Should a Fast Food Outlet Employ an All You Can Eat Strategy in Social Media?

Burger King Norway has decided to “Think Outside The Bun” when it comes to social media. Wait, that’s Taco Bell’s tagline. Ok, let’s just say BK Norway is taking a decidedly unconventional approach in regards to their Facebook page. FastCo.Create has the details. The short version is that BK Norway offered followers to their Facebook page a coupon for a free Big Mac – the key product of their chief rival! – to those people who would unfollow BK Norway. That’s right, they gave away somebody else’s signature item in an effort to lose followers. Why on Earth would they do that?

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Here’s the thing about Facebook “likes,” especially for brands: Likes are a cheap, and I would say frequently arbitrary and misleading metric. Especially when you lure an audience with free goodies and coupons. Those are fans of your brand, those are fans of a brand called “Gimme Free Stuff.” Listen to what Burger King Scandinavia marketing director Sven Hars said in explaining the rationale for the move:

“This campaign gave us the opportunity to get rid of all the fans that just liked us because of freebies,” says Hars. “We stopped focusing on how many likes we had, and put time and resources into finding out what to talk about and how to engage our fans.”

Bingo. Several key insights here. Let’s break ’em down:

1. They got rid of the “fans” that were just there because of the freebies.

Those people are going to be nothing but a drain on resources. They’ll want to know when they are getting their free food, and then they’ll likely complain about the quality when they do — both in public. Don’t believe me? Go ask TGI Friday’s.

2. They stopped focusing on “likes.”

Quick, go to your Facebook profile and review the brands you’ve “liked.” My bet is that you can’t remember ever “liking” about 30% of them, you have patronized another 30% in the last year (or ever) and then there’s another 30% that you do use/buy, but their Facebook presence has nothing to do with it. Focusing on “likes” is a never-ending race to nowhere. What’s a successful number of “likes” to have? One million? Ten million? Who knows. Likes are a result of doing the right thing, not a means to and ends.

3. They decided to do some research and focus on the people who matter

Most brands, especially in this category, just pump out product promotions, but Facebook – and by extension social media – isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be about that. It should be about understanding how people live, what they really want, and being part of culture. Then figure how your brand (not your product) fits in.

Yes, BK Norway has a lot fewer fans on their Facebook page. But these are people who, when given the choice, declared they would prefer to stay loyal to Burger King over their chief rival. Now BK has set up an us vs. them situation, just the type of thing that can be the catalyst for building a true community.  Again, here’s Hars on the results of the move…

 “There are so many more conversations going on between both us and the fans, and the fans in general,” he says. “Focus on quality for us has led to a dedicated and loyal fan base, and has also made it easier for our fans to connect to the brand.”

Conversations are a better way of measuring than mere “likes.” In a category where quantity usually trumps quality, at least when it comes to products, it’s great to see a brand focus on the latter.

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.


Untethered: How People Will Shape, And Be Shaped By, The #FutureOfRetail

Back in October of 2013 I was asked by PSFK to write an accompanying piece for the 2014 Future of Retail report. My essay, republished below, originally appeared here.


Perhaps more than anything else, the 21st century has been marked by its ability to disconnect long-held paradigms from what were previously perceived to be sturdy moorings. Many of the things we’ve long held as truths, be they in relation to work, family, religion, media or technology have been blown apart by cultural upheaval and scientific advancement. The result has been that people – let’s do away with terms like ‘consumers’ for now – have been thrown into a new reality (or emancipated from the old one, depending upon your viewpoint).  This sort of disruption inevitably benefits some and hurts others, especially in the short term. But as an equilibrium is achieved, people learn how to maneuver in the system.

PSFK’s Future of Retail report, not unlike a William Gibson novel, provides a provocative peek into the very near future. As Creative Culturalist at Y&R New York, it’s my job to observe, and ideally directly experience, these trends and help our agency, and by extension our clients, make sense of them.  Having digested an executive summary of the FoR report, I’d like to propose a sort of macro-macro trend. One that speaks to the larger societal evolution we are experiencing, manifested within the retail category. I call it untethered.

As retailers slough off the physical back end of manufacturing via off-shoring, and outsource other, ‘soft-cost’ functions such as tech support, we’ve seen the retail industry ‘untether’ from local communities in many ways.  I think we’ll see this continue and, combined with other advances in technology, the ‘untethering’ will also appear ‘at the front of the store’ as the very notion of the “store” itself changes.

We’ve seen the dramatic affects on retail as the way people buy products has changed, first from home computers and more recently from their mobile devices, or the ‘showrooming’ trend.  Now as content becomes a sales channel via mobile and 2nd screen technology – the report provides interesting examples of this – the very nature of the ‘storefront’ changes.  Is a shoppable music video a piece of content, an advertisement or a digital shop? The answer is “yes.” Omni-Point-Of-Purchase as the report refers to it blurs lines and removes friction from previously discreet interactions.

An intriguing knock-on effect of this could be how this alters the roles of employee, customer and ‘brand advocate,’ that elusive yet highly sought after super fan that has been the Holy Grail of corporate social media efforts. You could also easily throw in ‘producer’ to the salesperson/customer/advocate mix. Sites such as Etsy now allow virtually anyone to become their own retail brand, further ‘untethering’ the individual from the systems of the last century.

Can a retail brand exist purely in the digital world? If so, what does it mean to be a ‘salesperson’ of such a venture? Does that role cease to exist? Or does that person become ‘untethered?’ Could there be a new role, in the vein of an Avon representative, where you become affiliated with a number of brands, earning money for selling and promoting products? Now a person can use the entire arsenal of social networks and tools to act as a salesperson, customer service rep and brand advocate, and it could be done anytime, from anywhere.

Retail brands have long courted influencers with large networks, but the efforts usually lacked real strategy and it was difficult to track success. Now however the tools exist, from real-time big data dashboards to personalized customer profiles that remember purchasing histories, to allow a new type of employee to really drive the bottom line for retailers, and provide retail value to people.

We’ve seen the rise of the curator in recent years. Those clever and resourceful folks with impeccable Pinterest boards and finely appointed email newsletters. In an ‘untethered’ world these people will become ‘retail consultants’ perhaps getting paid a commission from an company, but perhaps also benefitting from a customer subscription service. The purchase funnel is now a purchase network and those savvy enough to understand the game – from all sides – will surely figure out how to benefit from it.

The ‘untethered’ retail environment opens new interpretations and opportunities for loyalty programs as well, another trend noted in the report. We’ve come a long way from the ribbon cutting ceremonies of old. Gamified, social experiences disconnected from a retailer’s physical space (if they even have one), will encourage new and novel partnerships.  There will be an opportunity to re-imagine the loyalty program from the individual to the community – especially in an ‘untethered’ world where people will have a greater need than ever to connect.

In an untethered world the role of advertising, and the advertising agency, will – must – evolve. The same pressures being brought to bear on retail will also be evident in the world of marketing. Communications will need to be further customized, personalized, relevant and delivered in real-time. But the nature of the message will need to change as well. Instead of a brand sponsoring a movie, perhaps a movie will sponsor a brand? Young directors will offer to make films about a retailer or their product, imbed sales opportunities directly within the film and receive a percentage of the sales.

All futures are possible at this time, but this we know for sure – those that don’t embrace the future, be they retailer or person, will find themselves in a world in which they will struggle to succeed.

The Advertising Industry Needs To Stop Trying To Win Wars

This post originally appeared on The Advertising Week Social Club on Oct. 31, 2013

Actually, no.

Actually, no.

Last week I attended TedxLowerEastSide. It was held at the visually stunning Angel Orensanz Foundations for the Arts. The event’s theme was The Hero’s Journey and featured a number of inspiring and fascinating speakers. A particular favorite of mine is Douglas Rushkoff, the media theorist, public intellectual and best-selling author whose latest book, Present Shock, is a must-read for those looking to understand how media and business are shaping the 21st century.  Rushkoff’s insights, and his ability to weave them into a compelling narrative, make him imminently listenable, and I found him to be completely engaging.

In particular he had an extended riff that I thought had real relevance for the advertising industry, though it wasn’t directed at the marketing community.  He spoke of the 20th mindset around “Winning the war on…” Examples of course being the “War on Terror,” or the “War on Drugs.” The “War on…” metaphor works well when the target is, say, Nazism. We’re really talking about a zero-sum game in that example. Once World War II was in full swing no one thought there was an acceptable level of Nazism that we should let exist. It needed to be eradicated and doing so may not have been easy, but it was simple: Defeat the Germans.

But things changed in the following 30-40 years. Actually a lot of things changed – politically, culturally and socio-economically to name a few. So when America decided that non-prescription drugs were a bad thing and needed to be dealt with in the severest possible fashion, the obvious meme –especially if you came from the World War II generation – was to prosecute a “War on Drugs.” So in 1971 President Nixon publically stated we were going to do just that. But ‘Drugs’ are a much more complicated idea, and problem, than Nazism. Not worse, or more heinous, but more complicated. Nevertheless, the War on Drugs continued unabated for nearly 40 years before, in 2009, the Obama administration stated they were no longer going to use that term.

In its place we’ve launched wars on terrorism, poverty and a host of other subjects, and we’ve done so with limited success to say the least.  Rushkoff argued that it is in part this 20th century framework that is preventing us from properly addressing our current challenges – issues like poverty, healthcare and the environment. How exactly do you wage a war on global warming? What does that even mean?  But if you watch the news, especially cable news, you’re bombarded with the “War on…” notion. Politicians use the term in aid of their increasingly radicalized viewpoints. Is a “War on Christmas” or a “War on the Middle Class” really being waged? It may take a very long time before we can understand that the grammar we are using to tackle the challenges we face is ill-suited for the task.

What does this have to do with advertising? Well, words matter, especially in advertising.  And ideas are what the ad industry traffics in, so understanding how words and ideas are used in service of an issue is critical to understanding how advertising works.  I think two of the most memorable campaigns of recent years offer a glimpse at how understanding the difference between 20th century and 21st century solutions can lead to great success and connect on an emotional level with consumers.

If the 20th century was about Victory, the 21st is about Sustainability. How do we achieve balance and learn to live within our means. Dove has built an entire brand around this understanding. Where most beauty brands encourage you to “fight aging,” Dove produced the Campaign For Real Beauty which encouraged women to appreciate and be happy with themselves. No “War on Wrinkles” or “War on Cellulite.” Women had been peddled that for decades and it was a war they were not winning because it’s a war that cannot be won. Dove is about sustainability, not victory.

Similarly, Dos Equis created an iconic campaign in a way that upended the traditional approach to beer, that most masculine of categories. The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign was witty and clever, but for all that, could have easily fallen into the one-hit wonder bin of advertising history. But here was the key line: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

Don’t always drink beer?! As a product spokesperson, it was assumed that TMIMITW not only drank Dos Equis, but probably poured it on his cornflakes and used it when brushing his teeth. That’s how you win the “War on Budweiser!”  If that wasn’t enough, when he did drink beer, he only preferred Dos Equis. So, if he came to your party and you didn’t have Dos Equis, but did have Sam Adams, yeah, he’d probably give you a raised eyebrow, but under the right circumstances he’s pop the cap and take a swig. There’s an unspoken understanding of sustainability here. A realization that you can’t fight a “War on, well, everything that isn’t Dos Equis.”

I think people understand this. In fact, I think we are becoming wary of the “War on” mentality that as a culture has led us where we are today.  Yes, the NFL, that most militaristic of sports is still the top dog, but look at the rise of action sports, where often it is artistic interpretation over ‘winning’ that was the genesis of the sport. Actually, it wasn’t even a sport, it was an activity until the people who run the networks and hold the economic levers got a hold of it.  My son is more interested in playing the co-op mode of video games than killing his buddies.

So, will the advertising industry take the cues from Dove and Dos Equis? More signs are pointing to yes. Chipotle’s recent efforts rather explicitly speak of sustainability rather than trying to fight a “War on Taco Bell.”  But I don’t think it requires a product or brand that is specifically focused on sustainability for the creative concepts to have that sort of motif.  It’s about connecting with people in an emotional way that communicates a truth about the world we live in today.