Viral Brilliance

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, viral phenomenon, is teaching us a lot about a lot of things — ALS for one, human nature, masterful fundraising and some things us marketers should pay attention to. It is treasure trove for Cause Marketers and there are some universal truths (reminders) in it for the rest of us.

The request on social media from one person to several  friends to donate to the cause of ALS, while demonstrating their support for the cause/cure by sharing a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice over their heads is the basic premise. Then, the friends who are challenged are supposed to donate, challenge a few more people and post their video proof of their ice bath. And so on and so on.

It is the dream child of every viral campaign to have this much uptick and involvement, so quickly. (for the record, it is not a new concept.  I personally have participated in a very similar tactic (the dunking booth) to raise money for a cause. My friends joyfully lined up, made their donations and then pelted the target as hard they could to send me into the tank of nasty water.

But to my observance, The ALS Ice Bucket challenge is a first of it’s kind in the viral world, engaging so many participants and dollars. Besides the fact that these videos seem to claim every other post on Facebook, the ‘event’ has raised over $62M since July 29, the average gift being only $46.25, for a horrible disease that until now was far less known and funded.

I love the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because it is:

  • Organic and authentic. This does not have the stamp of a corporate or “official cause” on it. ALS is not asking you to dump ice water over your head and donate; your friends are.
  • Fun. The gimmick of pouring ice over one’s head is universally fun, a little outlandish and engaging.  Responses are cross-generational — young, old and in between are into it, challenging each other and helping each other with the videos.
  • Global – the money raised is going for global research and the donations and videos are coming in from all over our small world.
  • Appropriate use of humor and silliness. It has those components in the act itself but still delivers a very sober plea to donate to an important (and decidedly not humorous) cause.
  • Incredibly democratic. The request is one that can be answered by anyone with a cell phone (tripod or friend) and access to frozen water and a bucket. And it is being responded to from everyone from President George W. Bush to Justin Bieber.
  • 15 seconds of fame. It plays to most (non-famous) people’s desire for fame and acknowledgement of being a good person without having to self-promote. The aspect of slight humiliation is endearing and creates camaraderie.
  • Quick. It only takes a few minutes out of our busy lives.
  • Masterful Fund-raising.  The requests are on social media with a huge audience seeing who is being challenged and who responds. So there is peer pressure to participate vs a plea via a newsletter, telethon or dinner.

I think the watch-out is the “me too” factor that is bound to happen, or has already started? Too close a copycat will not be well-received.

P&G Shifting to a Less is More Strategy

Earlier this month Proctor & Gamble (P&G) announced that it would be cutting more than half its brands, a drastic shift  in strategy for the world’s largest consumer-products company. In the past, the company obtained brand after brand, even within the same category to ensure a hefty percentage of shelf space and leverage for consumers’ dollars. But as the retail landscape is shifting, P&G, along with other CPG companies, are having to adjust their paradigms and their portfolios.

From the Wall Street Journal:

P&G didn’t say which brands it will sell or shut down, but it will be a sizable culling of products that bring in around $8 billion a year in revenue. The company owns scores of lesser-known brands including Era and Cheer laundry detergent, Clearblue pregnancy tests and Metamucil laxatives. Dozens could prove attractive to private-equity firms that specialize in orphaned brands or companies in countries like China or Brazil looking for a more global presence.

“I’m not interested in size at all,” Mr. Lafley said in an interview Friday. “I’m interested in whether we are the preferred choice of shoppers.” He said some larger brands may be culled if P&G decides it cannot do well in those segments, and pointed to the company’s recent sale of its pet-food brands, including Iams which had over $1 billion in sales.

So it’s no longer about amassing a chunk of brands, but about keeping and focusing on those brands that are the best fit for the company. Though P&G has not declared which brands it plans to sell, likely some of its smaller, less productive brands will be let go. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean smaller, niche brands are going to be out completely, as long as they are niche market leaders, like Dreft baby clothes detergent or Fixadent denture adhesive.

In looking at this shift in strategy by P&G, it’s crucial to keep consumers in mind at the core of this shift. These days companies must wage battle for consumers’ attention through what seems like a ever-evolving number of channels. There are thousands of TV channels now, satellite radio, social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, with new ones popping up everyday, along with display and search advertising in addition to more traditional advertising, and that’s just a brief summation. While it’s ripe with opportunity to be able to reach consumers on so many levels, the only way to reap the rewards is if brands can break through to be seen and remembered. And when you have too many dogs in the fight for consumers’ attention, you don’t do any of your brands any favors by creating more competing “clutter.”

Additionally, think of the impact of technology has had on the state of retail given the physical store shelves are competing with virtual store shelves. On his blog Stratechery, technology strategist Ben Thompson addresses the P&G announcement within this context:

…Remember, dominating shelf space was a core part of their strategy, and while I’m no mathematician, I’m pretty sure dominating an infinite resource is a losing proposition. What matters now is dominating search… There are two big challenges when it comes to winning search:

  • Because search is initiated by the customer, you want that customer to not just recognize your brand (which is all that is necessary in a physical store), but to recall your brand (and enter it in the search box). This is a much stiffer challenge and makes the amount of time and money you need to spend on a brand that much greater
  • If prospective customers do not search for your brand name but instead search for a generic term like “laundry detergent” then you need to be at the top of the search results. And, the best way to be at the top is to be the best-seller. In other words, having lots of products in the same space can work against you because you are diluting your own sales and thus hurting your search results

The way to deal with both challenges is the same way you break through the noise: you put more focus on fewer brands.

I think Thompson hits the nail on the head, especially for such a large player like P&G in the CPG game. Time will tell if this move helps P&G’s bottom line and if the private equity firms expected to purchase the former P&G brands wind up with deals.

Photo credit: Getty

I’m Passionate about Paint. Wait… what?

You might not think of paint as a passion play. And, you’d probably think of it as a fairly low-involvement category until you need it and then it can become very complex and confusing. You spend hours trying to figure out the difference between brands, types and raise questions like, “Should I go with Dove Wing or Gray Owl?”.

We are all used to seeing messages, ads and POS in-store that either showcases how beautiful and premium the paint is, or how affordable, or the benefits of how long it lasts, how easy it goes on, etc… In-store we might see POS that helps you choose the right type or color for your job.

Or, like other successful, savvy brands and products, paint brands too can create a dialogue with their target by tapping into their passions. Which is exactly what Benjamin Moore is doing for the rabid Boston Red Sox fans. Benjamin Moore is offering fans the opportunity to get closer to their beloved team and stadium with their new Fenway Collection ……GENIUS!! And, insightful.

The greatest BRAND story ever told.

My fiancé and I just returned from a trip to Disneyland and had a blast exiting the “real world” and spending 4 days in the happiest place on Earth. It’s no secret that Walt Disney created one of the greatest brands in the world. He was a storyteller and to this day, the “story” is the foundation for everything Disney does. It was during this recent trip that I was reminded of many ways retailers could benefit from taking a page from the Disney “story” book.

One of my first takeaways was the absence of what I like to call “brand ugh” moments. Take for example the “cue”. Nothing kills human momentum like a line. At Disneyland the line is anything but a “wait” – it’s actually part of the ride. Once you enter the cue, unexpected reveals, interaction and environments set the stage for the ride to come. They don’t just herd you—they transport you. While waiting for Star Tours ride, you walk through what feels like a spaceport right out of a Star Wars movie. In the Monsters Inc. ride, you walk through the city streets of Monstropolis and experience and added layer of details not seen in the movies. The opportunity for retailers lies in taking a closer look at the shopper journey and identifying those “brand ugh” moments, and turning them into “brand a-ha” moments.

Monsters Inc. Ride takes you on a walk through streets of Monstropolis:


My second takeaway was the idea of “being in character”. It’s the Disney golden rule. You expect characters like Minnie, with whom I had a private meet and greet with, to always be “in character”. But it was the real eople at the front gate, in the attractions and even the man sweeping the street that always delighted me. They deliver that one-to-one brand engagement that makes the overall experience so personal. They are “believers” in the experience they are helping to create. Putting my shopper hat back on, I realize how key the sales associates are to the shopper experience and that they too have to “believe”. Equipping employees with what they need to bring the brand to life and make more human connections should be on the top of every retailers to-do list

Meet and Greet with Minnie:


For thousands of years, we have used stories as vessels for information. Long before writing, we passed along knowledge and experience in the form of storytelling. So it is in our DNA, we are all drawn to a great story. Disney, like all great brands, does more than tell stories, they tell stories people want to be a part of.

Author and images by Eric Ehrlich — VP Executive Creative Director, TPN