Here’s A List Of The Least Despised U.S. Brands

On Wednesday, AdWeek ran an article titled, The Best Perceived Brands of 2013It was a recap of a recent YouGov Brand Index survey that “measures consumer perception of brands by asking consumers if they’ve heard anything negative or positive about them and assigns a score ranging from 100 to -100 by subtracting the negative from the positive feedback.”  Here’s a look at the top brands courtesy of a AdWeek graphic:


Now here’s what I find fascinating. Everyone one of the top saw a year-on-year decline in brand perception. And these are the cream of the crop! On average the Top 10 brands dropped nearly 7 points. Put another way, the Top 10 brands averaged a score of a little over 26 points. The 6.9 average drop amongst them from 2012 represents a more than 25% decline in brand perception.

If I follow the methodology correctly the Top 10 are receiving roughly three negative pieces of feedback for every positive one. Nike, the darling of every marketing case study has a score of 16.5. What in the world is going on here?

It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong culturally. The would appear to be a massive gap between how brands would like to be perceived and the reality of the situation.  If the scores are any indication, there isn’t a magic bullet solution here either.

Dissecting the Top 10 is a fascinating exercise as well. You’ve got old, traditional brands like Ford, V8 and Cheerios right next to Amazon and YouTube. Media outlets like History Channel and brick and mortar locations like Lowe’s.  If I were to take a stab at it, I think all 10 are perceived as providing value, or empowering people in some way. Take control of your health (Walgreens, Subway, V8, Cheerios), DIY (Lowe’s, YouTube), on-demand (Amazon, Kindle). Ford and History channel are interesting. They both are a nod to nostalgia, perhaps even patriotism on some level, but neither brand feels stuffy or out of date.

It would be worth a deeper dive to see if there aren’t some other insights that can be derived from this survey.





The Death of Facebook?

Menlo Park, We’ve Got A Problem

Facebook’s got a problem. One that I saw coming last year (Ed. note: I certainly wasn’t the only one).  I was at a Facebook event in

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

New York as they explained to marketers how their system worked and how marketers could best leverage the platform. I remember sitting there and thinking, “So, this EdgeRank system is going to let Facebook determine what people see and don’t see in their feeds? Facebook is going to manipulate that so brands will have to pay to be in people’s feeds.” Again, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion.

Fast forward to December 2013 and what do we see? Headlines like this:

Facebook Admits Organic Reach is Falling Short, Urges Marketers To Buy Ads – AdAge

Facebook Wants to Be a Newspaper. Facebook Users Have Their Own Ideas. – All Things D (WSJ)

Facebook Brand Pages Suffer 44% Decline in Reach Since December 1 – Ignite Social Media

Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have To Pay For Ads To Reach Your Fans – J Campbell Social Marketing

That sounds problematic.  While this is certainly an issue of Facebook’s own doing, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the platform behind this.

People Are From Mars, Brands Are From Venus

What we’re seeing is a mismatch of purposes. What people want to do on Facebook and what brands want to do on Facebook are, depending on your outlook, either simply different or fundamentally opposed.  I have over 1,000 connections on Facebook and the amount of times I’ve seen those connections talk about brands, unaided and with positive sentiment, is something I could count on one hand. Complain about a brand? Sure, all the time. Make fun of a brand? Frequently.  Most people just aren’t on Facebook to have a “relationship” with a brand. They want to wish a cousin happy birthday; talk about the big game on Saturday; post a photo of their daughter going to her first day of 5th grade; or share a video of an adorable dog trying to catch its own tail. These are all personal, intimate expressions of people connecting with other people.

By contrast, most brands are posting stock photos of their products or trying to solicit engagement with entreaties like, “share this post if you think Fall is the best season!”  That is when they can find time between bouts of self-immolation with posts that range from insensitive to downright insulting.

So, at its core we have a purpose problem, not a technical one, and brands are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side they are being squeezed by Facebook, asked to invest money if they want to be seen by more than a small percentage of the people who have self-selected as being interested in the brand. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for because a lot of people would try to figure out how to turn off updates from brands if they were exposed to the pablum most brands turn out on a regular basis.

So, Should Brands Even Be On Facebook?

As exposure rates continue to decline (without paying to play), should brands even bother with Facebook? The answer, as with most cases in Social Media, comes back to this fundamental question: What do you want to do?

If driving sales is the primary business objective right now, and you need volume, I’m not sure Facebook is the best platform. Especially if you don’t have an established community of millions of people. But having some presence on Facebook certainly makes sense. People are there, they want to know that you are there. But maybe your Facebook presence should be less about your products and more about the story of your brand. Or what if it was completely focused on your employees? Or your customers?

The Problem Isn’t Facebook, It’s You.

Remember in Ferris Bueller when a stoned out of his mind Charlie Sheen is talking to Ferris’ sister in the police precinct. She’s telling him about the cosmic injustice she faces daily as Ferris lives a charmed life. He tells her the problem isn’t Ferris, it’s her. She should stop worrying about Ferris and just deal with her own issues. Very Zen.  Similarly, brands should stop worrying about Facebook and its constant tinkering with its own system and start worrying about the time of content they create – whether on Facebook or any other platform, from Twitter to YouTube to a website or mobile experience.

If you create content that contains value, that entertains, informs or educates, people will find it (and share it). If your content contains a human truth, if it speaks to people’s emotions, you’ll build a community that will want to engage with you.

Mars One – Redefining Human Achievement

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”

— Robert Browning


It’s easy, in 2013, to look downward.  Partisan politics, a popular culture fixated on celebrity, and the ever-present threat of financial and environmental catastrophe.  As a result much of our public discourse has become petty. Small.

It’s frustrating because so many of the great challenges we face should be the source for a collective global rallying cry. If everyone was committed to ending hunger, we could. If all the nations worked together to eliminate environmental toxins, we could.

The frustration is compounded because I believe that fundamentally, at our core, humans desire, in fact need, to have something greater than themselves upon which to focus their energy.  I’m not a particularly religious person, but I’m not immune to the ideas of spirituality or the need to contribute to something beyond my own needs. It is through these larger accomplishments that our lives have meaning.

There are of course myriad ways in which one can contribute to society, important ways that can have an immediate impact on people nearby and across the globe. Recently my son and some friends collected more than 600 pounds of food for the local food bank. That is an action that has real, tangible impact.

But there is also a need for something even greater. A need to stretch the boundaries of human achievement, to redefine what is possible. For it is these efforts that, whether successful or not, inspire others to stretch the limits in other fields as well.

So it is with great pride and excitement that I can announce that I have been named to the Mission Advisory Board for the Mars One Foundation.

Mars One has the potential to truly be one of the history altering endeavors of mankind.  It is a story of human ingenuity, courage mars-one-colony-astronauts-2and a willingness to re-imagine what is possible. Every aspect of the project is about taking humanity to a new place – literally.

I am humbled by the opportunity to participate in some small way in this mammoth undertaking.  A review of the other members of the Mission Advisory Board speaks to the credibility and seriousness of the project. The fact that more than 200,000 people sent in initial applications to participate shows the global zeitgeist that Mars One is tapping into.

Of course as a marketing professional I was intrigued by the potential Mars One has as a commercial enterprise. Mars One Foundation CEO Bas Lansdorp has an ambitious plan for making this dream become a reality. The opportunities for brands, media outlets and most importantly regular people from around the world to participate in Mars One is virtually endless.  I think a wide variety of stakeholders will want to participate in Mars One for the same reasons I wanted to be involved – not only can I help make this project a reality, but merely by participating, Mars One gives me a purpose beyond the trivial or mundane day to day elements of my life.

I hope to have many more updates for you in the future, but for now I encourage you to check out Mars One. See what sorts of people and technology partners are getting involved and watch some of the applicant videos. I hope that you’ll be as inspired as I am and will find a way to become part of the mission.

#Anchorman2 Isn’t A Movie

durango burgundyAnchorman 2 is a Transmedia Experience.

Or at least that’s what it has become. If you’ve been paying attention recently you’ve seen Ron Burgundy, the character created by Will Ferrell in the modern comedy classic Anchorman, all over the place.


In Dodge commercials

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On local news in Bismarck, ND

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At the Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg

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Of course this is all promotion for Anchorman 2, which hits theaters later this month. But it seems to me it is more than that.  I’m sure Ferrell, like other celebrities will make appearances, as himself, on Leno, Letterman, The Daily Show, etc., but it’s not often you see actors, in character, going to places like Winnipeg or North Dakota, and make no mistake, those locations are carefully chosen. They are chosen so as to be discovered, and shared, by Ferrell’s fans, who are rewarded for scouring the Internet and sharing their discoveries with the community.

No, Ferrell is engaged in another form of storytelling. He’s created a transmedia experience that is well, experiential.  Ron Burgundy now inhabits a sort of pseudo-fictional, quasi-reality that doesn’t just promote the “Anchorman Universe,” but expands upon it.  The Burgundy character is a cartoonish trope familiar to those well-versed in the Judd Apatow school of comedy. He’s the buffoonish man-child, egotistical, self-centered and infantile. In other words, he’s a lot like people you see on TV.

Burgundy’s appearances at various events and within car commercials break the barriers between performer and audience, but not in the same way that say, Garry Shandling broke the 4th wall on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Usually when performers engage more directly with the audience they break character – a knowing wink or nod, an admission that they know this is fiction, and they know that you know. But not with Ferrell/Burgundy. It’s more of a McSweeney’s style of humor. An “I know you know, and you know I know you know, but I’m not going to acknowledge it”-sort of performance art.  By maintaining the illusion, Ferrell/Burgundy pull us into their world while inhabiting ours. Ferrell’s comic forebearer is more Andy Kaufman than fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase.

But like another SNL ‘Not Ready For Primetime Player,’ Mike Myers, Ferrell is gifted at creating characters infused with a certain humanity that makes them believable while at the same time fulfilling the requirements of comic absurdity.  Their genius being the ability to inhabit these beloved characters but not be totally typecast by them.


So we come to the question, what can a brand learn from this? How can a car company or a QSR or a CPG manufacturer leverage this sort of cultural capital?  Surely there is no shortage of brand characters out there. GEICO has come pretty close with the Caveman characters. (Full disclosure, I thought the Caveman-spinoff TV show was cleverly written.) Old Spice achieved a certain degree of transmedia traction with The Man Your Man Could Smell Like via the YouTube response videos.

But most brand mascots don’t have the multi-dimensionality or talent of Ferrell/Burgundy.  Perhaps the best move is in fact the one played by Dodge. Borrow the equity and interest of an existing character. It seems to be working, as sales of the Dodge Durango is up 59%.

With notable exceptions like John Carter we live in a world where the blockbuster hit is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anchorman 2 is going to be a huge hit (BoxOfficeMojo predicts the film with double its predecessors take, raking in a total of $165 million). From movies to video games to awards shows and events, the opportunities for a brand to create a transmedia experience, rather than just a sponsorship or TV spot, are endless. Kudos to Dodge for not simply hiring Will Ferrell, but for understanding culture and figuring out how to triangulate between the product, the character and the actor.


Further Reading:

Transmedia Planning

Entertainment Weekly on Burgundy/Dodge Partnership

The New Yorker Explores the Viability of “The Blockbuster” 

Innovative Storytelling

Great. Fast. Cheap – Pick Three. Marketing Today

This piece was originally written for the Advertising Week Social Club. Lots of great content over there, check it out.


For many years the phrase “Great, fast or cheap – pick two” has been a favorite of mine. A delicious bon mot that creatives throw around amongst each other, rarely however having the courage to actually say it to a client. It was an understood but unspoken truism that was proven correct time and time again.

Thanks, Oreo

Thanks, Oreo

Even as desktop publishing and various technological barriers to entry began to fall, there was still a feeling that truly great work was something that needed to be crafted over time, and that that effort deserved an appropriate level of compensation. The corollary of course would come after a project turned sour. “Well, you get what you pay for.”

I was recently in a conversation with someone at a marketing agency and we were talking about this and he noted that for those of us who work in the social media field the truth was,  “great, fast or cheap – pick three.”  Indeed. The rules have changed thanks to the #1 advertising buzz-word of 2013: Real-Time Marketing.

Now, the truth is that the majority of brands putting a marker down on ‘fast’ have done so at the expense of good, and many have thrown away cheap as well, opting to eschew the ‘get the intern’ approach and instead hiring a specialist agency.  Of course the brand wasn’t set up for this sort of thing, so legal, marketing, sales and other internal groups hindered the use of the outside agency. But every once in awhile everything comes together and that little part in the middle of the ‘great/fast/cheap’ venn diagram lights up. Oreo now being the primary example.

And so an outlier becomes the perceived default. Now brands are trying to find ways to quickly turn out great content at little cost.  But right now that’s a bit like seeing someone win the lottery, asking them their strategy for picking numbers, and heading down to the liquor store to buy your own winning ticket. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.

So how does an agency respond to this?  How do you manage client expectations while still proving your worth, and the worth of the strategy and tactics you’ve sold in? Here are some tips:


Sure events like the Super Bowl or MTV Video Awards are a prime opportunity to strike Real-Time gold, but make sure your plan is bigger than that. Your strategy should be an on-going one, not all or nothing.


Bake the social strategy and tactics into other above and below the line executions. Social, real-time efforts should be one leg of a stool – remove it and the whole thing topples over.


Make sure your definition of “fast” and your client’s definition of “fast” is the same thing. Does one day for you = one week for them? Does one day for you = one hour for them? Either way it can be a problem.

Great, Fast, Cheap may be the present for marketers, just make sure you slow down and think about how you are going to make it happen.


The “C”-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness

I’ve been struggling to reconcile an issue for a little while now. As I look at my Twitter and Facebook streams it is quite obvious that there are hundreds of people with all the answers regarding social media. I see a non-stop torrent of links to tips, key learnings, best practices and everything else under the Sun. But on the other hand, it seems every week brings a new example of brand self-immolation on some social network.  How can this be? In an entire lifetime you couldn’t read all the expert content on the How-Tos of social media, and yet…

Well, first I think it’s important to understand that we probably only hear about a fraction of the social media campaigns that are activated, and those fall into two categories: wildly successful and catastrophic. Take a look at this:


The "C"-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness. The "C" stands for Culture.

The “C”-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness. The “C” stands for Culture.

Why do social media campaigns, at least the ones we are aware of, tend to fall into one of these two extremes? I believe it is because of the way they connect, or disconnect, with culture. The best campaigns play with, align, leverage or otherwise amplify something happening in culture. From kittens to Star Wars to the Oscars, the winners usually are the ones that we can relate to, that are working with some sort of visual shorthand for an idea or concept we all know.

Conversely, the ones that bomb often do so due to cultural tone-deafness. When you don’t understand the conventions of a platform, or you don’t realize that you are using a term that the “kids” use to signify distaste, or you don’t think your post has racial, sexual or religious overtones, well, you are headed for trouble.

Strategy is important. Solid technical and tactical execution is important. But I think an understanding of culture, especially when we are talking about social media, trumps everything else.