March 19, 2015
Speaking to a crowd of thousands of tech junkies and industry entrepreneurs at the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive technology festival, keynote speaker and former AOL CEO Steve Case stated that the world is at a “pivotal point” of the internet as the Web enters its third wave.
The first wave, of which Case’s AOL was at the forefront, ran from 1985 through 2000 or so and consisted of the internet’s rise in popular culture from a closed-off network used by governments and educators to a utility-like commodity billions depend on every day. When the internet hit its second wave around the turn of the millennium, large companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and eBay rose to power, further incorporating the Web into everyday life.
Now we are at a crossroads, Case says, as the third wave begins. This new era will be characterized by new disruptive companies tackling more areas of daily life: food, healthcare, transportation and energy, among others. Those entrepreneurs who are successful will need to “understand the battle ahead.”
Fueling the transition will be a greater access to capital than even in Silicon Valley’s high-flying “bubble” days. Crowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have democratized the funding of new tech companies and products, allowing developers to connect directly with those interested in a new idea. Meanwhile, venture capitalist firms and large companies have embraced the idea of activist investing, using the commercial sector toward the public’s greater good. Case used the examples of Toms and Etsy as two cutting-edge for-profit companies who have managed to help communities worldwide through activism and giving back.
Finally, Silicon Valley, today’s worldwide center of the tech world, will no longer have a monopoly on the brightest minds and most promising companies as new regional hubs in the United States and elsewhere pop up to serve an expanding industry. In Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the North Carolina coast, as well as regions in the Middle East and Africa, this process has already begun. A decentralized tech industry will encourage innovation, competition and a reformatting of tech culture that has become somewhat dysfunctional, Case says.
AOL took 10 years to reach 1 million users, a feat today’s most-successful social networks and smartphone apps accomplish in a period of days or weeks. The Web as a communication medium has come a long way since the U.S. government legalized its commercial use in 1992, and Case says the new era is just getting started.
March 17, 2015
Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but copyright infringement will get you nowhere but court. That, says Ronn Torossian, is a lesson an NYC-based granola company is learning the hard way. Powerhouse singer-songwriters Hall & Oates are suing a Brooklyn-based granola company for selling a brand of granola called “Haulin’ Oats.”
Hall & Oates took the company to federal court to stop them from selling the product, stating that to do so violates their trademark and damages their brand. The company in question, Early Bird Foods, has yet to comment on the suit in the media, but has decided to take another tack. They offered a discount on their product online where customers use a coupon code based on a hit Hall & Oates song. Definitely have to give them credit for wit, but that promotional stunt may just backfire.
This is the second time Hall & Oates have sued a company for marketing a brand labeled “Haulin’ Oats.” Back in 2014, the duo learned a Kentucky-based company was selling oatmeal under the same name. They approached the company and were able to work out a deal. Now, Haulin’ Oats brand is available in five states.
This, of course, is the right way to end an obvious trademark infringement. If you are absolutely set on using the name or a derivative of it, work out a deal with the owners and sell to your heart’s content. While flouting the rule might position Early Bird as the heroic Little Guy fighting the Power, in the end they may just end up getting the worm.
Guess this rules out Ben & Jerry doing that long awaited “Sara Swirls” flavor.
March 12, 2015
Have you ever heard of #throwbackthursday? How about #womancrushwednesday? Chances are you’ve picked up on plenty of these catchy phrases. Our online lexicon has been inundated with meaningless hashtags, but a campaign with a cause has emerged in the last few years. #GivingTuesday was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan and the United Nations Foundation to garner support for charity and philanthropic organizations during the holiday season. Our economy is especially consumer driven after Thanksgiving.
As an answer to that, GivingTuesday falls on the Tuesday after Black Friday and Cyber Monday annually in an attempt to remind consumers to give back to those in need. The organizers hope that in time GivingTuesday will become a holiday tradition. GivingTuesday is mainly a social media campaign, relying on the use of hashtags in the hopes of reaching viral proportions. The movement even created the #unselfie, a clever hashtag to use when tagging photos to show your support of GivingTuesday on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. GivingTuesday support has nearly doubled every year since the campaign began in 2012. With over 20,000 charitable partners in 2014, the third annual event was the most successful yet.
The number of organizations partnered with GivingTuesday doubled from the amount in 2013, and people from 68 different countries participated. According to GivingTuesday.org, donations rose 63% over the previous year’s totals, and 90% from 2012’s numbers. The hashtag #GivingTuesday was used on Twitter 754,600 times and was a trending topic for 11 hours. #unselfie was tagged in over 7500 photos and tweeted nearly 40,000 times. There was a 101% increase in mobile transactions compared to the previous year, proving that the heavy use of social media influence in the campaign is paying off. GivingTuesday received donations from all 50 states in its first year, and has now received worldwide support in its third year. Notable organizations such as UNICEF and the American Red Cross have joined ranks with many other charities large and small.
The wide range of giving options makes donation more appealing, meaningful and personalized for the individuals who participate. With every year skyrocketing past the previous year’s totals, this holiday may have the best show of support yet. So, before you spend all of your holiday budget on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, remember GivingTuesday and start your holiday off with a selfless act. This year’s GivingTuesday is on December 1st, 2015.
March 5, 2015
Looks, it’s a cinch that football fans are not Cleveland Browns fans because of the uniforms. The Browns’ orange, brown and white scheme is only slightly less underwhelming than their cellar-dwelling on-field performances. The only disappointment more consistent than these duds is the Browns’ need for a quarterback.
That dynamic led to a highly anticipated and widely marketed rebranding initiative. The campaign took two years to complete, and the Browns recently unveiled their new logo to replace the iconic but somewhat tired orange helmet … the new result? Wait for it (the fans did for two years) … another orange helmet. Essentially, the team went from orange peel orange to traffic cone orange. That’s pretty much it.
Well, according to some wits on social media they also gave “The Dawg” rabies. Not an unfair commentary by any means. And the rest of the PR fallout from this decision? Incendiary. Even fans growing accustomed to disappointment seem to feel punked this time around.
Logic says, your reaction better be as big as your promotion. When you make legions of some of the most loyal fans in the history of sports wait for two years to experience hope in the form of a brand transformation and you come up with … not much transformation at all … it comes off as not trying. As taking them for granted. As … not putting enough care into putting out a winning product.
That’s not to say every logo is a winner. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers debuted in the late 1970s, they came with an orange popsicle color combination and a flamboyant Errol-Flynn-Mustachioed pirate (of Penzance). Fans grew to hate the logo as much as they did the on-field (lack of) performance. So the Bucs went back to the drawing board, coming up with the iconic new color scheme and pirate logo. Then they put a winning team on the field and their fan base grew by massive numbers, everyone sporting the cool new gear. The creamsicle days are saved for irony and throwback games.
The Browns had the same chance. Judging by their fans’ reactions, they blew it … again.
February 27, 2015
The 87th Academy Awards show is now a part of the history books. “Birdman” was the big winner of the night, taking home four wins in the nine categories that it was nominated for. While it is always fun to take a look at the winners and losers, it is even more interesting to see who were the biggest winners and losers in the public relations department. Every year has some presenters and winners who do amazing or head-scratching things while they have the spotlight, and this year was no different. Here is a look at the biggest PR winners and losers for this year’s Oscars.
Winner – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Even people who were outraged that “Boyhood” lost had to admire the graciousness that Gonzalez Inarritu displayed when he accepted his awards. His joking moment where he said he was wearing Michael Keaton’s tighty whiteys from the film was just the kind of hilarity that was far too infrequent in this year’s broadcast.
Loser – Sean Penn
While anyone who really knows Sean Penn realizes he is about as liberal and far from a racist as you can get, that didn’t stop social media from erupting when Penn asked jokingly, “Who gave this gave this son of a $*%#! his green card?” when he was presenting the award for Best Picture to Gonzalez Inarittu. Gonzalez Inarritu directed Peen in the film “21 Grams,” and the two are good friends. He even said backstage that he thought Penn’s joke was “hilarious.” However, the PR damage to Penn’s reputation is undeniable, but he will likely recover quickly.
Winner – Patricia Arquette
The brilliant actress was the only person to take home any hardware from the tragically underappreciated “Boyhood,” and Patricia Arquette made the most of it. During arguably the greatest speech of the evening, she delivered an impassioned plea for equality for women. In particular, she turned a spotlight on the wage inequality that exists for women today. Her fiery speech got the women in the auditorium as well as a number of the men on their feet. Meryl Streep in particular was cheering loudly.
Loser – Neil Patrick Harris
People are already arguing about how Neil Patrick Harris’s performance was as host, but the majority seem to feel he fell flat. He had a number of strange moments, including the running gag with his prediction box that aggravated both people at the show as well as those watching at home. He also had some uncomfortable moments with the few African-American attendees, including both Oprah and “Selma” star David Oyelowo. Coming out on the stage in his underwear was awkward as could be. It was definitely not in keeping with the classy presence an Oscar host needs. Perhaps his worst moment was when he made a tasteless joke about a winner’s dress moments after she made an impassioned plea for suicide victims. It is doubtful that he will ever get asked back to host.
Winner – JK Simmons
The career character actor was a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Whiplash,” and Simmons’s speech was one of the best of the evening. His impassioned plea for everyone watching to call their parents was one of the most memorable moments of the evening, and it will doubtless gain him lots of new advertising gigs like his commercials with Farmers Insurance.
Loser – John Travolta
Travolta was arguable the biggest PR loser of the night. First, Travolta crept up on Scarlett Johannsson on the red carper to steal a kiss from the obviously uncomfortable starlet. On stage, he was paired with Idina Menzel, whose name he famously butchered during last year’s show. He got her name right this year, but that didn’t make up for his uncomfortable chin-grabbing of her with a billion people watching. It was by far the most awkward moment of the show, and his already shaky reputation is even shakier now.
February 23, 2015
In the lead up to the NFL Scouting Combine, the prognosticators grew louder than ever. Which quarterback would emerge from the Combine with the best shot at being number one overall in the next NFL draft? While, in the past, some top prospects chose to forego the annual talent showcase, this season does not lend itself to that luxury.
There are two quarterbacks in this draft who are widely considered to be all but equal in ability and intangibles. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have been endlessly compared, but the jury is still out on who is the best. Recently, Mariota was quoted as saying he doesn’t compare himself to other players. Well, if that’s the case, then he is the only guy who doesn’t.
There is no doubt that Mariota and Winston are both gifted athletes and excellent quarterbacks. Even criticisms about how each might function at the next level are offered with stacks of caveats and “yeah, buts.” Winston is considered to be the most “ready” to step into a pro style offense. But Mariota comes with his own huge upside.
Where will each end up in the draft? Likely, the teams at the top of the draft board have already made up their minds. But the Combine is an opportunity to either secure that decision or give them second thoughts. The strategy for both outcomes is the same. Not only to achieve peak personal performance but also outperform The Other Guy.
At the Combine, this competition is distilled, obviously, but it is the same competition every brand faces every day. Whatever you do, your customers and prospects are always comparing and contrasting your “value” with that of your competition. Just as much as a quarterback’s stock depends on the scuttlebutt surrounding him, the value of your brand will be impacted by the nature of the message related to your brand. If that message is confused or mediocre, you can expect customers to look elsewhere. But if your PR message is poignant, positive and focused, you can expect your “stock” to rise.