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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


Back from the Dead: PODCASTING!

You heard me. Podcasts are about as hot as The Walking Dead. Making a raging comeback, revolutionizing the old medium with high quality production, juicy story-telling, and attracting droves of young, new listeners, Podcasts are a marketing field covered with untouched snow. Is it even possible? New terrain?

Three Big Reasons to Pay Attention:

1. Mobility, Mobility, Mobility 
Besides good old, fashioned music, what other form of engagement lends itself perfectly to mobility and multi-tasking? Podcasts will literally be the “hands-down” winner in the coming year as the format extends engagement into untapped occasions that are now dominated by music: driving, doing dishes, gardening, hitting the gym, cleaning the house, etc. Looking forward to that commute? Hell yeah!

2. Ears: The New Eyeballs
By the end of 2014, podcasting was up 25% vs. 2013 with nearly 40 million listeners. 2014 was also the year people started thinking differently about old stereotypes of podcasting, namely, because of the hugely popular podcast, “Serial.” Serial likely marked the turning point of the medium from cold and dead to hot and trendy. Serial has been downloaded or streamed on iTunes more than 5 million times and averaged over 1.5 million listeners an episode. It is now the most popular podcast in history. Wait till the binge-listeners catch on and catch up.

3. Accessibility to Production and Distribution
For well under $100, anyone can create a high quality podcast production from home. Youtube, Vine, Instagram – all user generated content that built empires once the technology and infrastructure were in place.

With stereotypes up-ending …. Podcasting is the new frontier.


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Hijacking IKEA and the Benefits of Brand-Jacking

Today’s brands are being challenged to interact with consumers in ways that can range anywhere from uncomfortable to illegal. And while most of our brands were built off the Soup Nazi model of marketing (we make – you buy!), today’s consumer expects a seat at the table.

This past year, it was IKEA’s turn to decide how to handle an increasingly “intrusive” community proudly calling themselves IKEA Hackers. IKEA Hackers share a passion for using the simplicity and modular nature of IKEA products to create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. The global community congregates onikeahackers.net to showcase and demonstrate how to recreate each unique design. In turn, more IKEA hacking businesses have emerged, hawking hacking accessories to further customize and reinvent standard IKEA furniture. (Check out Bemz,  Panyl,  Superfront  and Prettypegs)

At face value, a community like this can be seen as threatening to any brand: brand images are distorted, brand positionings are undermined and brand personalities become inconsistent.

You’ve been Brand-Jacked. Now what?

IKEA’s initial response was to issue a cease and desist order, demanding that the IKEA logo, the blue and yellow color scheme or anything trademarked by the company, including the ikeahackers.net domain name be taken down.

But what actually may seem threatening, reveals a group of IKEA fanatics, so beholden to the brand, they feel they own it. Jules Yapp, the owner of the site said, “I felt slapped by the person I loved and thought I was doing my best for. I wish IKEA could have looked at it from my side of the fence—that the site has generated tons of publicity and goodwill for their brand, which they did not pay a cent for.” In fact, “Jules” even hacked her name from the Jules Chair from IKEA. Her real name is Mei Mei.

In response to IKEA’s actions, the hacking community became outraged and vocal, attracting a second look from inside IKEA. In an unexpected about-turn, IKEA determined that the company’s initial reaction was not in the spirit of the brand, which is to “make life better for everyone.” For now, IKEA has backed off its hackers. BRAVURA!

So, for the rest of the brands out there: be prepared. Today’s consumer will increasingly try to access more than you may be comfortable sharing. It’s time to think about what you’re willing to let go.

For a great in-depth podcast on IKEA hacking, check out 99% Invisible’s Hacking IKEA.

Follow Nicole Ertas on LinkedIn to receive the upcoming series: Exploring the 10 Road Rules of Free-Range Branding.

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Is your Brand a Survivor or Roadkill?

Reebok’s new inspirational chicken isn’t the only brand hitting the open range. All our brands today are being faced with the choice to hide in the coop or jump into a new world, one that changes daily, faster than we can catch up.

But there’s a difference between brands that take the leap and those that can actually survive the free range.

The Difference between Brand Survival & Roadkill

Both free-range brands and future roadkill may seem similar on the surface. Both can launch provocative creative that gets engagement. Both can support philanthropic efforts to show they care.

But rather than engaging consumers with a call to action, free-range brands lead with a call to the wild, teeing up ideas or throwing down the gauntlet to inspire and ignite spontaneous and visceral stampedes. Free-range brands manifest cultural momentum. As a result, they thrive in ways never imagined or pre-defined by the brand team.

Future roadkill, at best, will entertain and die.

A free-range brand knows when to exert control and when to let go. Free-range brands know that true authenticity can only be manifested by the community, not dictated by a brand monarch. So letting go, rather than controlling, becomes the key to survival.

Free-range brands can be corporate, mainstream and have mass appeal, like Coke, Oreo, Kit Kat and Urban Outfitters. Roadkill uses that as an excuse.

The difference isn’t in what programs they launch. The difference is in the way they think, the way they learn and the way they evolve.

While it’s still the wild west on the digital frontier, one critical component of this evolution has crossed a threshold to never return: traditional brand management, hardwired for control, is an era gone by.

So, root for the chicken and consider … what kind of brand are you creating?


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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