Posts tagged “public relations”

The unholy child of anthropology and marketing? Or a great idea…or both?

Michael Cannell posted yesterday at Fast Company on design firm Blu-Dot’s fascinating new campaign, in which they are going to give away chairs by leaving them on the streets of New York, and then use GPS embedded in the chairs to track them down. According to Michael Hart of Mono, the ad firm that developed the idea with Blu-Dot:

If all goes according to plan, the video crew will use the GPS to find the chairs a few months from now. They’ll knock on doors and interview the owners–homeless people, Apartment Therapy readers, whoever they turn out to be–about why they took the chairs and how they use them. “Where does great design end up in New York? What sort of a person invites these chairs into their homes?”

Wow – there are so many layers to this. The brilliant experimental marketing layer, the Big Brother-ish invasion of privacy layer, the genius “guaranteed-to-get-talked-and-written-about” PR layer, the “no-marketing-message-included” layer reminiscent of “no-brand” brand Muji, the Chris Anderson “free” layer, and finally, the anthropological, archeological, design research find-out-where-the-chairs-go layer, which in and of itself would be a great conceptual art project or social experiment.

This project–what do you even call it? Is it a project, a campaign, an experiment?–really takes the openness and creative potential of contemporary marketing and runs with it.

Ins and Outage

Starfucks sticker, Taipei, December 2007

Service outages seem to be common news stories lately. Sure, it’s news when many people in Florida lose power, but also when Pakistan causes a 2-hour YouTube blackout, BlackBerry service goes down, or Hotmail is unavailable.

There’s a sense that we are relying on far too many fragile systems and that as complexity increases, these stories will become even more commonplace (and perhaps even less newsworthy). But being forced to do without something seems to be a tactic companies enjoy using to extract a sense of the value of their service. The Whopper Freakout ad campaign is the most prominent example, but other companies such as Yahoo and Dunkin’ Donuts have conducted (consensual) user research experiments where people go without something and report back on the sense of loss.

But Starbucks pulled off the genius move, closing for a few hours to retrain staff, and making front-page news not for their failure (see: Florida, Blackberry, YouTube, Hotmail above) but for their retraining efforts towards a clarified service promise

Starbucks is welcoming customers back Wednesday with a new promise posted in stores: “Your drink should be perfect, every time. If not, let us know and we’ll make it right.”

This won’t address all of the challenges Starbucks is facing, but it’s a pretty brilliant P.R. success, hitting the denial-of-services hot button and emphasizing the valid, powerful reason behind the outage.

More PR masquerading as customer-centricity

Back in May we told you about McDonald’s setting up a ludicrous Global Moms Panel and today here’s KFC doing the same thing.

KFC today announced the formation of its KFC Moms Matter! Advisory Board. Moms from all walks of life and different parts of the country will join a group of mothers employed by KFC on the new Advisory Board. The group will help KFC harness the experience that motherhood provides, and channel that knowledge into ways to better meet moms’ needs.

Julienne Smith, founder and author of “Food For Talk,” a recipe box of conversation starters that promote family bonding, will join the Advisory Board as an expert contributor.

“As a mom and author, I know from experience that families are starved for quality time,” says Smith, who describes herself as a “professional mom.” “Meals are a great occasion to reconnect and who better than KFC to bring us all to the table to talk about ways to make that time mean even more.”

The Advisory Board will meet in person bi-annually, hold quarterly conference calls and host monthly dinner meetings in their hometowns to gain information and advise KFC on everything from trends that affect families to new product ideas. Its first task will be to work closely with the company to establish a user-friendly, online community aimed at reducing everyday stress for moms. In development over the next year, the online community will roll- out nationally for all moms to share in 2007. Moms will be able to use the site to receive tips, participate in webcasts, win weekly drawings and contribute to an e-newsletter.

This sounds a little better than McDonald’s version, which focused on superstar overachieving Olympian moms and had little to say about what the results would be. But it also seems that KFC has already figured out what they will be launching, so is this a usability panel? And do we trust this company when they tried to convince us in 2003 that we’d lose weight by eating their food?

Wired immune to PR

In this Wired piece on Beck Steve Silberman writes “If you feel like you’ve been hearing about Beck’s new album everywhere lately, you probably have. Like most major-label hits, Guero’s ubiquity is the result of a carefully calibrated PR campaign that began long before the CD’s street date. But Beck and his label, Interscope, went way beyond the norm, supplementing the usual onslaught of TV, radio, and print marketing with a cross-platform blitz of iTunes exclusives, downloadable videos, and releases catering to digital consumers. This includes a deluxe CD/DVD-Audio package featuring a 5.1-surround mix and visuals you can control with your DVD player’s remote.”

Seems like he’s confusing PR with marketing and with product. PR is what got this piece written. We’re hearing about Beck right as we read the article. In a print publication. There’ll probably be a piece in the New Yorker, next weekend’s Sunday NYT, something on NPR, and of course Rolling Stone magazine and beyond. That doesn’t happen because of marketing – marketing helps create consumer awareness. The articles appear not because the journos are savvy and are tracking what’s hot, but because PR flack calls or emails or faxes to the right people at the publication and “sells” them on the idea of writing about it.

And Silberman knows that; he’s a professional journalist (ipso facto; he’s being published in Wired), so why this disingenous reporting on the technological innovation in product delivery and marketing under the label of PR? I guess it positions Wired as being immune to the machincations of the companies for whom they (and all of the media, including the “public” or “indie” media) willingly shills; rather we imagine Wired as investigative and cutting-edge. Which is of course, bullshit.


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