Out of the Blue: PR Measurement News

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 Public Relations Measurement Newsletter: Sneaky PR & Marketing   VOLUME 3 ISSUE 12  
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Sneaky PR & Marketing: My Favorite Kind
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August 5, 2008
Sneaky PR & Marketing: My Favorite Kind
Huck Finn Would Have Loved the Internet
www.blue-marble.com
by Jerry Brown

Bowl of Cereal

A recent copy of Entertainment Weekly has an ad with the eye-catching headline: SUCK ON THIS.

Read the ad and you'll find a description of a "synthetic blood nourishment beverage" called TruBlood. Doesn't sound like anything I want to try. But I'm not the target market. It's for vampires. The ad appeals to vampires to "drink responsibly" and includes such taglines as:

  • Real blood is for suckers
  • All flavor, no bite
  • Friends don't let friends drink friends

At first glance, the ad's pretty bizarre. But it's hard to resist reading it. Turns out it's an example of sneaky PR and marketing. My favorite kind. TruBlood the beverage isn't the real product. It's an ad for a new HBO series called True Blood. Will the PR folks at HBO have fun supporting this marketing campaign? Or will it be a horror show?

If you're like me and not up for synthetic blood nourishment beverages, let's move on to something you may find a little more appetizing. If I tell you it's time for two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun those of you of a certain age -- you know who you are -- have already figured out, I'm wanting a Big Mac.

Today Will Be Someone's Good Old Days

Big Mac turns 40 this year, and MacDonald's is bringing back its famous jingle from the 1970s that most of us could (some still can) recite from memory. MacDonald's is using the "sneaky" tactic of nostalgia to sell more sell more Big Macs.

Most of us old enough to remember the jingle from the first time around have a few wrinkles we didn't have back then.

There's a new wrinkle this time around. MacDonald's is reviving the jingle as a TV commercial. But their PR efforts also include asking consumers -- that's us -- to write our own songs with the words of the Big Mac jingle and submit them to a contest on MySpace.com.

In communications lingo, that's an example of another sneaky PR tactic known as UGC -- user generated content: Stuff we create ourselves. It's the old Tom Sawyer get-Huck-Finn-to-paint-the-fence trick. The PR agencies are getting us to do their work for them. And making it look like enough fun that a lot of us will do it.

UGC is the in thing on the Web. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube are full of UGC. In fact, social networks are the latest example of sneaky marketing, which has been with us more or less forever.

The use of UGC on the social networks has brought PR people into the marketing mix in new ways, too, as we're called on to amplify marketing and sales efforts on the Internet.

The whole idea of UGC on places like Facebook is to start a buzz -- to get us talking about whatever the buzz is about. It seems to work.

Internet Buzz Chart

We're in the political silly season, so the amount of online chatter about politics is off the chart. But, excluding that, computer gaming leads the pack. Green awareness is distant second followed by dating, entertainment and celebrities and parenting.1 Who would have guessed that green awareness is buzzier on the Internet than dating? Wow. Let's hear it for Kermit.

Selling Cereal One Whine at a Time

My introduction to sneaky PR and marketing came as a kid. I hated cereal. The cereal's okay. It's the milk I don't like. But I remember pleading with my parents to buy whatever kind of cereal had a toy in it -- usually a car, as I recall. Sneaky marketing.

The people who made that cereal knew kids like me weren't crazy about their cereal -- this was before the days of Fruit Loops and Cap'n Crunch. So, they got us to do their selling for them by putting a toy inside the box.

We didnít want the cereal. We wanted the toy. Although the cereal makers knew this, it didn't seem to hurt their feelings. And, of course, our parents could have bought the very same toy for a lot less money without cereal. But that logic never seemed to enter into the incessant pleading that took place -- how many times a day? -- in the cereal aisles of grocery stores all across America.

My parents gave in at least some of the time, even though they knew what would happen. The cereal was opened and the toy retrieved within 15.6 seconds of arriving in our kitchen. Shelf life for the cereal? About 15.6 months. Actually, the only reason some of that cereal got eaten was that I wasn't the only person at our house who ate breakfast.

Eventually, of course, the cereal makers figured out they could simply use sugar to sell their cereal. That's when Fruit Loops, Capín Crunch and the dozens of like-minded sugar-buzzes-in-a-box were born.

Parents are not above using sneaky PR and marketing themselves. My parents thought it was important for me to take a vitamin pill every day. But pills, no matter how small, would not pass down my throat. No matter how hard I tried, after all those gulps of water the pill would still be sitting there on my tongue.

So, my mother started grinding up my vitamins and putting them in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That made our creamy smooth peanut butter crunchy. And it made the PB&J sandwiches taste like medicine. It didnít fool me. But it fooled my pill-averse throat enough to get the vitamins from my mouth into my tummy. Sneaky marketing.

I still like PB&J. But I was north of age 40 before I could eat crunchy peanut butter without it tasting like vitamins. Sneaky marketing is a powerful thing.

And MacDonald's mastery of sneaky marketing is limited to jingles. Is there an adult among us with small children in our lives who hasn't been to a MacDonald's at least once because of Happy Meals (actually the toys in Happy Meals) or playgrounds?


1Google News 6/30/08 - 7/29/08.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jerry Brown committed journalism for 20 years, but received a full pardon. He's been practicing public relations for more than 20 years and plans to keep practicing until he gets it right -- which he hopes takes a long time because he likes what he does. He specializes in strategy and message development, media relations and media training and writing (news releases, annual reporters, collateral, etc.). He also writes the Monday Morning Media Minute, a free weekly media tip distributed by e-mail. You can reach him at jerry@pr-impact.com / 303-781-8787.



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