Marketing Monday

Multicultural Marketing

So some of you may have known that I snuck off to Europe for 10 days in July. I say ‘snuck’ because leaving in the middle of the busiest time of the year with two interns three months before getting married felt very much like sneaking off.

My friend Sarah graduated with her doctorate and, as a present, her parents gave her two round trip tickets to Europe. So getting free airfare and splitting the additional costs of a European trip with a great friend I thought I’d travel well with seemed like a no brainer. So off we went!

Of course, I can’t just be lame and share boring photos of our trip without some kind of takeaways. I will say, I did find being in Brussels, Marseilles, and Amsterdam to be very inspiring in terms of making me look at our work differently.

Fun Takeaway 1: Europeans are a lot less uptight than Americans and therefor can have a lot more fun with their advertising.

In case you have never been to Brussels, there is a tiny statue (maybe two feet tall) as part of a fountain of a little boy being. He is well known and loved in this country and has snuck his way into a lot of advertising. I mean, this kid was peeing, everywhere, from the Coke machine at the airport:

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To the ‘classy’ restaurant serving Belgian beer:

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To advertising the bus route:


Can I picture a universe where any American city would embrace any thing like this so fully? Definitely not. And while this isn’t the only slight blush incident of advertising I saw, it was definitely the most clear example!

Fun Takeaway 2: There is a lot of regional pride that is not only demonstrated verbally or with clothing but beyond.

Maybe it’s because the United States is so geographically spread out but it is very hard to find the regionalism that I have found in visiting Europe. People are very proud of where they are from, beyond mentioning it to strangers when asked.

For example, the official color of Holland is orange and the World Cup was happening during our stay. I have a hard time picturing residences and businesses with, say, a team in the NFL playoffs getting so collectively excited with their decoration:

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If I am wrong with this lack of decorative enthusiasm/geographic pride in the US, please correct me. But I sincerely think it is one thing to wear a cheese hat on game day and a complete other thing to spend hours decorating your home or business for said event. I can also picture some neighbors getting upset about the eyesore of orange flags all over someone’s yard. 

Fun Takeaway 3: They seem to have lots more fun with fonts than we do.

While in America, we judge people for using certain fonts, Europeans seem a lot more whimsical in their use than we do. Maybe because things are older there (businesses and signs included), maybe it’s because Europeans are used to a mixture of cultures/aesthetics and won’t judge a place as harshly based on its use of font.

I mean let’s face it, these fonts (and heck maybe even the pictures that are accompanying them), would not have been approved in the US (and yes, that first picture is of Sarah in front of a very large duty free store at an international airport. In other words, not a mom and pop shop like the ‘streetglide’ sign.

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If I drove around America cataloging the number of different fonts I saw, I bet it would be less than half the amount I saw in a similar geographic area in Europe.

So I would LOVE other peoples’ opinions about whether I am spot on (or not)! In your travels, have you noticed things related to marketing in other cultures, I’d love to hear them! I don’t travel a ton but I really got a kick out of a lot of this stuff.

Absurdity in Marketing

After a weekend of watching ghastly amounts of television, I was struck by the high percentage of ridiculous commercials I endured. We’ve all seen ridiculous commercials- there’s the kind that has you laughing so hard, you get side stitches, the kind that leaves you bewildered and asking “What was that commercial for, anyway?,” and everything in between. The most absurd commercials seem to come out around the holidays, and of course, the Super Bowl.

I remember when the first Geico gecko commercials came out (the “Stop Calling Me!” phase), and they’re still going strong with hilarious ads. Then there’s the E-Commerce baby, although we haven’t seen him in awhile, and many food related commercials including Snickers and Jack Links beef jerky (the ones with Sasquatch).

Why do companies use humor in advertising? According to this article from The Atlantic, our attention is more likely to be held when we perceive something as either a positive (or negative) experience. Most marketers lean towards the positive experience rather than negative, because they’d rather their audience have a positive association with the brand. Humor not only grabs attention, but holds onto it. That being said, there’s a fine line between hilarious and absurd. It’s a risky marketing strategy, and yet companies still use it.

This is one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials, because it combines my favorite candy with my love for this great song (and quite possibly Meatloaf himself).


When we think something is funny, we’re also more likely to share it with others. Sharing includes word of mouth, social media shares, e-mails to friends and/or co-workers- anything that gets the word out. Ridiculous content gets shared more organically (meaning people find the content worthy of sharing with others with no incentive or push from the company that put out the ad).

Doing something absurd helps your brand stand out. By sticking your neck out and doing something different, besides the “same old,” safe, guaranteed to work advertising routine, in many ways you’re demonstrating not only innovation but passion. By doing something risky, you send the message “I believe in my product, and am willing to take this chance on it.”

This is my favorite Geico commercial to date. They’re still using the “15 minutes” bit, and adding the ridiculousness of Pinocchio being a motivational speaker. Full disclosure, I find this commercial way funnier than is probably appropriate. Even just writing a brief blurb about is enough to send me into a delirious fit of giggling. That being said, I am not insured by Geico.


Risk is a larger factor when it comes to absurdity, or humor in general. First, there’s the risk that your ad isolates certain demographics. Some people may not be as receptive to your attempt at humor, so it’s important to consider your target audience, if no one else. Second, there’s always the chance that, hey, you aren’t as funny as you thought, and people don’t respond well (especially if you go the off-color or risque route). Third, if the attempt at humor seems too forced, it isn’t going to be funny.

Another risk is that people who see your funny/absurd/ridiculous ad will be so distracted by the humor, that they pay very little attention to your product. Humor can distract people from the intended purpose of the ad, and then you’re left with a net-zero situation.

If nothing else, avoid creating an ad that is so over-the-top that people don’t understand what you’re marketing. To emphasize this point, I was going to insert a video of an advertisement that was completely strange, and I can’t even tell you the name of the product. There was an aggressive magician wow-ing an inexplicably enthusiastic crowd, and he had some sort of product that (to me) resembled Airborne. I can’t tell you the name of the product. I can’t even tell you if the ad was for the magician guy or for the Airborne-like tablets he was waving around. I even tried Googling this commercial, but clearly was unsuccessful. Moral of the story: this ad was so absurd that it achieved nothing.

Instead, I decided to insert this delightful Starburst commercial. It a) clearly explains what their product is and why it is of value, and b) has a jaunty and ridiculous tune. Success!

This article from Time magazine explains that while funny ads get a lot of laughs and general appreciation, marketers “should use humor as a supplement — not a replacement” for content in any advertisement.

Subscription Services: Why You, Why Now

subscriptionboxfeatureYou may have noticed an uptick in ‘subscription boxes’ the last couple years. My sister mentioned having a few beauty items to give me from her boxes (a gift subscription from her husband) while many health podcasts I listen to are constantly advertising for Naturebox, a hand-picked snack service. And you may wonder what’s going on.

Birchbox started the subscription box retail trend in 2010. Specializing in beauty, grooming and lifestyle products, subscribers pay a fee per month to receive goodies like skin rejuvenators, fragrances and makeup. Now Birchbox has 800,000 active global subscribers, translating to $96 million in annual sales.

The market has opened up wide for subscriptions, everything from clothing (Gwynniebee) to meals you can cook at home (Blue Apron).

Subscription boxes are curation.

Most subscription services have you fill out some kind of intake form when you first start. For example, with Naturebox, you can browse snacks by nutritional needs (12+ grams of protein per serving, gluten free) and/or by preference (non GMO, salty snack). You might pick some initial things you may like and the service might send you things based on your feedback over time (you liked this, you didn’t like that). In all cases, it involves interacting with the website, which tracks what you’ve had, what you’ve liked, and what you’d like in the future.

Subscription boxes surprise and delight. 

You know that feeling when someone recommends you a great book and then you read it and think ‘Yes, that WAS great’?

It’s hard to make that happen on a regular basis (unless you have friends who are constantly interesting like I have). 🙂 But in the case of these services, you get tipped off to something new and off your radar that you love. Seth Godin talks a lot about surprise and delighting people being effective marketing and this is probably what keeps people not only subscribed to subscription services but looking for more. (That’s a link to Canadian Subscription Box Addict, though there seem to be plenty of blogs in this vein!)

Subscription boxes are something to look forward to in the mail. 

Like most adults, mail I get typically involves bills or people asking me for money. Whenever I see either 1) a box or 2) a handwritten envelope, my heart quickens with happy anticipation.

Having a subscription box service is like having your mom send you care packages again, you know, without annoying her to do it. As adults, there is something exciting about getting fun mail, and having no idea what’s in it. And since the subscriptions come at regular intervals, we know the exact date we can look forward to.

So what does this have to do with your business/non-profit? More than you think. Let’s do two very fake case studies taking what we’ve learned about the success of these services and apply them to a non-profit and for-profit situation.

Animal Shelter (No, I’m not saying you send pets in the mail!)
How about having a subscription service people can buy for a dog in your shelter, maybe $20-$30/month. Maybe some of that money would be used to buy the dog a new toy every month and the person’s monthly gift would be a card with a picture of the dog and the toy together. This does two things 1) create a regular income stream for the shelter and 2) a regular base of engaged people who support the shelter and are receiving regular updates from it. So while everyone else is begging for money in a form letter, you are doing something different and treating the dogs under your care with something special at the same time!

Convenience Store (inspired by this amazing video for local Gott’s Convenience store)
I know many of you don’t live in my area but the convenience store (ie where you get EVERYTHING) is legendary (watched the linked video above and see what you mean). But what are you to do if you’re a convenience store with far flung fans? Why not send them subscription boxes? I would pay $20/month if I knew Ouellette’s Variety (no relation to me that I know of) in Caribou would send me their pull apart bread and the best chocolate peanut butter rice krispie squares ever on a regular basis. They could even throw some fudge and a random movie in there and it would be amazing!

Is it worth the hassle? Only you know your profit margins and the price point that makes the hassle of interacting with customers about what they like and putting something in a box on a regular basis worth it to you… but you can totally take this trend and make it work for you:

  • Seed with some items you aren’t restocking but would delight your customer
  • Make available perennial favorites you regularly make money on to far flung but loyal customers
  • Beta test new products you are thinking of carrying
  • Keep track of customer preferences/likes on your website (for their benefit and yours)
  • Send regular emails with helpful (and exclusive) tips, information, and events
  • Let your customers find items they want and spread the cost (and joy of getting them) throughout the course of the year
  • If the idea of doing this for tons of people makes you want to cry, make it an exclusive program for your best customers and limit the signups.

At Breaking Even, we’ve subscribed to Naturebox (I know, the things we do for market research!) and are planning on offering something fun like this for our most enthusiastic and loyal customers… and hope this blog post has inspired you to think in a similar way of this successful and widespread retail trend.




Tech Thursday: Slow Your Roll with a Drip Campaign

At some point in your life, you’ve probably encountered a pushy salesperson who went from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds (that’s fast, right?). And as a business person, you don’t want to be “that guy.” So how do you slow your roll?

Consider the drip campaign. A drip campaign is a tool used in e-mail marketing that allows you to do a few things. Basically, once someone subscribes to one of your services (say, an e-mail newsletter), a drip campaign will send out a few e-mails over the course of time (say, a month), that gives people bite-sized, relevant information in an order that makes sense. It’s not overwhelming, and gives potential customers a chance to warm up to you before committing to a sale.

We had a lot of fun coming up with the analogies for drip campaigns! (Also, Kassie has not actually given herself a concussion from sneezing).

We Can All Go-Pro

A couple years ago, when I’d first heard of GoPro, I assumed it was something used exclusively by hardcore outdoorsy people or extreme sports enthusiasts. It may have started out that way, but after watching a 60 Minutes segment with Go-Pro CEO Nick Woodman the other night, it seems like this product has morphed into a household name. I felt pretty inspired by the whole thing.


An Entrepreneur at Heart

In particular, Woodman’s entrepreneurial spirit captured my attention. Here was an almost 40 year-old guy who seems a LOT younger. This is not solely based on appearance, but use of words like “stoked” (which I love), his high energy level/exuberance, and clear passion for what he’s created. (As an additional disclaimer, I’m terrible at gauging other people’s ages). Go-Pro was by no means his first business idea. In the early 2000s, when he was 24 (my current age), he started a business called Funbug, which didn’t take off.

Everyone loves a comeback story.

Instead of giving up completely, Woodman retreated (abroad and then in his VW van) for some personal reflection, and came back with GoPro. The power of example here doesn’t just lie in the idea of perseverance. Sure, Woodman was wildly successful on his second go-around with innovation, but what struck me was how his approach changed. The idea and prototype process for GoPro started around 2001, but it took another ten or so years before it really took off (check out this timeline from Forbes for an in-depth look at GoPro’s story).

Video Sharing for All

But just why is something like Go-Pro so popular? Besides setting itself apart from regular cameras, or their rivals-the smartphone (it has been referred to as a “rugged gadget,” which seems accurate), GoPro found itself “in the right place at the right time.”

Video sharing, as discussed in a few of our other blog posts (like this one on SEO and online video), is becoming increasingly prominent in the online world. We have sites like Upworthy, YouTube, and Vine, which all rely on video content. GoPro offers a way to create and star in your own video, whether your idea of hardcore is slack-lining between skyscrapers or taking a swig of milk straight from the bottle (don’t act like you haven’t done it).

Example Footage:

Along the lines of the “every day,” there’s this video of the baby on a skateboard. People enjoy it because it’s cute, simple, and accessible. There wasn’t a huge amount of skill required for this particular video (although this baby would probably disagree), so people get the sense of “Oh yea, I could maybe make something like that!”

Other videos are a bit wilder. These take you on a different kind of journey, perhaps in a plummeting-to-the-ground-in-a-freefall sort of way. They’re fun to watch because many of them give you a sense that you’re there, too. You get to see what’s going on, from a safe distance, and who knows- maybe you’ll want to go do something bold, too. For those who enjoy skydiving, surfing, taming grizzlies, running with bulls, or that sort of activity, GoPro offers a way to document it and say “Hey, check out this thing I just did!”

Kudos to GoPro for showing us how marketing, perseverance and passion can help a business flourish (even if it takes some time). Who knows if I’ll ever go skydiving or do that crazy flying squirrel thing, but if I do, you can bet I’m getting it on film.


What Coke’s New Campaign Reminded Me About Marketing

shareacokeYou may have noticed that recently, Coke has been putting peoples’ names on bottles. The campaign is called ‘Share a Coke’. Simple, like many great ideas before it.

This is, of course, genius on a couple levels:

1) People are on the lookout for their own name so subconsciously, when they see a Coke label, they have some delight as they flip it around and look for their name. (P.S. The Michael bottle recall is not legit.)
2) Names are relatable and because of this, quite viral. Several people I know have been sharing photos to their friend’s walls when they see a bottle with the friend’s name on it or tagging other friends in their post to virtually share a Coke. (Also Coke had a few universal ones like ‘Friends’ and ‘Dad’.)
3) The campaign is in 50 countries so we can see unusual names on Coke bottles as people use international networks like Instagram and Pinterest.
4) It has a memorable and easy hashtag: #shareacoke (and the spinoff #shareacokewith). Over 300,000 shares on Instagram alone:


And you know your campaign is successful when a few jokes have spun out from it. Check out the ‘nativity’ scene with (‘Maria’ and ‘Angel’ among others) and the ‘still can’t find my name’ posts on Pinterest:

It’s one thing to be kind of clever and market to a niche of people but it’s another to make an idea that’s simple enough for people to get and individual enough for people to personalize. Great job, Coke! *slow clap for Coke!