urban outfitters
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Urban Outfitters: Pushing the limits of disruption

One of Cult Marketing’s philosophies is to strategically disrupt markets. This is critical in getting attention with your target audience and is step one of any successful marketing effort – you must breakthrough the clutter. How do you decide where the boundaries are? When has a disruption strategy gone too far?

Most recently Urban Outfitters got into hot water with a vintage sweatshirt design featuring the Kent State logo and what appears to be spattered blood. Kent State officials publicly decried the tactic. “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” Kent State wrote in a statement on its website on Monday. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban Outfitters have struck before with items including a “Ghettopoly” board game; a T-shirt that resembled the clothing that Nazis forced Jews to wear; and a hat that labeled vomiting as “Irish Yoga.”

Other retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch have been famous for disruptive tactics. A&F featured naked teenagers in their catalogs, a t-shirt that agitated the Asian community (“Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make it White”), and had guest articles written by porn stars offering advice on oral sex and other sexual techniques. As expected, many conservatives and members of the religious right were outraged.

So where do you draw the line on disruption tactics?

The Cult view on disruption is based on one primary factor – a keen understanding of a company’s target audience and their attitudes, desires and motivations. One of the reasons that the A&F tactics worked so well is that it appealed to the teenager and college target audiences, not the religious right. In fact, the disapproval of the religious right gave the tactics validity with its target audience. And, while it was considered edgy and inappropriate, it was just about sex which is a hot topic among all consumers, especially the younger consumers experiencing those emotions for the first time.

In terms of the Kent State sweatshirt, our question would be to their millions of consumers that loyally shop the store: Were you outraged by the Kent State sweatshirt design? Will it stop you from shopping there in the future? Our guess is that while the sweatshirt itself may not sell very well, the publicity will create enough curiosity to actually increase traffic. After all, don’t most Americans love a good scandal?

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Why Ad Agencies should not be allowed to develop brand strategies

 

[Burger King, please read this!]
This week’s news from Burger King perfectly highlights why the brand has been struggling for so long – Burger King engages ad agencies in a shoot-out to look for a new brand positioning strategy. This is an egregious mistake on the part of the Burger King management team. It’s brand suicide.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. The brand is way bigger than just advertising.  A true brand is holistic – it impacts everything: shopper marketing, product design and innovation, social media, promotions, associate behaviors, mobile, digital, the retail experience, package design, e-commerce, channel strategy, sales, PR, loyalty, advertising – and the list goes on.
  2. “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ad agencies have a limited focus and purpose.  Agency folks are paid for developing creative executions (i.e. television commercials) NOT holistic brand strategies. Even the agency brand/account planners are charged with the responsibility of helping produce better creative work, not defining the brand.
  3. Many companies use multiple agencies. If you have an advertising, digital, direct, social, promotions, media, PR, mobile, and shopper marketing agency, which one is in charge of the brand?  Is anyone even taking into consideration the needs of the brand?
  4. When an ad agency creates the brand position, the internal corporate brand team doesn’t own the brand. That’s why many sophisticated companies such as Kraft have taken brand strategy and planning in-house. Internal brand teams have access to information, goals, objectives and discussions that no agency can have. And, it allows companies to become agency-independent so they can work with whatever outside partners they want.
  5. Often, agencies are selected in a pitch process. This is the fastest way to guarantee that your brand will be a hit or miss proposition. In most cases, the agencies are left to their own devices to find the golden nugget that will resonate with consumers. This means whichever agency has the best creative wins, and creativity is subjective, not based on a sound and tested strategic platform – or even what consumers actuall want and need.
  6. As Deep Throat advised Bob Woodward,“Follow the money. Always follow the money.” What do you pay your agencies for? Not a holistic brand strategy, that’s for sure.

So how should Burger King and other companies manage their brand positioning? First, they should engage an independent brand strategy firm (call Doug McIntyre at Cult Marketing) to conduct a deep strategic dive, develop key insights, and define the brand strategy.  Then that brand platform can be provided to all the agencies they want to work with to develop creative executions across the various media channels. It will help the brand, the agencies, will produce better and more effective work, and help eliminate the abusive process of agency shoot-outs.

Mayo Clinic logo

The Mayo Clinic Model for Marketing?

The Mayo Clinic is arguably the most successful medical organization in the world. How do they do it? What is their model, why is it successful, and is it possible to apply key features of their model to the delivery of marketing services?

The Mayo Clinic has a formal and proven 135-year old Model of Care. At its core, it is completely patient-centric and integrated. In spite of the ever-increasing number of medical specialties, the Mayo model demands collaboration to benefit the patient’s well-being. To avoid physician self-interest, turf issues and financial conflict, all doctors are required to work in patient teams and all are on salary.

Much like the medical profession, the marketing world has seen a proliferation of specialists. But unlike the Mayo Model and its integrated, collaborative approach, many corporations have moved to a fragmented agency model. How many companies work with a large number of speciality agencies like advertising, digital, PR, product design, packaging, in-store, media buying, social, direct, loyalty, brand strategy, research, and others?

It raises the question, who is looking out for the health of the “marketing” patient? Who is responsible for the overall brand strategy? Are all of these fragmented service providers serving in the best interest of the brand and working to achieve the company goals? Or, are they trying to get a larger piece of the fee pie?

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The Ultimate Product Demonstration

To demonstrate the teeth whitening effectiveness of the new Prime Time Smile product in conjunction with its national release, Cult Marketing created the ultimate product demonstration challenge – to whiten the tusk of a pre-historic mastodon.

Cult Marketing organized a Prime Time Smile whitening team to visit a Museum of Natural History to apply both the Pre-Treatment and Whitening Gel formulations to the 11,000+ year old mastodon tusk over a period of five days.

As the time lapse photographs clearly demonstrate, the Dual-Action Teeth Whitening System works wonders on even “ancient” and hard-to-remove stains.

In the future, we plan to send the Prime Time Smile whitening team to scour the country in search of other interesting artifacts, displays, or iconic monuments that could benefit from a good whitening.

Washington's Teeth

The world needs to see how well Prime Time Smile actually works. Up next – George Washington’s False Teeth. If you have a great idea of what needs to be whitened, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re also working on a print ad that will feature the mastodon story, and will add the story and photographs to the Prime Time Smile website and Facebook page to round out the social media coverage.

Prime Time Smile is available exclusively at Walmart stores and Walmart.com. Check it out: walmart.com

 

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Dublin Irish Festival Scores Record Attendance with Cult ads

Cult Marketing Gets Jiggy!

How did Cult Marketing help the Dublin Irish Festival shatter their all time best attendance record last year?  By doing what we do best, creating fanaticism. So, as the marketing agency for DIF, we continued our successful campaign and added even more fun cult tactics to the list.

Fans came out in droves this year. We saw folks ‘getting jiggy’ at the Killian’s Celtic Rock Stage, ‘wigging out’ with traditional Irish dancers at the Cardinal Health Ceili Dance Tent and lining up for the gathering of the Red Heads.

Check out some of the highlights from this year’s campaign that got folks talking and spreading the word for DIF.

 

Trade show marketing strategies
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Trade Show Success Strategies for Brand Marketing

Trade show marketing strategiesA trade show is like a modern day bazaar – a veritable open market of hawkers and vendors urging you to buy. In this chaotic environment, how do you succeed? How can you promote and market your brand without getting lost in the crowd? How do you land the hot leads, get the order, or at least have a real conversation about your service or product?

At Cult Marketing, we believe in the Sun Tzu philosophy that “the war is won before the first battle begins.” In the case of a trade show, it is certainly the truth; your brand marketing strategy going in must be airtight. You must carefully define your target audience, determine how you engage with them, how you make them aware and interested in your offerings, and how to motivate them to seek you in this environment. This is all possible only through careful ethnographic research, strategic planning, bold creativity and maybe a bit of show business.

Careful Ethnographic Research: What do you know about your target audience? In Sun Tzu terms this is known as “intelligence.” First of all, who is attending this trade show – potential customers/clients, competitors? What are they interested in? What are the characteristics of the attendees? The first thing you need to do is make sure the trade show is right for you as a presenter by assessing all these variables and comparing them to your objectives, product/service offerings and sales strategies.


Strategic Planning:
If you’ve decided there is a good match between what you do and what attendees are looking for, then what is your plan to move attendees down the AIDA continuum (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action)? How will you get their attention, what will tweak their interest, can you actually get them to move to action? In this case, the call to action will be defined here as conversation, a lead, a proposal, or in a perfect world, an order. You also want to be sure that your current brand marketing strategy is prepared to handle these conversions (have a trade show related landing page created on your website, for instance).

One thing you need to do is start the awareness process weeks or months before the show begins. Your target customers should be seeking you out by the time they get to the show because you have intrigued them well in advance. So, remember to invest in a solid pre-show campaign. Don’t skimp here and spend all your money on a crazy booth stunt.

Bold Creativity: There is nothing quite as dramatic as the instant feedback you get at a tradeshow. If people flock by your booth on their way to your big competitor, you can only sit there and pretend to look busy. In the meantime, it is too late. If your creative efforts are not the result of a well thought out extension of your strategy, they will fail. They will also fail if your message is presented in a boring, uninteresting or expected way. Remember the first rule of creativity: you must get their attention. If you don’t get their attention, everything else you did is completely wasted.

Show Business: This one is tricky as many companies feel a bit embarrassed about going over the top. But, it’s OK to push the envelope as long as it is well done. I remember a Kohler booth that had the “Bond Girls” coming up out of a pool of water. Yes, it was expensive as hell, but it was fabulous and the booth was overrun with prospects. The rule here is if you can’t afford to do it right, then don’t make the attempt.

Last but Not Least: You need to close the deal after the show. You need the order, the PO or even better, a large check mailed to your doorstep. This is where having a pre-show strategy incorporated into your brand marketing efforts pays off. Have a custom sales follow-up for each and every prospect. You should know more about them after the show than you did before, so capitalize on that information.

Trade show marketing can be fun if you are prepared for the battle. Find a good strategic and creative partner and carefully chart out every step of the process. Leave no detail to chance. Now, please enjoy the show!

BP

Energy Companies and Brand Marketing – Like Oil and Water?

BPAn oil spill is a tragic – but all too real – possibility for an oil company. By the nature of their business, you would think oil companies would expect an incident like the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil well explosion to happen. It should not be a surprise – anymore than an earthquake in California would be a shocker. But, as the latest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown, these environmental disasters are all but impossible to prepare for. The question from a brand marketing standpoint is simple: what the hell should they do given this probability?

As we at Cult like to do, let’s back up and look at the consumers’ view of the industry. The oil companies are really big and really profitable – even when the economy is in the proverbial toilet. In the deep recession year of 2009, when almost everyone was suffering financially, the oil companies made billions of dollars in profits. In a 2006 study of gas price manipulation, the FTC found that the record increases in gasoline prices were “not substantially attributable to higher costs”. It seems the oil companies always take advantage of their financial opportunities with no regard to consumer goodwill. These companies are often viewed as monopolistic, money-grubbing, price-gouging, predatory goliaths. In a 2008 Harris poll of 20 major industries, only the tobacco industry had a lower rating than the oil companies on the topic of how good or bad a job they perform in serving the needs of consumers.

From a marketing and branding perspective, what is there to love about an oil company? Do you trust them? Do you have any affinity to any oil company? Do they do anything for you as a person? Do they make you feel good in any way? The energy industry has to rank among the worst PR and branding industries. We know all about the 1989 Exxon Valdez nightmare which was widely considered the worst corporate PR fiasco of all time. But what has the industry done to counter its image since then?

Gladly, they have made some strides. Let’s take the current Gulf oil spill. BP has a real disaster on its hands, and they have clearly learned a lesson from Exxon’s PR gaffe. The CEO of Exxon was not seen until six days after the Valdez disaster, and then said at a press conference that it was not his responsibility to read the cleanup plan report. He also blamed the media for turning the spill into a big deal. Hell, it was two full weeks before he visited the spill site in Alaska! The media interview refusals by Exxon’s CEO Rawl and his complete lack of remorse highlighted the worst possible PR moves by one of the world’s most profitable corporations. It conveyed an ivory-tower arrogance. Now, to his credit, the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, has learned from Exxon’s PR mistakes and has been on air and is taking full financial responsibility for the spill cleanup.

On the marketing and branding front, oil companies have increased their efforts. Shell has been focusing on advanced technologies and product performance enhancements along with sponsorships like Eco-Marathons, Exxon Mobil has been supporting science education, and BP and others have been focusing on their “green” strategy. Unfortunately for BP, that positioning is tough to sustain given the latest environmental tragedy.

Even so, let’s not pretend the problem has gone away. The brand marketing work of oil companies is far from done. Oil and energy companies must develop a sincere, long-term strategy to create brands that connect with their consumers on an intellectual and emotional level. In short, they need to define a plan to evoke positive feelings from their consumers.

One good way to enhance their brands would be to become good corporate citizens. Oil companies make massive profits, so how about giving back? An exhaustive study by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy shows that the energy industry’s Total Median Giving as a Percent of Revenue (0.05%) is the lowest of any other major industry! [For reference, health care companies give 0.6%, or 12 times as much as the energy companies.] Once again, the oil companies don’t understand the concept of branding.

Maybe the sad reality is there is no motivation for oil companies to care about their brands or their consumers. What are we to do, stop buying gasoline?

The real economics of edgy?

We have a good friend who happens to be a prominent heart doctor who loves to sent us European TV ads. Why does he love these ads so much? Because Europeans run ads that are funny and brilliant and often quite effective in appealing to their target audience. They represent interesting and memorable work. The catch is, they are also very edgy in many cases.

These edgy ads would cause the American conservatives to freak out and whip the media into a frenzy. The FCC would ban the ads and fine the advertisers and everyone would make a huge deal out of it. The Supreme Court is still in the process of making a decision on the Janet Jackson “Wardrobe Malfunction.”

So, since we can’t run ads in the U.S. that contain questionable language or show any restricted part of the human anatomy, we rely on the British or the Dutch to produce the type of ads that many U.S. firms would love to make. Virtually no American company would take the chance and expose themselves to the threat from Big Brother, the FCC.

Due to the threat of censorship, fines, legal issues, complaints, and media attention, we argue that no American company wants to do edgy ads. In fact, just the concept of discussing the topic might cause American companies to shy away from an agency.
Let’s throw the big question out to the Cult Marketing blog readers for discussion: If Cult posted interesting, yet edgy, Euro ads on this site, do you think it would it diminish our agency’s ability to attract or retain national clients? Thoughts are welcome.