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How to Market the Measles

Who would have ever thought profit driven brands and advertisers would seem more noble than our family doctors and the scientific community?

Well that’s just what’s happening as this vaccination debate unfolds.

In everyday consumer marketing, the veil of non-transparency has been lifted on everything from cleaning products to food. And it didn’t just happen because of the advent of social media. It has been happening around kitchen tables for generations in the form of curiosity of what we’re really “consuming.”

Kitchen table curiosity led to questions, which, when buried in the customer call center, ignored or responded to with a form letter, led to mistrust.

Enter Social Media: kitchen tables turned into global pulpits and a whole new world of marketing was born, led by a “noble purpose” and supported by full transparency. Consumer curiosity made our world a better place by holding our industries to a higher standard.

So, let’s take a journey back in time ….

Back in the day, consumers had to “consume” whatever marketers dished out. Because back then, Brands were the authority and the consumers didn’t have the data or the facts. TRUST was the alchemy that held the whole thing together.

As long as Brands controlled the media and the conversation, there was no room for mistrust. Any consumer dissent was clearly from a fringe fanatic. Consumers just shouldn’t worry their little heads about things like that. The product is from a well-known company of course!

Pro-vaccine or not, the issue isn’t science or data: the issue is product trust. What started as a noble purpose has evolved to vaccines and drugs being rolled out like Hallmark holidays, creating “needs” and then solving for them.

The early scares, real or not, opened questions; the worms of curiosity. Why are there so many now? What’s in this stuff anyway? Do our kids need three times the number of vaccines as we got? Are they ALL necessary? Should we be giving so many at once?

And, just like the 1950’s, out roll the big pedigrees and authorities to silence and shame anyone asking these questions. And for now, these consumers will retreat into their small circles, until one day, they’re not so small anymore and come out with a vengeance, forcing the industry to open the kimono.

This debate isn’t about Measles. It’s about trust. As brands, we had to face our consumers head on. And we were forced to do better. Big pharma: you can run and hide. But in time, you will be hunted down.

Nicole Ertas is the founder of Free-Range Brands, a revolutionary branding model for breakthrough brand engagement in the post-digital world.

Follow on Nicole on Twitter @freerangebrands.

#measles, #vaccines, #bigpharma, #vaccinations


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Until a few years ago, the watchdog groups such as the Ralph Naders of the world tended to be sideline fanatics who often appealed to the fringe.  But gone are the days of company mis-steps or ugly baggage getting buried in the customer call center.

Today’s brands are tested on a very public stage.  This week it’s LEGO’s turn to stand trial as Greenpeace dragged the beloved brand into its battle with Shell to stop Arctic drilling.

The campaign is jarring in that it clashes sweet childhood innocence with dark corporate ugliness.  The widespread attention the campaign is getting, good or bad, is a slam-dunk for Greenpeace either way as it has sparked a global dialogue.  But the bigger question is, what is LEGO to do?

LEGO certainly isn’t a small or obscure Shell partner.  The brands have a lucrative partnership, worth an estimated $116 million.  At least 16 million Shell-branded LEGO sets have been sold in 26 countries and  LEGO has also recently released a series of LEGO Arctic building sets.   There’s no hiding there.

So far, they’ve decided to absolve themselves from the debate.  In a recent statement, LEGO Group CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp responds:  “We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace.  We are saddened when the LEGO brand is used as a tool in any dispute between organisations.”

LEGO might very likely escape relatively unscathed on this one given that the public is taking a protective stance of the brand, but a greater opportunity exists for LEGO while up on this stage, as a brand committed to the environment.

Up until now, LEGO has proven itself to be a great free-range brand, reinventing itself, exploring new terrain and flying on a higher emotional plane than a collection of functional offerings.  But when free-range brands run into trouble, they don’t hide for cover.  They take unexpected and unprecedented action.  They reframe the conversation.  They adapt.   Will LEGO take this opportunity while in the spotlight or continue to hide behind its protective brand parents?












© 2014 Free-Range Brands LLC All Rights Reserved

The Death of the Brand Manager

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For decades, a handful of large, brand monarchs ruled marketing empires, controlling the message, the airwaves and the channels.

But now, consumers have broken through the gates and small brands are starting to win this game of thrones.

The innovative, no name brands that were once too small to be any real threat are becoming anything but. They’re showing up on shelves that were once unavailable to any brand without big bucks for TV support and slotting fees. They’re reinventing themselves faster than we can align on a concept for test.

And our consumers, once neatly bundled into measurable and targetable demographic groups, are now reorganizing themselves, hijacking our brands and taking over the airwaves.

Today’s brand-building game is played in an open, unpredictable arena where very few rules govern how a brand is positioned, where it is placed, and how it is talked about.

This isn’t just a digital revolution. This is total brand anarchy.

Still Operating on Old Hardware

All that is certain is that this new, ever-changing landscape is only going to increasingly reinvent itself. Our processes that once served us, rooted in control, are now the formula for irrelevancy.

Yet, internally, where we’re safe and in control, we can breathe easy as we spend our year orbiting around our epic annual plans, strategizing, testing, analyzing and endlessly re-planning. As brand leaders, we have been groomed and pedigreed to operate off decades of best in class thinking proven to model consumer behavior, stimulate trial, purchase and loyalty.

But at the end of the day, when we shut off the lights and go home, our brand children must live on the streets alone in the world, navigate the open seas and live or die by their own devices. And we can’t be there to save them.

This is a time of crisis; of complete chaos. The landscape that was once dominated by the giants has now totally up-ended. There are no proven strategies to win. Any tactic that won yesterday is now obsolete – not for use again. This is a time of constant reinvention.

The brands that are still tethered to their helicopter brand mothers will undoubtedly struggle to find their footing in today’s world. But the brands that can thrive in today’s unpredictability and navigate with fluidity will become the survivors.

These are the Free-Range Brands.


Written by Nicole Ertas, Titled by Andy Horrow

© 2014 Free-Range Brands LLC All Rights Reserved

Benjamin Moore: Missed Opportunity

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Benjamin Moore jumped into prankvertising with a great creative concept that garnered some decent momentum.  But sadly, the brand missed the opportunity to link the creative to the message (UltraSpec 500 goes on fast) and/or leave the viewer with an emotional connection to the Benjamin Moore brand.

It’s great to see some big brands jump in the game, but some old-school brand-building ground rules still apply:  don’t let your creative overwhelm the objective, whether it’s a product message or a brand equity build.   Benjamin Moore gave 100K viewers a great prank to share, but got little in return.  Trick, or treat?


© 2013 Free-Range Brands LLC All Rights Reserved

Adust yourself, Hanes

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While Hanes is still overtly targeting men with Michael Jordan and lingering on the age-old “we-removed-itchy-tags” functional message to support their comfort “leadership”, Saxx Underwear flips comfort on its head for the consumer living in 2013.  With an emotional appeal highly relevant to women, Saxx ladders male underwear discomfort up to the all too familiar social faux pas that all women can relate to.

Let’s see what else they do to bring this brand to life.  Great start.

I must also give a nod to one of my favs, Duluth Trading Co., with an equally emotional appeal in the complete opposite vein.