Sunday, April 17, 2011

When a Duck Tweets and Other Birdbrain Social Media Gaffes

Last month, comedian Gilbert Gottfried was relieved of his 11-year job as the voice of the Aflac spokes-duck, for tweeting a series of offensive jokes about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

(While the jokes were truly in bad taste, the fact that 75% of Aflac’s business comes from Japan probably didn’t help Gottfried’s situation.)

He quickly offered an apology, but the damage had already been done. And while the duck had lost its voice, Aflac had smartly turned a major social media gaffe into a huge opportunity: it invited the public to audition for the role. Thousands have tried out so far and the press coverage has been a boon for the company. Also, Aflac got behind the Red Cross in Japan and created a Facebook page to raise funds for it that currently has about 249,000 “likes.”

The company’s quick response to Gottfried’s insensitivity was brilliant. Others have not been so smart:

  1. Jordan Spriggs, a freshman defensive back for the Auburn Tigers sent out this tweet: “man who is good at writing papers?????????????? I pay.” Obviously, the young man is as unknowledgeable about tweeting as he is writing school papers. 
  2. Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest and a number of other semi-celebs threatened to stop tweeting until the AIDs charity, Keep a Child Alive raised $1 million. The thought was nice. But seriously: who in his or her right mind could feel that a life deprived of Kardashian tweets is a life not worth living? 
  3. In Syracuse, NY, a customer of the Price Chopper supermarket chain tweeted a complaint about the local store. A customer service person at Price Chopper responded by complaining to the complainer’s boss. Somehow this all ended up going viral.
These are just a few examples of the dangers of social media when it’s not used thoughtfully. There must be many, many more. I invite you to share any you’ve heard.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nice Party, But It Could Have Been Better

Well, I did it again: I hosted another House Party. This time, a “Celebrate Life at 50” party for AARP. (My previous one was for wine and cheese on behalf of the French government. Here's my post about that.) 

A confluence of factors led to my repeat engagement as a House Party hostess. First, I wanted to show clients the power of word of mouth marketing. Second, my best friend has a business relationship with AARP and was curious about the House Party experience. 

AARP definitely benefited from my party. One guest had been interested in joining, but thought she had to wait till age 55. Another claims to not have received any AARP mailings. If any one of them ends up enrolling by calling the special 800 number provided to the partygoers, then it may well yield a positive return on the $200 per party cost for AARP (my estimate). However, House Party could have been a far more powerful tool for AARP if a few more marketing basics were followed. Here are a few of my suggestions:
  • Single-minded focus: The party theme was too general and the suggested activities ranged from tips for staying physically fit to a quiz on party etiquette around the world. (Did you know that in the Middle East you should leave a little food on your plate or else it will be refilled immediately?)

AARP would have done better to have focused on a single benefit area. For example,  building a compelling party around a travel theme. This would have naturally raised curiosity about AARP travel benefits. I ended up featuring food and cocktails from the '50’s as the hook for my party. (French onion dip and a Tom Collins anybody?) Fun for my guests, but not really “on message” for AARP.
  • Clear consumer benefit: Hostesses are looking for some “social currency,” being the first on their block to know something. The AARP site features a travel section with a well-known travel expert, Peter Greenberg. On the site, Peter offers insider travel tips. For example, a list of small cruise lines with interesting destinations. This is the type of information hostesses could have internalized and actively shared with their guests  

From the guest standpoint, the party goody bag was very generous, but what 50 year-old really needs another water bottle? Most of us have too much stuff already. (Vintage Advil mini-marathon tee shirt anyone?) If the 50-55 age group is the target for membership growth, what about an activity helping us with our particular sandwich generation stresses?
  • An organizational face and voice: Social media has raised customer expectations around engagement. They don’t want a nameless customer service representative, they want Comcast Frank! Staying with the travel theme, AARP could have leveraged Peter Greenberg. One way would be similar to the French Wine & Cheese party concierge who dispensed valuable tidbits and answered questions on the House Party Hostess site. Peter could have had a similar column and answered questions, leading hostesses to having a more meaningful engagement with AARP.
  • Branding Assets: Beyond the AARP logo on party bag items, the branding was largely left up to chance. Hostesses were expected to print out the AARP brochure and list of AARP links. Being a marketing nerd, I did it, but I wonder how many others would have made the same investment of time and money. 

And where was AARP's magazine? One of my guests said she loved the magazine because all the famous over 50 celebrities made her feel more “on trend” about being over 50 herself. If the magazines were lying around the party, they would have been picked up and discussed. Better yet, what about a special issue devoted to travel? Part of me wonders if it wasn’t organizational silos getting in the way of providing customer value. I would bet that the magazine and customer acquisition teams are separate profit centers.

Net-net, I am still a big House Party fan and believe with the right attention to marketing basics and a little creativity, it can be a terrific business building and brand engagement tool.


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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Some Spend to Win an Account. At Extrovertic, We Tighten Our Belts

Recently, Extrovertic was given the opportunity to pitch the creative portion of an account for which we had already won the strategic part.

To ensure that our creatives truly appreciated the plight of those who suffer from the rarely discussed, but extremely disturbing and uncomfortable disease state that the drug treats, Planning Extrovert Laura Radosh had an interesting idea. On her invite to the creative briefing, she wrote, "Please wear or bring a belt."

At the briefing itself, Laura instructed everyone to take out – or off – their belt and to position it high up on their belly. Then to tighten it as much as we possibly could.

"Okay, now close your eyes and imagine you've just finished eating a big Thanksgiving dinner. How do you feel?" she asked.

"Stuffed," a writer responded.

"Do you feel like having desert now?"

"No," we all answered in unison.

"How about going to to the beach?" she asked.

"No, way," an art director answered. "I wouldn't be caught dead without a shirt on right now."

"And what about sex?" she asked, cheekily.

"No way." "Uh-uh." "Are you kidding?" "Uh, not right now, thank you..."

It was an interesting experience getting briefed in such a visceral way.  We really got a sense of what it feels like to suffer from the problem.

Says Laura, "We're talking about a condition that affects the sufferer in a deep emotional way. I felt it was important to try to have the creatives 'walk in their shoes' as much as possible. And the best way to do that was to have them try to physically feel like the sufferers feel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

The idea worked. Our work was not only great by creative standards, it demonstrated that we really understood how it feels to have this problem.

We won the account.  It was good to get that experience under our belts.

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