Online marketing hasn’t decisively ‘killed’ traditional advertising channels, but the insular virtual landscapes created by customers determined to shut out intrusive shrills and sales pitches at any cost have certainly stripped the old dogs of some teeth. Once they crafted forums where unfiltered rants, raves and experiences could flow freely in borderless real time, the internet’s masses realized they deserved better than being ‘told’ what would make their lives better. They no longer had to settle for less than earnest two-way dialogue from anyone who would value their money.
That’s exactly what viral marketing campaigns – yes, even failed ones – consistently demonstrate with game-changing results: a brand’s commitment to understanding its target audience before setting out to be understood. These are opportunities to actively make a product’s users a part of its very identity. That kind of initiative to use your two ears and one mouth proportionately makes people feel powerful by making them feel wanted. Such exercises in creative salesmanship can move mountains in a cynical mind and define an advertiser as a clear-cut breed apart from the pack.
Among the millions of industries and individual businesses currently seeking the loyal patronage of Los Angeles consumers, these are just a hypothetical handful who might stand to benefit most significantly from a conversation with a professional speaker versed in innovative promotion.
Persistent player-discipline controversies. Tumultuous political undertones. Seemingly endless labor tensions. The looming, tragic consequences of a concussion epidemic now known to have already jeopardized the long-term health of countless generations of elite professional athletes over the course of likely more than 75 years. As a whole, the National Football League has an image problem.
The NFL’s presence in Los Angeles hasn’t been without its own hurdles. For some reason, professional football has never galvanized the sort of enduring following in Los Angeles that Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and even the National Hockey League have all achieved. The Oakland Raiders relocated to the City of Angels in 1982 but made tracks back to the Bay Area in 1994 after only 12 years and recently passed up a possible return to L.A. in favor of an imminent migration to Las Vegas. Meanwhile, the Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016 but stumbled to a 4-12 record in their homecoming season and the former San Diego Chargers will hope to improve on last year’s 5-11 record in their upcoming premiere L.A. campaign.
The solution to the latter city-specific run of misfortune is written in a play that made strides in 2016 toward redirecting the conversation about football’s place in America and how the NFL has shaped the sport: ask the fans who live and die by their favorite team’s fortunes every fall what keeps them coming back. The league collaborated with longtime official broadcast partner NBC and ‘The Today Show’ to introduce ‘Together, We Make Football,’ a rallying campaign that converted candid and often heartwarming testimonials from fans into national television advertisements portraying the unifying power of passion for the gladiatorial game and everything the NFL shield stands for. To cap the acclaimed viral crusade, an online vote awarded coveted 2016 Super Bowl tickets to five finalists whose submissions struck especially deep chords among their kindred gridiron fanatics.
With Los Angeles growing from no NFL presence in 2015 to the return of a once-estranged franchise and a brand-new arrival from a neighboring city in just two years, either team is bound to learn something new and valuable from simply posing such a simple question and genuinely listening. As a bonus, fans could bask in the revelation that the teams they love have invested some time and effort into getting better acquainted with the faithful who bleed their colors.
When you slow down enough to look around and take everything in, flying is a travel experience like no other. If any means of getting from Point A to Point B should be incomparably satisfying, it should absolutely be journeying cross thousands of miles in mere hours by soaring through clouds 30,000 feet above the earth. Any lap of luxury should seem anticlimactic when compared with having a massive metal tube spirit you away to any destination you choose while you sit back in godlike comfort and scarcely experience the sensation of forward momentum.
Instead, passengers often feel like bipedal, talking wallets that airlines and their staff have no problem treating with all the consideration afforded to sneakers tossed into a gym bag.
To demonstrate their conviction that their guests are long overdue to expect more when traveling the friendly skies, JetBlue once asked hapless bystanders why they would abide an airline settling for standards of service nobody would tolerate on the ground. Actually, “asked” is an inadequate verb; rather, a discreet camera captured candid reactions as a cab driver shockingly charged an additional $25 for every bag stored in his trunk, positioned his seat as far back as possible to minimize legroom for his fares and generally showered customers with all manner of aggravating air-travel tropes.
The guerrilla campaign got across a point that the millions upon millions of passengers from around the world who pass through Los Angeles International Airport would vouch for in half a heartbeat: everyone has someplace to be, and those who pay to fly are willing to shell out a bit more precious money expecting an indisputably superior experience, not a unique flavor of annoyance. In essence, at least JetBlue possessed a realistic enough assessment of their own industry to say, “We’ve been there, these things suck, and as long as we have anything to say about it, they won’t happen on our watch.”
For all the inherent immersion and originality made possible by their medium’s uniquely interactive elements, video games long ago regressed into a state of marketing monotony that doesn’t so much “invite” marketing fatigue among consumers as normalize it. Considering that such venerated digital entertainment developers and publishers as Naughty Dog, Activision Blizzard, Sony Santa Monica and Electronic Arts all hang their hats in the Los Angeles area, you would think infinitely more executives would have realized trumpeting one marquee release after another with the same bombastic, epic explosions of sensory overload has actually been counterproductive to allowing anything to stand distinctly apart. After a while, when every hype machine belts out the same chorus of dramatic exceptionalism, what once took an audience’s breath away suddenly falls on fatigued, desensitized ears.
Once upon a time in 2014, a free downloadable PlayStation 4 demo from then-unknown 7780s Studio emerged unannounced with a curiously sudden, conspicuous spotlight on the front page of Sony’s digital PlayStation Store.
On the even of Cologne, Germany’s annual Gamescom industry expo, the mysterious new release set the internet ablaze with kindred cooperative resolve among players to unravel countless inscrutable puzzles and cryptic allusions littered throughout a single iterated evolving loop of two hallways and a handful of accessible doors and rooms – including the stubbornly locked exit. The PlayStation Store page for ‘P.T.’ elaborated only that its title was shorthand for ‘Playable Teaser.’ No exposition. No production credits. No bulleted list of features. No instructions. Just a legitimately nerve-jangling atmosphere of deepening dread.
By the time Sony and iconic publisher Konami officially announced the ingeniously revealed upcoming release at Gamescom the next day, ‘P.T.’ had played exactly the hand it intended, and it did so with astounding success. The minimalist 30-minute challenge seduced a definitive gaming instinct to dig obsessively into an engrossing mystery until greeting the daylight of its denouement. The culminating puzzle itself confounded players of all stripes until word of its eventual solution spread like wildfire, revealing the gobsmacking truth.
Developer 7780s Studio was unheard-of for a very good reason: it didn’t exist. Rather, the pseudonym references the area, in square kilometers, of Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan – a region literally translated as ‘Quiet Hills.’ Shizuoka also happens to be a commonplace Japanese nickname for a landmark Konami videogame franchise synonymous for nearly 30 years with groundbreaking terror: ‘Silent Hill.’
What greeted players when the exit finally opened left them in awe: they had just completed a Kojima Productions game foretelling the arrival of ‘Silent Hills,’ a long-awaited project co-helmed by visionary film director Guillermo del Toro and “Metal Gear Solid” auteur Hideo Kojima. When the camera panned upward as a lone figure strode down a deserted city street, it revealed “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus portraying the upcoming title’s assumed lead.
It took 30 minutes for a responsive, enveloping demo to entirely subvert its medium’s classic conventions of buzz and encompass everything gamers love about their chosen pastime.
Contrary to the redundant narrative, the shifting tastes of millennials writ large are not the only assailants threatening to “kill” fast food as America has known it for 60 years or so. Myriad chains have plenty of each other’s bloodstains on their own hands, thanks to an obsession with constantly rolling out revised images and menus that mirror exactly what everyone else is already doing “differently.” Everywhere you look, the actual food among quite a few nationwide brands becomes harder and harder to tell apart.
That’s where Wendy’s, of all possibilities, has recently done the most to sharply contrast itself. Thus far in 2017, there is no more entertaining fast-food Twitter account in the world than @Wendys, and the viral craze began with such headline-making mic-drop comebacks as posting a picture of a trashcan in response to a smart-ass follower who just wanted directions to the nearest McDonald’s and informing another trash-talking Ronald McFanboy who praised the breakfasts served beneath the Golden Arches after questioning Wendy’s claims of never serving ‘frozen’ beef, “You don’t have to bring them into this just because you forgot refrigerators existed for a second there.”
None of this is to say that Wendy’s doesn’t cook one mouth-watering cheeseburger. No way. However, note that they are not going looking for trouble. The Maestro doing a yeoman’s work overseeing Twitter activity stands out as that wisecracking friend who shuts down any shade you might throw his way and somehow actually earns your respect with his sass. It feels personal. Sure, you might feel bad for the unfortunate trolls who had no idea what they had just stepped into, but the fact the exchanges turn into actual conversations that eschew any notion of polite, scripted dialogue gets across that they care enough to join the conversation itself.
Then again, should you be surprised? After all, this is the brand that wagered a year’s supply of gratis chicken nuggets that a Nevada teen couldn’t break the all-time retweet record held by Ellen DeGeneres and not only paid up when he completed the quest with 18 million retweets, but threw in a $100,000 donation to the Dave Thomas Foundation of America.
Anyone can make a superb burger. Wendy’s makes friends while they’re at it.
The Marketing Industry Itself
Hang on. This ‘meta’ notion that the marketing industry itself underestimates the viral potential of experimental advertising might seem murky, but it’s about time media wizards the world over validate their salaries by practicing what they preach.
Look, anybody can internalize mass communication’s infallible core principles, recognize their utility within a single ad and probably even construct a mainstream campaign capable of opening doors everywhere just by obeying the rules. Seriously. Give it a month of study washed down with a weekend ‘Mad Men’ binge, and you’ll sound like a three-martini-lunch ad man in no time. You might even be able to reasonably imitate the general approaches that got the aforementioned stunts over. All the while, you’ll have built a tin man with no heart.
That’s where they all ascend high above par for the average semester-long marketing course: they reach out and reflect a comprehension of their audience, a demonstrable connection. They poured time and care into considering what would actually immerse consumers in what their brands stand for and welcome them into a company’s culture. In doing so, they proved that “different” is not always a dirty word. Plenty can sometimes be said for the bravery of that one face in the crowd who makes a hundred more around him ask, “What’s that guy doing?”
If a marketing agency can’t introduce itself in an infectiously entertaining and unexpected way, why should you expect them to perform any differently on your behalf?
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