and the dominoes started to fall

I called it.

Today’s announcement — United is following American’s lead.

Of course, when your industry is hated and someone else has already taken the brunt of the PR backlash — decisions like these are pretty easy. Way to step out, United.

And behold the power of contextual ad placement:

give me 6 months

I don’t mean to keep hatin’ on ’em, but it’s just such easy pickings. From AdAge, about blog coverage of American’s $15 bag PR fiasco,

Mr. Flanagan, who felt media coverage of the announcement and on some blogs was very fair, said American injected itself into conversations online only when inaccuracies were being reported. He said American hopes to have its own corporate blog operational within the next two quarters.

6 months?!?! The corporate blogging question I ask you is: are they 6 months too late or are they 3 or 4 years too late? This is one of the many reasons that you should have a corporate blog strategy NOW. It will take months/years to build a dedicated blog audience. It’s not something you can build to deal with a PR meltdown.

double half caff

Earlier this week, Advertising Age quoted me in an article on some comments I made about Starbucks shutting down over 7,000 locations one night in late February for a barista boot camp.
It’s now old news, but let me clarify and expand upon my original comment — and provide some updates.

First off, it’s obvious that the shutdown was not “training”. It was nothing but a PR/media stunt. It garnered LOTS of free coverage from the press who seemed not to realize they were being used.

I had said in my original comments that I would be interested when baristas started spilling the beans (ha!) about what went on during the 3 hour period. Just as I predicted, customer service was discussed during the training as well as how to make a machine produce three dollar foam. But some baristas are ticked off about the training and point to poor working conditions and wages as a reason for sub-par customer service and not-so-perfect drinks.

But here’s your big problem, SBUX. Customers aren’t finding any big difference. And that is a huge problem. After pulling a stunt that showcases how you’re going to improve, people expect…improvement. When it doesn’t show up, you’ve ultimately hurt the brand.

last train to brandville

Long time readers of the Shotgun Marketing Blog know that I’m a big anti-fan of the idea of governments trying to “rebrand” a geographic area — (many past examples here)

City leaders of Clarksville, TN are tired of all the negative publicity their town is getting so they are looking for a new slogan.

Earlier this month, a citizen committed a Budd Dwyer style suicide during a city council meeting.

Yeah. A catchy slogan ought to do it. Maybe even a jingle.

(thanks to mvp for the tip)

shirtless drill

I have never stepped inside an Abercrombie and Fitch store. Sadly, I’m too old to pull it off.

They’ve built a brand around a certain look. Their marketing reflects the shirtless chiseled male — a.k.a. the “Abercrombie look” (which sadly, I also cannot pull off)

Last Saturday, an improv group of 111 men of all shapes and sizes shopped shirtless in the Abercrombie and Fitch store on 5th Avenue in New York. The customers and even the employees apparently thought it was great. The management of the store did not. You can read more about the event here.

Now this was a stunt, but it reflected the brand that A+F tries to cultivate. It was a fun thing that the other customers in the store were enjoying. There was a great opportunity for positive PR had the management worked with it. But they squished it. The most disturbing part of the story in the link above is how the security pulled one of the participants away from the cash registers as he was handing over his credit card to purchase an overpriced shirt.

Here’s the question you need to ask yourself: If a large group of people came into your business today and tried to participate in your brand, how would your management react?

In addition to conducting fire drills and severe weather drills, your business should be conducting “branding drills” and “PR drills”.

Here’s video of the event:

Online Balance

John Wagner has an excellent post about what I have always referred to as “the happy medium”.

Sometimes it seems that the PR world has been divided into two camps. One is sold on social media and spends many waking moments talking and writing about it on blogs, podcasts and other forums. These folks go to conferences, speak at conferences, listen to conferences, then post and post and post and talk and talk and talk about what a difference social media is making. The other camp could care less.

The trouble is that neither of these camps are completely right. The world of marketing is moving toward social media….however, we’re only in the early part of the adoption curve on it. There are meaty hunks of the populace who still have no idea about this blogosphere that we’re all familiar with. All the barcamp-mashup-meshup-rss-web2.0-blogconference buzz in the entire world is not currently able to reach most of the masses.

And before you non-social media people start your victory dance….your days are numbered and the power of traditional media and marketing is diminishing daily.

Right now, the happy medium is where it’s at. As John says in his post….Blog a little and live a little.

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Coal

About a year ago, General Electric said that coal can be beautiful in a TV spot that focused on new Coal Gasification technology from GE. The spot revolved around several supermodel-type men and women portraying coal miners while Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic “16 Tons” played in the background. Watch the spot here.

At the time, quite a few smart websites and blogs came down hard on the ad for several reasons….that 16 Tons was actually about the atrocities of coal mining…that coal miners get still black lung and other diseases from mining “clean coal”…that mining is still environmental suicide…that mining destroys Appalachian mountains that can never be recovered….and lots of others. I think Seth Stevenson’s Ad Report Card had the best critique.

As happens with most conversations that the blogosphere tries to have with large corporations, GE ignored the abundant common sense ideas and kept running the ad.

I wonder if they’ll stop running it now after those gentlemen’s bodies come out of that West Virginia mine…and it turns out none of them look like Heidi Klum?

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Blog Power

A while back I made a great point (if I do say so myself) that Blogs are not Mainstream…yet.

And I still stand by that post.

For the vast masses of most consumers…blogs and the idea of open source marketing are just starting to pop up on the radar. We’re still way over on the left side of the adoption curve for the general population. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Blog PR (or the newly coined “BR”) should now be a part of any successful marketing campaign for any product. But, for the most part, you can’t ride blog marketing all the way to the bank…with one exception.

If your product exists only on the web…or is a very tech-heavy product, blogs are super powerful. I say this because I have seen it blossom recently.

Tara “Miss Rogue” Hunt has been a friend of this blog for a few months. Over those few months, I’ve seen her use a blog to get a job with a SFO internet start-up…and then use blogs to propel that start-up to blogosphere star status. In the past few days, Riya has been in the top ten search results on Technorati and has been the focus of Memeorandum.

I’m sure Tara would say that some of it was dumb-luck…the Google rumor…and then there was the “incident”, but overall it is an example of the blogosphere causing The Tipping Point…and a fabulous example of solid marketing. Congrats to Tara for a great job.

It’s also a barometer of things to come. While blogs are not mainstream…yet, we’re now seeing the shift.

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Salmon Flavored PR

Apparently, I’m in the mood for holiday marketing posts.

As in years past, the Jones Soda Company has just announced their usual holiday PR gimmick…putting out an oddly flavored “holiday-themed” soda such as Turkey&Gravy or Green Bean Casserole.

This year it’s Smoked Salmon Soda.

The very thought of that makes me want to throw up. In fact even Jones CEO, Peter van Stolk, says he can’t make it through an entire bottle.

But the purpose here is not to drink the soda. It’s the gimmick and the free press they get for doing something outrageous. (I’m blogging it, right?) In fact, this time of year is a great time for a PR coup (See points 4 and 5 in my Holiday Marketing Tips post below. The Jones PR stunt is very similar to the Neiman Marcus catalog example.)

The entire Jones marketing philosophy from weird flavors to drinkers snapshots on the label has been very kitschy, very quirky, AND very successful. Jones is also a great example of how consumers help shape a brand as well. For such a small company to mushroom (probably the next flavor) onto the national stage shows a great PR push.

However, the holiday flavored soda gimmick also shows the inherent problem with all PR gimmicks. What do you do next that can get attention? It’s like a kid who shows off and everyone looks at him…he enjoys the attention and then does something else…and then something else…and then accidentally breaks a lamp.

The Turkey/Gravy flavor got LOTS of media mentions for Jones. Since then, the other holiday flavors have not. Trying to be more outrageous with each step eventually fizzes out (Soda pun intended.) The salmon flavor is outrageous, but what’s next? The good news is that Jones is being distributed nationally and is very successful so they’ve ridden the PR train to where they needed to go.

I just hope they don’t break a lamp.

LINK:: Fast Company had an article about Jones earlier this year.
LINK:: News story about the Salmon Soda.

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BR not PR

Tara and Steve have some excellent posts about PR folks “not getting it” in the blogosphere. I love Tara’s new lingo of “BR”. It’s definitely going to become a major player in marketing.

And while both of their posts deal with blogs, these lessons are true even in a traditional PR campaign. Bloggers and traditional media don’t want to place your advertising for you…they want good useful content for their readers.

Write press releases from the reader’s point of view of “what’s in it for me?” Don’t just hammer out PR that no one cares about. Before you hit send on a press release, ask yourself, “Is this News or is it an Ad?”

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