Don’t Grab the Attention of the TSA and Other Swag Advice from SXSW

The South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas is known making headlines with new innovations and technology unveilings. However the most recent conference held a few weeks ago put a small spotlight on swag or the promotional items given away at the event.


Many claim that these freebies are pointless and just end up in the trash while the promotional product industry touts them as important branding tools. After spending several years in the promotional products industry (which loathes the word “swag”), I can tell you that both are right. They are an effective brand building tool when used correctly and without careful planning, they can be a waste of advertising dollars.

Also based on my experience, when the “Stuff We All Get” makes it into the news, there is usually a good promotional advertising lesson to be learned.

Don’t Grab the Attention of the TSA

Story: Flights leaving Austin after SXSW were delayed due to promotional items setting of alarms in airport security. Details on what items cause the problems weren’t released, but it still highlights an important consideration when choosing promotional products for an event.

Lesson: Consider the circumstances of those attending the event. Value and ease of use are two important factors that dictate the success of a promotional item.

If an item provides a value or convenience to the attendee during the event, it is less likely that the product will end up in a heap somewhere afterwards. Canvas bags, a event staple, provide a convenient way to carry materials around an event floor, and can be used well after the show providing long term value both to the attendee and the advertiser.

If attendees are they traveling, promotional items should be easy to pack and not set off airport security. So knives are out. Liquids like hand sanitizers or sunblock should be 3 ounces or less to comply with TSA rules. Also consider weather conditions around the event. People attending warm weather events have different needs than those attending winter ones.

The experience of the product is just as important in promoting your brand as the logo and color are. The more convenient the promotional item is, the better the brand experience it provides and the more valuable it is to the advertiser.

Don’t Let Your Swag be Given to the Homeless

Story: A group collected unwanted SXSW swag to give to the homeless through Homeless Foundation of Austin. With an event this large, attendees will be inundated with SWAG and promotional materials. It’s a great idea…for your competitor’s promotional items.

Lesson: Give attendees a reason to keep your promotional items.

To have successful swag, you need to have an understanding of the lifestyle, work day or personality of those attending the event. Integrating a product into the home or work routine of the recipient gives them a reason to keep it, see it and continually remember your brand experience. While usefulness is key, don’t underestimate the importance of the wow factor, regardless of the profile of your event’s attendees.

Another way to keep your swag from being discarded is to align it with an attendee’s personal brand. Here again, you must know the profile of those attending of the event. Are they looking for something cool or innovative? Look for new, unique gadgets or trendy colors. If the audience is more affluent, items should reflect a person’s perceived status.

Swag serves two basic purposes in a trade show setting – bring people to the booth and give them something to remember it by after they go home. However, the item only works if the recipient keeps it. Like any other advertising method, the better the piece relates to the audience, the more successful it is.

Don’t Just Give Swag Away

Story: In response to unflattering portrayals of promotional products in the news stories referenced above, the Promotional Products Association International released statement. In it, the organization’s President and CEO Paul Bellantone, debunked the myths and explaining effectiveness of “strategically branded campaigns” or carefully plan use of promotional products.

Lesson: Just giving away promotional products/swag at an event is a waste of money. Bellantone’s emphasis on strategy in PPAI’s statement reflects the industries continued attempts to educate business owners, marketers and advertising agencies on the proper approach to promotional products.

Have a plan. You wouldn’t shoot a random video on your phone and send it off to a TV station and say here’s our money just broadcast this anytime. There would be brainstorming, strategy sessions and a long list of approvals. The same care needs to be taken with promotional items.

For the best results, swag should not be “Stuff We All Get.” The biggest mistakes I saw in my time in the industry is advertisers just freely giving away promotional items to anyone. Make them earn it. Have attendees listen to a pitch, drop off a business card (so you can follow up) or whatever else you determine gets you closer to a sale or whatever your endgame is.

Moral of the Story

Swag that is just thrown at people is waste and belongs in the trash or with the homeless. With careful planning, audience consideration, strategic distribution and a little creativity, your swag will build your brand and deliver your message well after event attendees have made it home.


How Brands Event-Jacked the Super Bowl

Like many brands in the weeks preceding the Super Bowl, Newcastle created a campaign around their Super Bowl ad. They went all out with a dedicated website, teasers and behind the scenes video. The catch was that Newcastle wasn’t a Super Bowl advertiser.

News-jacking is the term used for when an opportunistic marketer or PR professional is able to insert their brand or organization inside the buzz of a breaking news story. The goal is to siphon off some of the news story’s attention and direct it to the brand. When brands like Newcastle apply this principle to a mega event like  the Super Bowl, I call it event-jacking.

The hefty price tag of a Super Bowl ad is an insurmountable obstacle for many brands that covet the millions of eyes watching the big game. This year however, the $4 million barrier to Super Bowl was torn down by social media and the second screen. Oreo’s famous power outage tweet last year opened the imaginations of advertisers on how to reach Super Bowl audiences without an official commercial. While Oreo was a Super Bowl advertiser that year, non-advertisers like Newcastle and JCPenney were able to insert themselves into and event-jack this year’s Super Bowl.

The Build Up

Over the past few years, Super Bowl advertisers have begun building buzz for their ads with leaks and teasers in the weeks preceding the game. Newcastle took advantage of this hype build-up and lampooned it with their “If we made it” campaign which dovetailed nicely with their “No Bullocks” branding. Videos of storyboards, celebrity endorsers, focus groups and the epic b-roll footage they would have used flooded the internet like the leaks and teases of the big game advertisers. A clever interview with Anna Kendrick, the would-be star of the mega huge football game ad, made the most waves.

As the teaser for the ad they would have made says, they didn’t have the money to spend on a Super Bowl ad, so the essentially spent a lot of everyone else’s. They took advantage of the hype that was paid for by the Super Bowl advertisers who were maximizing the exposure of their pricey big game ads. These advertisers pre-conditioned people to look for Super Bowl commercial hype, opening the door for a non-advertiser to oblige.

Newcastle carried over the campaign’s mockery during the game by showing how they would have made some of the night’s ads. However they didn’t quite get the attention that another non-advertising, event-jacking brand did.

During the Game

Many brands prepped for real-time social interaction during the Super Bowl, looking to catch the magic that Oreo did the year before. As the game went on, JCPenney began sending out horrendously typed tweets about the action. It got so bad that people and even other brands began tweeting about it, assuming the account had been hacked or JCPenney’s Twitter manager was partying a little too hard.

jc penny super bowl tweets

About an hour after the first jumbled tweet went out, JCPenney let everyone know that they were tweeting with mittens on. And not just any mittens, these were Olympic -themed mittens exclusively available at JCPenney. They got us and as a result earned 150,000 mentions, 10,000 additional followers on Twitter  and, most importantly, saw sales of those mittens almost double.

While this tactic may cause an eye roll, JCPenney was able to steal second screen attention from the event (the game) and the event within the event (the commercials). In talking to Ad Age about the stunt, Sean Ryan, J.C. Penney’s director-social and mobile, said the company was looking create their own moment, rather than wait for the right tweet at the right time.

Where Oreo found that moment and showed the potential real-time social interaction last year, JCPenney successfully manufactured a moment and steered that real-time social interaction to their brand. All of the eyes that advertisers were paying $4 million to reach, JCPenney essentially stole for free by inserting itself into the Super Bowl conversation.

What’s next?

Super Bowl advertisers are already challenged to get the most out of their investment with additional engagement leading up to the game. Newcastle, JCPenney, several other brands spent significantly less to reach the same audience that advertisers spent millions on. As a result of this year’s event-jackers, both Super Bowl advertisers and non-advertisers will likely take more proactive steps to be a larger part of the “event” next year.

While brands will continue focus on grabbing the eyeballs of Super Bowl viewers, the lower barrier to entry will make it interesting see how this year’s event-jackers affect the decisions of fringe advertisers. Do they make the big splash again or do something a little different? Starting $4 million in the hole is difficult and some may chose to have someone else pay for it.

The 1st Annual Big Gamey’s: Awards for Super Bowl Commercials

I’m handing out awards for this year’s Super Bowl ads. Big Gamey’s is the best I could come up with. And the winners are…

Best Campaign by a Non-Super Bowl Advertiser Award:  Newcastle – “If We Made It”

Staying true to their “No Bullocks” brand, Newcastle lampooned the Super Bowl commercial hype with the Super Bowl ad it never made. For the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, they unveiled story boards, behind the scenes video and almost celebrity endorsements. The campaign can be seen in all of its event-jacking glory at

Most Overrated Award: Budweiser  “Puppy Love”

I know why people like this commercial – the warm fuzzies. I get that Budweiser was telling a “buds” story utilizing their iconic Clydesdales. But the horse took a back seat to the dog (as cute as it may have been).  The ad is receiving attention for reasons other than the product or the brand. In contrast, last year’s ad featuring the Clydesdale and its trainer told a similar story, but with more brand-centric warm fuzzies.

Warm Fuzzies Award: Hyundai – “Dad’s Sixth Sense”

I’m a few months into my gig as a dad, so this is a completely biased choice. This commercial was a refreshing dose of reality and humanity. Also, I enjoyed the portrayal of a capable Dad. Cheerios’ “Gracie” was a close second.

Oreo Lights Out Award: JC Penny

jc penny super bowl tweets

When poorly typed tweets came pouring out from JC Penny’s Twitter account, everyone assumed the account was hacked or their social media person was having to much fun at the Super Bowl party. About an hour into the game, JC Penny explained they were typing with mittens, specifically, the Team USA mittens it selling to benefit Olympic athletes. While not as earth shattering as Oreo’s tweet last year, it did get people, and other brands, to talk about them.

Best Use of Subtlety Award: T-Mobile – “We Killed the Long-Term Contract”

After two over-the-top ads with Tim Tebow, T-Mobile’s third was a stripped down, text only ad hammering home it’s no contract message. The magic of this ad resides in the background music. It’s the opening tune to Disney’s animated classic Robin Hood. This quietly positioned T-Mobile as the phone company of the people fighting against the tyranny of other rich and oppressive phone companies.

What the Heck Just Happened? Award: Maserati “Now We Strike”

Close call with Chrysler, but this ad missed creatively and strategically. Their creative for the “Ghibli” described an aggressive sports car rather than the introductory model of a mega luxury car. It was a cross between the previous years’ Chrysler epics with the utter nonsense of perfume ads. Strategically, I’m not sure the audience was there for a $66,000 car. Mercedes did this during last year’s Super Bowl with their introductory model, but the price tag was half as much.

Best Laugh Award: Volkswagen “Wings”

The engineer get’s it’s wings was well executed, but the rainbow kicker at the end got me. Fart jokes are always funny. Oh, and the ad creatively demonstrated a value proposition of the brand (longevity) – a rare site in Super Bowl ads.

Best Case of Irony Award: T-Mobile – “Tim Tebow, former Denver Broncos Quarterback”

The guy that Peyton Manning replaced is now out of professional football and therefore without a contract. Clearly a great choice to show the benefits of not having a contract. Who would have predicted that Tim Tebow would have a better Super Bowl than Manning?

Tried Too Hard to be Cool Award: Bud Light “Up for Whatever”

Too much, too fast. This concept would have been so much better as a scripted, over-the-top adventure. They still could have had Arnold Schwarzenegger playing table tennis and Don Cheadle with a lama in an elevator.

Best in Show: Audi “Doberhuahua”

Creative, entertaining and puppies, what else do you want from a Super Bowl commercial? This may not go down as one of the epic ads of all time (I don’t think any will from this year), it was clever and actually demonstrated and brand value – Audi doesn’t like to compromise when it comes to their cars.

That’s my take on this year’s Super Bowl ads. If you agree with all of these, you are lying. Who would you give these awards to or what other awards would you give out?

Super Bowl Splash or Consistent Current?

Super Bowl Splash or Consistent Current?The Super Bowl is an opportunity to make a big splash, tying your brand event with one of the most watched telecasts of the year. This year, advertisers are busy leaking and teasing their Super Bowl ads. However, a study was released just prior to the Super Bowl run up stating that 80% of Super Bowl ads are ineffective. Talk about a buzzkill.

At $4 million a spot, attaching “ineffective” to Super Bowl ads should not be taken lightly. However the study relies too much one singular ad appearance to move someone to buy. The problem with big splashes like the Super Bowl is they rely on one broad stroke and hope that a majority of the audience wants what you have to offer right then and there. Most buying decisions take long-term influence – a consistent current of brand activity.

A sustained presence in the mind of the customer means that when they are ready to buy, you are the one that they call. But, sometimes a brand-jolt like a Super Bowl ad is need to grab their attention. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

Super Bowl Splashes

Pro: Super Bowl splashes grab attention
The brand takes center stage in front of a captive audience that’s excited to be there. It’s an opportunity to do something memorable, make an impact and build momentum. The Super Bowl splash is best when you have something new to share. However, to take advantage of this momentum a follow up plan is needed.

Con: Short and ever-shrinking shelf life
Without looking it up, name one Super Bowl ad from last year. Super Bowl ads have shifted from selling to entertainment. Viewers are just not in a buying state of mind when watching them so the message is easy to ignore. Big splashes are becoming more ineffective with ever increasing amount of information and entertainment being consumed today. Super Bowl advertisers have been combating this over the past few years with mini campaigns for their ads to create additional touches.

Consistent Currents

Pro: Consistency breeds familiarity.
All things being equal, people will buy from brands they know and trust. To build a brand or community or loyal fans, persistence is the better option. GEICO, for example, has done such a great job of consistently using their “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance” tagline, that in their current campaign, they don’t have to finish it.

Con: Becomes white noise
Familiarity can turn into background noise and become common place. It can easily fall victim to the increasing consumption of information and entertainment that Super Bowl splashes do. GEICO has used several campaigns and characters including a gecko, Dikembe Mutombo and a pig to deliver the message over the years. While the message needs to be consistent, changing up the delivery or creative keep it fresh and interesting.

Best Case Scenario

Beyoncé’s much discussed surprise album drop was heralded as a game changer in marketing. However, it was a result of “old” marketing tactics that combined the consistent current and Super Bowl splash. Beyoncé consistently delivered a brand experience her fans wanted and left them craving more. So when she goes for the Super Bowl splash, the response is mind boggling-record sales.

Super Bowl splashes keep the brand fresh. A consistent current builds loyal followings that anticipate big splashes. The best plan is a combination of the two, allowing them to feed off of each other.

photo credit: Steve and Sara via photopin cc

5 Reasons Instagram Ads May be the Best Native Advertising Ever

Instagram Ad

Image: Instagram

As you probably know by now, back in October, Instagram announced it would be opening up the app for advertisements. Advertising in social media breaks down into two basic forms – native and banners. Everyone knows what a banner ad is – a billboard slapped on your favorite website. Native ads are pictures, videos or other type of content that camouflages itself as a normal part of the user experience.

Instagram has chosen the native approach by designing its ad unit to be nearly identical to a typical Instagram photo or video post. Since the announcement, they have only allowed a select few brands test drive ads and the early results of Instagram ads have been positive. Here are few reasons why Instagram’s native advertising approach will continue to be successful.

1. Brands are Already Doing It, Sort of

A study from Simply Measured found that 71% of the world’s most recognized brands are on Instagram. These likely advertisers are already creating images that people are (hopefully) liking. The ads will then, theoretically, fit right in with the normal content with little fuss from users, which is the key to successful native advertising. Once Instagram opens up ads to everyone, the transition from posts to ads should be seamless. Brands can simply keep doing what they are doing, but with better potential for engagement.

2. Instagram Cares

From the beginning, Instagram has been cautious with merging their desire to “a place where people come to connect and be inspired” with their desire to become a business through advertising. Their limited roll out with brands that were already well-established within the community will help set standards for ads and maintain integrity of the experience for users. Instagram understands that they have built an experience that keeps their users engaged. Protecting that experience will keep users engaged and drive ad revenue. This leads to…

3. Minimal Impact on User Experience

Like most native advertising formats, Instagram ads have minimal impact on the user experience besides the presence of the ad itself and the “Sponsored” tag. Instagram did not change or rearrange the user experience to accommodate advertising like Facebook and Twitter have.  Ads (hopefully) won’t be obviously ads, but will still easy to identify as such, which has become a hot topic as native advertising grows in other channels.

4. Eye Candy

Sponsored or not, cool pictures are cool pictures. Instagram’s native format of pictures and video already provides entertainment value which lessens the nuisance of the interruption in the user’s feed. Users are already telling you what they want from you – cool pictures of a product in action or the lifestyle it promotes. Successful Instagram ads can be as easy and challenging as taking a good picture.

5. Usage

Finally, and probably the most important for advertisers, is Instgram usage. The app boasts somewhere north of 150 million users and is one of the fastest growing social networks. 57% of the app’s users use it daily, the highest percentage of any major social media platform other than Facebook and 35% use multiple times per day. That type of engagement boosts an advertiser’s chances of being seen and interacted with.

For these reasons, Instagram may be one of more easily accepted social media advertising formats.

The Importance of Getting it Right the Second Time

brand experience, marketingEveryone knows that the interactions and experiences with a product or service is what ultimately shapes the brand. Everything about the process of wooing and delighting customers is, or should be, carefully structured to align the customer’s perception of the brand to what it’s desired to be. But then there’s a fumble. Somewhere, somehow the brand promise wasn’t delivered.

When an “oops” happens, the clock is ticking. All of the positive brand equity that has been built is quickly eroding away. As carefully strategized as prospecting, sales and service strategies are, resolution must be more so.

The Accenture 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey reports that 51 percent of U.S. consumers switched their providers (retailers, satellite/cable, phone, etc.) over the past year in frustration over the service that they received, a 5 percent increase from 2012. Many of the frustrations cited in the survey were a result of inconsistent delivery or poor issue resolution.

Compounding the problem is that customer expectations are rapidly increasing. So too is their ability to announce to the world their displeasure. To pile it on, technology is lowering barriers to entry, increasing consumer choice and the competition. The customer can quickly and easily jump ship and damage the brand’s reputation.

But, there is another opportunity to right the ship.

So You’re Sayin’ There’s a Chance

The Accenture survey also found that 81 percent of those who switched said that the provider could have done something to prevent it. That’s right, there was a second chance to salvage the customer relationship and brand reputation.

To take advantage of this second chance, the response must match the customer’s perception and expectation of the brand (which was influenced by the brand in the first place). If a brand is built on being people friendly, going through a 5-level automated phone menu before reaching an actual person probably doesn’t match the customers’ expectations.

The brand promise must permeate the organization’s response to its failure to deliver. Well crafted, customer-friendly resolution procedures and engaged frontline employees can salvage the brand experience. (Here are few ideas on how to do that.)

Not only do you have the opportunity to keep the customer, these situations open the door to build the brand. Resolving the problem can be just as compelling of a story, therefore restoring or elevating your brands perception.

For example, when several Southwest Airlines flights were delayed for a few hours, pilots ordered pizza for their passengers. These Southwest employees were empowered to delight passengers in line with the company’s brand promise. The story made the rounds on the news and social media, adding to the legend of Southwest Airlines’ experience.

Resolution is a part of the brand experience. These experiences are tied to strong emotions, both positive and negative and are what shape a brand. Like any relationship, there will be bumps in the road. Those brands that overcome them become stronger and enjoy more loyal customers. People will come back for the experience of working with them.

photo credit: star5112 via photopin cc

Beyoncé’s New Album is the Culmination, not Death, of Marketing

Beyoncé's New Album is the Culmination, not Death, of MarketingThe internet was all a buzz with Beyoncé’s midnight surprise album release last week. In case you missed it, she dropped the album with no advance notice, single release, or any other buzz inducing activity and sold over 600,000 copies within the first couple of days. While fans were gasping and scrambling iTunes to download it, those in the business and marketing circles contemplated the non-promotion move.

Kevin Roberts, CEO of the global advertising agency Saachi & Saachi, commented in an interview with Bloomberg that “Marketing as we knew it was dead.” His claim is that brand awareness and demand generation are being replaced by movements created through intimacy and social connectivity.

However, his analysis ignores the work it takes to get a brand to the point where people feel compelled to join in those movements. People didn’t just all of the sudden like Beyoncé. She spent her entire life marketing herself into a world-wide mega brand. She gave fans an amazing brand experience at her shows. She continually honed her craft and delivered a product that connected with her fans and found new ones.

Roberts is half right in that people want more from brands, but without “old-school” brand awareness and demand generation, they won’t know what brand that they want more from. The Beyoncé of ten years ago would have had a hard time pulling this off (if you ignore the fact the iTunes didn’t exist 10 years ago, you see my point). Only mega-brand Beyoncé could pull this off and expected it to wildly succeed. That takes years of marketing and brand building and being really, really good at what you do.