How Evolutionary Planning Can Help Brands Avoid Marketing Pitfalls in 2015

In our last post we talked about how Brand Evolution is most easily associated with what a brand looks like. But that just as often, it’s about how marketers react to the changing business or cultural landscape around them.

Cashing in on the world’s scariest brand name, Ebola

While Ebola isn’t technically a brand, that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying to cash in as if it was. And it’s not just makers of hazmat suits; it’s Ebola T-shirts and coffee mugs and even a line of snazzy neckties and plush toys. Wow, fun for the whole family!

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The Ebola PPC effort didn’t go viral as planned

Some very big brands saw an opportunity, too. And that’s where our story about marketing in and around the public health space really begins. With a team at Lysol, rolling out a digital campaign to capitalize on rising public Ebola anxiety.

It must have sounded like a great idea at the time. Lysol is, after all, a medical grade disinfectant that kills lots of germs. And consumers were clearly scared. Sounds like a win win, right? Except for one thing; there was no research proving what they were suggesting was true.

While that may have caused someone to raise a red flag in the past, in the digital age, temptation often trumps sensibility. So they put up a site and did some Ebola PPC to come in right above the CDC. But instead of getting a “Pharrel’s hat Looks Like the Arby’s Logo” like reception, the media picked up on the story and raked them over the coals for trying to cash in on consumer fear instead.

Be careful trying to “Dunk Your Oreo in the Dark”

So of course they ended the campaign and the clamor seemed to abate quickly. Though there may be some financial repercussion; RB, which makes Lysol, saw their stock begin to trail the market averages since then. While that may be due to other factors, the lesson is clear. Despite everyone’s collective desire to innovate and push the boundaries faster than the competition, sometimes it makes sense to do some homework before engaging in what public health people might call risky behavior.

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Source: JWT Anxiety Index, …Cons. Anxiety Around Ebola, 10/14

If they had done their homework, they might have learned that while 92% of consumers admire companies taking steps to fight Ebola, only a quarter of people give CPG makers permission to be such a company. This was the result of some timely research on consumer anxiety surrounding Ebola done by CPG savvy market researchers at JWT.

Planning vs. the “throwing the spaghetti at the wall” trick

There’s no doubt we’re all under pressure to make things happen. But let this tale be a lesson. Just because pretty much anyone with fingers/thumbs can use Twitter, that doesn’t make everyone equally qualified to decide how a brand should use it.

If brands don’t keep this in mind; if they don’t plan and vet ideas carefully, the result can be akin to “throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks.” And as you can see below, there doesn’t seem to be a difference between that and doing what Lysol did.

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This is the Ebola virus, which as you can see bears a strong…

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… resemblance to spaghetti tossed at the proverbial wall

The problem for many marketers is, while the landscape around us changes daily, the methods we use to plan amidst constant change have not.

To address this, we created a new kind of strategic process called Brand Evolution PlanningTM that takes the more traditional linear planning process and modifies it to function as an infinite loop. The result is a way for brands to keep pace with the constantly evolving, never ending stream of inputs that might otherwise cloud their decisions.

While it can’t guarantee a brand might not run into a challenge like Lysol faced, Brand Evolution Planning can help brands be a bit more agile so that in the event something unexpected pops up, they’re ready.

It isn’t a brand, but we helped the CDC give it an identity

If BEP sounds of interest, we’d welcome a chance to talk. It will be 2015 in the blink of an eye. If you don’t move quickly (carefully), you might miss it.

BTW, if talking about Ebola seems strange for an agency; note we’ve known about it longer than most people outside the CDC, because we learned about it from the CDC. A few years back we built one of the first sites to educated the public about deadly diseases of future concern. Hantavirus was the prime focus then, and the CDC credited our work for helping them save a large number of lives around the world.

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Visual identity The Partnership created for the CDC’s first Ebola public health education program

But Ebola was a growing concern, too. To help increase awareness of this then little known disease, we created the Ebola brand identity you see here (created using slides of the virus) which we later incorporated into a variety of CDC health education materials.

Funny thing is, our team still recalls going to meet CDC Ebola experts who we observed through the protective glass of their Level 4 Lab. As they exited, they were sprayed with some sort of chemical. “What’s that?” we asked.

“Lysol,” of course.

Too bad that story wasn’t online a few months ago… but it is now. And with that…

Here’s wishing us all a healthy, well planned and germ free 2015.

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