On the way home from the office I usually listen to one of my favorite journalists and on-air hosts, American Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal. Often there’ll be someone I know from the auto industry being interviewed, but what caught my ear last night was a closing reference to Nutella Day. Um, say what? I grew up slathering that hazelnut/chocolatey/gooey goodness on bread from our local Stuttgart-Weilimdorf bakery, so I do have a soft spot for the stuff. Seems I’m not alone – a fact that one might think the brand’s owner, Italy’s Ferrero, would appreciate. Yet, the individual responsible for launching Nutella Day, Sara Rosso, found herself on the receiving end of a good old cease-and-desist letter from Ferrero’s legal team.
As anyone in public relations could have counseled, the fans rallied immediately, cried foul and Ferrero quickly relented and chalked their initial response up to routine “brand defense.” Good for them – and great visibility for the brand ultimately – but these types of corporate responses can turn customers off as well.
Here’s my thing: protecting trademarks proactively is important, yes, but there’s a big difference between malicious infringement and brand enthusiasts gathering to celebrate just for the love of you! Trust me, this is a topic that preoccupies automotive public relations people quite a lot. The auto industry happens to have (in my opinion) more passionate, devoted and ueber-loyal enthusiast groups than any other category. Whether you live for Porsche, Ford trucks (Calvin decal anyone?) or Corvettes, chances are there’s a ton of illegally-branded logo merchandise and other swag to buy and display – with the utmost pride.
The best solution to keeping enthusiasts sharing their passion for your brand without involving legal? Have your corporate communications leader or agency account manager actively participate in regular reviews of perceived brand-related legal issues, especially those that involve events, clubs, merchandise and other public initiatives.
Image courtesy of nemuneko.jc on Flickr.
If there’s one thing today’s consumers have become accustomed to (and unhappy about) seeing in their shopping adventures, it’s rising prices. It seems like every industry is affected by it – auto, food service, clothing… even beer. Luckily for craft brewers in the United States, the last few years have brought a groundswell of support and growth. Many craft breweries even have legions of loyal fans (or “brand ambassadors and enthusiasts” as you may call them) that willfully support their brewery through the toughest of times. These enthusiasts can be the key to avoiding negative buzz – as proven when Three Floyds Brewing Co. recently changed the pricing of their signature annual event.
One day a year, people from across the world travel to the small town of Munster, Indiana for a festival that centers around Three Floyds’ “Dark Lord,” an incredible Russian Imperial Stout that is the envy of beer geeks everywhere (second-hand sales of the beer have been known to reach many hundreds of dollars). Three Floyds is well-known for making extremely high-quality, unusual craft beer and the brand has grown a cult following.
This year, I had the opportunity to go to my first Dark Lord Day, held on the last Saturday of April. As an avid fan of Three Floyds, it’s been on my “to do” list for some time because of the stories I’ve heard. “Word of mouth” marketing has totally gripped me, thanks to close friends who have previously attended and accounts written by multitudes of beer bloggers.
The event itself is rather unremarkable to the casual observer: long lines, expensive beer and loud music – all hallmarks of a typical concert. The thing that sets Dark Lord Day apart is the excitement surrounding the brand, the prestige of attending the event and the camaraderie that goes on inside the gates. Friends and strangers alike stand around sharing samples of extremely rare beers, some of which have aged for years or are worth hundreds of dollars. Festival-goers describe the craft breweries of their region and talk about the kinds of foods they enjoy pairing them with.
For the longest time, Three Floyds took a grassroots approach to growing the excitement for their yearly event: keep prices relatively low, but limit ticket sales and the bottle allotment of Dark Lord. Prior to this year, tickets to the event were just $15, but only 3,000 were available. Each person could count on four bottles of Dark Lord at $15 each.
However, in 2013 the brewery decided to double the size of the event: twice as much space with twice as many attendees. To offset their increased costs, Three Floyds bumped ticket prices to $30. Beer prices remained the same, with one catch: attendees were only able to purchase three bottles this year instead of four – a detail that was not divulged until one hour before the gates opened to the event.
Charging higher ticket prices for less beer? In most industries, the reaction to such changes would be outrage. Three Floyds had groomed expectations into their loyal fans. Standing in line to enter the gates and hearing the news, I prepared for the worst.
It never came.
The overwhelming consensus was mild disappointment mixed with understanding. Three Floyds had long held out on raising ticket prices and lowering the bottle allotment – and to their benefit. By the time it finally happened, no one was particularly upset. To nearly everyone (including me), the experience was still worth much more than they were paying. And, more importantly, any naysaying was quickly overruled by our very vocal and social community.
Three Floyds could easily sell tickets to Dark Lord Day for exponentially more than what they have been charging. People would still shell out the cash and tickets would still sell out in three minutes. By treating their customers so well for so long and by building a critical mass of intrigue around their event, Three Floyds was easily able to avoid what could’ve been a PR nightmare. That’s the power of building passion and creating a core audience of enthusiasts.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity…is this true for everyone? I say yes, no and maybe, on a case by case basis. Let’s look at the 2013 NFL Draft to prove my point, or at the very least, to speculate on its merits.
Enter Tyrann Mathieu, 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist and LSU cornerback selected in the third round by the AZ Cardinals last week. It’s no secret Mathieu has had his fair share of public struggles off the field. However, Mathieu has publicly admitted to his past mistakes, noted he is now focused on what’s most important to him and is ready to start a new and healthier chapter in his life. All should be forgiven now and reflected as such in the media space, right? If only it were that easy.
In a perfect world a Draft pick would have a media relations specialist on his team consulting, developing and managing messages, but judging from what I hear, see and read (and I did attend the NFL Draft last week and its various industry events), apparently that’s still a rarity. So, here are a few free PR pearls of wisdom that every nearly-famous future NFL star (or anyone in the public eye, for that matter) should pay attention to:
- Look before you tweet – Before tweeting anything on your personal Twitter handle, be sure all content is correct. The last thing you want is to tweet or Instagram an event invitation that contains incorrect information, i.e. naming you in a specific draft round (if you’re not 100% certain as most aren’t) – allowing for media to run with it and note you are “over confident.” I’d discourage tweeting about any late night parties if your past public challenges involved anything that could be associated with a partying lifestyle. It’s best to only tweet about low-key events or dinners with friends and family during earlier hours of the night.
- Hometown papers can be your heroes – The press in your hometown is likely your best source for positive coverage. Help them help you by framing out the right story, i.e. offer up a comeback piece addressing any past issues you had, show a local reporter what you’ve done lately to get ready for the draft (perhaps give them access to an early morning practice and one-on-one time with you). We likely already know your height, weight, and speed so focus on what makes you unique. Give their readers a reason to cheer you on.
- Know who’s around you at all times – Understand that if you open your personal space to media, i.e. a Draft viewing event, it’s important you know who’s around you at all times. Setup specific times with invited media to conduct interviews, don’t let them wander aimlessly with no direction, help them frame the story. Before inviting media, take a look at what their coverage tone has been in the past to be sure you have a full understanding of how they approach their stories. I’ve seen Draft picks at events unaware of top-tier media hovering within a small radius, taking copious notes on their every move and the results were not pretty.
None of us know for sure if the after party snafu affected Mathieu’s round selection but either way, he deserves another chance and I wish him all the best!
Image courtesy of RMTip21.
At Brandware, we help launch brands, raise brand awareness and conduct brand research. Heck, the word “brand” is even in our name, so you know we’re always thinking about how our clients’ PR and marketing campaigns impact their overall brand. Now that baseball season is in full swing, it’s the perfect time to take a few branding notes from the Big Leagues.
- Create unique brand touchpoints. Few things at Fenway Park are as memorable as the 37-foot high wall in left field. A challenging obstacle to prevent sluggers from hitting homeruns, the wall was painted green in 1947, and the beloved Green Monster was born. The trademark color was integrated into all aspects of the Fenway Park brand – from the rest of the ballpark to fan merchandise. The Red Sox even patented the color, Fenway Green. Talk about protecting a brand’s identity – if only all clients could afford to do that!
- Don’t forget your brand’s history. From the ivy-covered outfield walls at Wrigley Field to the manual scoreboard at Fenway Park, baseball franchises are rich with heritage. One of the best examples is Jackie Robinson’s retired jersey. In 1997, every single MLB team retired the number 42 jersey to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier. Find the person or thing that demonstrates your brand’s roots or core values, and celebrate it.
- Don’t waste your budget. This season, the New York Yankees will pay Alex Rodriquez more money than the Houston Astros will pay their entire team. And he may not take a single at-bat. When you’re the Yankees, you may have that type of money to blow – excuse me – spend. (In my opinion, a single player is only worth that much if he’s guaranteed to win you the World Series. Sadly, the Yankees have a 1-in-30 chance to win the championship, just like every other team.) Consider what expensive programs say about your brand. In the case of A-Rod, do you really want a costly benchwarmer as the face of your company? We’ve found that offering our clients a high-cost, medium-cost and low-cost option for each project helps determine which initiatives are worth the larger investment.
- The only thing worse than striking out is striking out looking. Just a few years ago, companies were skeptical of this new thing called social media. The brands willing to take a big swing (even if they whiffed a few times) have become pioneers and thought-leaders for other brands to emulate. The Miami Marlins are particularly adept at social media, with separate channels for their English and Spanish-speaking fans. If you sit idly and watch while other brands experiment with new and different ways to communicate their messages, you’re missing out on the opportunity to tell your brand’s story and better position it in terms of the competition.
Hopefully you’re inspired by these branding tips from the Boys of Summer. If you still fear striking out, you can always send in a pinch hitter (ahem, Brandware for example) who has more experience!
Image courtesy of PaulHorner on Flickr.