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Post-‘Call Me Caitlyn’: What happens now?

June 18, 2015

There truly have been few news stories more captivating than the Caitlyn Jenner story, at least that I can remember. The first time we heard her story was in the 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer back in April. Sawyer interviewed Bruce Jenner, who told America he would be transitioning to the woman he always felt he was come the end of Spring. Then, on June 1st, Vanity Fair released the now-famous “Call Me Caitlyn” cover that finally introduced her to us all.

The feedback CCaitlyn-Jenneraitlyn has received is particularly interesting. We live in a time where the media, particularly the tabloid media the Jenner-Kardashian clan is accustomed to, is notoriously cruel to its subjects. But the majority of people seem really united on this: Caitlyn Jenner is being unapologetically herself and it’s awesome.

So, while this may seem like a “cultural tipping point” on our acceptance of people that seem different than us, the advertising industry still needs to be careful. Whether due to the wishes of Caitlyn herself, or advertisers, most big brands have kept quiet on whether they plan to approach her for endorsements. And it might be for good reason. We may have reached a point where an overwhelming majority of Americans are supportive of Caitlyn Jenner, but it’s still easy for a campaign to go wrong. The reality is this is this is a lot of individuals first exposure to a transgender person, and knowing which pronoun to use can sometimes be tricky.

For those brands who decide to take the leap with Caitlyn Jenner as an endorser, here’s what they’ll need to get it right:

  1. Authenticity – Of course having Caitlyn Jenner’s name attached to your brand is publicity. But this kind of partnership will require authenticity beyond that. For a lot of people, Caitlyn’s story is also deeply personal and sensitive for them, as well. If brands are in it just for the publicity boost, or even worse – to poke fun, it won’t go over well.
  2. Deeper connection – Makeup brands, female-oriented clothing stores and even female-oriented workout gear are obvious choices for Caitlyn. For it to not seem like brands in these categories are jumping on a bandwagon, they’ll need to have a certain edge, progressive attitude and history of supporting causes such as this. Brands like MAC – with a long legacy in the LGBT community, fit the bill.
  3. Conscientiousness – For whichever brand (if any) sign on Caitlyn Jenner, knowing exactly how they are portraying her and exactly what they are saying at all times will be key. This is too much of a hot button topic and too personal for many people for a brand to slip up at any time.

Caitlyn Jenner as an endorser is certainly not about capitalizing on the hot news story of the day. For many people, whether part of the LGBT community themselves or not, she is a powerful beacon for being yourself, and has the ability to start conversations about things our society desperately needs to talk about. Sensitivity will be key for the brands aligning themselves with Caitlyn Jenner. But for Caitlyn, a great endorsement could bring an even higher profile to one of the most inspiring figures in recent memory.

Serial-ously Considering Podcast Advertising

January 9, 2015

Not everyone is an NPR nerd like me, so it’s quite possible that some of our readers have missed out on the viral phenomenon that is Serial. Serial is a podcast spinoff of the preeminent public radio program, This American Life. Just a few short weeks ago, producer Sarah Koenig introduced us to a fifteen year-old murder case with a few grey areas. Serial follows Koenig’s research into the 1999 murder of 18 year old Hae Min Lee in Baltimore, MD, by her ex-boyfriend, 19 year old Adnan Syed.

The basic building blocks of the case are as follows: Syed was convicted of his ex-girlfriend’s murder under shaky testimonies, questions about the competence of his lawyer, and a rather mind-numbing trip through the 1999 cell phone records of a teenager. It’s incredibly captivating to hear Koenig walk us through the details of every aspect of the case, including the not-so-stable evidence. I’ve been listening since October and was hooked all through the end. It’s no surprise the show has shot to the top of the podcast charts with its provocative tale.

The show’s popularity has me wondering about the opportunity for advertisers if podcasts really take off. Serial’s main advertiser – MailChimp – has gone viral due to the show’s success. The pre-roll audio ad plays at the start of every new episode, and I’ve noticed a few more ads included in the opening theme music of the show. It seems like podcast advertising is finally about to go mainstream, and here’s a few reasons why it would be silly not to.

  1. Active listening: Some companies are opposed to radio advertising because music stations don’t necessarily lend themselves to an active listening environment. It’s easy for an ad to get lost in the shuffle and become background noise.  With podcasting, listeners most likely won’t press play just to tune the episode out, meaning the advertisements should be getting noticed.
  2. Target audience: Part of the podcast’s allure is the sheer volume of shows available. There are the NPR-produced shows that reach your typical NPR-type audiences, but there are also the famous comedians, scientists, movie critics, conspiracy theorists, and fantasy baseball analysts (even Alec Baldwin) who have found a voice through podcasting. No matter how diverse an audience is, a company can hit it by advertising on a podcast because there is something for everyone.
  3. Native feel: MailChimp’s Serial ad is successful is because it sounds as though it’s part of the story. Listeners hear the voice of the show’s producer (at the very end of the MailChimp spot) telling you she essentially produced it herself. The spot even follows the interview format that mirrors the podcast’s structure. The advertisement feels native, like it’s a part of the show itself, lending itself to credibility, engagement and proper message delivery.

What do you think? Should podcasts enjoy their fifteen minutes of viral fame, or are they truly a viable channel for many advertisers to look at?

The NFL’s Pink October: Brand Positioning Gone Wrong

October 23, 2014

Green Bay Packers v Baltimore RavensIf you’ve managed to catch an NFL game this October, you may have noticed the “pink-washing” of the game, the uniforms and even the take-home merchandise offerings. For those who don’t know… October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast cancer is a disease that primarily affects women, and particularly now, there are a lot of reasons for the NFL to charm women.

What was perhaps once a respected partnership with the American Cancer Society to raise money and awareness, is at this point a pretty obvious brand positioning tactic gone wrong. The most recent domestic violence allegations against Ray Rice, the subsequent mishandling of the punishment and the entire media fiasco around it all has led many women to finally ask the question amidst all of the pink cleats and helmets: does the NFL really care about me?

And a lot of those same women are coming to the conclusion that, no, it really doesn’t. The NFL has donated $7 million to the American Cancer Society since they began the “A Crucial Catch” campaign back in 2009. While it’s no small chunk of change, that amount is only about 12.5% of the entire revenue generated from pink retail items sold in October. The NFL, along with retailers and manufacturers, keep the remainder. When you look at this in the context that the NFL generates upwards of $8 billion a year in revenue alone, that amount seems hardly generous.

The NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” is a marketing campaign centered on a special cause (breast cancer) that many, many people can appreciate and respect. The NFL, in creating this campaign, hoped to align themselves as a friend of women, as an organization that looks out for women and the challenges they face. But with the mishandling of the Ray Rice case and the spotlight on how the NFL has handled past domestic violence cases against its players, it is pretty clear that the NFL is no ally of any woman. And with that, the credibility of any other marketing campaign they hope will appeal to women, is dashed.

Because at the end of the day, “A Crucial Catch” is a marketing campaign. It ties in (very high paying) corporate partners, advertisers, promotional materials and merchandise. Its intent is to align the NFL’s brand with the American Cancer Society and all breast cancer research and awareness organizations. It aims to reach those of whom breast cancer is, or could be, part of their daily lives.

The NFL certainly could have, and most likely would have, continued on their way with this marketing campaign had the domestic violence issue never been raised. The pink October campaign began very shortly after the Ray Rice situation and all of the fallout from it. There was an immense wave of backlash against it the campaign itself – it now seems insincere and manipulative. The NFL has certainly begun to lose the female fan, and it is going to be challenging to win them back over with anything less than a purely altruistic positioning campaign.

What do you think the NFL has to do to get back into the good graces of the female market?

Why one game is a fantasy-turned-reality for advertisers

September 3, 2014

For many, the final weeks of August are a sad time: the summer is winding down and cold weather is creeping in from just around the corner.  However, for others, the end of August is the most exciting time of the entire year – because fantasy football is kicking off.

Image via jetnation.com.

As someone who is generally indifferent to the NFL, fantasy football season is personally dull for me. But as a marketer, I am completely obsessed.  It excites me because other fantasy sports drafts like baseball, basketball, and hockey pale in comparison to the billion dollar market fantasy football has created.

Fantasy football is particularly important to the advertising industry. 

First and foremost, fantasy football delivers a platform for an incredibly desirable demographic. The average fantasy football player is male, 30-40 years old, has a household income over $90k and has capital to spend. Using sports to reach this demographic is certainly not a new idea, but advertising within fantasy football allows marketers to reach this audience when they are most deeply engaged.

Fantasy football offers neutral playing ground, which is especially attractive since the NFL is a really troubled league.  The NFL’s image has become tarnished over the last few years due the concussion controversy, lax player safety standards, and player arrests. But fantasy football has a loophole- it allows users to disconnect from the league as a whole. When users are the GM of their own teams, they are no longer required to solely cheer on a specific team. Users follow their fantasy teams’ players across NFL team lines, indirectly giving the NFL itself less ownership of its own athletes and empowering the fantasy football owner.

 This ownership causes the users to become almost addicted to their team, and advertisers can capitalize on the captive audience in front of them.

Finally, the sheer saturation of fantasy football across the entire sports industry is enough to ensure advertisements’ visibility. To be competitive in any fantasy league, users need a portal, they need game access, and they need research.  Because of this, there are several mediums that have numerous opportunities to touch the desirable fantasy football demographic.

Fantasy league portals like Yahoo! and CBS Sports have worked side by side with massive advertisers like Miller-Coors, Toyota, and Visa to create engaging, native advertising partnerships. Besides regular in-market game broadcasts, the NFL runs games on Sunday Ticket and RedZone – two must-have subscriptions for any respectable fantasy football user. It’s the only way to stay up to date with out-of-market teams and players, and is splashed with advertisements along the way.

Fantasy football is a digital game which opens up the door for digital advertising. Popular sites like Yahoo! ESPN and CBS Sports receive a huge spike in traffic throughout the entire football season, creating the perfect platform for banner and custom content advertising. 

As advertisers, we’re always looking for opportunities for ad engagement and visibility to be high, and we think fantasy football creates an environment for both to be achieved.

What do you think of fantasy football? If you’re obsessed like I am, here are some great reads that I’ve cited within this post: Slate’s piece piece titled “The Evil Genius of Fantasy Football,” AdAge’s piece that provides a breakdown of the fantasy football demo, and AdWeek’s story covering media companies involved in the game.


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