reminding you of her birthday?

Is bigger better?

That’s a question being asked a lot lately; not only by marketers, but in almost every sphere of our existence.

“In a digitally distracted mediascape of fragmented attention — engagement is the name of the game for publishers now. Whether it is deepening direct connections to consumers, delivering real impact for advertisers, or building trust in your brand — quality matters now more than quantity.” Or so proclaims MediaPost.

There is a plentiful cornucopia for thought in that well-crafted come-on.

We are certainly increasingly “digitally distracted.” How can we not be, with a smartphone in hand, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and the toxic Twitter — binging and buzzing with notifications of everything from “the boss wants you in his office right now” to Aunt Mary reminding you of her birthday? There are endless and equally compelling “bits and bobs,” all demanding attention, preferably immediately or ASAP.

There certainly ought to be an app — there probably is one or more that I don’t know about — which sorts through all that incoming traffic, assigns each a priority — based on some measure of quality — and only passes on the ones that matter. The app would pass on the ones which make my digital distraction worthwhile, the ones that truly engage. It may seem simplistic, but perhaps there is a good reason people get engaged before they get married.

But could an app be clever enough to identify quality, or even define it? Quality definitely has something magical about it, the same ephemeral, but indescribable quality which inspired Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s memorable definition of hardcore pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Some years ago, at a ceremony thanking an American Ambassador for her support of a local NGO, she was presented with “a small gift.” Looking at the little blue box, the Ambassador smiled, thanked the giver and exclaimed: “You men really don’t understand. There is no such thing as a small gift from Tiffany.” She was instinctively crafting what could have been a great slogan for the store: It’s not the size, it’s the Tiffany that counts.

Since forever, commerce has been driven more by growth than quality. How few have been the examples of CEOs’ quarterly statements praising the company’s reducing revenue, even when accompanied by increased profits. It certainly goes against our capitalist cultural mainstream. “But will it scale,” ask the moneybags in evaluating whether the newest idea will become a unicorn? Perhaps something really is changing which will deliver the ability to “engage” to the forefront, rather than simply being able to “attract.” Then the unicorns of tomorrow may no longer be measured just by size.

We all know that almost any amount of attraction is for sale at so-much-per-thousand. Simply by spending more and more on marketing, we can even become household names. If there has ever been a particularly obscene example of this, one need look no further than the mega billions being spent on the 2020 U.S. election campaigns. In an age of “fake” news, will all of this expensive attraction be the best investment politicians can make in suspending voter disbelief and establishing a meaningful engagement with voters? How much of that spend will promote the truth and how much believed? Will the engagement be strong enough to be sure the prospect will vote the “right” way, whichever way that is?

Like what is in the Tiffany box, one of the rarest of gems existent today is the truth.

In a thoughtful column here a week or so ago, provocatively headlined: ‘The Truth Is, There Is No Truth — Let Alone in Advertising,’ Jeanette McMurtry wrote:

One thing we marketers need to also face is the how the “truth” we are putting out there is being received …

If anything has come out of the “fake” news movement, it’s that we are learning not to believe hype and claims that can’t be substantiated …

Marketers can overcome this jaded vision of the world and brands in business today by addressing truth firsthand. You can do this by creating more interaction between your brand and consumers online and in the real world. Let customers experience what you are all about — your products, your persona, your values — more than reading your carefully crafted statements.

Despite existing technology that lets us truly interact one-to-one from great distances, something still seems to be missing. It’s the magic piece of the puzzle that moves us from attraction to engagement, that wants us to comfortably spend time together. That “something” may be the “quality” of truth, in its broadest sense.

If quality and truth are not synonymous, they are at least comfortable bedfellows. As Jeanette says, the truth about “your products, your persona, your values” is much more likely, in these changing times, to lead to the kind of engagement which will generate better (although perhaps not bigger) profits.

If we look around us, sprouting like spring flowers are small, specialized retailers and e-tailers, none of which is ever likely to rival Amazon or Walmart in size. But they’re much more likely to establish that magic sense of engagement, which comes not only from being able to parse all the data out there; but, far more importantly, to fashion enduring customer relationships grounded on a firm foundation of truth.

Tips for Entering Awards: Why Earning an ECHO Means More Now

Here are a few tips for a better campaign entry into the Association of National Advertisers International ECHO Awards competition.

A lot of people don’t realize that the Association of National Advertisers International ECHO Awards competition has been around a long time a really long time like 90 years! Nearly as long as ANA itself.

But this is the first year, from call to entries (Spring 2019) to awards presentation and gala (March 2, 2020, in Orlando at the all-new ANA Masters in Data & Technology Conference), that ANA has complete stewardship of these global top awards in data-inspired marketing. ANA inherited the ECHOs from its acquisition of Data & Marketing Association last summer.

Wow, if you ever wanted to showcase your data prowess in brand engagement, then this year and all years, going forward is a most-perfect opportunity to do so. ANA’s mission is all about brands and growth. Now’s our time to show brands firsthand how data is today’s workhorse in brand engagement and can integrate, beautifully and strategically, with creative storytelling and, vitally, produce business results.

This is how you earn (and win) an ECHO, with the extended call for entries open until Aug. 30. No last chance for a summer Friday!

Tips on Prepping a Better Award Entry An ECHO or Anywhere

I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a judge and jurist on several award competitions and recently, I conferred with some of my judging colleagues of the ECHOs. Here’s a few resulting tips for a better campaign entry.

Why Enter Awards, in the First Place?

First, it helps your career to gain recognition for marketing excellence among peers, your boss, your clients … and with ANA fully vested in brands (and their ad partners), that’s a whole new layer of industry recognition. Second, by becoming part of a knowledge base of “the best of the best,” you help elevate the practice of data-inspired marketing at a moment in marketing history where data-love is in high demand.

Prep Your Entry Offline Before Entering Online

Prepping the entry offline allows more freedom to write and rewrite, spell check (yes, THAT matters), and just make sure you cover each section thoroughly. Also, if English is not your first language (this is an international competition but administered in English), consider having someone who is a native English speaker review and edit your entry. That will help make sure mistakes in language don’t affect judges’ abilities to comprehend your brilliance.

Be considerate of the way judges will be reading your entry … so do NOT write one long paragraph. Instead, break sections of explanatory copy up into smaller paragraphs and don’t be afraid to bullet copy to convey or emphasize key points.

Give Context Regarding the Problem or Opportunity That a Campaign Seeks to Solve for

Don’t assume a judge has heard of the advertiser or is familiar with its products or services selected judges may come from all over the world. Set the stage for the story you’re about to tell, so it helps put your entry in a business context.  Data-inspired campaigns rely on a data strategy. Provide key insights into a brand’s target audience and what you were trying to accomplish and how data intelligence informed the campaign.

Make sure to tie results back to campaign objectives … because if you don’t, it will leave the judges wondering if you actually achieved a meaningful outcome. Make sure you provide plenty of detail and use substantive quantitative terms that speak to engagement and business goals.

Yes, it’s okay to share campaign metrics, such as open and clickthrough rates, response rates, social amplification, participation rates, and such. But a winning campaign moves the needle on business success. So having some type of business result either actual or indexed help’s judges discern the extraordinary from the merely accomplished.

Use a Storyboard or Short Video to Sell the ‘Wow’ Factor in the Campaign

Finally, any top advertising award is going to require some type of “wow” innovative creative or use of technology, stunning results, or a new strategic approach (or rarely, all three). We’re storytellers so use a creative device in the award entry to help “sell” the campaign with a bit of wit.

Video today is wisest to use even expected but even a storyboard summarizing campaign highlights helps. This is your chance to tell the judges why you believe your efforts deserve an ECHO. What makes it so noteworthy among the hundreds of entries that this campaign commands to be recognized? Don’t just repeat your results … dig down deep to help judges your peers, and brand leaders among them really understand why a particular marketing achievement is so incredible.


So after this month, it’s onto judging rounds this fall and the ECHO awards presentation and celebration in winter (in Florida, thank you). For that reason alone, it’s a great year to earn you, your brand, your colleagues, and your clients an ANA ECHO.

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.

When Brands Apologize, Customers Often Listen and Forgive

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”? Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances.

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”?

Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances. I see it constantly on Twitter, and have admittedly participated myself, when air travel goes terribly wrong or quality falls short of expectations.

The good news is that it’s recoverable.

Brands that react swiftly, thoughtfully, and transparently are the ones who win. And by win, I mean they don’t necessarily lose customers as a result of their actions, inaction or missteps.

This week alone, two retailers were seemingly insensitive to their female customers and perceived as body-shaming the very people they want to empower.


Macy’s was called out in one tweet that received 48,000 likes and 6,000 comments for plates by a company called Pourtions that were highly controversial for their message. Intended to bring humor to the concept of portion control, the dinner plates feature a large ring that read “Mom Jeans,” a smaller ring that read “Favorite Jeans,” and an even smaller ring that read “Skinny Jeans.”

Macy’s responded by apologizing and vowing to remove the plates from their stores. Of course, not everyone in the Twittersphere agreed with this decision. But it does show a sense of responsibility for its products and consideration for its customers.

Forever 21

Forever 21 also came under fire this week for sending Atkins bars in online orders with plus size merchandise. They’re not just good at fast fashion, but they also showed they can deliver a fast reaction.

In response to press coverage of the “snafu,” Forever 21 said:

“From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders. The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time, and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way.”

In this case, I think the word “test” is a critical one. If Forever 21 had done some market research and testing, perhaps it would have learned that a partnership with a brand like Atkins, that is depicted as a diet company, could be detrimental to its brand perception.


The merchandise you sell, the partners you align with, the sites where your ads run, the people you hire, the way you respond to criticism — all of these decisions impact your customers and shape your brand identity.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Why Brand Teams Need to Stop Pushing Brand Equity as an Asset

Most brand teams are constantly fighting for investment. Their lives would be much easier if they stopped pushing brand equity as a long-term asset when it is becoming more like the cost of goods sold.

Most brand teams are constantly fighting for investment. Their lives would be much easier if they stopped pushing brand equity as a long-term asset when it is becoming more like the cost of goods sold.

It’s almost Independence Day 2019, and I conducted a small consumer focus group session. Actually, it was a small group of friends, gathering to celebrate America, and we ended up talking about old brands.

Brand Equity and ‘Whatever Happened to … ‘

The topic began with WHT, or “whatever happened to … ?”

My candidate for WHT was Fruit Stripe gum; which, it turns out, is still alive and undergoing a small revival. As the conversation drifted toward more recent times, we started talking about the more recent troubles of iconic retail brands, like Barnes and Noble, Sports Authority, and Toys”R”Us.

Because the group consisted mostly of GenXers, there was strong nostalgia associated with these brands, with many happy firsts: first soccer ball, first video game system, first flirtation with a stranger over coffee while trying to look intellectual. There were such emotions and nostalgia, it made me wonder why these businesses had to close or severely reduce their footprint.

Yes, Amazon is the direct reason, in most cases, and there is a new trend to vilify it for killing these now-nostalgic brands. Let’s not forget, however, that B&N and Borders were once considered villains, running the local bookstore out of town. We also rarely hear about the villainy of Walmart and how it destroys local business. In fact, I was surprised to see that Walmart was now listed as a highly trusted brand by GenZers (18 to 21 years old). It is hard to Imagine the day when we will be nostalgic for Amazon; but if history is any indicator, that day will come.

Why Good Brands Go Bad

It is important to understand why we miss some brands when they are gone, but do not come to their aid when they are dying.

I believe the answer is that positive brand associations have a diminishing effect on brand survival. For example, there was a fast food joint I used to frequent and think of fondly when I was a child. Hoping to share that moment with my kids, I took them there. To put it mildly, they were less than impressed. Our family has been trying to eat fresh and healthier food for some time now, and we are part of a growing trend. Simply put, my kids could not relate to the greasy, yummy, and cheap goodness of my youth. I expressed shock, disappointment and called them bourgeois food elitists. This got me sympathy and pity, but not an ounce of guilt on their end. Later, once I got over the hurt, I, too, had to admit it was pretty bad food. This was my last trip to this joint.

Good brands solve current problems, delight customers, and address unmet needs, which build positive associations and create brand affection. However, like any relationship, fond memories do not guarantee that the relationship survives. Brands that survive can no longer rest on brand equity; rather, they are constantly investing in building and maintaining it.

This has implications for how marketers position the brand as an asset in the company.

How Brand Teams Position the Brand as an Asset

Most companies think of brand equity as a long-term asset. While brand equity is not a recognized asset under GAAP rules, brand proxies such as goodwill, brandmark, and trademarks are recognized as long term assets. Long-term assets are investments a company makes which benefit the company over the long term such as property, plant, and equipment and include other assets such as patents, licensing agreements and bonds. This classification makes sense since strong brands used to stand the test of time and had equity with staying power.

However, the new business environment sees new brands come and go and once esteemed brands die off every day. In this environment, there seems limited long-term value to brand associations and positive memories.  More and more, brand equity is reflecting the characteristics of short-term assets, like inventory or working capital, which needs to be constantly replenished. When a company fails to adequately invest in inventory, sales drop quickly. It seems like the brand is drifting in that same short-term direction.

When making the case for brand development, perhaps we marketers need to change our perspective. Generally, the marketing narrative placed brand as a long-term investment because the costs are so high, and the return was measured over a long period. At one point, this argument seemed appropriate. However, today it seems like there is very little long-term component to brand equity. Especially as branding is becoming more aligned with experience and operations and less with advertising. As a critical component of every customer interaction, we may need to understand that brand is becoming part of the cost of goods sold. This means companies should invest in branding frequently like they invest to have enough inventory or working capital. Only then will brand receive the investment flows it needs to survive in today’s market.