Wake up and smell the recession

March 2, 2009

“You’re richer than you think”, they said.

Kudos to Scotiabank’s marketing team for waking up fairly early on and asking themselves the question: ‘Is our little catchphrase becoming an object of ridicule?’

Apparently, ‘no, not really’ is the official answer. But Scotia seems to be letting go of the slogan anyway. Just like that slightly discoloured ‘still wearable’ shirt you don’t want to throw away, but always stays in the closet anyway.

The environment is shifting. Time to review that comm plan and comm tools.


Taking the time to think about social media

December 8, 2008

Nice debate on Joseph Thornley’s blog on social media and journalism. Well worth my time, and probably yours.

I’m surprised at the number of conferences, workshops, informal groups and working groups on social media in the last year in Ottawa. With GCPedia that just came online, it’s clear this trend will continue, economic crisis notwithstanding.

PR, social change and the politics of compassion

November 4, 2008

I caught this conference on TVO this weekend (one of five people watching I guess), journalist Malcolm Gladwell and philosopher Mark Kingwell talking and debating about how to effect social change. Gladwell is more about the correct focus of social change campaigns while Kingwell looks at it from a much wider, humanist perspective.

Malcolm Gladwell –

“We’ve done ‘knowing’ perhaps better than ever before in the past. But what have we done on the ‘doing’ side? Well almost nothing. What do I need to know about what I can do as an individual?”

“We have an enormous gap between knowing and doing in this case and we don’t know what to do. No one has come along and told us in a clear and precise way, what the plan of action is and how awareness ought to follow that desire for action in the future.”

“We tend to favour the awareness side of things because we’re so good at it. We’ve got this wonderful technology, we’ve got the Internet that allows us to reach people for nothing, we’ve got email (…), we’ve got lots of people with tremendous skills who write beautiful essays (…), we’ve got people who can do wonderful advertisements, we have people who can design gorgeous web sites. But that’s not change. That’s advertising. And we need to acknowledge the difference.”

Prof Mark Kingwell –

“It is not enough just to comfort the afflicted. We must also afflict the comfortable.”



“Journalism in the traditional mode of ‘the media’ – whatever they are – is only part of what public discourse is. It has nevertheless a fundamental democratic role to play at its best. And Malcolm and I and you too, and many other people in this room, know the ways in which it failed to be democratically responsible in that respect. But it’s still one of the only places where certain kinds of things can be done. That is characteristic of the modern age where literacy is the basic right of every citizen. Because it is the basic condition of taking up your full responsibilities as a citizen.”

There’s much more in that hour-long broadcast. Useful to reflect on all this while re-reading this post on social change campaigns.

You paid $ 400,000 for… what?

October 28, 2008

Another story about a public entity spending impressive amounts of money to get a new logo and public image. The Montreal Gazette berates the 82 municipalities of the Greater Montreal for a $487,000 branding and promotion exercise that produced a new logo the Gazette describes as “a stylized M in the colours of a roll of LifeSavers.”

Life Savers, anyone?

Life Savers, anyone?

It’s not even 8 a.m. yet and predictably, the snarky comments have stared pouring in.

I feel for the Montreal Metropolitain Community and for National, the marketing firm who got the contract, I really do. People don’t realize how much work goes into those things: strategic scan, creative design, research, focus groups, consultations, etc. A lot of people get involved.

Except the logo alone cost $ 400,000, according to the text. If that is true, it’s hard not to think that’s excessive. And the result, well… it’s sweet, but underwhelming. Kind of a 1980 Télé-Québec look. It’s also liable to induce nausea if your look at it for more than five seconds.

Apparently the new logo will only be used abroad (a relief) and will not replace the logos of the municipalities. It’s missing a good opportunity though. The graphic elements some of those towns use really ought to be changed. Take Laval’s Tetris-like cheap 3-D logo, for instance.

Conservative propaganda won, I lost: Dion

October 20, 2008

Liberal leader Stéphane Dion just announced he will step down as soon as another leader is selected.

Interesting tidbit: he says Canadians bought into the image Conservative advertising has been trying to impose. “Trying to change this image would be an enormous effort and risk for my party.”

True enough. The Dion brand has huge negative perceptions attached to it. Time for the Liberals to put somebody else on the market.

Getting public service messages right

October 17, 2008

Our team has been releasing “public service messages” on various supports over the last few months. Nothing like prime-time TVs, but some good little videos for the Web and stakeholders groups. It’s satisfying to see your stuff getting picked up by the people you want to influence and motivate.

Public service messages are, of course, soft propaganda. The idea is to get people to modify their behaviour for their own good: stop smoking, click your seatbelt on, exercise, call your mother more often, don’t eat unwrapped Halloween candy, shred your bills before throwing them away to recycling. Some marketers call it “attitudinal adjustment”, which has to be the most evil-sounding piece of marketer jargon around.

One of the most difficult problems with those things is when you go negative, as in “Stop smoking now or you’ll die alone and in terrible suffering, real soon.” As with election campaigns, sometimes too much is… well, too much for your audience. Can’t ask for too much effort either. It turns out that “Run 20 k each day to keep in shape!” scares people even more than lung cancer.

Anyway, as the office nerd I feel obliged to dig into the theory once in a while to see if what we’re doing is kosher with communications theories. One of the most interesting papers I came across was Using Protection Motivation Theory to Increase the Persuasiveness of Public Service Communications, by Magdalena Cismaru of the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (available on the Net in pdf).

The following drawing from the study illustrates well the “don’t go too far” warning addressed to social marketers.

(click on the image and expand it to view properly)

Basically, you need to convince your audience that:

  • They are in serious danger (for their health, career, pension, safety or anything having to do with their kids) – if you fail, they won’t be listening
  • What you’re asking them to do will avert the danger and isn’t too much trouble – if you fail, they’ll make fun of you or put their head in the sand.

That gives your audience five specific moments through the reasoning process (if you can call it that) where they can opt out.

Like baseball pitching with three balls and no strikes, or throwing the football on third and 10 – no room for error at all.

Arms supplier shoots himself in foot, kills future contracts

September 22, 2008

So we have this small Canadian military equipment supplier that decided to distinguish itself by targeting a fairly specific demographic: xenophobic, sexist, vulgar people in need of army knives, flashlights and camping equipment (hello Michigan militiamen…). They build their Web site to reflect the values of their potential clients.

It turns out that somewhere down the road, they also get a contract from the Canadian Armed Forces. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, that is not about to happen again, since they don’t fancy being associated with a company selling lethal weapons to xenophobic and sexist people.


  • When you decide to build yourself a marketing niche, stay in your niche.
  • Yes, reporters know how to recover Google-cached Web sites.
  • This is a fine example where no amount of media relations work can possibly make things better.