The answer is no.

Seeking Shambhala

Last year, I wrote a post asking “Can brands be human?

A year later, I’m certain the answer is “no.”

Now, this may seem obvious. But for almost a decade we’ve been hearing about how social media “humanizes” brands.

After another year of social media strategists trying their best to be “modern marketers” with “content marketing strategy” and “real-time marketing tactics,” many brands have missed the mark on their 9/11 tributes.

Brands can’t be human but the operators of their social media accounts are (for the most part). So what motivates a brand manager to plan and publish a post that belittles a tragedy like 9/11 into an opportunity to sell? I wonder if it’s the same profit mentality of individuals trying to profit from the Boston Marathon bombing or missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Or maybe it’s a more simple issue that has stuck with advertising forever — people act differently when concealed behind the shield of a corporate logo.

In either case, it’s clear that brands should stop trying to be human and just stick to being businesses. Don’t forget to be respectful of your consumers along the way.

How far would you campaign for “real beauty?”

All around the United States, it’s school picture time. A friend of mine uploaded this to Facebook and commented that her school is offering to retouch photos for $10. In my school district, the option only costs $5.

We applaud marketers – Dove, Nike – for promoting the use of more “realistic” models in advertising. But is there any depth to this activism or is it just more “snakes on a plane” online chatter?

Maybe this is just a harmless offer to boost school revenue. Or maybe campaigning for real beauty is really just skin deep.



Ego Trap: Agency Insanity

Before I go on, I have some disclosures to make. I like Klout and use the Chrome Twitter extension. I’ve spoken at a couple of events with Matt Thomson and he’s a smart, funny, and nice guy. My company offers the Social Business Index, which has been called “Klout for Companies,” although we don’t compete. I used to work with David Armano. He’s a smart, funny, and nice guy too – and full of genuinely good intentions. So that should cover it for this post – to be clear, I’m not taking potshots at anyone or company here.


So I had seen vote requests from Agency Insanity (AI) participants and didn’t think much of them. As with so many marketing ideas, everything old is new again. People in the space may remember that Joe Jaffe did this five years and 20 pounds ago with a “Most Valuable Blog” tournament. Now that we’ve got Klout to help keep score and since no one blogs anymore, there’s a new spin on the idea.

Then I saw this tweet this morning:

Which got me thinking about AI again. Why were people participating in this? Wouldn’t most people just ignore this, like I had initially? It seems that some “players” are not participating – as I write, the score in one matchup is 112-21 while another is 6-3 (Maybe I’m wrong and those two guys are just historically awful self-promoters).

This is a great example of an ego trap in action. Get a bunch of people who work in an industry that’s fueled by ego the way Red Bull fuels action sports. Agencies already fight for clients, pencils, lions, etc. so competition is natural. So put the biggest group of industry influencers in a virtual cage match and see what happens.

Who wins? Klout for sure. Maybe the last person standing, in a #winning sort of way.

Who’s a loser? Lots of ways to answer that, depending on how you feel about this.

But wait – if you think this is all about egomania, there’s a catch. Armano posts a personal, revealing story about why he’s participating. Now what?

I’ll cast a vote for David, because I’ve seen him do good deeds in the past. What about you – whether you vote or not, does how you feel about this reflect your general optimism or pessimism? I assume most people feel “meh” – perhaps a sign that ego traps have lost their luster.

Trend School – Austin, Nov 3


Archrival – our compadres who got the world searching for Red Bull Stashes, mess with high speed cameras, and have Honey Badger on their after-hours answering machine – are partnering with experts from the Intelligence Group to bring Trend School to Austin on November 3rd.

If you need to keep up with the latest in emerging entertainment, technology, fashion, lifestyle, and marketing trends – and want a good excuse to visit Austin – you can get more information and register here: Trend School Austin.

Forward With Ford

I spent a couple of days last week with Ford in Dearborn as part of an event for the social press/media called Forward With Ford.


In hindsight, it’s difficult to imagine another company that could pull off what Ford did. For starters, the automotive industry occupies a spot within the American psyche. Ford products are a natural fit for a broad range of consumers – no need to force fit with slick advertising. And the company has a strong social media presence, providing a platform for effective engagement. Most importantly, the event wasn’t experimental in the sense that the topics were unrelated or new to the brand – you can see Ford’s communications consistency for example in this TED talk by Chairman Bill Ford.

Let me tell you about the people who were there. I met individuals representing interests including green living, mommy bloggers, Latino publishing, consumer electronics, and of course automotive enthusiasts. Key Ford representatives were Marisa Bradley, Lifestyle Marketing Manager who masterminded the event; Scott Monty, head of social media; Sheryl Connolly, head of Global Trends and Futuring; and Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who greeted the group at an opening dinner.

Ford hosted our broad cross-section of social media interests to learn about trends impacting the auto industry with overlap into the rest of our lives: emerging technologies, aging population, living green, safety and security, global design convergence, and engaging the senses. Accordingly, Malcolm Gladwell delivered a pre-dinner talk on macro trends drawing heavily from his October 2010 New Yorker article, The Talent Grab. The conference closed with Joel Garreau, bookending an action-packed two days of discussions and hands-on experiences.

On site, we were taken in-depth to see where Ford creates the future.

  • In the design center, I saw a massive HD screen where car designs are reviewed, at a size reminiscent of the massive Dallas Cowboys stadium jumbotron.
  • Ed Begley Jr. was on site to lead sessions on sustainability. I sat next to him at the opening dinner and we chatted about the Hydrogen Highway, windmills in Tehachapi, and personal solar power.
  • On a tour of the labs, we met employees who were eager to share about “noise vision”, horn tuning, seat comfort, the “human occupant package simulator“, and smell jury. Unlike the Zappos tour, we didn’t encounter any employees dancing with synchronized Shake Weights, but we did hear from engineers and scientists who clearly love their jobs.
  • At Ford’s test track, we were presented with eight experiences: off-roading in an Explorer to test all wheel drive responsiveness; skidding around with a professional driver on a wet track in a Mustang to demonstrate traction control; riding along in a demonstration of wi-fi enabled cars which can help prevent accidents; an eco-driving challenge to maximize fuel economy in a Fusion hybrid on the test track oval (mine was awful); drag racing F-150 trucks (I won); reviewing in-car technologies like voice, nav, and music; and driving a sensor-equipped Focus around an obstacle course for accuracy (me = perfect score).

I could go deep into how the FordTrends event is a manifestation of Social Business, but let me be brief and say that social business is business. Kudos to Ford for investing in an event to socialize the brand with an audience outside of the traditional gearhead set.

For more on the event, read CC Chapman’s take, view the official photos on Facebook, and browse #FordTrends on Twitter.

A little too familiar?

Do these gates look familiar? They’re the entrance to a popular store you’ve see in almost every suburban shopping mall, just a bit different in this particular outlet.

Abercrombie & Fitch Champs-Élysées

Destinations have changed. The proliferation of global brands make this difference ironically apparent, making foreign cities both comfortingly familiar and unfortunately similar. Almost everywhere you go, you can have a Coke or Starbucks coffee, buy an Apple product, or get outfitted in Nike gear. Whether this is good or bad depends on your personal preferences.

“In countries where protests against globalization were common a decade ago, American retailers are being welcomed by screaming fans and their credit cards.”

– American Retailers Try Again in Europe, New York Times

Do luxury brands need social media?

I was reading Steve Rubel‘s latest thoughts on Social Luxury Is Personal, which left me wondering if luxury brands need social media.

Luxury brands are defined in part by their exclusiveness and inaccessibility; social media rebalances power and control via its inclusiveness.

  • I was walking down a London side street with my CFO yesterday and we paused to admire a Maserati drive past. Ford and GM are running influencer outreach programs; Maserati is not.
  • A couple years ago, I delivered a speech at a Google reception for luxury brands. Afterwards, I spoke with representatives from Bulgari, Cartier, and others who felt that my remarks weren’t applicable to them given the presence of brands like Coach and Ann Taylor in the room.
  • When I ran global digital marketing at PUMA, I worked with our Black Station group on co-branded presences with Philippe Starck, Neil Barrett, Christy Turlington, and Yasuhiro Mihara. At the time our comparison sites included Prada, which was forever just a single picture, and Helmut Lang, which was a list of links. Forget any usability or even worse, drive to sales.

All brands today are thinking about social. But do luxury brands need social media? Yes, but not in the way many would think – this isn’t about making the Burberry plaid into a uniform or seeing every kid on the corner wearing an Armani Exchange cap. Luxury brands can benefit from social CRM – which leads to more effective business and better understanding of consumers, but not necessarily Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. For more on social CRM, attend my webinar tomorrow.

Luxury brands can benefit from social business. But significant differences lie within operationalization and by all means, please don’t confuse “true” luxury with what premium or mass brands should do…that would be quite gauche. 🙂

Pricing the emperor’s new clothes

In the aftermath of the holiday gifting season, here’s some insight into the effect of pricing on brand.  The bottom line isn’t good.  Jonathan Salem Baskin illuminates the illogic of sales over at Dim Bulb.

If losing brand equity through consumer training isn’t bad enough, The Boston Globe offers evidence that only 5 of 52 items tracked through the holiday season were actually cheapest on Black Friday. But don’t tell that to these people.

Be careful that your brand isn’t overexposed for the sake of short-term gain…