Monday, April 11, 2016

#carbonaragate: Marketing fail, or brilliant troll?

Europeans are very entertaining sometimes.

Last month, French lifestyle site demotivateur posted a video recipe for a pasta "alla Carbonara" that was nothing like the eggy spaghetti dish beloved by Italians.

Even among Italians, there are variations in the recipe, which is a "tradition" less than a century old. However, the French version almost seemed like a parody of French food by Italians. Dry pasta, bacon, and onions are simmered in water, then the mix is tossed in crème fraîche and cheese and pepper sprinkled on. Finally, a raw egg yolk is cracked on top. What?

The video went viral in Italy, according to Huffington Post, with Italians loudly bemoaning the "death of carbonara."

But let's look at that video again.

Nice product placement, eh? When I first saw the original video (now gone) I swear I saw Barilla branding at the end as well. I suspect, as some Italian commenters do, that this was just a piece of content marketing gone awry.

And yet the company denied everything on the Sai cosa mangi? Facebook Page, and offered a link to alternative recipes on their own site.

So, either this was rogue content marketing by Barilla's French team that went very badly, or it was a brilliant trolling of Italians. Either way, Barilla is benefiting from clicks, mentions, and visits by outraged Italians and curious foreigners.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Lingerie brand launches massive earned media campaign on sexist Calvin Klein Billboard

You've probably heard about this by now, as it's all over social and mainstream media. Calvin Klein is in trouble over a billboard that stereotypes women being focussed on seducing men, while men are focussed on making money.

The board's down now (according to the brand's PR "as part of the planned rotation of our spring 2016 advertising campaign"), but not before this happened:

The creator of the video is Heidi Zak,  CEO of lingerie company ThirdLove. That's right, a competitor of Calvin Klein's in the underwear industry.

While Ms. Zak is justified in saying that CK's ad is awful, what's interesting is that her brand is all over that video. And her Change.Org petition, Take Down Sexist Billboard In NYC. And the hashtag, #MoreThanMyUnderwear. And, of course, all the earned media.

In short, Ms. Zak has turned anger against a major brand into a highly-effective PR campaign for her own.

It's not surprising that marketers are riding the waves of social media outrage that result from tone-deaf ad campaigns like the CK one. In a way, this is a win-win situation for both CK and ThirdLove, as both are being talked about. CK gets to keep being credibly "naughty," as they have been since the Brooke Shields days. ThirdLove gets to champion the interests of "real women." And all it took was one insulting billboard.

Media may be getting more complicated, but the marketing strategies couldn't be simpler.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Honda dealership under fire for sexist rink ad

Image via Teri Pecoskie

Apparently, this is an ad that the Henley Honda dealership in  St. Catharines, Ontario, saw fit to put in front of the visitors' bench at the Meridian Centre, where the Niagara IceDogs play.

In Canada. In 2016.

Using sexism to troll opposing teams has a long tradition in sports, including painting visitors' locker rooms pink. But how regressive do you have to be to use feminine imagery to insult male athletes in the 21st Century? Especially as more and more women play, watch, and love hockey and other sports.

The advertiser didn't just make an honest mistake, either. This is how they reacted to criticism on Twitter:

The Protein World reference is telling. But while Protein World and Gourmet Burger Kitchen are brands appealing to a narrow demographic of young people, Honda is a major brand that depends on selling to all walks of life. For the Honda brand, sexism by a rogue dealer is simply bad business.

Thanks to Justin for the tip!


Monday, January 25, 2016

Another British brand tries trolling non-customers as a marketing strategy

The Sun
Remember the controversy over Protein World's "Beach Body Ready" ads last year? The ads sparked a firestorm of Twitter protest, inspired vandalism and parody ads, and was eventually banned by the ASA.

The campaign, which Adland's Dabitch described as "trolling as a social media strategy," resulted in huge amounts of earned media and — according to Marketing — £1million in direct sales revenue.

I've never been a fan of the cliché, "there's no such thing as bad publicity," but for brands that are seeking to grow a narrow-but-oppositional target market, it can work.

The Sun

Enter Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a UK chain that decided to dust off an old chestnut for meat vendors: Making fun of vegetarians.

The Sun
The reaction was as big as it was predictable:

The advertiser has since made a tepid apology on Facebook, and has promised to take down "some of" the ads. But a follow up survey, published in The Drum, showed that the campaign was likely to increase sales slightly.

Which makes me wonder, are angry social media protests over campaigns like these just playing into the hands of the most cynical marketers? Do activists risk becoming one more channel for earned media?

I'd love to hear some opinions about what's happening, and what could go differently.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie: A brilliant brand to the very end

Ziggy Stardust cover outtake by Brian Ward

It's not easy to wake up to the death of your icon, but that day is here. David Bowie's own family have confirmed that he died of cancer. And the media are playing his greatest hits as fans and colleagues air their grief.

I'll admit, I cried a little. But thinking about the past few days, I see a death that was as carefully designed as the life Bowie lived. Mod, Ziggy, Thin White Duke, he was always deliberate in the way he presented himself. Even when he was living on nothing but cocaine, chilli peppers, and milk in the mid-70s, he was thoroughly self-aware as he manipulated the media world around him.

There are no details of David Bowie's death, only that he had had cancer for 18 months. I'm not sure we'll ever get anything more. This is a man so good at getting people close to him to keep his secrets that after a decade of silence he was able to surprise the world with a comeback album in 2013.

Instead, Bowie wrote his own requiem.

In "Blackstar," the advance video release for his eponymous new (and last) album, we are shown a dead astronaut, a solitary candle, and a singer with his eyes covered. He was telling us something, and it wasn't happy. Reviewers saw an artist exploring his own mortality. They just didn't know how closely it was looking back at him.

The second release from the album was even more brutally obvious: Bowie in a sick bed, eyes still covered.

Bowie's official website also released the lyrics in full. Knowing what you know now, doesn't it make your spine tingle?

Look up here, I’m in heaven I’ve got scars that can’t be seen I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen Everybody knows me now   Look up here, man, I’m in danger I’ve got nothing left to lose I’m so high it makes my brain whirl Dropped my cell phone down below   Ain’t that just like me   By the time I got to New York I was living like a king Then I used up all my money I was looking for your ass   This way or no way You know, I’ll be free Just like that bluebird Now ain’t that just like me   Oh I’ll be free Just like that bluebird Oh I’ll be free Ain’t that just like me
 In 1973, David Bowie "killed" his most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust, with a surprise announcement at the end of a massively successful tour.

What followed was a decade of rapid change. Bowie killed off new and exciting Bowies as fast as he could give birth to them.

I won't get into the lackluster years that followed, but the artist eventually got himself sorted out and started a second act in the '90s that explored new ground.

But then in 2004, on tour, a blocked artery in his heart almost killed David Bowie for real. He survived, but put his career on ice. The man of mystery became even more mysterious as he took a back seat to be an elder statesman for new acts like Arcade Fire.

The comeback album, in 2013, was good. But critics saw it as a remix of Bowie's past genius rather than evidence of a new one. He immediately started doing much more experimental jazz work, pointing the way to the album that came out on Friday. It was his 69th birthday, and the music world hailed Blackstar as a masterpiece.

What would have happened if David Bowie's death had preceded the release? It wouldn't have given us the extremely emotional theatre that a weekend of rave reviews and a Monday morning obituary. Now everyone is revisiting the album to decode the artist's messages about his own end.

I have no doubt that there will be theories about the seemingly perfect timing of this passing. The thoughts swim around my mind, too: Was it assisted suicide? Did he really only die yesterday?

Even the RIP message by lifetime collaborator Tony Visconti is cryptic: "He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life - a work of Art."

It doesn't matter how it really went down. He is gone. We now live in a world without David Bowie. But as a result of his dedication to art, we also live in a world full of David Bowie.

Thank you, David. I can't imagine my world any other way.