Category Archives: Case Study

Conflict of Interests

Branding is about reputation. A brand develops over time, and needs to be trusted, preferably honest. A brand, like a person, is trusted when it has opinions and sticks to them. That doesn’t mean that opinions can’t change over time, just that a brand can’t speak out of both sides of its mouth, like Unilever.

Unilever is a behemoth of a brand, with a wide selection of sub brands hiding underneath its umbrella:

The two sub brands I’m currently irked by is Axe (top left in the above picture) and Dove (top right corner).

These two brands are very well know for their edgy advertising, but both in their own ways. The issue is that these two brands have very different messages, and make Unilever rather two-faced.

Dove is known internationally for positioning itself against the beauty industry and for the confidence of women, seen in this film of theirs below:

This hard-hitting short film should convince women that Dove is on their side, right? Unfortunately, Unilever also owns Axe, a brand that constantly objectifies women in its ads:

Or this ad that literally uses the woman solely for her breasts:

With such opposing views on women, how is a customer supposed to trust Unilever?

We need elbow room

As seen in the picture below, advertisable space has gotten a little crowded recently.

Overstimulating ads

So what did architects do when they started running out of land? They went in a new direction: up.

There are two main ways to “build up” and find new space for advertising that I’ll describe today.

1. Find new spaces to buy, like the food cart below:


This is the simplest form of “new media”. This requires no change in how you advertise, just where you put it. In the last two months that these food cart ads have popped up, the most interesting/eye-catching ads have been like the one above, not even selling a product. This form doesn’t make your ad more memorable, but it at least gives it some elbow room and allows it to be seen.

2. Use the space you already have:

NYC coffee shop "The Bean" draws in customers with it's flamboyancy

The space you already own – your store, kiosks, product packaging, etc. – is your best asset. This is how people see you anyways, so why not show people what you’re made of?

Pretty bar codes are pretty

For instance, why doesn’t everyone have a decorative barcode? They’re easy to make and are an innovative continuance of your brand.

This is what you see on the ceiling when you lay on a bed in IKEA

IKEA is one of my favorite brands when it comes to marketing. The above picture I took while trying out one of their mattresses. Each bed had a different statement pointing out a feature.

What are your favorite creative uses of space?

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Spice up your copy!


Medium: public transit display

One of the unwritten rules of New York public transit is to avoid eye contact at all costs. For this reason, ad space is sometimes monopolized by one company for an entire subway car, forcing you to read every single ad. Often these are the exact same ad over and over, but some campaigns and brands are honestly a pleasure for me to read, and I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I look forward to reading the copy of

The thing that makes these ads so addicting (can you tell I’m a marketing nerd?) is that they are current, and appeal to their young audience perfectly. My generation strives to be authentic, and we like to publish our weird quirks, as is evident in our Twitter accounts filled with “just got out of the shower” and “tacos make me gassy”. Seamless takes this brutal honesty and spins it to suit their service.

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The Premiere Strategy

If you’ve ever talked to me about marketing, or even if you’ve read my other posts, you know how much I love the Australian talk show Gruen Planet. I first fell in love with this show before I even watched it, when it was still called “The Gruen Transfer”.*

A few years back I was perusing commercials on YouTube, when I came across this case study of how the show was first introduced to Australia, through the marketing agency known as The Monkeys**.

There is a key phrase in this video that perfectly explains why this strategy went so well: rage turned into engagement.

Companies today give millions of dollars to be able to have the engagement and response seen in this case. Though no specific social media is used as a platform, this strategy does what is most important to succeed in social media: it presents a scenario, and opens up a conversation. Anger is a powerful emotion, and when used in marketing it is very difficult to keep it from spinning out of control. The Monkeys did a superb job of presenting their audience with a terrible scenario (the public channel airing commercials) and replacing it with a better proposition (no commercials, just an awesome new show with a well-known comedian as the host).

When The Monkeys presented an opportunity for anyone to make a commercial, they allowed their audience to feel like they are participating.

Though I could practically write a book about how much I love this strategy, there is one key factor that every campaign should follow: it tells a story.

*Eventually I’ll explain what the “Gruen Transfer” is, but if you’re curious you can learn more about it here.

**When this case was published, The Monkeys was known as Three Drunk Monkeys. I applaud them for their branding audacity.

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Reacting is important.

I know I’ve said this before, but it needs to be said again: social media is about conversations.

The best way to manage social media is not just by being proactive, but by being reactive. A good example of this is Oreo.

During the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo had a marketing team staying up all night to watch the game. Their preparedness came in handy when the stadium had a blackout, and they were the first ones to react. Though many companies tried to bring wit via Twitter, Oreo had an image and punchline conjured up within ten minutes of the event.


It’s easy to pre-write ads and have them automatically publish throughout the week, but by the time your tweet comes out it’s already outdated.

Real-time reactions are the only way to strike advertising gold.

I love your copy.

When people hear the word “brand,” they usually think of a company’s name, logo, and the products or services they provide. But a brand shouldn’t be just that.

Branding is how a company is characterized and set apart from its competitors. This characterization is shown just like our own personalities: through communication. You learn about a person’s character by how they speak, what they talk about, their body language, even how they react to a rude comment. A brand needs to be the same way.

One of the most creative NYC companies that does this is Manhattan Mini Storage. This storage company really understands its target audience, and brands itself as a true New Yorker, as seen in these billboards below.

Apartments are small.

Apartments are small.

These ads demonstrate the need for storage, while empathizing with its audience, and being witty.But branding isn’t just clever copy, it’s also about an always evolving brand, and the world around it.

New York is a  notoriously liberal city, so when election time comes around, Manhattan Mini Storage isn’t afraid to take a stand.

Though this type of copy can be risky and may alienate a few customers, it plays to the overall character of the brand. I’ve never personally stepped into one of these storage facilities, but I know where they are when I need storage.

This marketing might not be applicable to everyone. This works well for Manhattan Mini Storage because its target audience has a stereotyped personality to lock onto. not only that, but storage companies usually advertise to increase awareness and stick in your mind. These don’t need to be especially informative or technical, they just need to make an impression.

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Amnesty International: Too Graphic to be Effective?

Earlier today a friend asked me about my thoughts on a BuzzFeed post titled “The Most Powerful Ads Of Amnesty International“.

This post has a compilation of some of Amnesty International’s most compelling and graphic images, such as these two below:

These pictures are heartbreaking, and really illustrate what the brand is fighting for. But are they effective? To answer this, we need to look at a few factors:

Does it grab attention? Definitely. The pictures themselves are very clever, and subtle enough to make people  double-take the image and look at it closely to understand the message.

Does it educate? Sort of. While the message is made clear that torture and inequality is happening today and in America, it’s not exactly clear how prevalent this issue is, or who are the main perpetrators and victims of torture.

Is the call to action effective? No. The call to action in a for-profit is usually to buy the product or service. When nonprofits advertise, however, the call to action varies widely from asking for donations, signing a petition, volunteering, or other actions that fit the needs of the nonprofit’s campaign. In this case, Amnesty International has no call to action. It may be that this campaign was simply designed to educate but there is no push for viewers to learn more, and no resources (like a URL) for viewers to use to engage with the campaign.

Is it engaging? No. Though this factor may seem redundant to the call to action, it is very important. When there is a call to action, the ad needs to have a certain level of urgency, especially when dealing with a tragic and graphic issue like this one. If a campaign isn’t engaging enough, people will not care. But if it is grotesque, it can sometimes shock the viewer, and make them feel like the problem is too big for them to fix. It is important to make sure a campaign gives a certain amount of inspiration so that the audience feels the need to help, and believes that they can contribute to fighting the issue.

If you’re interested in this last factor, I highly encourage you to watch the clip below. This is from Gruen Transfer, an Australian talk show about advertising, and they are discussing a heavy topic of slavery in a commercial with Emma Thompson. The clip is at 19:00 (I’ll try to embed it later with it queued up at the correct time).

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