A 4-year-old Girl Shows the Power of a Strong Brand

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

McDonald’s has certainly built the golden arches “M” brand over the course of many years; my earliest remembrance is from the early 1960s. But the fact that a 4-year-old girl learned the symbolism in a much shorter timeframe illustrates how powerful great branding can be.

When I recently Googled “direct marketing and branding,” I was surprised to see that there are a lot of search results positioning the two as separate marketing strategies. I thought that debate was put to rest years ago — you need both.

The Internet has turned everyone into a direct marketer, and those who have built strong brands are the big winners — think Amazon, 1-800-Flowers, Omaha Steaks, Zappos, etc. When I was with Roska Direct, our results showed over and again that when we did direct response marketing using the umbrella of a strong brand, we achieved better response and conversion rates than when we downplayed the brand in an attempt to juice response.

According to Statista, Google enjoyed a 90%-plus share of searches from 2010 through 2013, before it dipped into the high 80s, sneaking over 90 only in October of 2016 and 2018. So what’s Google doing about it? Running a national brand campaign on television, Here to Help, using The Beatles 1965 hit, “Help.”

Interestingly, if you try to find those branding ads by Googling “Google ad campaign,” you won’t. What you’ll find is Google in direct response mode, helping you construct your own online advertising campaign through Google.

Like I said, you need both.

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).

https://youtu.be/PjxRUEA0Tdo

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!

Keep Calm and Social On: When a Mistake Doesn’t Mean the End

No one wants to make a mistake, much less a highly visual mistake on social media. But it happens, and it happened to Ad Age last week. Guess what? No one was fired, angry readers and Twitter followers didn’t surround Ad Age’s office with pitchforks, and surely no one died (well, Michael Delligatti, the inventor of McDonald’s Big Mac did die last week and has gone on to the Golden Arches in the sky … but that’s only slightly related.)

No one wants to make a mistake, much less a highly visual mistake on social media. Those are the kind of snafus that land you on “Worst Tweets of the Year” listicles from subpar media sites who burn through negative coverage just to keep the lights on. But it happens.

Huge tiny mistake Arrested DevelopmentIt happened to Ad Age last week, and guess what? No one was fired, angry readers and Twitter followers didn’t surround Ad Age’s office with pitchforks, and surely no one died (well, Michael Delligatti, the inventor of McDonald’s Big Mac did die last week and has gone on to the Golden Arches in the sky … but that’s only slightly related.)

What am I talking about? Managing Editor Ken Wheaton’s Dec. 5 article, “What You Can Learn From the Social Media Crisis That Wasn’t” and the tweet in question:

Fun fact: The image of the Big Mac went with Ad Age’s story about Delligatti’s passing … the Vagisil story actually had a video attached to it, but clearly did not play well with the system.

So, 11 minutes following the first post, the folks at Ad Age tweeted what I think is a measured, smart response.

The Vagisil story with a Big Mac image tweet was a MISTAKE. Like many media companies, Ad Age’s content management system (CMS) is integrated with a platform to automate social media. Usually it’s all rosy and saves editors time, but there can be snafus, but here the wrong image got pulled and used with the wrong content.

Was it offensive? No.

A little confusing? Maybe.

Do I think this is a fireable offense? Absolutely not.

As Wheaton explained:

I decided not to take it down. Why? One, this is social media. It was already out there and I knew with 100 percent certainty that someone had already grabbed a shot of it. It’s what I would have done. Hiding it would have just fed the beast. “What is Ad Age trying to hide?” … Two, it wasn’t really hurtful or offensive. If anyone looked bad, it was us. Three, again, this is social media. Despite the intensity of tweet storms, despite it feeling like the world is ending, these things pass relatively fast. Four, 2016 has sucked for a lot of people, and it seemed like our faux pas was actually bringing some sort of joy into the world.

Did the folks at Ad Age learn a lesson regarding how their content gets automated for social? Absolutely. But the bigger lesson, and what I REALLY appreciate Wheaton for sharing, was that Ad Age let the mole hill be the mole hill. There weren’t even flames to fan, and I think if they had made a bigger deal out of the mistake, it would have been like replacing a fan with a blowtorch set on high.

Bravo Ad Age for realizing that making a harmless, slightly embarrassing (and kinda funny) mistake is not the end of the world. We all screw up sometimes, but if we learn something from the situation, then it’s worth it. And kudos to Ken Wheaton for writing about it so candidly. It’s one thing to leave the tweet up and acknowledge the “oopsie!” and it’s another thing to let us in, and let us learn from a mistake so perhaps we can avoid making a similar one.

And with that, let me leave you with Wheaton’s apt, closing words:

Words do matter, sure. But getting outraged over every little thing is not only exhausting, it’s childish and lessens the impact of actual outrage. If we’re all outraged all the time, when something is truly outrageous, no one cares. It’s the equivalent of crying wolf.

And a last word of advice for marketers. Don’t do anything offensive or hurtful. Don’t say anything offensive or hurtful on social media. And if you do do something stupid, especially if it’s an accident, sit tight and give it a chance to blow over.

Can Brands Really Make Us Happy?

Can brands really make us happy? If you ask any brand marketer, the answer is clearly “yes.” And even more so if you ask marketing staff from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and now LuLuLemon, all of which have spent substantial marketing resources on associating their brands with “happy.”

Can brands really make us happy? If you ask any brand marketer, the answer is clearly “yes.” And even more so if you ask marketing staff from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and now LuLuLemon, all of which have spent substantial marketing resources on associating their brands with “happy.”

But do consumers consciously purchase products with the sole purpose of achieving happiness? And if so, it is a conscious drive or among the 90 percent of our thoughts that drive our behavior from our unconscious mind?

According to Steve Quartz, professor at California Institute of Technology, we do, but mostly unwittingly, as emotional purchases are often unconscious. Quartz, a one-time believer that consumerism or the drive to buy stuff did not generate happiness, changed his tune after creating a consumer neuroscience project to further explore the psychological impact of buying. As stated in his article, which appeared on PBS.org, here’s what he learned:

We found that asking people to merely look at products they considered “cool” sparked a pattern of activation in a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex.

Quartz continues to explain that the brain activity resulting from seeing something deemed to be cool, and contemplating owning that coolness, is similar to how the brain responds when we receive a compliment, or feel that someone else values the brands or they have gone up in social status or peer approval. These are the same feelings we get when we anticipate love or rewards, or feel connectedness as we actually experience hormonal rushes of dopamine and oxytocin.

If the above is true, then it makes sense that adding visual and social coolness to your product packaging will increase attention and sales to even failing products as the cool score can actually trump other decision influencers. A case in point is that this very approach made big dollars for Proctor and Gamble when it redesigned the packages for Clairol Herbal Essences, a failing brand it bought in 2001 and decided to reinvent, per its packaging appeal in 2006.

P&G added a total happy appeal to its product, replacing the clunky dull pink rectangle bottle with vibrant-colored, shaped bottles that actually nestled together, making the purchase of the shampoo and conditioner pair more attractive – visually and emotionally. In addition to creating a more energetic shape, they added fun, happy language and changed the names of each product to reflect that new, inviting energy. P&G also uses fun language that reflects the persona of its target consumers and added riddles to the bottles. If you wanted the answer to the riddle on the shampoo bottle, you needed the conditioner, too. Post-repackaging, with a more vibrant, fun, shaped bottle and adding elements of happiness through language and interaction, sales soared. Products like Color Me Happy and Hello Hydration rose to the Top 10 products for shampoo sales in 2014, according to research from Statista.

In recent years, McDonald’s jumped on the happiness bandwagon with its 2014 Super Bowl advertisement, “Pay With Lovin.”Instead of focusing on its products or building appeal for new products, the entire 60-second TV spot showed cashiers surprising customers by telling them to pay for their purchase with gestures of love toward another instead of money. The impact of happy customers doing happy dances and calling home to say “I love you, Mom” produced some happy results for McDonald’s, as well as happy customers. In just two weeks of running the ad, the McDonald’s brand perception rating went from 30 percent positive or neutral to 85 percent positive or neutral, per a March 2015 article on adweek.com.

Aligning with happiness seems to be working well for Coca-Cola, too. It has a website dedicated to happiness quotes, music and tips. Its corporate social responsibility program is built all around giving people free gifts out of Coke vending machines at shopping malls, the Happiness Truck in underprivileged communities worldwide, and so much more. I’m pretty sure the marketing team and shareholders alike are happy with the brand’s 96 million likes on Facebook and sales of more than 1.7 billion servings of its product daily.

How you can add happiness to your brand’s marketing:

1. Learn What Moves Your Customers: Every personality has style, color, energy, art and more preferences. What are those associated with your target consumer? I was working with an agency that creates ads for auto dealers. We did a psychology-based marketing audit of its customers for a specific car and learned the creative was spot-off in its ads. The psychology profile for potential buyers was bright colors, high-energy visuals, and action/adventure-oriented themes. Its ad featuring a white car, sitting still in a parking lot, was doing nothing. We changed it up and changed response.

2. Know Your Data: Skip the transactional data and focus on behavioral data that is aligned with emotions. As mentioned earlier, we learned from neuromarketers that 90 percent of our thoughts and subsequent actions are driven by emotions, not conscious thought processes upon which our past transactions are based. Invest in programs that help you understand patterns, attitudes, emotional needs based upon behavior science, generational and cultural influences.

3. Share the Love: Remember, customers are people with strong emotional needs that go far beyond the products they purchase. And they are more than a name on a data field with a dollar value assigned to it. Create customer journeys that provide joy, relief and comfort along the way with your brand, and put in place return policies and customer service protocols that make them “Happy” when working with you vs. frustrated or anxious.

Most importantly, have fun creating opportunities for your customers and speaking with them on their terms, and from their own persona. When you have fun and create happiness on the job, it is simply contagious. And that’s a good thing to spread.