Brands Cannot Be Silent and Ignore Injustice

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

Following the horrific death of George Floyd, which sparked protests not only in the U.S. but around the world, countless influencers and celebrities spoke out across social media and online platforms to fight racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

While some brands may be reluctant to enter political discussions, the state of race, racial violence, and police brutality in America is more than politics. And your consumers and employees care deeply about combating violence and racism.

One brand that continues to demonstrate bravery when it comes to addressing race relations is Nike, who released a new ad across its digital channels. The ad featured plain white text over a black screen stating:

For once, don’t do it.

Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.

Don’t turn your back on racism.

Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us.

Don’t make any more excuses.

Don’t think this doesn’t affect you.

Don’t sit back and be silent.

Don’t think you can’t be part of the change.

Let’s all be part of the change.

Nike doesn’t shy away from taking a stand on issues of race, evident from their Colin Kaepernick ad in Sept. 2018. There were many other brands that made statements on social media in response to the tragedy, including the NFL, Netflix, and Ben & Jerry’s, to name a few. Following its original May 30 post, Netflix shared the following on June 10, letting followers know of its intention to highlight Black storytelling:

There also have been brands that have pledged significant donations to related organizations and initiatives, including Warby Parker and Peloton.

Standing up and addressing societal issues isn’t a new concept in marketing. Marketing leaders have been talking about and advising brands to be brave and bold for years. But there are still some brands too hesitant to speak out and take action. Why?

You don’t need significant resources to communicate your support and condolences, but you must be genuine and authentic in however you share your message. Accept that you can’t please everyone and there will be critics, but sharing your support and values is important. When speaking out about social issues, consider the following:

  • Talk to your employees: Use internal channels to reach employees and initiate a two-way conversation.
  • Think about the appropriate channels: Social media can be an ideal place to join the dialogue, but you may have a good reason to email your subscribers.

And where it’s possible, find ways to align with a cause that complements your brand’s values and focuses on supporting racial and social justice.

Consumers and employees want to know that brands are paying attention and will not tolerate inequality, violence, and prejudice. Now is the time to make a statement and help facilitate change.

QR Codes Are Even More Relevant in 2019

QR codes are making a comeback and brands, agencies and traditional marketers are finding innovative ways to utilize them as an effective means of passing product information in-store, bringing static ads to life and engaging with customers through contests or loyalty reward systems.

Despite having been around for decades and receiving much media attention, QR codes never became the revolutionary mobile marketing tool that businesses and marketers had hoped. When Apple added native support QR code scanning in its iOS 11, the promise of the technology was renewed. This game-changing move allows QR codes to be scanned on Apple devices directly through the camera app. And the fact that the QR code feature is in the control settings enables ease of use. The latest Android smartphones have also made QR code scanning a native feature. This addresses the major barrier for QR code use in Western markets.

According to recent estimates from Juniper Research, the number of QR coupons redeemed via mobile devices will reach 5.3 billion by 2022. By contrast, coded coupons redeemed via mobile in 2017 approached about 1.3 billion, by Juniper’s count. What’s more, Juniper forecasts that more than 1 billion mobile devices will access coupons through QR codes by 2022. Clearly, the surge in use is being driven by built-in QR functionality on smartphones and most importantly Apple devices.

Brands, agencies and traditional marketers are finding innovative ways to utilize mobile bar codes as an effective means of passing product information in-store, bringing static ads to life and engaging with customers through contests or loyalty reward systems. This integration of offline, online and mobile allows marketers to provide a holistic experience to their customers. Let’s look at a few examples of what successful marketers are doing to optimize the print/mobile customer experience and maximize marketing spend.

Nike: Curating the Customer Experience

QR codes can be used at the store level to give shoppers experiential choices. Nike’s flagship store in New York City, called House of Innovation, uses QR codes all throughout the store to give NikePlus Members with the Nike app a truly unique experience. The Nike App features Shop the Look. Customers can go up to a store mannequin and use the Nike app to scan a QR code (on a printed sign) that will bring up its entire outfit. From there, a shopper can decide to buy any of the pieces the mannequin is wearing or have the items sent to a fitting room. Shoppers get a push notification when the items are ready telling them to head to a nearby fitting room, where there will be a sign with their name on it and the items waiting inside.

QR Codes

Amazon: Blending Digital and Physical Worlds

In addition, marketers are using QR codes in advertising. In Europe, Amazon has started placing QR code boxes that include its trademark smile logo into magazine advertisements, enabling Amazon mobile app users to scan the “SmileCode” to open Amazon product pages or other content on their phones. As Amazon increasingly blends the physical and digital worlds, it’s latest move is an attempt to make magazines shoppable. It will be an interesting test of the concept, and its success could mean as much, or more, to the publishers of major print magazines as it does to Amazon. While the content unlocked by the SmileCode could be a product page, it could also be a gateway to more messaging.

Optimizing the Print Mobile Experience

Big brands are focused on harnessing QR codes as a technique for engaging and converting consumers. They want to deliver a brand experience that engages the mobile-centric consumer. Amid a sea of marketing messages bombarding consumers every day, thoughtful and integrated marketing campaigns can cut through the clutter and give marketers confidence that their marketing dollars are being used wisely. Given the ease of use of QR codes, it is time for print service providers to look at print/mobile-optimized marketing campaigns to help marketers blend traditional and digital media. Print (signage, advertisements, packaging, magazines, catalogs, direct mailers, etc.) is an important mechanism for capturing attention and building awareness. Optimizing print and mobile with QR codes is a great way to combine media and actively engage customers.

Nike, Where Are You Going With Your #JustDoIt Marketing Campaign?

With Colin Kaepernick being the face of #JustDoIt, Nike stock is at a record high. Unlike most corporations desperate to stay out of the highly partisan political environment, Nike went all-in. In response, President Trump tweeted “What was Nike thinking?”

With Colin Kaepernick being the face of #JustDoIt, Nike stock is at a record high. Unlike most corporations desperate to stay out of the highly partisan political environment, Nike went all-in. In response, President Trump tweeted “What was Nike thinking?”

One answer is that Nike was thinking Kaepernick was standing up for what he believed in and that it was in-line with Nike’s own beliefs. However, that answer seems a bit naïve if you know anything about well-managed brands.

Since this latest #JustDoIt campaign, the Internet’s been flooded with conspiracy theories. I thought I would provide three theories on what Nike was really thinking.

Theory One

Nike is reading the tealeaves and is positioning itself accordingly. A high-value brand like Nike does its consumer research and its leaders evidently believe that history will be on the side of Colin Kaepernick.

Sure, Nike has taken risks before, when it launched campaigns to support causes such as gender equality or fighting ageism. While avant-garde, the campaigns did not have anywhere as much political heat as the NFL “taking a knee” controversy does. Even for Nike, this was bold and a decision like this would certainly have been backed by exhaustive research. In the end, Nike is not taking sides on the full political war, but it is on this one important issue.

Theory Two

Nike is planning to play both sides of the divide. The next campaign might involve a conservative talking point. Maybe the larger message of the campaign is that the country should be a bit less vitriolic about opposite viewpoints or that we all share a love of sports.

Admittedly, this is a long-shot theory, but one I find more digestible vs. a future where the labels on our shirts or shoes lump us in with one faction or another, which takes us to Theory Three.

Theory Three

Nike decided to fire a segment of customers (avid Trump supporters) because picking a political side is more profitable.

I have seen many companies hesitate to fire any customer. If they do, it is usually at an individual level, based on specific behaviors; such as frequently returning merchandise or driving losses in some other way.

In the rare cases where companies have guts to fire whole segments, it is usually done by simply ignoring the segment — not poking them, like this #JustDoIt campaign.

In the case of Nike, they vocally picked a political side. When other brands have been pushed into politically partisan positions by their founders, such as L.L.Bean, Under Armour and Chick-fil-A, they have quickly tried to claw back to neutral ground, claiming that the founder’s position was personal and not reflective of the brand’s.

Because this is a branded campaign featuring Kaepernick, Nike has no cover of plausible deniability. Nike unambiguously chose a political side and has so far been successful.

In the End Zone

Based on this, we may see more brands pick political sides. In the future, there may be even more politically aligned brand,s but I certainly hope that is not where we are headed.

Many of us in business try to keep our personal politics out of business. This has left our professional lives as a place where we all can find some sorely needed common ground. Yes, there are issues in every generation that prick our conscience enough to force our hand, business etiquette be damned. Those rare issues aside, for those of us who don’t want our opinions spoon-fed to us by political parties or talking heads, highly political brands are a very dystopian future.

Among the three theories I presented, I hope the third one is very wrong.

St. Patrick’s Day Marketing Plan? Skip It

St. Patrick’s Day is less than two weeks away, and I have a hot marketing stat for you: 87 percent* of marketers have no tie to this holiday — what originated as an Irish religious holiday, mind you — so that means 87 percent of marketers shouldn’t be burning the midnight oil coming up with St. Patrick’s Day marketing campaigns.

Grumpy Cat You're Not Irish You're Drunk on St. Patrick's DaySt. Patrick’s Day is less than two weeks away, and I have a hot marketing stat for you: 87 percent* of marketers have no tie to this holiday — what originated as an Irish religious holiday, mind you — so that means 87 percent of marketers shouldn’t be burning the midnight oil coming up with St. Patrick’s Day marketing campaigns.

“Awww, where’s the fun in that?!” you yell. “Everyone loves being Irish for the day!”

Fun fact: There’s more to being Irish than partying while wearing ridiculous green outfits. Green beer is not a thing, and ordering an Irish Car Bomb is never, EVER acceptable.

I know, I know, at this point you’re probably calling me The Authenticity Police or The Relevance Hound behind my back. But here’s the thing: I’m so over slapdash marketing campaigns jockeying for the low hanging fruit.

St. Patrick's Day Partying
Source: Viewthevibe.com (Yes, the stupidity even stretches to Toronto)

Don’t Be That Guy

So here are two St. Patrick’s Day failed campaigns to consider before you jump on the Erin Express, shared with love from a lady whose family is from Ireland … we’re of the Donegal Wards.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Think before you do something. Think before you tweet. Research before you create a product. Otherwise, you end up looking like Nike and Bud Light.

Nike Black and Tan sneakersNike launched these sneakers in 2012 in time for St. Patrick’s day, calling them the “Black and Tan” … which most Americans are familiar with as the drink combining Guinness and a lager.

However, the term Black and Tan is very different for the Irish, and when Nike tried introducing these shoes to that market, it didn’t go over well.

Why? “Black and Tan” is a derogatory term for a British parliamentary unit sent to squash the Irish rebellion in the 1920s that also led to many violent attacks against civilians. According to this Telegraph article, Nike apologized … but still. This could have been avoided.

And Bud Light? Yeah, well this is what happens when you tweet without thinking first:

Bud Light tweetBud Light released this gem into the world in 2015, and it was met with backlash. The tweet was deleted, but the screw-up lives on. (And don’t even get me started on the #Upforwhatever hashtag … ugh.)

Perhaps you should leave the St. Patrick’s Day advertising to Guinness, Tullamore Dew, Discover Ireland and Jameson. And if you are going to be “Irish for the day” … do me a favor and don’t be a flaming eejit.

*Yes I made this up, but I’m sure you get my point.

Wearable Mobile Devices Are the New Black

This year’s hot trend in fashion is computers. Whether at SXSW or in the tech and media hubs on the coasts, people are excited about the watches, wristbands and “eyeframes” that double as computers. Not all of these gadgets will succeed and those that do probably will evolve rapidly from today’s versions. But the trend is real—and marketers need to take note. They can expect consumers open to new forms of discovery and deeper relationships with brands, but also who have less tolerance for advertising that’s irrelevant, disruptive or disrespectful of privacy.

This year’s hot trend in fashion is computers. Whether at SXSW or in the tech and media hubs on the coasts, people are excited about the watches, wristbands and “eyeframes” that double as computers. Not all of these gadgets will succeed and those that do probably will evolve rapidly from today’s versions. But the trend is real—and marketers need to take note. They can expect consumers open to new forms of discovery and deeper relationships with brands, but also who have less tolerance for advertising that’s irrelevant, disruptive or disrespectful of privacy.

Nothing exemplifies the widespread interest in wearable computers better than Pebble, a watch that has its own Internet interface, apps and waiting list of fans eager to buy it. Last year, the founders of Pebble went to the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter with just a vague business plan and raised $10 million from thousands of investors. In less than a year, Pebble started to ship product and, in the past month, has released programming guidelines for outside developers. Not to be outdone by a start-up, Apple, Google, Samsung and LG are all rumored to be working on smartwatches, and Nike has made a big splash with its own wristband that tracks calories burned—the Fuel Band. Probably the most ambitious of all is Google Glass, the smartphone/eyeglass hybrid that projects information directly onto the lens of the wearer. Initial versions for developers have begun to ship already.

All of these devices will take the mobile revolution to a new level. The original iPhone ushered in an era when consumers expect to receive relevant answers any time, anywhere, to any question—even if they haven’t asked it yet. Still, wearable computing adds another layer of complexity. With screens that are always on and always feeding information, there’s even less of a margin for error with irrelevant advertising, and more opportunity for location-specific discovery. There will be new types of data—e.g., biometrics, location, eye movements—that could be incredibly relevant to marketers, but also frightening for consumers already worried about personal privacy. As a result, most marketing opportunities will have to be truly opt-in and transparent in how data will be used—and how that use is actually a service.

Take Google Now, a service that lets users receive pertinent time-sensitive or location-sensitive information without asking for it. It’s currently on phones, but it’s ideally suited for Google Glass. Although Now has high use-value, there’s also a high potential for creepiness, something Baris Guletkin, co-creator of Now, understands: “We take privacy very seriously, and make it very clear what the user will get, and what kind of data we’ll be using, and lots of controls so they can turn things off that they don’t like.” Google is banking on the fact that a lot of people will make that tradeoff in order to get useful information on-the-go. If I’ve just landed in Paris on an overnight flight and I am walking to a meeting, I’m OK with Google knowing what type of food I like if that information is used to suggest boulangeries along my route with highly rated croissants. But not everyone will feel that way.

Current discovery engines, such as Yelp and Foursquare, could probably also make a relatively easy transition to something like Google Glass or evolved versions of a smartwatch. Other marketers, however, will have to create new ways to use personal data and tags within physical objects to provide information that’s pertinent and enhances a real-world experience, not interrupts it. Peter Dahlstrom and David Edelman of McKinsey have written a great article about “on-demand marketing,” They describe a scenario where a headset has an NFC chip that communicates with a smartphone and opens an app that shows the headset in different colors and has related offers. Combined with augmented reality on Google Glass, the possibilities for this type of technology are pretty exciting. Even if Glass doesn’t catch on with the mainstream population, it will likely spur innovation that will trickle down to smartphones.

In addition to discovery, a second transformative role for wearable computers may be in how they turn solitary offline activities into daily social activities, creating a durable bond with the brand.

Nike’s Fuel Band is a great example. Nike has taken the daily workout and turned into a shared activity. The wristband uses a motion detector to calculate the amount of calories a person is burning during the day and tracks it against personal goals. It also connects to an app that shares this information with friends, creating value by turning the fuel points into shared successes and, for some, a competition. Because it’s always on, it creates dozens, even hundreds, of daily touchpoints with the brand.

Fuel fully aligns the brand with staying in shape, a high value for many people, and the core need that its other products satisfy. Eventually, Nike could connect Fuel points to support public causes, which would align the brand with the core values of the “new consumer,” described by sustainable branding agency, BBMG,

“Thirty percent of the U.S. adult population—some 70 million consumers—New Consumers—are values-aspirational, practical purchasers who are constantly looking to align their actions with their ideals; yet tight budgets and time constraints require them to make practical trade-offs every day … To deliver on total value, it’s no longer about pushing products, it’s about creating platforms for ideas and experiences that help people live healthier, greener and better.”

The Fuel Band and competitors like Jawbone are such platforms. They don’t just turn offline activities into online, social ones, they also link the brand to the values of the customer.

The Fuel Band right now is one of the first wearable computers that has been a commercial success, because it enhances existing activities in innovative ways. We’ll soon see whether Glass, Pebble and others have similar levels of success. Regardless, we’ll continue to see new wearable computers down the line, and they will undoubtedly lead to new opportunities for marketers that are impossible to see today.