What’s my favorite ad of the year? The one that was able to make it.

December 4, 2014 by

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Well, another year has passed and it’s time to evaluate which ads have been great and in some cases, not-so-great.

In the spirit of being optimistic, I’d like to focus on my absolute favorite advertisement of the year. Ironically, the ad that did it for me was a Super Bowl ad that actually didn’t even play during the Super Bowl. I know, you’re probably thinking-how can an ad get Super Bowl street cred without actually airing during the big game? Yes, some ads are just that good.

Well if you were fortunate enough to see Newcastle Brown Ale’s advertising campaign “If We Made It” starring Anna Kendrick, then you probably understand the value of this ad. And I’m not the only who gets it- the spot happens to be Adweek’s pick for the No. 1 ad campaign of 2014.

For those who haven’t seen it – Newcastle had big plans to buy one of the most coveted advertising positions out there, a 30 second spot during the biggest sporting event of the year. After crunching the numbers however, they suddenly realized that they were missing one minor detail: money. Not exactly a technicality, right? Well Newcastle’s rebound plan was nimble and smart. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a touchdown-right?

Realizing they were short on funds, Newcastle decided to go the self-deprecating route and be open and forthcoming in their ads. “If We Made it” was Newcastle’s way of acknowledging their potential for an amazing commercial- hence the “if we made it” title.

“The whole concept and the meta wormhole that it went down was just too beautiful not to do,” says Quinn Kilbury, who (as Newcastle’s brand director at the time, oversaw the effort). He tells Adweek, “It just felt very clear—‘How could people not talk about this?’ As long as the creative was somewhat reasonable—because the idea is so different and unique and completely contrary to everything else that happens in the Super Bowl.”

Newcastle launched this campaign a few weeks prior to the Super Bowl airing, and it almost went viral immediately.

The campaign generated over 1 billion media impressions! That’s right, 1 billion- and according to Kilbury, the statistic puts him in the same playing field as the advertisers who ponied up millions of dollars for a spot during the actual game. “That’s what the big Super Bowl advertisers do,” says Kilbury. “If you hit a billion you’re happy—like at Pepsi, it means you did your job.”

In my opinion, this humbling and in-your-face approach was genius and provided the results Newcastle was looking for. Because Newcastle didn’t try to compete with competitors like Budweiser on advertising spend, they had to rely on the intellect and creativity to intrigue their audience in a completely different way. The bubbly celebrity appearance by Anna Kendrick didn’t seem to hurt either. Anna currently has a Twitter following of over 3 million and several blockbuster movies- she’s the perfect spokesperson for a beer brand. Check out this edgy girl-next-door breaking barriers by endorsing products, and doing it well.

If you haven’t seen Kendrick’s new Kate Spade ad, you’re missing out! Watch it here:

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Does Thanksgiving Need a PR firm??

November 21, 2014 by

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving-2927689-375-479With Thanksgiving around the corner, consumers are bombarded with holiday music at every turn.  From the radio to department stores, it seems like we were just saying “trick or treat” but now we’re screaming, “Jingle Bells” on our morning commutes .

Not that getting into the holiday spirit early is a bad thing, but since when did it become acceptable to forget about Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving seems to get lost in the shuffle due to the lack of big commercialization, flashy window displays, and a lack of magical figures like Santa Claus providing gifts and treats all month long.

Now more than ever, people are focusing less and less on Thanksgiving and more on the holidays with big purchasing potential. With corporations and businesses opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, poor Thanksgiving is primarily known as the beginning of Christmas.  It begs the question: does Thanksgiving have a Public Relations problem?

When we thought Macy’s was only responsible for the Thanksgiving Day parade, they pivoted their strategy and are opening their doors on Thanksgiving to encourage holiday shopping. The department store that has always upheld one of our biggest holiday traditions will open at 6:00 pm on Thanksgiving–two hours earlier than last year and just around the same time Americans begin to digest their turkey dinners. Other stores opening along with Macy’s include Best Buy, JC Penney, Toys R US, Target, Sears, and many others.

On the other hand, Thanksgiving-friendly businesses pledged to keep their doors closed–and the public is responding nicely. BJ’s distributed a press release announcing their decision of “…bucking the retail trend of putting sales on Thanksgiving above family time.” Similarly, BuzzFeed released an article listing the confirmed stores who pledge to stay closed in an effort to keep Thanksgiving as a family holiday.

With the pressure surrounding this decision, retailers and businesses have been placed in an awkward PR light. According to Macy’s Spokeswoman Holly Thomas, in 2013 its flagship Herald Square store broke its record with about 15,000 people waiting for the doors to open Thanksgiving Day. A survey by consulting firm Accenture has found that 45% of Americans do plan to shop and put their Thanksgiving dinners aside.  Allowing consumers to get a jump on their holiday shopping could serve as a last hope for some business like JC Penney, which has struggled in recent to keep revenue up.

Even with revenue at the center of the debate, it’s still difficult to ignore the outcry of Americans who want businesses to close their doors in order for employees to have a day with family and friends. As public relations professionals, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Thanksgiving is losing steam and taking a back seat to the heavier hitting holidays.  Thanksgiving used to have a great PR message: we had turkey, stuffing, pilgrims, and Football. We had A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and drunk relatives passed out in the arm chair.  It’s important Thanksgiving revitalizes these all-American themes – without them, Christmas will be here as soon as they leaves turn red and the temperature drops below 50.

No matter which side of the “holiday-shopping-on-Thanksgiving” debate you stand on, businesses are receiving attention for their decision—which could end up working in turkey day’s favor.  People are fighting for the Holiday in one way or another, even if traditions are changing.

Whether you decide to spend it at home enjoying a turkey dinner, braving the crowds, or even working at one of the many open stores we hope you at least enjoy it with friends and family – which is exactly what Thanksgiving promotes all on its own.  No flashy window displays required.

EZG goes to Lasell College

November 7, 2014 by

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The Boston area is home to many rich universities and colleges that boast the country’s best and brightest students. We’ve been fortunate to have several communications, PR and advertising majors through our doors as interns, and as a firm, we always enjoy working with young adults who are just venturing out in their careers.

It’s rare that we are awarded an opportunity to work with students inside their classrooms, and not inside our agency’s (bright yellow) walls. This past week though, two of us EZG’ers were guest-lecturers at a Lasell College “writing for advertising and PR” course. We thought this would be an excellent format to talk to the students about what we learned while working with clients to meet their advertising and PR goals.

While the presentation consisted of case studies and real-life examples, one of the most important lessons we included discussed writing for advertising and PR in today’s evolving media landscape.

For those of you who weren’t able to attend our guest-lecture presentation, we thought we’d give you our five tips for effective advertising and PR writing.
• Keep it Clear- when writing for advertising or PR, it’s crucial to stay clear and concise- the audience should not have to hunt for important information, if they are required to they will not stay engaged.
• Stay far away from slang– clients want their companies and reputations to remain professional, make sure the writing remains consistent with company’s brand and image. Using slang can derail proper branding in a heartbeat.
• Target the writing– make sure the content is tailored to the specific audience it is intended for. In today’s communications landscape, it’s vital for content be targeted to the audience most interested in the material.
• Include multi-media! This is a curve-ball because this tip doesn’t actually have to do with writing, but the truth is multi-media elements are a must. Text can be boring, and spicing up material with an infographic, video or compelling photo can actually say more than words.
• Make it shareable – by writing a dynamic headline or tagline, readers are more likely to share your content with their networks. Visibility is important and by highlighting the most interesting information, the content is placed on the right track for shareability.

Thank you for pulling up a seat to our scaled down version of our Laselle lecture- and don’t worry- an EZG final won’t be headed your way any time soon!

What are some of your best writing tips? Tell us @ebben_zall

The NFL’s Pink October: Brand Positioning Gone Wrong

October 23, 2014 by

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?

If a blog is written in the blogosphere and no one is around to read it- does it still make a sound?

October 15, 2014 by
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Photo: Sebastien Wiertz

When I started my own book review blog in 2010, I thought it would be easy to attract readers.  But I quickly learned how wrong my assumption was.  Because the blogosphere is a crowded space, writing great content does not guarantee readers will follow.  After learning this lesson, I had to find ways to push out my content so readers would find it, and then become loyal followers.

Readers of this blog might be wondering, with the plethora of blogs out there how do  writers ensure their content stands out from the crowd?   Without readership- many blog messages can get lost in the shuffle and writers lose the opportunity to showcase their work and get their thoughts/opinions/expertise out to target audiences.

Bottom line- a writer can have a great blog with top-quality content, but without readers the blog’s existence is pointless.  This is why blog promotion is so important. At EZG, we’re constantly coaching our clients to promote their blogs since there is good, quality material in them.

For our readers, we’ve provided three easy tips for gaining blog readership:

  1. Make the blog easy to find

This tip may sound like common sense, but it’s surprising how many websites have a hidden blog tab or link. If site visitors are required to search the site to find the blog content, they will usually not continue the search.  By placing the blog front and center on the homepage, the content maintains visibility by being just a simple click away.

  1. Utilize social networks

A blog lives (and gains popularity) on the internet- and what better way to ensure your blog gets the eyeballs you crave? By spreading it on social networks.  When bloggers tap into their social networks, they’re ensuring hundreds (to thousands) of readers are exposed to the link.

We advise bloggers to share the links to their blogs multiple times a day to reach those who may be surfing the social sites at different times.

Bonus tip* Hashtags and @mentions are great tools for potential readers to find and share blog posts and increase the likeliness the blog link is found by readers. Twitter and Facebook are great places to find communities of other bloggers who are ready and willing to share good content!

  1. Reach out to other bloggers

Does your client (or you) follow a popular blog that covers similar subject areas?  We advise our bloggers to reach out and say hello to the other writer! For bloggers, it’s important to expand the reach of the blog by inquiring to other writers if there is an opportunity for cross promotion or guest blogging.  Bloggers, much like journalists, need content and will often welcome guest posts with open arms.  The blogger will also help promote your guest post through their various networks which expands the reach and credibility of the blog.

As a blogger myself, I have found these tips to be extremely helpful in attracting readers. The blogosphere is crowded, but with a little bit of work you can drive traffic to your blog and attract readers who trust your insights and opinions.

Another “Thumbs Up” for Facebook

October 2, 2014 by

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At EZG, we have a common request asked of us by our clients – they want to target their advertisements by appropriate demographic and target their audience based on behavior and context.

Simply put, our clients want to be able to do more than just target broad audiences like “Adults 25-54”. They want to be able to reach specific people who are interested in their products or services, and possibly already shopping around for it! Ideally, these potential customers would be talking about it on social media as well.

As advertisers, we’ve had popular search engines like Google and Yahoo! on our radar for years as our go-to sites for targeting. However, there is another advertising platform that is quickly becoming a top contender in the industry – and that heavyweight is social media.

This week, Facebook rolled out a new ad network titled Atlas,(Atlas is a former product of Microsoft that Facebook purchased last year for about $100 million) which now allows the site to follow users across the web and serve ads to them on non-Facebook sites.  The ads they are served will be based on information they have listed on their Facebook profiles.

For example, if a woman posts a Facebook status about recently having a baby, Atlas will allow advertisers to serve her ads relating to diapers, baby clothes, etc.  Sounds like a targeted dream come true, right?

In a blog post posted by Erik Johnson (Head of Atlas) earlier this week, he explains that there is a lot of room for improvement in this type of advertising. According to Johnson, “Today’s technology for ad serving and measurement – cookies – are flawed when used alone. Cookies don’t work on mobile, and are becoming less accurate in demographic targeting and can’t easily or accurately measure the customer purchase funnel across browsers and devices or into the offline world”.

Sounds like a flawed system, but Johnson believes that Atlas acts as a way to solve the problem by using something called people based marketing.

As an advertiser, there were a few things that I found interesting about Atlas. First, I think it’s great that Atlas tracks social media users across all devices. Obviously, mobile and tablet use by consumers is increasing, and it makes sense for advertisers to be able to serve targeted ads on these popular devices.

Secondly, I love the measurability that Atlas provides. Johnson writes that “Atlas can now connect online campaigns to actual offline sales, ultimately proving the real impact that digital campaigns have in driving incremental reach and new sales”.  For us, this is a huge benefit of the tool.

Our clients are very careful with how much they like to allocate towards their advertising budget and are very concerned with each campaign’s ROI. This can be a great way to track an advertising campaign’s success and the results can guide us in the optimization process.

I’m looking forward to seeing the positive impact Atlas will make for advertisers. I think Atlas could be a real game changer in the industry and hopefully something EZG will implement in our targeted campaigns.

It is really astounding how social media networks are now competing with sites like Google on advertising space. Who knows, will Twitter be next?

Receipt Shaming; A shameful PR practice?

September 19, 2014 by

By now, you have probably heard about Philadelphia’s PYT Burger and its recent feud with Philadelphia Eagles’ running back LeSean McCoy. The gist of the story is LeSean and friends dined at the burger establishment yielding an over $60 bill. The bill was paid, but when it came time to tip, LeSean’s and his posse left a measly 20 cents.

(view receipt here)

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PYT Burger’s manager then did something that has prompted online debate – he posted a picture of the receipt on social media.
Once the receipt went viral, everyone from Charlie Sheen to other famous athletes were weighing in on the 20-cent-tip-heard-‘round-the-world. While McCoy is saying the tip was a reflection of poor service, Management is saying the tipping (or lack thereof) was done out of sheer classlessness.
Either way, there is a name for the waves caused by the receipt photo shared on social media: “receipt shaming.” Over the past few years, it’s become common practice for servers, patrons, bartenders and restaurant managers to share receipts online as a way to bring to light the behaviors of the dining public. Very popular restaurants like Applebee’s have made it into the spotlight (mostly negatively) due to receipt shaming.

It’s no secret that receipt photos with an accompanying interesting story have gone viral- and it appears to me that restaurants are now purposely using this tactic as a cheap PR tool.

In PYT Burger’s case, they’ve clearly come out as a PR winner due to the endless tweets, news coverage and celebrity buzz surrounding this story. Sure, receipt shaming is an easy way to attract attention but not the most thoughtful way to grab press attention.
The only sure way to guarantee effective PR attention is to have a strategy, make sure your company is thoughtfully positioned in the media, and demand social media managers are adequately posting on your behalf.

Our advice to companies thinking about receipt shaming: don’t do it. Yes, you might get attention and press, yes you might increase your foot traffic due to curious customers making their way in to your establishment looking for the stiffed server. But in the end, it’s bad PR.
Receipt shaming is no way to get your brand recognition; in fact it has an adverse effect and usually makes the brand look cheap and desperate. It’s much better to plan PR efforts and earn media placements through a great reputation and an interesting story.
PR tips aside, what do you think about LeSean McCoy’s tip debacle? Tell us @ebben_zall

Perfect PR? A standing O and slow clap for CVS Health

September 4, 2014 by

We love to talk about public relations and branding missteps. What’s more fun than shuddering at Market Basket’s month-long debacle, or how the media wages war on itself over racial issues?

Thoughtful, well-executed PR isn’t as sensational, but it sure does paint a prettier picture. And CVS just dropped the mic with its name change to CVS Health.

I know, I know – Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper aren’t exactly fighting over who’ll play the lead role in the explosive blockbuster detailing the subtle CVS rebrand. To watch the ginormous brand successfully shift its model without stepping on a single PR eggshell, however, brings a tear to the eye.

The real PR execution came to light months ago, when the Company announced it would stop selling tobacco. The move was reflective of a gradual shift away from the convenience store model and closer to preventive health. As EZG client Reynders, McVeigh pointed out in this Barron’s article, CVS is “in a prime position to benefit from the ongoing revolution in American healthcare.”

The Company is aiming to become the leader in consumer-facing preventive healthcare, which is a far cry from the foundational goals inherent in the name (Consumer Value Stores).  Such a wholesale shift could have inspired a public relations backlash from both media and the Street – unless it was handled with:

  1. incredible foresight,
  2. careful alignment with corporate goals,
  3. buy-in at every level of the organization,
  4. patience, and
  5. a message that featured restraint and sensitivity to an enormous global audience.

It seems that CVS was equal to the task.  The Company went loud with its plans early in 2014 with the tobacco draw down. It was the perfect segue into the big picture, as CEO Larry Merlo noted in The New York Times that “we have about 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners helping patients manage chronic problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, all of which are linked to smoking…We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.”

Did you hear that in the back, there?  It’s not about cigarettes, people.  It’s about HELPING PATIENTS MANAGE CHRONIC PROBLEMS.

Fast forward to September 2014. After absorbing the reaction to its tobacco move, CVS announced  simultaneously that it would accelerate the removal of tobacco from its stores and change its name to CVS Health.

There are a dozen ways these steps could have been mismanaged. CVS could have make smoking the issue, creating an air of judgment and a forum for debate – instead it made it clear that tobacco simply conflicted with its focus on health. Executives could have led with the name change, then eliminated tobacco – instead it made a powerful connection with consumers before changing the brand.

The way it was played out, this brand and strategy shift couldn’t seem more natural. That’s just great branding, PR, and corporate strategy working together. Well played.

As the late, great, George Peppard would say (yes, fully recognize the irony of George’s trademark cigar here):

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

September 3, 2014 by

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.

The Ice Bucket Challenge – Why It’s the Coolest Social Campaign Right Now

August 22, 2014 by

Like many of you, my Facebook newsfeed is crawling with videos of friends and acquaintances pouring ice water on their heads- there are so many of these videos that they’re impossible to ignore. In a matter of days, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, with everyone from celebrities to politicians being nominated to take the challenge.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, allow me to explain; a person is challenged by a friend, family member, co-worker, etc., to pour a bucket of ice water over his/her head as a way to help raise awareness for the deadly disease ALS. If they don’t, they must donate $100 to help fund ALS research. From there, the person challenges a few friends (usually on social media) to take the challenge or donate within 24 hours.

Some people who made a video may not realize the Ice Bucket Challenge was not always connected to ALS. The idea was the same, but people could donate to any charity of their choice. When Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who has been living with ALS since 2009, and his family got involved, the challenge took on a life of its own. Frates’ father’s video tied the Ice Bucket Challenge to #StrikeOutALS, an on-going campaign for ALS.

#StrikeOutALS in correlation with the Ice Bucket Challenge has created a way for people to unite- through one cause- and through one challenge. Today, people are accepting the challenge as a way to raise awareness for a horrible disease rather than just donating to a charity of their choice. This campaign has purpose, and it’s working.

The challenge has gone viral for three reasons:

  1. There is a clear call to action
  2. There is a sense of urgency (24 hours to respond)
  3. Connectivity through hashtags

These three elements will ensure that the campaign will have a relatively long shelf life and is sure to bring attention to ALS. . While there are naysayers who believe the Ice Bucket Challenge hasn’t really accomplished much, the ALS Association has received over $53.3 million in donations between through August 22. Just as important- people are talking. People are talking about ALS about what it’s like to live with ALS, , and coming forward with their own tales. I can’t help but watch my friends and my favorite celebrities pour freezing water over their heads and know that it’s going to help people like Pete Frates and Anthony Carbajal.

To watch Anthony’s hilarious, yet heartbreaking video click here:

Have you participated in the #ALSIceBucketChallenge? What are your favorite #IceBucketChallenge videos?


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