. The Transom .

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Emotional branding hidden in plain sight

Last night I was driving my daughter home from ballet practice and we passed the local fire station. Out front on the station's illuminated sign read, "SCHOOL HAS STARTED. WATCH FOR CHILDREN." This might be the kind of message that some people have come to expect from fire departments. But if you think about it, the purpose of the fire department is to put out fires. Pretty cut and dry. Yes, they show up to auto accidents, but primarily in case your Nissan Altima's 16 gallon fuel tank decides to explode. They perform a variety of tasks, but first and foremost they simply put out the fires.

So where am I going with this? Emotional branding. The fire department I drove past is doing a good job of emotional branding. They could have put anything on that sign. It could have had fire prevention tips, or congratulated one of their own for 10 years of service. It could have warned us to not play with matches or to keep our logs in a safe place. But what they did was remind us to be mindful of the children who will be on our streets and in our neighborhoods more this time of year. Everyone knows the fire department is going to put out fires. Everyone knows not to play with matches. So they went one step further and reminded us of something bigger than themselves. Watch out for kids. Be a little more careful when you're driving down the roads. Shouldn't that have been the sign in front of the police station?

If you're thinking this has no business correlation you would be wrong. I recently spoke with Matt Miller, the CEO of Playworld Systems. Playworld believes that the world needs play. They are advocates for play. They understand what play does for a child from the standpoint of total wellness - physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Oh yeah, they are also one of the largest manufactures of our country's playgrounds. But if you look at their advertisements, they don't show off their latest and greatest playgrounds. They don't remind you of why their playgrounds are safer, more durable, more fun, etc. If you listen to media interviews with Matt, he doesn't talk about playgrounds. He talks about the world needing play. And he doesn't care if you play on his playground or a competitors. He just knows what play can do and is an advocate for it.

That's emotional branding. I feel more inclined to help my local fire department simply because they gave me more than what I expected. I would seek out a Playworld playground simply because I feel their heart is in the best interest of my kids. A lot of companies can, and should, learn from those examples.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The right thing to do doesn't always align with ROI

Making headlines all across the country was the amazing recovery of kidnapped youngster Shawn Hornbeck. Gone for four years, Shawn is safe back at home with his parents. And now thanks to the generosity of one local homebuilder, Shawn and his family will be living in a much more secure home.

McBride & Son announced yesterday that they will be donating a $300,000 home for the Hornbeck's to be completed by May. McBride & Son has no relation to the Hornbeck's. They just knew they could do something to help. And for that, I salute them.

They didn't do it for the publicity, because let's face it, the donation is really just a local story. So making up $300,000 in publicity value is going to be a stretch. The goodwill generated by the donation, however, could have lasting impact. But at the end of the day, they donated the home because they are good people.

We all have ways we can help others in need. Thanks, McBride & Son, for stepping up and reminding us of that fact.

Monday, January 22, 2007

When less understanding might be a good thing

I was on a Southwest Airlines flight last week from Tampa to New Orleans. Sitting next to me was your average looking American guy. We exchanged a few pleasantries and then I asked what he did for a living. He flies Learjets here and there for a private company in Tampa. He was a trucker for 18 years prior to switching careers. As he put it, "I used to fly down the road, now I fly through the air." Comforting thought.

He then asked what I did. "I'm in public relations" was the first thing that rolled off my tongue. "Oh, you're a bullshit artist," he said. Amazingly enough, he was not actually trying to offend me, just trying to be funny. I thought about what he said later that night and I came to the realization that, maybe at some level, it's ok that he labels PR that way. The truth is, the work I do influences what he buys, what he thinks, what he talks about, where he goes, etc. He just doesn't know it. I'm the man behind the curtain. And maybe that's ok.

It's clearly a bummer for the industry as a whole to be thought of as bullshit artists, and something we as an industry need to fix. But maybe if he really knew how much the work of our industry influenced his behavior he wouldn't trust it as much. He laughs at advertising because it's funny, but he doesn't trust it. He buys an iPod or eats soy because I tell him to. Right now he trusts me, he just doesn't know it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Will it ever be enough?

Will there ever come a time when people finally say, "enough is enough" when it comes to online content? I'm a big fan of sharing tools like open source code, YouTube and MySpace. But something struck me as odd the other day when I logged onto YouTube and watched something as inspiring as a father push his paraplegic son through a triathlon, and then switched over and watched Saddam Hussein be hanged.

Of course, everyone is in an uproar over how the video could be leaked. Please, give me a break. The video was shot with the sole purpose of being put on YouTube. There were plenty of measures that could have been taken to ensure no video recording equipment was allowed inside the execution room. But we want to watch. We have to watch. We now somehow feel like it's our right to watch.

With that right comes responsibility. So far, we're short on honoring that responsibility.