From a public relations standpoint, oil companies have it tough these days. The price of gas in the United States is hovering between $3.50 – $4.00 a gallon while oil companies continue to report record profits. Environmental troubles also continue, with the most recent example being an oil spill off the coast of Brazil courtesy of Chevron (where profits doubled in the just reported quarter to $7.83 billion).
It was against this backdrop that I saw the following Chevron advertisement appear on my television set last week:
This is one incredibly tone-deaf advertisement. It actually made me angry.
Articulate, neatly-coiffed, and impeccably-dressed Chevron spokesperson “talks to us straight” as she addresses the concerns of a blue collar everyman. And by the end of 30 seconds, she’s convinced us that, hey, wow, we really are saying the same thing, aren’t we?
After seeing the ad, I went and did a bit of research into the campaign. Surely I wasn’t the only person who found this to be patronizing and inauthentic…
As it turns out, the initial ads first appeared about this time last year, and before the campaign had even launched it had already been dramatically spoofed. Watch the following video or read this New York Times article if you want to hear the whole story.
In fact, the anti-Chevron campaign that this series of advertisements spawned seems to be more powerful than the original campaign (and probably cost millions of dollars less to execute). For example, check out this website, which features over 200 fake print ads based on the campaign. There were also many spoofs of the ads themselves, like this one:
Which brings me to two questions:
1) Why the heck is Chevron still running this campaign?
2) More generally, why do oil companies like Chevron, BP (which spent $93 million on advertising during the height of the gulf oil spill), and Exxon keep wasting their money on advertising campaigns like this?
Advertising is the wrong medium for big oil. When an industry already viewed as disingenuous uses a medium to communicate a message that is also viewed by most people as disingenuous, what do you get?
A double dose of inauthenticity. And very little impact for the money spent, I would guess. So what advice would I give the oil companies on where they should spend their advertising dollars instead?
I’d let Esse Quam Videri (which means, “To be rather than to seem to be” and is the motto of my home state of North Carolina) be the guide.
Rather than spending money seeming to be better corporate citizens, spend that same exact amount of money actually becoming better citizens. Spend the money preventing oil spills. Or making things right for those you’ve already hurt. Or begin a dialog with citizens to learn their concerns and let them share their ideas.
But don’t advertise.
I’m afraid there are no shortcuts to building a positive brand reputation. You actually have to do positive stuff.
Those who chose to invest in perception rather than reality in an Internet-connected world, where everyone has a voice and everyone can impact a brand’s image, should understand that this:
will never be heard over this:
So oil companies, please. Stop using advertising to try to convince us you are something you aren’t. Instead, use the money to make yourselves better, and, over time, with enough good work and progress, you might end up becoming brands we can trust again.
Over at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX), part of my role as Community Guide is to test some innovative ways to work with MIX community members to reinvent the culture and structure of management within their organizations. We like to think of what we are doing as hacking management.
It was in this spirit that earlier this year we piloted our first ever MIX Management Hackathon. A management hackathon is a short, intense, coordinated effort to develop useful hacks (innovative ideas or solutions) that can be implemented by organizations to overcome barriers to progress and innovation. We recruited a team of 60 volunteers from around the world to join us.
Our goal with this hackathon? To deeply and quickly explore the concept of communities of passion. What are they? How do they form? What hinders their growth? And how can we overcome these barriers? By the end of the Hackathon, we hoped to develop a solid set of management hacks: “source code” that could be used by anyone interested in overcoming the barriers preventing their own organizations from becoming communities of passion.
As it turns out, our hacking went pretty well. Two of the hacks collaboratively developed by members of the MIX Hackathon team were among the 20 finalists in the recent Harvard Business Review/McKinsey Management 2.0 Challenge on the MIX (see Free to Fork by David Mason, Jonathan Opp, and Gunther Brinkman and Massive Storytelling Sessions by Alberto Blanco, Alex Perwich, Jonathan Opp, and Tony Manavalan).
So we took the collaborative process a step further and wrote a report with our findings, which was just published on the MIX last night (you can read Polly LaBarre’s blog post announcing the report here).
If the subject or the process sounds interesting, you can download the report as a PDF here.
Or, if you’d like to participate in a hackathon yourself, you are in luck! We just announced a new Management 2.0 Hackathon here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara yesterday.
I want to thank the each of the members of the Communities of Passion hackathon team for their meaningful contributions. I’d also like to do a special shout out to those who took the time to collaboratively author this final report, which I believe will be a helpful resource for anyone interested in enabling communities of passion in or around their organization.
MIX Hack Report Authoring Team:
Josh Allan Dykstra
MIX Communities of Passion Hackathon Contributors:
Sinan Si Alhir
David R. Koenig
Juan (Kiko) Suarez
Earlier this year, some of you joined me for the Communities of Passion Hackathon Pilot over on the Management Innovation Exchange. It was a really great experience—I met some wonderful folks, and we did some pretty interesting hacking (I’ll share the results of our work later this week).
Today, here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, the MIX announced a brand new hackathon, which we are calling the Management 2.0 Hackathon. In this project, we’ll be exploring how we can harness the principles of the Web to build organizations that are fit for the future.
Sound interesting? If you want to learn more about it, go read the announcement on the MIX here, then sign up and join us! It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Why such a tagline hater? Because to me, most taglines still speak the language of advertising. And, as my business partner David Burney is fond of saying, we no longer trust the language of advertising because our experience tells us it is usually disingenuous.
Is DeBeers right when it says a Diamond is Forever? Could we afford to live in a world where Every Kiss Begins with Kay? Are the champions really still eating Wheaties for breakfast? While these have all been successful taglines over the years that have probably sold a lot of jewelry and cereal, they lack something increasingly important to brands in the 21st century: honesty.
When confronted with a bad tagline, I’m sure you immediately think or say something like “Wow, I wonder how much someone got paid to come up with that?”
Which was exactly my reaction when I was flying on Delta last week and saw a sign with their “Keep Climbing” tagline on it. I couldn’t help but think about the big bucks they probably paid the legendary Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency to develop it. According to Weiden+Kennedy’s case study about the campaign on their website, the tagline “is a declaration of the company’s commitment to making flying better and a celebration of where the brand is and where it is heading.”
So at the same time Delta was telling us how amazing their people were in advertisements like this one:
Delta’s customers were telling us about experiences they were having like this one:
The most successful brands of the 21st century will be the most authentic brands. I’ve talked previously on this blog about my home state of North Carolina’s motto, Esse Quam Videri, which means “To be rather than to seem to be.”
When you watch the two videos above about Delta, do you wonder, as I do, if Delta might have been able to avoid the bad publicity of the soldiers’ story if they had taken the money they spent telling us how great Delta’s people are through advertising and used it instead to empower those employees with training, revised policies, or technology tools that would have actually helped ensure a better experience for customers?
In other words, don’t tell us you are climbing. Climb.
Do I ever like taglines? Absolutely—when they reinforce something I already know and appreciate about a brand. When I see the tagline and immediately recognize what I love about the brand in it, it’s a winner. For example, when Apple started using the tagline Think Different in the late 90s, I believed that the people at Apple actually did think different, and their products helped (and continue to help) me think different as well. The words felt true to the brand I already knew.
But when I see a tagline that is trying to sell me a vision of a brand that I don’t currently see, that is the language of advertising. Telling and selling versus being an authentic representation of the brand.
My own personal experience has been that the best, most authentic taglines are often not developed in marketing departments or by advertising agencies, but instead emerge from the organization’s stories and experiences over time. Sometimes we don’t even see them as taglines until later.
For example, the only thing even close to a tagline we ever used at Red Hat was “Truth Happens.” But it was not developed as a tagline, it was the title of a short film that we were only going to show once—to introduce a keynote by Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik (you can read the story of the Truth Happens film and watch it here). In fact, if the marketing guy had his way, it would have been called “Innovation Happens” (yes, the marketing guy was me).
In retrospect, as a film title or as a tagline, “Innovation Happens” sucks.
We made the right choice to go with Truth Happens as the name, which didn’t just tell the story of a company, it told the story of a movement (the open source movement) that many had predicted didn’t have a chance of succeeding. Lots of folks who saw the film at that original keynote asked about it, and, over the next few years, it became a rallying cry inside and outside the company.
It wasn’t until a few years later that we put it on a t-shirt.
So if your first question when building your brand is “What should our tagline be?” maybe consider taking a different approach. Perhaps instead start by attempting to uncover the deepest truths about your brand.
Begin a conversation with your members of your brand community and let them help you. Maybe eventually that conversation will lead you to a great tagline, maybe it won’t.
But you’ll likely discover things much more important and true to your brand than a tagline along the way, and you may find the conversation itself is its own reward.
If so, you can find more tips about how to position your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).
In the last month, two new friends of mine took the time to write reviews of The Ad-Free Brand on their blogs.
I thought I’d take a few minutes today to say thanks. As someone who reads a lot of books, I know that it is a big investment of time to read someone’s book. But then, on top of that, to make the time to collect and write down your thoughts to share with others is really meaningful.
So, in saying thanks to Eugene and Terri, I thought I’d share a bit about each of them here. They both do great work, and if you enjoy reading what you see here on my blog, you might enjoy hearing more about their ideas and projects as well.
First, a few words about Eugene.
I met Eugene after writing about his work leading the Wikimedia Strategic Planning project (articles here on the MIX, Fortune, and opensource.com). I was truly blown away by the open, collaborative approach that he and Philippe Beaudette of the Wikimedia Foundation took to the project, involving over 1000 volunteer contributors in the effort.
Over the past few months, Eugene has been hard at work building his new company, Groupaya, which often works on massively collaborative projects like the one he helped the Wikimedia Foundation run. Here is the positioning statement from the Groupaya website:
“Groupaya specializes in helping groups, be they teams, organizations, networks or nations, more skillfully work together to create their desired future.”
If you are interested in learning more about the the sort of projects Groupaya is working on, you can follow their blog here. And if you happen to live in the San Francisco area, consider joining them to share ideas at one of their informal Thursday brown bag lunches.
I met Terri Griffith through her contributions to the MIX Hackathon Pilot project (which we just finished, I’ll be sharing the final report on it in the next week). Terri is a professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, and takes a particular interest in what her bio refers to as the “technology of work” (a phrase I loved).
As it turns out, she and I were both working on writing books at the same time, and her new book The Plugged-In Manager was just released a few weeks ago. I read the book a few days after it came out and the concepts in it really resonated with me. Here’s what I said in my review on Amazon:
The Plugged-In Manager is one of the most thought-provoking and *current* management books I’ve read in years. Terri Griffith’s position as professor of management at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley puts her in an ideal location to learn from and connect with some of the top management innovators in the world today.
There is nothing traditional about her worldview. Terri marries some of the core principles that define success in a world shaped by the Internet–transparency, sharing, collaboration, rapid prototyping–with a deliberate and repeatable approach that current and aspiring managers can use to ensure they make effective decisions in a rapidly-changing landscape.
A few particular strengths of this book: 1) it provides a set of well-designed, repeatable practices that will allow managers to quickly and easily begin to put theory into practice 2) it shares detailed, personal stories from managers at some of the most innovative organizations in the world, including Zappos, Nucor, IBM, Cisco, and Intuit 3) It includes a series of scenario-based assessment tools that will allow you to test how well your current approach matches that of the “plugged-in managers” she has researched. Quickly learn how far you’ve come (or how far you have to go).
If you are looking for ways to be a more effective manager in an Internet-enabled world, spending a few hours reading this book will be an excellent investment of your time.
There is no more important tool for rolling out brand positioning than a great brand story. The best brand stories can create gravity around a brand and also help build a strong brand community. They show the concepts behind the brand positioning in action, making it more than words on a page.
Does your organization have legends or stories that have been told and retold over the years? How the brand got its name? How the founders of your organization first met? The original problem they were trying to solve by developing your product? Perhaps your particular worldview or internal values became very clear at one moment in the organization’s history. Most organizations have internal legends, stories, and fables that are already being told. Your existing stories and legends are powerful because they are illustrations of who you are and why you do what you do. Often, these stories serve as building blocks for a larger brand story.
A brand story is an attempt to articulate the brand positioning by answering the deepest truths about the brand, things such as:
- Who are we?
- Why are we here?
- What do we care about?
- What do we do?
- Why does it matter?
In all likelihood, your brand story is already partway being told in the form of these stories and legends that follow the brand around everywhere it goes. Consider collecting as many of these stories as you can as background research and inspiration. An authentic brand story won’t just be made up on the spot. Great brand stories have a lineage and a heritage that are built over time and with the hard work and perseverance of many people.
In attempting to articulate the brand story, your job will be part historian, part archeologist, and part sculptor, taking the existing building blocks that have been provided to you by those who built the brand and merging them with the new brand positioning you’ve developed. You’ll need to mold these two views together into an overarching brand story that is both authentic to the brand’s past and relevant to the brand’s future at the same time.
It is hard work creating a great story that will get passed on from person to person. You’ll need to recruit the best storytellers you can find to the cause, including your organization’s top writers, designers, and poets (or if you work with an outside firm, bring their best folks in, too).
But based on my experience helping develop brand stories for organizations over the past decade, I can tell you that the effort is worth it. A great brand story will not only help you attract new people to your brand community, it will become a powerful guiding force within your organization as well.
If you’d like to learn more about the brand stories we created during my time at Red Hat, take a look at the following posts:
And here is an example of one of the original Red Hat “legends” that we collected during our time building the brand.
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
The best 21st century brands won’t be built on advertising alone. Here’s why:
Ask Delta Airlines.
Or ask BP.
The problem isn’t your marketing. The problem is that, when it comes to your brand, your customers aren’t just listening to you anymore; they are listening to everyone who is talking about your brand.
You know this.
But if so many people are aware that the world has changed, why has the way most organizations allocate their marketing and communications time and money not changed?
My advice? Instead of focusing only on customers and prospects, take a more holistic approach where you engage all of the people who care about your brand: what I refer to as the brand community. (I spend a lot more time sharing ways to do this effectively in The Ad-Free Brand.)
In a world where every person on the planet has the power to change the fate of your brand (whether they spend money with you or not), the brand community has to be seen as more than just customers.
For some more from me on this subject, check this out:
Consider taking a look at my new book The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:). It has some nice tips for how to build a great brand without the help of… you guessed it… advertising!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had folks share sightings of my book The Ad-Free Brand in Malaysia and Singapore, which was super cool. Since I love to travel and see new places, but can’t do it as much as I like, I thought I’d issue a challenge and see if I could convince anyone to take me up on it.
Here’s the challenge: If you have a copy of The Ad-Free Brand in your possession, take a picture of it for me.
In what context? That’s for you to decide. I’d just love to see the book in a setting other than our office here at New Kind.
Do you live in some cool place you think I might have never seen before? Go to a local landmark and take a picture of you or a friend and the book in front of it. Do you run a business? Send me a picture that showcases both the book and your office or building.
Take a picture from your favorite hangout spot. Take the book on vacation with you and send me a picture from there. Take a picture of the book performing a death-defying stunt. Dress it up in drag, I don’t care.
I’d love to see whatever creative idea you have. Bonus points if your picture helps communicate a concept behind the book.
So what’s in it for you? If I receive some cool pictures (and I have no idea if anyone will actually take me up on this), I’ll write a blog post featuring each picture and the person who captured it.
In this post, I’ll share not only the picture, but also some details about you: where you are from, what you are passionate about, why you took the picture, and whatever else you’d like to share. Also, if you have something that you think people who check out my blog might be interested in, perhaps it is your own blog, your business, a charitable cause you are passionate about, or a project you think people might be interested in joining, whatever, I’d love to help point some people to it.
I don’t have any strict policies or rules for this challenge (after all, New Kind has a tightly-enforced No Policy Policy), but I do have some friendly suggestions that you should consider:
- Ensure that anyone featured in the photo is OK with it being shown on this blog.
- Don’t send pictures that may offend my readers (but don’t worry about offending me, that’s fine).
- Don’t hurt or desecrate the book unless it is totally worth it.
- Be sure to include not just the book itself, but some context in the picture so people might be able to guess where you took it (in case it isn’t totally obvious). I may want to do some Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-type games if the opportunity arises.
- Even if you think you live in a place you think is totally boring, take a picture anyway. Find a spot to take the picture that says something meaningful about your town or that shows off your own personality or tastes.
So that’s pretty much the challenge. If you want to take me up on it, send your picture to me at chris(at)newkind.com along with the following information:
1. Your name, email, and other contact info (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
2. Place where you took the picture
3. Any information about yourself or things you are passionate about that you’d like to share (including your blog, company information, a project, charity, or whatever else you think might be relevant)
There is no deadline for entry. Just send your picture whenever you have it.