Category Archives: R-blog

CreateAthon Case Study: District 5 Foundation

When we concocted the idea of CreateAthon all those years ago, we were careful to identify the kinds of organizations we believed would be best suited for our 24-hour pro bono model. That list was pretty simple: a candidate had to be a private, 501© 3 organization, as opposed to a governmental agency, church or school. So when we got an application from the District Five Foundation last year, we weren’t quite sure what to do with it. Wasn’t it a school district program? Wouldn’t that break the rules? Upon closer inspection, we learned the Foundation was indeed a private, nonprofit organization in good standing, comprised of parents who were dedicated to raising money for all manner of important educational initiatives that otherwise would not be publicly funded.

Color us intrigued.

We learned that in just a few short years, the group had raised upwards of $60,000 annually to deliver some really impressive programming, resources and experiences to District 5 faculty and students. Their goal was to up their game, reaching the $100,000 fundraising mark annually. 

The communications issue was two-fold: 

1. Nobody understands why a Foundation is necessary in the public school system (aka “I pay taxes, enough already”).

2. Nobody understands why a gap in public school funding is everyone’s issue, and what’s at stake if we don’t fill that gap (more well educated students yield a better workforce, better leaders, and a stronger community).

We understood the intellectual value of what these folks were trying to do, but we knew the message could be a real yawner. What absolutely set us on fire, however, was the passion of the parents who were in involved in this gig. So we got our 24-hour game on.

Here’s a quick look at how we addressed their objectives.

Nomenclature and identity: After the necessary research, we determined the organization needed to be called what it was. No time or budget for cutesy conceptual names.  The ever-magnificent Maria Fabrizio developed an identity that put FIVE front and center.

Brand strategy: We developed a comprehensive message platform based on the thesis that District Five Foundation is the only organization that can move beyond the confines of public education budgets and deliver the kinds of advanced learning experiences students and teachers deserve.  It’s all about getting past barriers and making things happen.

Website: Our fellow Weconians, truematter, rose to the challenge yet again and led the way toward a web site that distinguishes the Foundation’s work and makes it imminently clear how people can get involved. 

Development strategy: We helped the Foundation diversify its development plan by developing engagement opportunities for four different giving audiences. We also outlined tiered giving levels, with engagement opportunities for specific audiences and initiatives.

Social media: Keely Saye and team worked their digital marketing magic, delivering a buyer persona study, content strategy, keyword research and editorial calendar to fuel social media growth and web site traffic/engagement.

A year later, we’re told the CreateAthon work has significantly helped the organization raise its profile within the community and attract new levels of support. Specifically, the Foundation is on track to exceed its fundraising performance from last year, which will allow it to bring more, different, and better educational opportunities to students and faculty.

We think that deserves a high Five. 

Whitt’s End

I’m full of shit.

I realize this every few days or so. It’s unclear how many rationalizations, hyperboles and humble-brags have to bounce around my skull before the hogwash tipping point is reached. But when I come to the end of my rope, I know it. A faint spark of contempt jumps from gut to spine to cerebral cortex and flickers just long enough to set my eyes rolling.

“You gotta be kidding me,” I’ll grumble. Because this is, of course, exactly what I’ve been doing — kidding myself. That the colleagues “liking” the new commercial my company posted are doing so free of quid pro quo obligations. That Brussels sprouts, no matter how artisanally roasted, have photojournalistic significance. That people read blog posts over 350 words.

The thing is, I have a suspicion that you’re full of shit too. That we all are, in fact, and that it’s not really our fault. To want to be perceived  as an accomplished, productive, well-intentioned member of society: that’s human nature. So should it really be surprising that our inner spin doctor is on call 24/7? Facebook profiles and Instagram feeds have certainly amplified this tendency. But even before the age of  “personal branding,” I’m willing to bet humans scorched many a retina scanning horizons for the most “favorable light” to cast upon their lives.

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In my particular case (and likely yours if you’re reading this via professional channels) the promotional realm in which I work sprinkles kerosene on the aforementioned sparks and leads this blaze into my office on a daily basis. On the one hand, the job is to court positive attention for a client’s brand. On the other, said courting must be done in an industry so notorious for manipulation that a trust deficit is inevitable from the get go.

Fortunately, this is where knowing you’re full of shit can be a saving grace. As it turns out, recognizing the pretense we’re all capable of is the best safeguard against it crossing your lips, clearing your outbox, or making its way into the client presentation/PR strategy/TV spot etc.

Are there times when that kind of second-guessing gets in the way? Absolutely. In the short term, concepts die. Strategies are rebuilt. But it’s also what keeps you and the brands you work for credible over the long haul. Moreover, it helps you fully appreciate when someone else has taken the unadorned highroad and ridden it to a truly exceptional creative destination.

That’s what this post was supposed to be about — saluting brands that have dropped the Stepford act, resisted Madison Avenue’s default conceits and allowed themselves to be exactly what they are: well-meaning, imperfect, contradictory, temperamental human experiments. In other words, mirror images of the customers they hope to attract. Dove’s flipping the cosmetic category script with it’s Real Beauty Sketches is old news, but that doesn’t make it any less of a triumph. New Castle’s No Bollocks campaign calls out the usual beverage marketing B.S. to hilarious and substantive effect. And despite a slightly-over-scripted-and-rehearsed-one-too-many-times-to-sound-authentic voiceover, Mass Mutual deserves kudos for embracing genuine struggle and vulnerability  (especially at the 35 and 52 second marks) in its “Mother” commercial. Any one of these examples might have been dissected into a perfectly adequate case study in the brand benefits of letting down appearances. But then something came across my desk that, for multiple reasons, put “adequate” to shame.

Obituaries don’t grant their authors a second chance. So when Buzzy Whitt died early this year, his daughter Alisa knew she had only 12 hours to write a memoriam and make the local paper’s deadline. What she crafted in that time is a clinic in unvarnished tributing. With humor, tenderness and plain spoken poignancy, Alisa spreads out the puzzle of a life whose pieces don’t all snap together the way they’re expected to. Her style flirts with the bizarre in a way that perfectly befits the life it honors. Most importantly, she holds enough respect for the man her father really was not to spin him into a saint or scholar. Her summation of Buzzy’s journey treats us to uncommon, irreverent insights on a host of life’s fundamentals:

On Finding One’s Niche: “He built a garage in his backyard and did work for all sorts of men, young and old, souping up their cars with Chevrolet big block V8 engines. He put a 427 into more than one SuperSport. He put a 427 into a Porsche. He put a 427  into a Camaro. He was, apparently, the go-to-guy if you wanted a 427 engine in your anything.”

On Transformations: “With the police in pursuit, Buzzy stepped on an iron rake that smacked down those two teeth into a position where they would stay for most of the rest of his life.”

On Perseverance: “Since Buzzy had lost his right arm to a bush hog in 1997, he developed a habit of using his mouth for things most use their other hand to accomplish. That’s hard duty on teeth, and he continued to use them as tools [until] one of them finally gave up the fight and exited the scene.”

On Friendship: “…If anyone knows what happened to the monkey, it would be Bill Macy, Buzzy’s oldest friend. Bill is the only person who could manage to stay on speaking terms with Buzzy for seventy years. For that we remain ever grateful, since Buzzy got pickier and pickier about the company he kept.”

On Family: “Lakin Barnes, Rhonda’s son with her ex-husband Mark Barnes, is the closest Buzzy [had] to a grandchild. Lakin looks enough like Buzzy…and Buzzy was closer to Lakin than any child, so there is that.”

And, finally, On Priorities: “In lieu of flowers the family respectfully requests that memorial contributions be directed to the Pulaski County Humane Society…Buzzy had some varied opinions about people, but he loved animals. And Chevrolet.

Alisa and her father "Buzzy" Whitt via the Roanoke Times

Please enjoy Alisa’s work in its entirety, and try not to rush to conclusions. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to come across something so unique, we don’t know what to make of it. And at first blush, the piece can seem like a joke. In the end, however, there’s no doubt Buzzy and his obituary were as real as they come.

Perhaps this is the challenge Alisa has unintentionally issued us all. On behalf of ourselves and our brands, what if we spoke freely? What if we messaged as if there were nothing left to prove? What if every assignment were treated like an obituary?

In lieu of closing your browser, the writer respectfully requests that you “Like,” share, or comment on this post—Michael was full of shit, and he knew better than to claim otherwise.

 

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Let the Wookie win

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (and by that I mean earlier last week), TMZ released a series of leaked set photos of Star Wars: Episode VII’s Abu Dhabi set, showing off an exciting return to more practical, non-computer effects. While those photos within themselves didn’t give much away, the gossip site followed up with more spoiler-heavy photos confirming that grass is green, the sky is blue, and the Millennium Falcon would be making its return in the film.

I was curious as to how notoriously secretive director JJ Abrams would respond to the leaks, if he did at all. Turns out JJ knows that he can’t keep his mystery box closed for what is arguably one of the biggest pop culture movies of all time, and decided to have a bit of fun.


The note is sitting on top of the Falcon’s holographic chess set, a backhanded acknowledgement from the director that curiosity will be difficult to curb as the movie continues filming.

Trying to keep secrets in the age of social media is going to work out about as well as this did. Some movie studios are trying to get ahead of the game by releasing official images before production begins, but sometimes that isn’t even enough.

More studios should look to the method The Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb employed last year during the filming of that movie. By tweeting behind the scenes action, Webb was able to feed those fans who would otherwise be clamoring for leaks, while still having a controlled message that was (presumably) studio approved.

JJ Abrams and Disney probably won’t look to spin that same web, but last week’s tweet was definitely a sign that not everything can be controlled. And if that’s truly the case, why not have some fun by using social media to let the fans in on what’s happening?

Regardless, they just need to be sure to let the Wookie win.

A Little Reassurance

The fear of regret is a powerful driver of indecision.

As such, marketing ends up spending a large portion of its time at the entryways to brand funnels, asking would-be passers-through to keep focused on potential up-sides instead of potential down-sides.

But the fear of regret continues well past the end of the funnel. “Did I really make the right choice?” With all the noise, opinions, opportunities, and options, it’s easy for consumers to doubt, and easier still for them to switch.

So, smart brands are finding ways to keep in touch. It can be anything. Most often, the more personal and permanent, the better.

The Bathroom Minutes - A Dollar Shave Club Production

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sold by the box.

I honestly lost count. Fifteen? Maybe twenty. But cut me a break — I mean there was fit, color, style, function, price, and retailer. Let’s not even get into brand. Hunting a new pair of dress oxfords was hardly my idea of fun.

But one pair got me. Upon trial, they certainly seemed closer to right than any of the others. That helped. The thing is, it wasn’t the only reason I swiped my card.

At the bottom of the shoebox laid a manifesto. My feet were busy thinking, so I took a moment to read it.

In those few seconds, I forgot my feet, and I forgot shoes. My imagination flipped on, and my head went to another place, to another thought, to another feeling. No other pair had encouraged such departure. With each previous, my focus remained fastened to the shoe from lace-up to “no thanks”.

Without that little head-trip, would I have purchased on product alone? Maybe so. But the imaginative journey undoubtedly facilitated a simpler, quicker, and more confident decision to buy.

Is your marketing escorting imaginations or blocking them? Here’s what I know. The product I bought shared similar features to a lot of products I denied. Only the product I bought sparked a vision.