Posts Tagged ‘cause’

Seth Godin Again Defines Book Marketing with Meaning

Monday, December 7th, 2009


I’ve been a Seth Godin fan long before he was kind enough to endorse my book. In fact, the first and best innovative marketing book I can remember reading was his Permission Marketing, a little more than 10 years ago. Not only is Godin an inspirational author, but his choices in marketing his books have been quite remarkable. Examples include the limited-edition copies of Purple Cow that were sold in actual milk boxes (I’ve got one), and his recent limited-membership community to support the launch of Tribes. In the three years from concept to shelf for my own book, I often went back to an old blog post he wrote about book publishing and marketing. Godin inspired me to practice innovative marketing that I was preaching in my book, and he’s got another new trick up his sleeve with the launch of his newest book, Linchpin.

Godin announced on his blog that he would provide an advance copy of Linchpin to the first 3,000 people who contributed at least $30 to the Acumen Fund, which is “a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty.” I immediately made my donation for a chance to be one of the first to purchase a book that I knew I would pay about $30 for anyway. And it didn’t surprise me at all that the 3,000 copies were snapped up in just 48 hours. That generated $108,000 for the Acumen Fund. Wow!

It might seem odd for Godin to give up the first 3,000 in book sales and cover the cost of the book printing and shipping himself on top of it. But the reality is that after many successful books, Godin fully understands that the best way to sell a lot of books is to get a lot of books in the hands of people who are likely to spread the word of mouth. Books are nothing but ideas, and ideas have to spread from person to person.

One of the things I think about when giving away copies of my book is that one reader has the potential to create five to 10 readers. This comes from people reading on planes, keeping the book out on their desks, giving a copy to friends—and I haven’t even mentioned tools such as Twitter and Facebook where people love to share what they’ve read recently. That’s why I go out of my way to personally hand copies to friends and clients, and why I offered early advance copies to members of our Marketing with Meaning community. We’re also working our way down the Ad Age Power 150 list of marketing blogs, offering a free copy to people in hopes of getting reviews.

Not only do free, advance copies help get the word of mouth going, but the people who receive them often feel like special insiders that are, in a way, part of the book itself. Godin’s tie to a worthy charity makes the marketing even more meaningful, and helps ensure that his book-marketing effort doesn’t just feel like an obvious grab for more money.

It’s a lot harder and more complicated for marketing like this. Most books might get a few copies to overwhelmed editors and maybe a print ad in BusinessWeek. But in a world where lots of authors are competing to spread their ideas, Godin shows how to win by giving.

Survive Breast Cancer, Get a Free Bloomin’ Onion

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

bloomin onion breast cancer

Well, not exactly, but bear with me and read on if you don’t mind, because I do have an important point here and I sincerely need your help in figuring out the meaning of this marketing.

It all started over the weekend when I was catching some college football on good old-fashioned network television. I was actually getting ready to head out and was coming out of the shower when I heard the Australian voice from the Outback TV commercials in a very serious tone. This surprised me because the guy is usually full of “We’ll put a shrimp on the bar-bie for ya!” optimism and excitement. I listened as the voice explained that Outback was a proud supporter of the brave men and women who risk our lives to protect our freedom on Veterans Day, November 11. And to show this pride and support the troops, any veterans and active-duty military personnel who visit Outback on this day will receive… a free Bloomin’ Onion (regular price, $6.25)!

Something in my gut didn’t feel good. No, it wasn’t memories of the last time I downed nearly an entire Bloomin’ Onion by myself. Rather, I felt that Outback’s promotion was self-serving and potentially insulting to our military men and women.

Now, I’m a big fan of Marketing with Meaning, as regular readers know. And anytime a brand provides a free product or sample to its customers, there’s a good chance it’s meaningful marketing. Denny’s, for example, earned a rave review in my book for its wildly successful free Grand Slam giveaway after this year’s Super Bowl. Such giveaways grab customers’ attention and hit the “free” value button we all have programmed into our heads, which is especially sensitive in this economy. Such offers bring people who are attracted to the freebie, and they end up spending a lot more on full meals and beverages for themselves and the rest of their family members.

Several other restaurants are also getting in on the free food for veterans act. According to an article in Slashfood, Applebee’s and McCormick & Schmick’s are both providing free entrees, and Krispy Kreme is offering free donuts on Veterans Day. And the benefits are extending beyond casual dining; for example, both Lowe’s and Home Depot are offering 10% discounts to military men and women.

The issue I see is that a free Bloomin’ Onion seems so petty for something as meaningful as military service at a time when we are actively losing men and women amid war. What’s worse is seeing this “offer” plastered across our mass-media TV screens in a blatant attempt to convince the majority, non-military personnel that Outback is doing the right thing for real American heroes. Toss in the odd fact that Outback, which aspires to be an “Australian” steakhouse, is honoring American military personnel.

It just feels to me that military service is far too serious a sacrifice to be linked to free appetizers at a restaurant chain. Let’s compare this to the recent cause-related marketing around National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the pink ribbons that have been everywhere from soup cans to NFL players’ gloves. What if Outback ran commercials that said, in a serious Australian accent:

“You’re a survivor. You’ve beaten breast cancer, and are a hero to us all. So we salute you by offering you a free Bloomin’ Onion.”

Ridiculous, right? Or am I wrong? And how is risking one’s life in military service any less odd to reward with a delicious onion app?

Restaurants such as Outback are well-known for one-time gimmicks to lure people into their restaurants, and as a longtime advertising watcher it made me cringe. On the other hand, I do believe restaurants can win by doing more over a longer term. Serving a full meal or entree, like some of the examples above, is a step in the right direction. I do have to give Outback credit for sending some of its employees to Afghanistan to provide meals to the troops, but this is not mentioned in its mass marketing. I think the company should take a lesson from Golden Corral.

Golden Corral is hosting its 9th annual Military Appreciation dinner on Monday, November 16. The company moved its event to this day because it knows that many people have other plans for the holiday itself. And it is offering complete buffet meals for military visitors. Not only is this a real commitment to the troops, but it’s a better brand fit, as most military men and women are on tight budgets and cannot afford the $100 or more it can cost to visit an Outback with their families. Golden Corral is a budget-friendly brand.

Now, this is one of those blog posts where I have a strong opinion, but I am willing to admit that I could be wrong. It is hard to chastise a company when they are doing something with some kind of customer benefit for an important cause. What do you think?

Two Meaningful Campaigns That Fall Short

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

When I first started blogging a few years ago, I read some advice that suggested that you have to be critical every once in a while. You can’t be a cheerleader for your pet cause, and you can’t make friends with everyone. Rather, you must stand for something and produce constructive criticism when it makes sense. I believe this is true, as my favorite bloggers and journalists don’t just spew roses.

I’ve mainly done this through periodic posts under the category “Marketing Without Meaning,” where I blast advertising efforts that completely fail to improve people’s lives. Today I want to do something different. Here I will critique two attempts at meaningful marketing that have missed the mark, in hopes that we all can learn lessons about mistakes to avoid.

Burger King’s Wallet Drop

Burger King is actually one of my favorite meaningful marketers. In my upcoming book I devote several pages to the story of Burger King’s turnaround, which was completely founded on building “connections” with a focused target of young men. An early example, Subservient Chicken, just turned 5 years old.

I learned about this “wallet drop” viral campaign from Burger King last week when I was presenting to a marketing class at Miami University. It seems that in a few cities across the country around November 2008, Burger King purposely dropped hundreds or thousands of wallets in public places for passersby to discover. Upon opening the wallets, people found cash ranging from $1 to $100 and other items such as a map of nearby Burger King restaurants and a fake “The King” driver’s license.

It is a clever idea, but the problem is that it does not seem to have generated the buzz the brand hoped for. I think it’s pretty obvious that the effort and expense of this campaign is a failure if the only outcome is a few thousand people finding wallets and feeling better about BK. Rather, the strategy was most likely set up to have a few finders and journalists spark a blitz of attention to the campaign. Unfortunately for Burger King, the viral fire never seemed to catch. There are only a handful of blog posts about the effort, and almost no traditional media covered the campaign. This is surprising based on the fact that Burger King’s constant supply of edgy advertising naturally attracts extra attention.

I think the biggest problem with the campaign is that it’s just not that interesting or viral. Wallet drop campaigns have been done before, and enclosing a couple of bucks and a coupon is not that clever. I think Burger King could have had more success if it did something to help generate news and make people aware of the chance to find a wallet. For example, create a simple website where people could post where they found the wallets, and where The King could say where he is going next.

KFC’s “Fresh Roads”

I’ll stick with the restaurant business and next review a recent example of cause-related marketing from KFC. The brand recently announced that it would be offering interested cities the chance to have potholes repaired at no cost… well, except for the right to paint a “Re-freshed by KFC” ad over the new pavement. The effort aims to help cities that are struggling to meet budget needs, while drawing attention to the KFC brand’s fresh-chicken campaign.

First, let me say that KFC, like Burger King, gets an “A” for effort. It’s a great first step to move away from another round of annoying ads and actually do something of value to society with the marketing budget itself.

But there are two big problems with the KFC idea. First, it is a really poor link to the brand equity. There’s a touch of cleverness linking KFC and roads (Get it? Chicken crossing the road?), and an attempt to link fresh roads with fresh chicken, but it’s really a bridge too far. A dirty, disgusting street should in no way be linked to a fresh, great-tasting bucket of chicken. I have found clients in the food business to usually be extremely picky about how their product is represented, and I was really surprised to see the brand accept the bad taste that automatically enters people’s minds when you link roads and food.

The second issue really revolves around the placement of advertising in public places in exchange for a donation. Let’s face it: Citizens don’t like advertising shoved in their faces, and they really don’t like government “selling out” public spaces. We don’t look positively on the new trend of selling ad space on school buses or police cars, and McDonald’s was drawn and quartered for a local promotion in Florida where report-card printing costs were covered in return for a Happy Meal ad. These last-resort marketing gimmicks do nothing but remind us of the sad state of government leadership, and suggest that our society is worsening over time. So it’s not appropriate for KFC to remind us of this by splashing a logo across its freshly filled pothole.


I actually find that critiquing other brands’ attempts at meaningful marketing is about the hardest thing I’ve done in this blog. We are at the early days of igniting this revolution, and I hate to pooh-pooh the work of people who are genuinely trying something new. I’m sure that the brand team at KFC had to move mountains internally to try something different, and now they are getting “I told you so’s” across the board.

At the same time, for this next evolution of marketing to take hold, we need to have good, open discussions about what works and what doesn’t. And brands should understand that it takes time and a failure or two to finally figure out what it takes to succeed.

Helping Victims of Disasters—LIVE at P&G ‘Hack’ Night

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Tide Loads of Hope

Tonight I am at an event at Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a group of marketers, agency folks, and other assorted digerati. We’ve been brought together to help the company… sell T-shirts.

You read it correctly. A few weeks ago Advertising Age created a stir by announcing that P&G was bringing together a large group of digital folks for a “Hack Night.” Since then people have speculated about what would come from this event—say, setting new ad-unit standards, figuring out how to monetize video, or maybe even Google, Facebook, and MySpace would face off in a cage match? To add to the mystery, all participants were sworn not to spread a single word of the event. This left many in the digerati world quietly asking each other if they were on the list, and several others were working the phones to get on it.

I’ll share more on the event tomorrow, but right now I need to get back to work selling T-shirts. We have been spread out and broken into four teams with an assignment to sell as many Tide T-shirts as possible before 9 p.m. It’s a great cause and a perfect-fit example of Marketing with Meaning. 100 percent of profits go to victims of natural disaster. Tide has been running the program for years, after starting with a group that traveled to New Orleans to help people wash and dry their clothes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

So if you love our cause and purpose, please help out and buy a shirt at And remember that if you buy two it’s free shipping and handling!

(Here’s a video our team just created.)

TrueNorth Needs ‘Acts, Not Ads’

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

“Without action, thought can never ripen into truth.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Several people over the past week or two pointed me to a new campaign for the TrueNorth snack brand from Frito-Lay, suggesting that its ad campaign might be a good example of Marketing with Meaning. The brand broke a television campaign during the Oscars last week, celebrating the efforts of individuals who are making a difference in the world. But does the new campaign bring meaning to customers’ lives? Does it support its good thoughts with actionable deeds? I’m not so sure…

Back in fall 2008, the TrueNorth brand began a search for inspiring stories from real people. The prize offered was $25,000 and a chance to have one’s story turned into a 60-second commercial directed by Helen Hunt during the Academy Awards. The winner was Lisa Nigro, founder of Inspiration Cafe, which feeds homeless people. Other ads featured the stories of a program that organizes kids to gather pennies to help others in need, and an environmental program in the Bronx.

These are worthy causes and moving stories, but I’m not sure this passes the test of meaningful marketing. There are two basic tenants that we believe marketing with meaning must fulfill: (1) it is marketing that people choose to engage with; and (2) it is marketing that itself improves people’s lives.

My biggest problem with the campaign is that it is simply a television ad with a small contest attached. The brand has chosen one of the largest interruptive advertising audiences, the Oscars. These awards are known as “The Super Bowl for Women” because they provide a large audience for advertisers, and they come at a cost of $1.4 million per ad for media alone. It is one of the few remaining “scale” tools for reaching a large audience, but simply airing an ad—no matter how meaningful the story—is not engaging. And it’s a stretch to say that a simple commercialeven one directed by Helen Huntcan itself improve people’s lives.

It’s a strong positive to read that more than 1,000 stories were submitted, but I grow concerned that a special YouTube channel with behind-the-scenes Helen Hunt coverage has gotten less than 150 views.

It is not a completely meaningless campaign, and I believe TrueNorth does have potential with its brand and marketing. I love that the brand has a desire to “own the idea of finding your singular passion.” Although it might seem a stretch for a nut brand to think it can stand for this, the right kind of marketing can make a successful connection. But an ad campaign alone is not enough.

Overall, I believe that TrueNorth is halfway to the promised land. On the positive side, it has recognized the need to become a purpose-based brand. As described by Jim Stengel and Roy Spence, brands with a purpose have a guiding drive to improve consumers’ lives in a higher-level way. Pampers has a purpose of “helping moms develop healthy, happy babies” and the purpose of Southwest Airlines is to “democratize air travel.” TrueNorth has a purpose of helping people pursue their personal passions.

But it falls down on the marketing execution of its purpose. The marketing itself must fulfill the purpose, not just shout the purpose aloud. Pampers fulfills its purpose with cause-related marketing that donates vaccinations to poor children. Southwest fulfills its purpose with a desktop widget that notifies people when their favorite routes are on sale. To quote too many marketing gurus to credit here, TrueNorth needs “acts, not ads.”

TrueNorth needs more than an ad campaign—it needs to trigger actions that help people actually fulfill their dreams of improving the world. While expensive ads might inspire some, imagine what else the brand could do to actually help make a difference. It could shift the $1.4 million Oscars buy toward investing in small businesses and worthy causes, it could sponsor local events and activities, and it could help organizations attract donations from corporate sponsors. TrueNorth might hire community activists to run its marketing instead of traditional MBAs and advertising agencies.

If these ideas are not inspiring enough, TrueNorth can look to its sister brands at Frito-Lay. Doritos has embraced participatory marketing by hosting contests for young adults to create commercials or name its next flavor. And SunChips has gone as far as to build a new solar power plant to truly live what it stands for.

Kudos to TrueNorth for a noble beginning, but I hope it changes course toward a more true course to marketing with meaning.

But maybe I’m being too tough on the brand. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

SunChips Becomes a Meaningful Brand

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Back in November I had a chance to join a panel on social networking at the Harvard Business School’s annual marketing conference. It was a chance for HBS students and other guests to get firsthand perspective from a range of leaders on the front lines of marketing change today. My panel went well, but I had more fun listening to some of the other speakers who joined the event. One of my favorites was a keynote presentation by Jaya Kumar, Chief Marketing Officer of Frito-Lay North America.

Kumar shared how the company is really rethinking its entire marketing approach across its brands, and was enjoying a 10 percent organic sales lift in 2008 as a result—the highest rate among the largest CPG companies in the country. Perhaps the best story he shared was that of the incredible shift of the SunChips brand toward meaningful marketing. I wanted to share his story here, bolstered by some other research I discovered.

SunChips was originally launched in 1991 as a healthier snacking choice, featuring whole-grain chips made with sunflower oil. The key benefit pitched at the time was its 30 percent less fat versus regular potato chips. While the brand held a niche on shelf, it never really took off and growth stalled over time. Most people only encountered it as a snack option on airline flights.

A few years ago, however, the brand team discovered that the same people who buy SunChips because they are more concerned about health also happen to be more concerned with the planet around them. According to Gannon Jones, Frito-Lay VP of Marketing, in Brandweek:

We started to see that there was an intersection of people who were concerned with their health and with the planet’s health. Out of that was born the hypothesis that we could begin to connect SunChips more prominently with the environment so [the brand would become] a small step for me and the planet.”

The team decided to test the hypothesis and realigned its brand and marketing to deliver on a promise to “Grow the best snacks on earth.” One early step was moving to a California manufacturing plant that is completely solar powered—thus literally delivering on the “sun” in SunChips. It’s the largest solar power field in the state and produces 145,000 bags per day. The brand also “buys green energy credits to offset 100 percent of the electricity needed to produce SunChips snacks.” The billboard above is another clever way to show what the brand stands for.

The results of the SunChips repositioning have been dramatic: Sales grew 17.6 percent to $201.8 million in 2008. It has tripled its household penetration in the past four years. Remember, that’s for a brand that has been around since 1991.

Now the company is driving aggressively to do more in support of SunChips by doing more for the environment. Kumar described how Frito-Lay is working to invent the first completely biodegradable bag. A teaser video claimed that they are targeting Earth Day 2010 for its arrival, and he promised to give away the technology to all competitors. Naturally, SunChips will be the first to bring it to market.

Lessons from the SunChips story:

1. Even an older brand can remake itself. It’s never too late to teach an old brand new tricks. Here, SunChips simply stretched what it could mean as a brand and discovered insights into what its core target market found meaningful.

2. “Marketing” means much more than advertising. Nowhere in Kumar’s speech was talk of high-scoring television copy or digital media buys. Rather, the marketing came in the form of PR about a change in the brand’s production process. It is remarkable that the brand positioning was able to impact how a factory was powered. It is extremely rare to see this happen in a large, established company—making this story even more powerful.

3. Actions speak louder than words. A few posts ago I wrote about how marketing with meaning involves actually doing something to show what you stand for as a brand, rather than simply throwing up a piece of advertising that talks about it. SunChips gets the fact that today’s consumer is skeptical of claims (take the oil companies’ advertising, please), so it had to take big actions to win.

Delta Makes Me Smile (again)

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

A few weeks ago I wrote about a great experience with Delta, in which the airline noticed that I was stuck in the middle seat on a Monday morning and rewarded me with an apology and a few bonus miles. This week, I was again pleasantly surprised with a nice charitable tie-in to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

I received an email from Delta inviting me to register for a promotion in which 250 miles would go to both me and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation if I simply booked a flight or checked in online at In terms of meaning, this provides value to me on two levels. First, I’m definitely a mile collector, and I like the chance to add a few to the bank for future free tickets. We call this Solution marketing.

But this goes further to add the benefit of helping me, in a small way, improve the lives of others by sending miles to this worthy cause. All I have to do is print a boarding pass online, so it’s little effort and a nice reward. It makes me feel a little better about myself.

And this is where the marketing benefits kick in for Delta. The brand benefits by linking the benefit to an action that builds Delta’s business. It might sell a couple more tickets, and also saves on costs by getting people to check in online. Shifting habits might lead to long-term benefits for Delta.

Another long-term benefit is the boost to the brand equity. Smart cause tie-ins like this make customers feel better about giving their business to Delta.

Finally, thanks to its loyalty program and ability to track customers through extensive data on each interaction, Delta can get ROI results for even modest promotions like this, and it can start personalizing the offers that it provides to individual members. Delta might find that it is more meaningful for me to receive cause-related offers, resulting in greater efficiency and results.

Economic Impacts on Meaningful Marketing

Monday, September 15th, 2008

In what seems like just weeks since the media world had embraced fully cause-related and sustainability marketing, it seems we’re already questioning ourselves and rethinking the best way to build brands in modern timesagain. Some predicted that cause-related and sustainability marketing would fall back as the latest fad, or lose out to the next “what’s next.” Instead, it’s the economy, stupid, which seems to have us questioning these forms of meaningful marketing.

The growing countertrend is a belief that people are less willing to pay attention to brands’ good works for the less fortunate when they are forced to worry about feeding and clothing their own familiesAdvertising Age seems to have broken the seal on this line of thinking with an article today titled “Economic Blues Leave No Room for Green.” Reporter Jack Neff wrote of a survey of CMOs completed by Professor Christine Moorman at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business (who, incidentally, our president, Jay Woffington, has guest-lectured for). Moorman’s survey showed that CMOs who were more pessimistic about the economy tended to de-prioritize marketing around causes and environmental sustainability. A graph of the results is shown above.

Neff called me for my perspective on the study and whether we were seeing this with our clients, and ended up using several of my quotes in the article. My take is as follows:

First, I think it makes complete sense that people will, on average, be less interested in external causes when there is more pressure on their own budgets and families. A quick search of recent news shows that food pantries and the Red Cross are seeing fewer donations because of the economy. Donna Goldfarb, VP of consumer and market insights for Unilever Americas, makes a good point that we can follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here. In other words, when food and shelter are secure, we can aim to improve society, but when these basics are under pressure, we retrench, cut coupons, and stick with the cheaper store brands.

On the other hand, I believe that brands that support worthy causes and truly make a difference with their work can reap a strong return on investment. Cause-related and sustainability marketing still help brands differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace. And, as I said at the end of the article, “Coupons won’t get you on The Today Show.”

But the big question for this space is: Does a worsening economy dampen Meaningful Marketing? I think not.

To be clear, Marketing with Meaning has nothing specifically to do with cause-related marketing. Rather, it suggests that each brand must choose marketing activities that are meaningful to its target customer. Following Maslow, in great economic times, this might mean cause and sustainability efforts, and when people are under pressure to pay the bills or find work, a free sample or BOGO (Buy-One, Get-One) will move more cases.

Smart brands and CMOs should continually monitor their customers’ need states and adjust their approach accordingly. A move from higher-order causes to coupons and money-saving tips might be more appropriate today, on average.

But brands with historically successful and significant causes should think twice before abandoning these projects. These programs are built over decades, and a short-term cut may destroy a long-term win. Finally, we should remember that it is human nature to rally together during tough times. Lately I’ve been reading my 7-year-old a historical fiction series about life as a child during the Depression (yes, it’s an American Girl series). The stories depict one of nation’s toughest times, but also one in which neighbors banded together to help each other and the unfortunate.

The brands that stick to what their customers find meaningful in both the short and long term are more likely to weather the economic storms and come out stronger than ever.

Pedigree Justly Awarded

Friday, June 6th, 2008

This week Pedigree dog food and its agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, won the grand prize in the 27th annual Kelly Awards, a show presented by the Magazine Publishers of America that honors creative excellence and effectiveness in magazine ads.

Pedigree won top honors with a marketing campaign that drew attention to the plight of dogs living in shelters, asking people to contribute time and money to dog shelters, and asking people to adopt pets of their own.  Compelling print ads were accompanied by a website that provides information for prospective adopters.

The results show success on both Meaning and Marketing objectives.  According to Ad Age, the campaign “raised $2.7 million for shelter dogs and contributed to double-digit sales growth for Pedigree.”  What’s more, TBWA/Chiat/Day is contributing the entire $100,000 in prize money to the Pedigree Adoption Drive Foundation.  That’s a big deal in the agency world of tight margins!

For years advertisers have used cute puppies in ads to sell products.  Now they’re actually saving cute puppies through ads, and selling products.  That’s a nice win-win.