Chicago Train Stations Flooded by Orange Juice.

If you’re walking around Ogilvie Train Station and Union Station recently, you’ve seen these ads from Tropicana draped literally all over the station.

There are the hanging banners. The overhead billboards. The ads on the steps. And wrapped around a pole. And on the floor.

And it all just feels like way, way too much.

And the stairs too…

I know, the brand development person in me should feel differently. But this is one of those moments we have to step out of our own skin as advertising people and marketers and realize that shoving our product down the consumer’s throat within every 5 steps, up, down and all around is the reason why people can get annoyed by advertising, if not hate the hell out of it.

Of course we in the industry think it’s great because it’s our copy, our design, our brand and oh, isn’t it beautiful the way that yellow pops just how the way we thought it would in that meeting back at the agency when we saw it mocked up on boards? Isn’t it glorious how big it all is and how it’s everywhere the eye can see?

Well…maybe not.

What we love because we’re so close to it may not be as loved by the common folk. The more I see media buying domination to this extreme extent, the more it feels like the ad itself is talking and it’s saying:

“Hey, it’s me! Traditional advertising! Look, I’m still here and I’m everywhere! Remember me? Look up from your smartphone, tablet and laptop! You can’t ignore me!”

Rather than buying up every available piece of ad space in a concentrated area to get their point across, what if Tropicana had taken all that money they invested and used some of it to give away free samples to those very same commuters on their way to work instead? Put the product right in their hands if you’re going to spend that kind of money. They’re picked up by the pleasant surprise of having some extra Tropicana sunshine in their morning. They smile. They say thank you. They talk about it to others on their way to work – “Hey, where’d you get that Tropicana?” It’s instant gratification of the brand.

Isn’t that what we want, really? People to feel good about our brand and tell others? With that sweet and unexpected taste of Tropicana goodness, isn’t it conceivable that they’ll return for another bottle tomorrow?

I guess I’ll just look down at the floor. They couldn’t possibly put it there too…never mind, they did.

Sure, perhaps overloading them with ads just short of tattooing an orange on each person’s forehead would achieve the same result. But I like my chances better with my approach.

This isn’t against traditional ads either or even the creativity of the ads themselves. Far from it. My point is this – if an ad is great and gets people talking, do those people need to be overloaded with its presence to the point of potential turnoff? Who cares if it shares space with other ads if it’s so much better? Even the most gigantic ad possible can be OK because it’s not everywhere.

In a city like ours, with some of the most unique architecture in the world, there’s a balance that we have to maintain between advertising product and infringing on the beauty of what makes a structure great. We can be tasteful and achieve our goals in the same breath. It’s times like these that we have to remember we’re the town of Leo Burnett and Daniel Burnham – if our work would make both of them happy, we’re doing right by their legacies.

We’re in the branding business. Not the architecture wallpaper business.

A well-done shout-out to Chi-Town. Maybe they didn’t need much else.

With some well-placed signs that hit commuters once they exit the train into the station, how much more do we need? Apparently, a gigantic amount more. That feels a little too perky in the morning.

Lesson of Lowe’s: Your Competitor Royally Screwed Up. Don’t Just Sit There.

Attention, Head Media Buyer for The Home Depot. Can we talk? You’ve got an opportunity for yourself handed to you on a silver platter if you’re intelligent and I’ll bet you are. So here’s what I want you to do.

I want you to pick up the phone and start placing ads on “All-American Muslim” like no tomorrow.

Don’t overthink. Don’t overanalyze. Just do it. I don’t care what your demographics are. I don’t care what marketing research tells you. I’m as big a fan as anybody of market research but when your competitor shoots themselves in the foot so badly by blowing their nose on an entire race of people, you’ve got to seize the moment and welcome those people with open arms.

For those who haven’t heard, Lowe’s did a royal screw-up by caving to outside pressure and pulling its advertising from TLC’s program featuring the lives of five Muslim families in Michigan. The backlash has been swift and the outrage intense, not just from Muslim groups but many others. Russell Simmons even offered to buy up all the airtime on the program that advertisers voided.

To me, the danger isn’t so much associations like the Florida Family Association, which urged people to engage in an email campaign to pressure brands like Lowe’s that advertised on the program to pull their advertising.

The danger is when brands actually listen to these fringe groups, tuck their tail between their legs and run for the hills instead of acting like intelligent brands that weren’t born yesterday.

Lowe’s justified the move like so: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result, we did pull our advertising.”

Ah. I get it. So the loudest voice in the room wins, no matter how bigoted and divisive their opinion may be. Just making sure that’s how you make your decisions.

Lowe’s acts like this came out of the blue and caught them by surprise. Nice try but I don’t buy it. Running from lightning rods is what big companies tend to do when they want to appeal to everyone under the sun. Ironically, that’s the opposite of what Lowe’s did anyway in the end. But why does controversy have to be a bad thing? I don’t think it has to be and can be a good thing. Lady Gaga is controversial. And massively successful. I doubt she’s hurting from controversy.

Let me replace all of the official public statements from Lowe’s, probably written by their PR firm or internal marketing people with the only two words that people really hear: We’re afraid.

Memo to brands of America: Beyond what you see on marketing analytics, the people who buy your stuff will be gay, Muslim and mixed racial couples.

And last I checked, their money is still as good in this country as a white person’s.

It’s too bad that showing these types of groups in advertising or advertising on programs featuring such groups beyond the white American family is seen as “progressive.” It shouldn’t be. It should be off the table as something advanced for us to talk about as a brand differentiator. It should be common sense that this reflects modern reality, so we can make marketing decisions based on deeper, more important factors.

But I digress from my mountaintop to speak purely on a marketing level so you can apply the lessons learned from this situation to your own:When you have a scenario like the Lowe’s one where a competitor does something stupid, you have two choices:

1) You can be lazy and have a nice laugh at your competitor’s expense. You may say you’re not going anywhere near the situation with a 10-foot pole and believe the customers will naturally trickle over to you.

2) You can get off your butt and move quickly to cater to the disenchanted audience. It’s called being proactive because it’s the right thing to do marketing-wise and in some cases, morally as well.

You buy media where they dropped media. You use social media to target the voices that are angry. You issue releases and blog posts speaking to the pains people are expressing. And it’s not really about the competitor at all as much as heavily amplifying how much stronger YOUR principles are. Don’t waste any time retelling their story – the disenfranchised are already doing that for you. Tell yours in a way that helps the audience connect the dots easily on how you’re different regarding that particular issue.

This window of opportunity can happen at the most basic local level too. Not all that long ago, a auto dealership in the Chicagoland area fired a man for coming into work wearing a Green Bay Packers tie. Now, I bleed Bear blue and orange, but obviously that’s just a dumb move. The media picked up on the story and the auto dealership that formerly employed him got some massive and unwanted attention.

At this point, other dealerships nearby could have just reveled in a competitor screwing up. But one had the initiative to seize the moment while the story was still hot. They hired the Packer-wearing tie salesman almost immediately. Not only was that the right thing to do, but the focus shifted from one stupid dealership to how the new dealership did something heroic. THEY became the new focus of the story.

My point is, when events like this happen to a competitor, don’t run from the chatter. Dive into it. You want to talk about how you can engage a community? You’re looking at it. Put up or shut up time.

There’s one thing Lowe’s got right in separating itself from a program with the words “All American” in it: When brands are this easily swayed by the agendas of extreme groups that they forget their own values, whatever it is they’re building together is anything but All American.

Have you ever capitalized on a competitor’s mistake to acquire new customers and become the hero? If so, how did it happen and what did you do? Share away, hero.

Babies and Knives Make For Interesting Bedfellows in Milwaukee

You’re an agency Creative Director and you’re charged with the following agenda from the Milwaukee Health Department: Show how sleeping with your baby in the same bed is dangerous. 

Go.

SERVE Marketing came up with this to get the point across. I know. Some of you might be outraged. Go ahead. Call it extreme. Maybe you’re offended by it enough to show it to other people. Or comment on blogs. The Today Show sure did – some medical talking head they bring in regularly named Nancy Snyderman said it was wrong.

Golly. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say a whole lot more people are suddenly talking about the dangers of sleeping with an infant in the same bed.

I say Mission Accomplished. Whether you agree with it or not, it got people in Milwaukee conversing about an important subject. Think about all the stupid irrelevant garbage we’re obsessed about on a daily basis, from the poor plight of Kim Kardashian to anything that passes as “Breaking News” that really isn’t.

The fact is, cause advertising has to do something extreme to get us out of our comfort zone and actually do something on behalf of that organization. Yes, sometimes we have to change the channel when we see those ads of abused animals set to Sarah McLachlan music, but we know exactly what it’s for and we know the importance of the message. Note that when I talk about doing something extreme, I don’t necessarily mean it has to be extremely depressing. There are actually fun ways to convey a message too – for example, an animal shelter filmed a music video recently consisting of one continuous shot throughout the shelter of staff singing with the animals to be adopted (even though the music’s been removed for some reason, you can see it here to get the idea – thanks to D Zorea of DDZ Accounting for supplying it).

So perhaps not everything in its tone has to be doom and gloom to get people’s attention. But doing so doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. Think about it. When you depend on private donations and you’re a financially challenged organization, you have not one, not two but three major hurdles: 1) Getting people to feel anything about you to the point of picking up the phone, attending an event, going to your site/Facebook page, etc., 2) consequently donating time, money or both requires a really big conversation piece and 3) getting #1 and #2 done on a small budget.

What you have is a result big enough to save a few more infants from an awful accident that could be avoided. Big enough to at least get parents to consider where they stand on the issue and talk about it amongst themselves.

If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s not always a bad thing. We have issues in our daily lives that are not comfortable – so are we going to pretend we all live in Disneyland or are we going to discuss them like human beings who have things that give us very real, negative emotions?

I’ve written more than a few ads over the last decade and I’d be lying if I haven’t been asked on several occasions, “Can we make this copy sound a little less negative?”

Sorry. Not this time.

I’m sure you have a thought or two on this approach, so what’s your take? I’d love to hear. Shocking? Provocative? Effective? Offensive? 

Metra’s brand would fly higher with tech upgrades

Blessed to be in a city with solid public transportation, not a week goes by that I don’t use a bus, El and Metra train to get me from Point A to Point B. And while you have to put up with the usual annoyances (Exhibit A: Man talking on cell phone at ridiculous decibels), I’ve found that the CTA is doing a good job of meeting expectations in forecasting the arrival/departure times on buses and El trains – in fact, technology has made it about as smooth an experience as you can expect in a city as big as ours. We can tap a Chicago Card to a designated payment area and we’re on our way. We can look down on our mobile devices and see thanks to apps like Buster, the 156 really will be here in 4 minutes. Things are indeed getting better. Not perfect, but better.

But when Metra asked for a 30% rate hike, I had to give pause. The mode of transportation that has billed itself as the “Way to Really Fly,” for as long as I can remember needs to justify the hike by making improvements that not only make the transportation experience more enjoyable but still enables Metra to live by that tagline. I’m getting a little tired in this economy of people saying that they need more money or else without clearly explaining what they intend to do with it. After all, Metra’s passengers aren’t made of money either. So just being able to continue service isn’t good enough.

First, unless you get a special express train with fewer stops, you’re not flying on Metra. It makes a stop every few minutes and many of them at that. The advantage of Metra is not dealing with sitting in traffic on the Eisenhower. But it’s not like we’re talking about a bullet train here. Only so much that can be done about that logistically speaking, which brings us to point #2, something that can be implemented.

Metra is losing money partially due to its own inefficiencies. In other words, if Metra is going to come to a Board saying, “we need to hike rates 30%,” they’d better have some upgrades too in order to make boarding and ticket processing “The Way to Really Fly.” For example, when 15,000 Millennials descended on Grant Park earlier this summer from the suburbs to see an outdoor concert, Metra had to take their tickets manually. This meant the old standby of asking each passenger where they were going, taking their money, giving them change and giving them their ticket. On to the next person. On a completely packed train of people that don’t have simple monthly/weekly passes, that means you’re going to miss getting the tickets of some people by the time it gets to the station in Chicago. That can be 5, 6, 7 dollars or more with each person missed. 

I have literally watched conductors try to remember whose ticket fare they collected and whose they didn’t. The system just doesn’t work well. Apparently Metra has taken to hiring “observers” to discreetly ride trains to ensure fares are being collected when conductors happen to miss them, but is this really the most cost-efficient way to monitor the situation? No.

On the other hand, if the conductors had an electronic swiping device that enabled people to not only pay by credit card but also pay by Chicago Card by tapping it to a conductor’s device, I’d say you cut the transaction time by 5-10 seconds per person. That may not sound like a lot until you calculate multiple train cars on a Saturday, when half of Chicagoland is heading to museums, sporting events, concerts and more.

I may not know all the details of I.T. needed to bring this into reality, but I have to believe that if it can be this easy on a bus or El train, Metra needs to bring itself in line with those modes of transportation too. Because the whole providing a paper ticket and punching it thing is more than a little dated, if not wasteful environmentally-speaking. With card processing technologies like Square, it becomes all the more easier. Or here’s a not-so-radical thought – take a page from airline boarding procedures and have an electronic processing terminal(s) at each station with one agent per terminal who takes a ticket, scans it and lets the person on board. No conductor has to rack his brains remembering whose ticket fare he collected and didn’t collect.

One more note to Metra CEO Alex Clifford, who said recently that details of the rate hike were still being ironed out – I’m sure the hike is a necessarily evil in these times and although people won’t like it (who does?), transparency of how you’re spending these new dollars is critical. So remember the places online where you can communicate that message clearly and often – i.e., your website, Facebook Page and Twitter account for starters.

Fewer missed fares, more in Metra’s pocket, easier experience for conductor and passenger alike. Now your brand has got a way to genuinely and really, fly.

Cubs, Sox Looking Up at Teams in Social Media Standings Too

The San Francisco Giants are the world champions of social media. Oh, and I suppose they deserve that World Series trophy too.

Let me explain. I began to write this as a Cubs vs. Sox comparison of social media usage – and I do speak to this. But I also wanted to show the whole picture of how both the North Siders and South Siders compare against other teams in baseball. Plus, I didn’t want Sox fans to think I was trying to intentionally be biased against their team as I fully disclose my passion for Cubdom.

There may be Cubs Nation, Yankees Nation and Red Sox Nation, but in my view, the Giants are the best all-around baseball team in terms of being truly “social.”

And what’s crazy is that it primarily comes down to effort, not technology.

Some will say, “that figures because they’re in Silicon Valley and there’s a lot of tech people out there.” No, no, no. You and I both know that we’re talking about interaction, not building microchips. It involves maintenance and consistency but being a social media marketer doesn’t require hardcore engineering. So take that thought and smack it out of the stadium of your mind.

To arrive at this finding, I took a look at Sports Fan Graph from Coyle Media, Klout, Social Media Today and my own analysis of teams’ social media channels.

Now, let’s discuss some of those categories in greater detail:

Twitter Interactivity

I don’t judge too much by number of followers because obviously that favors the big cities vs. the smaller ones. Plus, I don’t believe that should be the most heavily weighted piece of criteria when measuring social media influence anyway. Instead, I looked at whether teams were actually conversing with followers or they were just using Twitter as an outlet for broadcasting.

Using this measurement, the Giants top off around 33 follower responses in a 24-hour span alone. That may or may not sound like a lot, until you consider what both of our teams did combined.

Cubs: Within a 72-hour span @Cubs acknowledged and responded to zero followers. The front office Tweeter at @CubsInsider was a little better – one follower in 72 hours. All the rest of their tweets were broadcasts.

White Sox: In the same 72-hour timeframe, @whitesox had the same result – zero responses to any followers.

 

Frequency of Tweets

Even with sharing play-by-play, scores and interviews, you can only tweet so much when it’s one-sided. The Giants are masters of pumping out tweets that are frequent and varied. As noted, they know how to give and receive feedback. At this point, they tally nearly 15,000 tweets.

By comparison, the Cubs and White Sox combined total a little less than half that many tweets. That’s a little embarrassing when you consider these teams have a fan base that’s much larger than, say, the Blue Jays or Rangers – just a couple of the teams out-Tweeting the Cubs and Sox.

 

Facebook Pages           

It’s almost a given that size of city will play an influence on size of Facebook Page, so it’s not terribly surprising that the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs have the largest amount of Fans on their Facebook Pages. Yet this is what makes the Giants’ showing of the 4th overall Facebook Page all the more respectable, considering San Francisco is in a market behind New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, Philly and several others.

The White Sox aren’t terrible overall in terms of Facebook Page volume (11th), but they certainly shouldn’t be losing out to anyone within their division – and Detroit’s Facebook Page is nudging it out by 20,000 Fans.


Check-Ins

More check-ins occur at AT&T Park, home of the Giants, than any other baseball stadium, according to Social Media Today. As of right now, their fans have checked in on Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places 284,854 times.

The Dodgers are second (233,008) and the Cubs are third (233,008). Not terribly surprising considering the beauty of the Friendly Confines but this is nonetheless a bright spot for the Cubs as they’ve nudged past those checking in at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t mean to pick on the White Sox here, but the number of check-ins at US Cellular Field are dead last in baseball (24,285). That’s pathetic. And you can’t put that all on the fans either. If they had enough incentive to check-in through certain promotions, they’d do it. So let’s see the front office do something in this area so the Sox can at least pass up the check-ins by Houston fans at Minute Maid Park, which deserves to relegated to last for its stupid hill in center field.


Conclusion

Some teams can rest on their laurels and get a sizeable fan base, but you’ve got to admire when a team becomes Avis-like and tries harder because it knows it has to. The Giants are in a smaller city and even have to compete with a team across the Bay to a degree. Yet there’s nothing preventing many other teams from doing the things the Giants are doing – they’re just hustling a lot more when it comes to posting, tweeting and interacting. Who knows? Maybe that’s a mandate from the front office there – hustle on the field and off of it.

As far as the Cubs and White Sox, there’s room for improvement overall. From a social media perspective with all factors considered, both teams are looking up at the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. And when it comes to Twitter, they’re behind the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Braves, Dodgers and Blue Jays. If you believe in Klout scores, add the Mets and Rangers above them.

I can understand being behind the Yankees. But the Braves, Rangers and Blue Jays?

Wait until next year, I guess.

How about your thoughts on how your team can be a little more social? To spur ideas, check out this article in Fast Company that talks about the “6 Things Sports Teams Can Do With Social Media To Engage Fans.”