All posts in Social Media

Give a big shout out to your mentors. Here’s mine.

BT31Mentors play an important role in our lives. If we knew then what we know now and if we had the opportunity, we all know what we’d say:


But we don’t. There’s never the time. There’s never the place. There’s never the opportunity. But deep down, we wish we could. We wish we could just say it.

Now we can.

It’s called The Big Shout Out and it’s in association with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada, a wonderful organization that’s celebrating their 100th Anniversary.

I’ve had many mentors over my life. There’s Larry Lloyd, a senior public school teacher who saw something in me that I didn’t really see in myself. There’s Craig Matthie, my high school wrestling coach who taught me more than holds and takedowns and who guided me towards Queen’s University. There’s my first boss, Gordon Cassidy, who showed me what an entrepreneur really is.

But given that this is a marketing blog, there are two that deserve a shout out.

I want to give a Big Shout Out to Tom Blackmore and Bill Sharpe.

The founders of Sharpe Blackmore (now Havas Toronto), Bill & Tom both provided me with two completely different ways to approach advertising, business, and life.

They brought me on as an account guy even though I had no experience in advertising.

Bill did the hiring with one of the best things I’ve ever heard anyone say about this industry:

“Being an advertising account guy is simply making a list and checking it off. The only question is are you smart enough to know what goes on the list and are you ambitious enough to check it off?”

After starting standup comedy, I realized that I wanted my comedy and advertising lives to be closer together. I approached Tom and said, “I want to move into the creative department and I’ll take a pay cut to do it.”

His response: “Fuck off.”

I was slightly shocked but said I would continue to work diligently as an Account Director and would work on my book on the side.

“No, no,” he continued. “You’ll move into the creative department immediately. I said that because you should never take a pay cut. You bring skills to the table that will make you a better creative person. Don’t discount that.”

They taught me some other great lessons.

Take care of people. Have fun. Be one step ahead of the other guy. Take chances – but take them knowing that they won’t all work out.

Way back in 1997, I was one of those chances. Over the years, they put their faith in me. They believed in me. And they supported me both in advertising and out. And now that I have my own agency, I realize they taught me more than I ever imagined.

They’re friends. They’re mentors. And I wouldn’t be where I am without them in my life.

Thanks guys. You deserve a Big Shout Out.

Who do you want to give a big shout out to? You can do it at or by simply tweeting it with #thebigshoutout.


They’ll tell 2 friends. And so on. And so on.

Those my age (or older), probably remember watching Love Boat on a Friday night. Well, in between drinks and double barrel finger points from Isaac and random love stories featuring guest stars like Charo and Don Ameche, you were interrupted by these things called “commercials”.

Commercials were different back then. Farah Fawcette hair. Memorable jingles. Crappy production value. And a lot of one shots of people talking directly to camera. They didn’t know any better and they certainly didn’t have the metrics to know they were wrong (although 4 out of 5 dentists probably would have told them so).

One of the most memorable spots for me wasn’t very good at all. But I’ll never forget it.
And given where we are in the advertising ecosystem, it should be taught to marketers on day 1. Have a look.

Why should we aspire to this piece of communication when it seems so bad?

1. It’s organic!
I don’t know that this was the first uttering of the word “organic” in a commercial but it certainly wasn’t the last. Brands all around the globe are clamouring to justify their products as organic. Why? Because consumers desperately want products that are simple and pure and sustainable. So while it’s great to dial up the earth tone colours and folksy language to try and appear more natural, your customers prefer you focus on actually making products that are.

2. Repetition helps.
While the split screen production technique certainly contributed to this campaign standing out over the years, it’s complemented by the repetitive line, “You’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on. And so on.” But the real repetition was the campaign. We seem to treat our communications like disposable diapers these days – they’re on one minute and at the first hint of odour, we pitch them in the garbage faster than you can say, “Pamper your agencies”. (Sorry) Instead of starting over, we should take a step back, rethink and reinvest.

3. It’s not about the Like. It’s about the product.
If this campaign was executed today, the line wouldn’t be, “You’ll tell two friends. And they’ll tell two friends. And so on. And so on.” It would be, “Please share this with 200 friends on Facebook and tell them to do the same. And so on. And so on.” Luckily, Faberge couldn’t do that because the platforms for simple social sharing weren’t around. So they did something truly remarkable: They created a product so good that you would want to tell two friends.

These days, we’re more focused on creating communications that ask people to spread the word instead of developing products so fantastic that they’ll just do it on their own.

Who knew Heather Locklear was so prophetic?
TJ Hooker would be proud.


Forget Kenny, the Emmys Killed Twitter.

Social media has made the democracy of “vote with your dollars” capitalism even better. Platforms like Twitter keep every person and corporation in check. Sure, they can help overthrow governments but they can also turn any Jack or Jill into a covert whistle blower helping illuminate everything from unethical business practices to napping transit employees. I know it’s not perfect but you have to admit that social media is pretty authentic. And real. And totally fair. If you have something to say, go for it. It’s one of the only places on the planet where everyone is (kinda) treated equally.

That is, until marketers screw it up.
Which is exactly what happened to Twitter last night.

Over the past couple of years, Twitter has made watching live TV enjoyable again. Social TV was born when viewers around the world started sharing unedited comments about the shows they were virtually watching together.

Remember the London closing ceremonies? Which was better: Watching the Spice Girls reunite on top of a bunch of taxis or reading bitchy tweets about Mel C’s cankles? I know… riiiiiight? Dialing into a hashtag was like joining a telephone party line in the ‘70s. Unfiltered and open airwaves. No hierarchy. No status. And corporations were completely welcome, too. They just had to get in line with everyone else where one tweet to a hashtag simply followed another.

Until Sunday night.
I was late for the Emmys broadcast so I did what most modern people who forget to set the PVR do. I searched “#Emmys” on Twitter.

What I expected to see in the hashtag were humourous ramblings from a thousand disciples of Suri’s Burn Book. What I got was a conversation that had been hi-jacked by HBO, Vanity Fair and Chris Kattan. Yes. THAT Chris Kattan. When I compared the stream directly through Twitter with the one through Hootsuite, they were rather different, even after selecting “View all tweets”.

The Emmy’s didn’t just brand the hashtag. They kidnapped the conversation and replaced it with select tweets from Entertainment Tonight, People Magazine, Wolfgang Puck, and Jessica Alba. While the rest of us users froze outside in line waiting, the Emmys gave priority access to partners, media companies, insiders and celebrities who have a vested interest in the telecast. Shouldn’t users be the default stream with an option for “See all biased tweets”?

Did I really need this tweet to have priority?


Do we want to live in a world where Chris Kattan has been judged to be more important than @TanyaRM who has 36 subscribers to her YouTube channel? If you’re not sure, let me give you a hint using 5 little words: “A Night at the Roxbury”.

In the quest for quality content, the Emmys killed the (better) content that was already being generated. For free.
Forget looking a gift horse in the mouth, they sucked the life out of the very thing that gave their telecast a new one. They sucker punched the person who administered CPR. (How many metaphors can I cram in there? )

But more than that, they bought a conversation. And that’s not only wrong, it’s bad business.
Their customers don’t include Vanity Fair. Or People Magazine. Or Jessica Alba. Their customers are you and me. People who have a cable bill. People who have an iTines or Netflix account. People who pay for the right to to tune into (and out of) whatever they want. Most importantly, people who want to share honest and open feedback on the shows and celebrities they financially support.

It still amazes me when brands want to own conversations instead of owning the process to make better products to help improve the conversation.
Done correctly and it’s a win-win.
Done poorly and it’s just another performance of Mango.

Is the brief age of transparency over? I hope not.


Do you hear what I hear? Listen closely, brands.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Vancouver after delivering a keynote to a great group from RBC. I’m no BC resident but I’m there enough to know what a Japa Dog is, when to avoid post-game hockey demonstrations and most importantly, where to stay.

Normally, I stay at the Westin Grand. The service is great, the rooms are nice, the location is pretty central and – as weird as it may sound – I love looking out at the Public Library. This trip was extra special, though. At one point, I simply tweeted this:

I certainly wasn’t fishing for anything. Hell I didn’t even think they would be listening.  Like all good brands, they were. This was their response.

When I informed them that I was there, they asked if they could do anything to make my stay more enjoyable (nice touch). I privately messaged them (no need to air dirty laundry) that housekeeping had failed to provide shampoo in the room. They immediately corrected the problem.

But they didn’t stop there.

Mid-afternoon, they sent someone up to my room with a huge carafe of ice water, a tray of fresh fruit and chocolate and this thoughtful note:

Brilliant! While all of us celebrate huge customer service stories like KLM and Mortons, it’s small responses like this that separate the brands who get it from those who don’t. Here’s why:

1. They were listening. And they responded.
A lot of brands use SM channels to solve problems and avert PR disasters (as they should) but the potential is so much greater. Your clients ARE talking about you and listening gives you a chance to learn, be proactive, and be brilliant.

2. Operational integration.
Conversing with some SM teams is like talking to a call centre in India. Sure, they’ll pass your message along but you never feel like they have any power to do anything. When your product has a live, face to face component, they should have the power to affect it. Westin’s SM team had the power to fix a problem AND send a gift to my room quickly. Nice.

3. Transparency.
Even though I privately messaged them with my tiny and insignificant issue, they actually responded publicly with an apology. They actually shared their oversight with the world even though I gave them the opportunity to keep it private. Top marks.

4. Dialogue continuation.
When my friend Warren Porter  responded to my tweet, they engaged with him, too. They even complimented him on his glasses (they are pretty nice). The Westin was like the friend you like introducing to other friends. They could have got in and got out but instead, they were genuinely interested in the conversation and stayed around at the party long after the finger foods were gone.

Congratulations to the Westin Grand management and staff for providing a great lesson on what brands can do to create magic for their customers. As a result, they’ll be hearing even more positive comments in the future.


Warning!!! These ads will shock you.

Challenged with a cluttered marketplace, bad marketers (like the ones behind this ad for Fluid Hair Salon in Edmonton), shamefully take a marketing short cut by just shocking consumers to achieve breakthrough.

Am I offended? Absolutely.
But I’m offended as a marketer.

First of all, I totally can appreciate that this ad offends some people. Victims of domestic abuse don’t need to face a depiction of their horror blatantly used to help sell a $40 perm. Still, I don’t think it gets us beyond a “Yes it is / No it isn’t” debate. In the grand scheme of things, we have bigger fish to fry but if you want to complain or boycott or write a letter, go ahead.

Does this ad stand out? Yup. You bet.
You know what else would get them noticed? Repeatedly kicking a puppy in front of the salon. If it’s all about awareness then why not go all the way?

The point is, it’s NOT about standing out.

It should be about building a relevant, genuine, compelling and valuable brand and THEN communicating it in a unique way. Their campaign, “Look good in all you do” lacks real consumer insight and fails to communicate a clear product benefit or differentiation. It’s just lazy marketing in the same way that Dane Cook is lazy stand up comedy. Sure, it gets your attention but after the shock, you’re left realizing there’s not much substance behind it.

Funny enough, they do have some interesting things to say beyond domestic abuse. Apparently, they recycle hair for the production of oil spill mats. That’s kinda cool. And not something I’ve ever heard of before. Why not lead with that?

Benetton it’s not.
Remember this campaign?

Benetton created controversy with their advertising from the early 90’s. The difference between this stellar work and Fluid’s campaign is simple: Benetton stood for something positive. They believed in uniting colours. So while a photo of a white man kissing a black woman may have shocked some, it shouldn’t have. Their progressive social stance was clear and those who disagreed were able to make an appropriate and informed consumer choice.

I’m still not sure what Fluid believes in. Feminine strength in the face of adversity? Superficial composure in the face of adversity? Edgy communications for an edgy product?
After reading all the reports, blog posts, responses and media articles relating to this issue, here’s my final thought on this subject:  I don’t think Fluid owner Sarah Cameron or her “creative consultant” Tiffany Jackson are horrible people.

They’re just horrible marketers.

Even in managing the response, it’s clear that they’re in over their heads. Sarah needs to turn to a real professional in Edmonton (I can provide some names) before this gets even worse.
Remember: A blunder like this can taint you but your response to it will define you.

The campaign states that you should “Look good in all you do”. It’s time for Fluid to follow their own advice.

This 71 year old knows more about social media than you and I do.

While various social media apps can help you be more effective or more productive or more accurate, a passionate desire to connect is far more powerful than any software package. A brand that has a genuine willingness to engage with their customers will trump one that doesn’t, regardless of the budget, websites, widgets or tools used.

You want proof? Don’t talk to the 21 year old social media evangelist who’s busy building their Google+ profile in the corner. Talk to 71 year old Evelyn Hannon.

Back when putting brochures online was considered breakthrough, Evelyn decided to launch a website for female travellers called

That was 1997.
And she hasn’t changed the design since.

Seriously. There’s no flash. No video. No HTML 5. Or, in her words, “…there’s no fancy shmancy”. Check it out. You’ll be amazed. It’s so old school, it’s retro. Her site is the Polaroid in a sea of iPhone 4 HD cameras. One look and you’ll think you got to it by putting a punch card into a mainframe.

What it does have, though, is a massive loyal community of active contributors.

• She has an e-newsletter with over 75,000 subscribers.
• She has 13,000 Twitter followers.
• She built a global database of female mentors.
• She’s been an imbedded blogger on a ship sailing around the world.
• People from over 200 countries follower her, read her and trust her.

She has no heavily researched strategy, she’s never checked out Google Analytics, she doesn’t read up on what the experts say she should do and her approach to engagement, refreshingly, doesn’t even use the word “engagement”.

All she does is care.

She cares about the subject of travel. She cares about helping women. She cares about being genuine.
She acts like a grandmother. Not surprising because, well, she is.

Evelyn reminds us that real communities don’t live on Twitter or Facebook. They camp out there. Real communities live because of a passion that is shared by those who belong to it. And when it’s strong enough, that community can exist anywhere.

Have a listen. You won’t just love Evelyn. You’ll love her approach.
Success may be a journey but this woman has figured out what to do along the way.

KLM gets it. Luckily, their passengers do, too.

When companies want to thank their loyal customers, the first thought is to bombard them with trinkets and trash – little gifts companies buy in mass quantities complete with logos, corporate colours and sadly, almost no value to the customer whatsoever. In the past, it was really difficult to really get to know individual customer interests so we were forced to purchase one gift for everyone and the lowest common denominator (and lowest price) ruled the day of customer appreciation. Luckily, we can kiss this approach (and the logoed golf shirts that came along with it) goodbye.

When you combine the new tools that  give us greater access to our customers’ interests with the real time updates of their lives that are available, the potential to truly surprise and delight customers is unprecedented. And that’s not just good for customers. It’s also good for business.

KLM gets it. Do you?

Pizza Nova gets it. Pizza Pizza doesn’t.

Yesterday, I wrote about the customer service issue that Cammi Pham experienced with  Canadian pizza retailer Pizza Pizza. Here’s Pizza Pizza’s response:

Good Afternoon Ron,
We’ve read your blog in regards to the social media driven, customer service issue. This customer’s complaint was handled immediately, complying several hours in advance of our 24 hour response guarantee.  At this point, we are not able to release any further information with regards to this, as we take customer confidentiality very seriously. If there are any other issues directly pertaining to yourself that you would like to discuss we are open to chatting live. Thank you .

Pizza Pizza didn’t just fail to deliver a pizza to a hungry customer. They failed (and continue to fail) with their social media efforts, especially when compared to their competition. Here’s why:

No one wants to speak to a corporation.
Pizza Nova’s Twitter account is @PizzaNovaGuy. Whether it’s one person actually managing the stream or not, it certainly feels like it is. Pizza Pizza, on the other hand, tweets from the account @PizzaPizzaLtd. Yech. People like connecting with people. With corporations? Not so much. And the numbers prove it. Pizza Pizza has 587 more locations than Pizza Nova but close to 500 fewer followers.

Deals! Offers! Let’s talk about us!
One of the most common mistakes big brands make is using social media as a one-way bugle that provides a never-ending and piercing stream of infomercial-like offers, deals and promotions. On both Twitter and Facebook, Pizza Pizza excels at this. SM isn’t a commercial. It’s an operational service that listens, responds and keeps people interested and engaged. I’m getting tired of hearing it and saying it but clearly, this critical point still needs to be communicated.

We’ll deliver a response in 24 hours… or it’s free.
As noted above, Pizza Pizza gives themselves 24 hours to respond to a customer complaint. So, they can prepare, cook and deliver a pizza in under an hour but can’t respond to a complaint in less than 24? In the fast pace world of SM, that can be too long. I imagine (but can’t confirm) that Pizza Pizza’s community is managed by someone at their head office even though the bulk of their sales come after 6pm. If they serve their customers after normal work hours, they should respond to them then, too.

PIzza Nova doesn’t seem to maintain a Facebook presence at all. That’s a good thing. Facebook has proven be an unbelievable platform  for brands but only when they have the resources to manage it. I’d rather a brand choose a platform that works for them and focus their time and energy into doing a good job there. To quote Steam Whistle, “Do one thing really, really well.”

Let’s face it, pizza is a fun, easy and fast food. We don’t tuck linen napkins into our shirts when enjoying it and most of us want communications that are consistent with this. Take a look at this tweet from @PizzaNovaGuy:

Pizza should be fun.

Almost 25% of Pizza Pizza’s July tweets were template responses that seemed to be written by their legal department. And knowing what I know about large organizations, they probably were.

Clearly, people love the Pizza Nova brand. Of their 36 Tweets in the month of July, 29 were actually unprompted positive comments retweeted from other users. It’s amazing how easy social media can be when other people do the work for you.

Judging by the numerous complaints to @PizzaPizzaLtd, the passion for Pizza Pizza isn’t as strong. I think their social media process has a lot to do with that.

But it’s not the only thing.

As a huge organization, Pizza Pizza has a more difficult job. They have more drivers to keep in line, more locations to quality control and a ton more pizzas to deliver. They’re bound to make more mistakes. They have to dedicate more resources, provide more training and instill a culture of service from top to bottom.

Clearly, they have potential and hopefully, they can turn it around. They’re a successful organization, they have a great mobile app, and they do a lot of good for the communities they work in. They do have over 80,000 Facebook fans (which I guess is impressive) but as we all know, that doesn’t really indicate true engagement.

Get with it, Pizza Pizza. You’re an institution. I’d just prefer you didn’t act like one.

UPDATE: Here’s another Pizza fail.





Please tweet responsibly.

As we’ve seen, social media can be an unbelievable force that can help topple a dictatorship, expose a napping TTC driver or even just convince an airline to improve their customer service.
We citizens literally have the ability to change the world right in the palm of our hand.

If you’ve been treated poorly
or if you hate an ad
or if you don’t approve of a company’s environmental policy
or if you don’t like a political candidate well, choose to vote for someone else.
Or choose to not buy that product.

And while you’re at it, do what you can to convince others to follow your lead. Tweet about it. Start a Facebook page. Comment on a post. Expose the wrong, promote the right and leave the world (or at least a brand’s newsfeed) a little better than you found it.

But with that power comes a noble duty.
Please tweet responsibly.

Bitch about government but cheer about it, too.
Complain about staff who were rude but acknowledge the ones who were nice.
Give a restaurant a bad review but be sure to rave about the places that you love.

And here’s the most important part: If you have commented on, complained about, or campaigned against something or someone in the past, well then go out of your way to compliment them when they deserve it.

It doesn’t make you hypocritical.
And doesn’t mean you have to buy what they’re selling.

It’s just the right thing to do.


The end is nigh! Sigh.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Last week, I was speaking to a group of people in Ottawa about “Building your brand in the digital age”. It wasn’t a keynote on social media (Mitch Joel and Gary Vaynerchuk already do that splendidly) but I certainly covered the implications that social media can have on one’s personal brand.

One of the participants asked about the speed of social media and Dave Hale, President and Founder of Soshal Group, told a quick tale about looking for office space. He tweeted a real estate agent, gave him 15 minutes to respond and seeing none, Dave tweeted another agent, got an immediate reply and signed a lease later that day.

Some of the group were borderline appalled and thought it was unprofessional to only give someone 15 minutes to respond. “What if he was with another client?” they asked. “It would have been unprofessional for the agent to focus his attention on Twitter opposed to the person who sat in front of him.”

Well, they certainly weren’t wrong. But it does bring up an interesting point.

Clearly, some of us are “all in” on social media. Speakers (myself included) can make it seem like those who aren’t dialed into Twitter 24/7 face imminent career death. Worse, we look down on them like they were carriers of an analog epidemic that combines mad cow disease with the bodily sounds of a Speak-n-Spell transmitted by the Pony Express.

Here’s the thing:

People want to do business with brands that share their values.

And there are a hell of a lot of people who simply don’t value the type of interactions that the rest of us do. They actually want to do business the old-fashioned way and will spend their dollars with those who act accordingly. There’s an actual market of technophobes and I’d be willing to bet that in some categories, it’s pretty damn big.

It’s just that it’s getting smaller. Quickly.

Striking fear and panic into the hearts of people is wrong and it’s probably what creates the mad rush of people jumping into something that they don’t really understand. Next thing you know, we’re clicking “Like” buttons for no apparent reason and desperately asking people to follow us even though we have no idea what it means when they do.

Speakers: Stop screaming “the end is nigh!” and we’ll have more time to do it right.

Listeners: Look at the numbers, believe the trends, and pursue a course of action that’s good for your business, good for your career, and consistent with your values.

Your customers today and tomorrow will appreciate it.