Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Deck the Halls

As the semester is winding down and the holidays are drawing closer, I'm beginning to embrace the Christmas spirit a little more each day (despite the cold weather we've been experiencing). Keeping with the theme, I read an article tonight about a PR blunder involving a Hallmark Christmas ornament.

Article found here:

Out of all the Christmas and holiday songs, Hallmark happened to choose "Deck the Halls" to be featured on a holiday ornament... and out of all the lyrics in that song, they chose the line, "Don we now our gay apparel". Only, they took out "gay" and replaced the word with "fun".  I suppose the  backlash could have gone either way; Hallmark may have been attacked for using "gay" on a Christmas ornament, but I think the backlash received from flat-out removing the word would be even stronger, as it draws attention to the fact that they actually removed it. Hallmark could either be labeled as homophobic or they could get attacked by the homophobes. Why risk either?

This is a blunder that could have been so easily avoided. There is such a vast collection of Christmas music that Hallmark could have chosen to use instead of these lyrics from "Deck the Halls". It astounds me that a product like this could actually make it through the brainstorming process and into production. It just causes unnecessary controversy for the company. Hallmark is already an extremely established company; they don't need any additional media attention - especially negative.

Here's hoping that Hallmark scraps this idea before it hits shelves this holiday season.

On a lighter note, stay festive Ottawa!

"Is it time to replace the golden arches?"

I recently read an article about how fast food brand logos make people less happy.

Found here:

I find it interesting that these brand symbols which are meant to convey joy and pleasure ultimately cause consumers to not be able to savour things or to enjoy "pleasant" experiences as well as they would without the influence of these logos. At the end of the article, the question is asked whether these logos should be changed, or if the context is the problem attached to people's general unsatisfaction. Personally, I don't think that changing how a fast food logo looks will change the stigma attached to its brand image.

We live in a world saturated with fast food chains; it's not wonder that people associate these logos with  our "impatience culture". Fast food is just that - quickly served and convenient. Sure, these qualities might be nice, but it takes away from the idea of waiting for a high-quality meal - the ability to execute patience and delay immediate gratification. Unfortunately, seeking immediate gratification is a telling sign of our times; when people want something, they want it now. It's no surprise to me that the high exposure to fast food causes people the inhibited ability to savour things. We become too familiar with immediate gratification and it changes our ability to fully appreciate anything... be it food or pleasant moments.

With that, I don't believe that fast food will ever be able to shake a stigma that it essentially embodies. Changing a logo of a fast food company will do nothing to change the influence it exhibits upon it's customers. Even with strong public relations, marketing, and advertising, the underlying themes of fast food will be experienced by the consumer. Even if commercials or events are produced in order to give off an image of relaxation, quality, and pleasure in a fast food brand, the reality is that fast food will always maintain the image of speed and convenience, no matter how unhealthy (both physically and mentally) this may be.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stila & St. Tropez Training

This past Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to attend a beauty training for my part-time job hosted by Stila and St. Tropez at the ARC Hotel in downtown Ottawa. I rushed to the venue after a late-afternoon lecture - hair styled and makeup already done. As soon as I entered the door, backpack on and Starbucks in hand, I quickly realized that this wasn’t a “run-of-the-mill” beauty training. Instead of the typical quiet atmosphere, catered hotel buffet, and large conference room where my co-workers and I would sit at perfectly set tables, the night called for a trendy “VIP Experience” (at least, that’s what the flashy itinerary led us to believe).

After my co-workers and I signed in and received our “VIP Passes”, we were escorted up a flight of stairs. While upbeat, popular music blared in the background, we were encouraged to “mingle” in the extremely chic upper portion of the lobby (which was reserved for the event). Hotel staff served mocktails (two varieties) and tasty hors d’oeuvres (mini poutine, chicken skewers, bruschetta, and spring rolls). Brand posters were everywhere and products from various brands (I’m assuming all from the same parent company) where displayed throughout the lobby, just waiting to be tampered with. The brand representatives and makeup artists were wandering through the crowd, handing out handbags and chatting up the beauty experts. The atmosphere really did make it seem as if I was attending an event instead of a training.
(the lobby)
Eventually, the actual training did take place. It was very brief and to-the-point; just the vital information we needed to know. Slideshows and videos were displayed and members from the audience were used in demonstrations. The trainers did a good job of keeping the attendants involved and excited. After the trainings for the two brands, we were encouraged to visit “the library” - a room full of products that we had just had training on. Makeup artists bronzed my forearms and and I swiped on wine-hued lipstick. Professional photographers were scattered around the lobby and “library” to catch all the action taking place. It is, after all, pretty exciting stuff (at least for a self-confessed beauty addict). 
(the library)
I was quite surprised by this approach to the training. When compared to other brand trainings, it was clear that Stila and St. Tropez were trying to make a name for themselves amongst the Ottawa beauty community as “fun” brands. I personally enjoyed it; I found it fresh. I don’t often have the time to sit through 4 to 8 hour lecture-style trainings that I’m not being paid to attend, and sometimes I find the trainings to be quite redundant - the same information being repeated over and over again.
Stila and St. Tropez definitely appeal to a younger crowd, but the brands are versatile enough to reach a wider audience range. I believe that the brands wanted to portray an air of exclusivity to their products - almost like the “cool kids” of the cosmetics industry. The public relations team behind the event did a great job of organizing it. The hotel location was central, the atmosphere was modern and chic, the food was satisfying, and the trainingwas short and informative. It was perfect for the modern young woman - the brand’s prime target audience. 

Making a statement is vital to a brand’s prosperity, and Stila and St. Tropez left a great impression on me. If the brands continue to maintain the quality of their trainings and other events, I’m sure their fan base will grow - as will their success. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tropicana Orange Juice Rebranding Disaster - The Big Squeeze

About a week ago, I wrote a paper on the case study of the rebranding of Tropicana Premium Plus Orange Juice (owned by PepsiCo). While researching for the paper, I discovered a lot of information about PepsiCo and the team behind the rebranding, but I also learned a great amount about emotional branding and consumer loyalty. I would like to share an excerpt from my paper with you all...

(Which do you prefer?)

         Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice is a product recognized by consumers throughout North America. Owned and operated by beverage-producing giant PepsiCo, this brand of orange juice has been a household staple since its introduction in 1952. The carton has even become somewhat iconic; it features a fresh orange skewered by a drinking straw, making the juice instantly recognizable in grocery stores and kitchens alike across the continent. 
In early 2009, PepsiCo of North America implemented an extreme rebranding of its most popular beverage brands - Pepsi, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, and Tropicana. Headed by North American CEO Massimo d’Amore and taking creative direction from Peter Arnell (of the advertising company Arnell Group), the mission was to tear down and rebuild the popular beverage brands from the ground up. It was a hasty, unconventional effort; the result of this was evident when Tropicana’s sales plummeted 20% in the two months following the release of its redesigned carton. Giving in to overwhelming consumer demand, PepsiCo took action and quickly scrapped the new design and reverted back to the original. 
The epic failure of the Tropicana rebranding plan has continued to puzzle both PepsiCo and industry experts. What was originally described as being a “historic integrated-marketing and advertisement campaign” was scrapped more quickly than any other major brand undergoing a redesign process in recent history. Why did the rebranding of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice result in such a negative impact on sales? Furthermore, to what extent does emotional branding have on Tropicana consumers? These are vital questions that must be investigated in order to truly understand what went wrong when PepsiCo unveiled the redesigned Tropicana orange juice to North American costumers in 2009.


        Based on the literature, there is a clear connection between emotional branding (or the lack there-of) and the major failure of Tropicana’s rebranding attempt. Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice consumers have grown accustomed to the original carton packaging and the nostalgia behind it. The original packaging does an excellent job of portraying the company’s values - freshness and quality. The image on the carton of the orange and the protruding straw embodies the idea of fresh juice made from Florida handpicked oranges, which is exactly what the company is selling. During the recession, a time when Americans were craving stability and familiarity, many found comfort in a trusted product. When PepsiCo introduced the new carton design to consumers, many did not like what they saw. Instead of a familiar, heartwarming, premium brand of orange juice, a generic-looking, empty-souled carton stood in its place. The identity that customers had associated with Tropicana was quickly lost, and the results were even more evident when the declining sales numbers began to roll in. 
By focusing on a more trendy, modern, cutting-edge carton design, Tropicana lost the emotional branding connection it had with its customers. Perhaps if  Peter Arnell spent more time in the kitchens of everyday North American citizens instead of globe-trotting on a tour of design houses, the rebranding process would have been a success. The project was doomed from the start; Massimo d’Amore only gave his team seven months to conceive new branding arrangements for PepsiCo’s most popular beverage brands in order to meet the Superbowl deadline. Because d’Amore utilized a concurrent approach to the rebranding (simultaneously designing new logos, packaging, ads, and television commercials), there was little time for proper consumer research to be conducted. 
Research is one of, if not the most, important aspects of a communications plan. If proper research is not conducted, a company is just setting itself up for disaster. The RACE method for communications planning is what PepsiCo should have implemented at the start of the rebranding process. The RACE method begins with research, followed by analysis, communication, and evaluation of the proposed plan. Clearly, d’Amore and his team missed a few vital steps. The obvious lack of consumer research further demonstrates the importance of emotional branding. D’Amore and Arnell only focused on what they thought would be perceived as a “cool” and “hip” design for the rebranding, while in reality, the original Tropicana brand image has nothing to do with these attributes. Consumers could not relate to the new Tropicana design and there was no emotional connection to the product, which ultimately resulted in the failure of the redesign and loss of profit. D’Amore and Arnell should have focused on what would appeal to the emotions of current Tropicana consumers. The use of focus groups, interviews, and surveys would have proven extremely useful in the Tropicana rebranding process. The importance of researching a company’s publics should never be underestimated; the customer should always come first. As the literature previously noted, emotional branding is key to marketing success.
The exploration of the Tropicana case study amplifies the importance of the implantation of the RACE method in the field of public relations. The failure of the Tropicana rebranding demonstrates how vital proper research is, as well as the potential consequences of skipping such an important step. Proper planning is one of the most important aspects of public relations; companies may pay the price (figuratively and literally) if they undermine this vital process. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Breakfast Loves Nutella"

You may love Nutella, but the real question is... does your body love it as much as you do? 

As a self-proclaimed Nutella addict, I have definitely dipped my spoon into many-a-jar of the chocolate-hazelnut spread. I may be a huge fan of this stuff, but I am also well aware of the nutritional content of each tablespoon I indulge in. 

(My kind of breakfast)

Nutella has had a recent surge in popularity, especially amongst children, teenagers, and young adults. While this is a great thing for the company, the manner in which the product is being branded has caused a bit of a stir. About a year ago in the United States, Nutella was hit with a three million dollar lawsuit due to the brand engaging in misleading marketing. The team behind the branding of Nutella was advertising it as being “a healthy part of breakfast”. Words such as “nutritious” and “healthy” were used in television ads, and a nutritionist was quoted on Nutella’s website. While the spread may contain hazelnuts, it still packs on the sugar and fat. In one tablespoon of Nutella, there are 11 grams of sugar. The recommended daily intake of sugar for men is 36 grams, and for women the recommended intake is 20 grams. So, if a women has two tablespoons of Nutella in one sitting (an easy feat to conquer, believe me), she is already over her recommended dose of sugar. When parents who believed Nutella to be healthy eventually discovered what nutrients (or lack thereof) Nutella actually contained, they were enraged. And so came the relentless lawsuits directed at the company.  

(But honestly, what kind of parent would believe that a chocolate spread is HEALTHY?)

Recently, Canada has also been given the Nutella “health wash” treatment. This is the practice of making a product appear “healthier” than it actually is. Take a look at his excerpt from the Nutella Canada website.

Personally, I don’t blame Nutella’s PR team for taking this kind of “health sheen” approach. In Canada, Nutella is not promoted as being “healthy” or “nutritious”. Instead, the label gives an example of an ideal breakfast (which covers most food groups) in which Nutella can be a part of. Nutella on it’s own is not healthy by any means, but just like any other treat, there is no problem in indulging in it every now and then. If you live an active lifestyle and eat a balanced diet, then occasionally eating Nutella won’t do you much harm. Just like any other food item being purchased and eaten, it all comes down to consumer discretion. One cannot place all of their trust into advertising; if a customer wants to know the nutritional facts of a particular item, they should take it upon themselves to research what they’re actually putting into their body. 

The branding of a product plays a major role in how it is received and how much it sells. Nutella has created a cult-like phenomenon; product sales are soaring. But just like any other “junk” food, you cannot blame the company itself for making you unhealthy. When it comes down to it, the customer is the one making the conscious decision to buy and consume the food. You are in control of what you put into your body - brands should not take the blame while promoting their products. False advertising is one thing, and quality advertising is completely different. Companies have to make money somehow, and if playing up the “health sheen” image helps, then by all means, I believe that  companies have the right to promote a product in that light. At the end of the day, a customer decides what they consume; companies are not physically shoving their products down our throats, and we all need to realize that. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Role of Social Media in Crisis Situations

Last week, social media and advocacy were being discussed in class. The use of social media has drastically changed the way in which we obtain information related to crisis situations. Nowadays, legitimate news sources aren’t the only channels that people are gaining information from. The general population now has equal ability to publish their stories online. In doing so, the Internet has become a forum for people to comment on and discuss the news. While many view this as a positive aspect of new communications technology, one should still be wary of the legitimacy of any information posted online. 

There are a few questions that should be considered when obtaining information about a crisis situation through social media. Though one should always think critically when absorbing news in general, it is especially important to do so when the information is coming from online sources. First of all, there is the issue involving the accuracy of reporting. Who gets the correct news out first? How do you verify information that is put out on social media? Can the social media news feeds maintained by the news agencies be trusted? Is the information posted on social media by the “people” (general public) trustworthy? Is it the public’s role to discern between the truth and the not-so-true? These are all vital questions that need to be kept in mind while absorbing the news, as literally anyone with an Internet connection nowadays is able post whatever they feel like posting via social media. 

I can relate to this issue with a recent personal example. Upon waking from a nap during the afternoon of April 15th, 2013 (napping during the middle of exam week - classic behaviour), I groggily opened my laptop to check my Twitter feed. It was flooded with retweets from popular newsrooms, celebrities offering condolences, and comments from real-life friends... all about a tragedy unfolding in Boston. As soon as I realized what all the commotion was about, I began to search the web for news articles related to the situation at hand. Twitter could only offer me so much information; I needed to do some research on my own accord. It is important to note, however, that Twitter was the first channel through which I heard about the Boston Marathon Bombing. Personally, this method of news obtainment is not an uncommon practice. I do not own a TV (even when I did have access to television, I would rarely watch it), I do not subscribe to or read a physical newspaper, and throughout the day I rarely browse news channel websites. Casually scrolling through my various social media news feeds is how I’ve been coming across news updates (major and minor) recently. This practice became even more typical after receiving an iPhone about a year and a half ago. Now, all of my favourite social media apps (as well as legitimate newsroom apps) are in the palm of my hand, ready to be browsed on the go. Even just a few years ago, the way I found out about major events was drastically different than how I do today. The rise of social media and the popularity of smartphones has altered the way in which we go about obtaining our news. We live in a high-tech, fast-paced world; social media is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Tragedy Strikes Ottawa

Yesterday was a tragic day in the city of Ottawa. During the regular morning commute in the South-West part of the region, at 8:48AM, an OC Transpo city bus barreled through the guard rail at a crossing and collided with a VIARail passenger train. Six people have been confirmed among the fatalities, while there are still many injured victims being treated at local hospitals. 

As both a university student and resident of Ottawa myself, the news of the accident hit very close to home. People from all walks of life take public transit everyday in order to arrive at their destinations - a convenient way to travel in a city congested with vehicular traffic. While the results of this event are both horrifying and unfathomable, I couldn’t help but wonder how OC Transpo, as a company, would respond to this crisis. How would this affect their reputation? How would this affect their sales? While I can safely speculate that the public relations team working for OC Transpo has their hands full for the time being, the public relations and social media role for many prominent figures in the community and industry have come to a head as well.
Emergency dispatchers weren’t the only ones quick to respond to the traumatic event. Many local and national politicians, or the people who work for them, were jumping onto social media websites (such as Twitter) to express their condolences. Mayor Jim Watson and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were among the first to make announcements publicly online, about 45 minutes after tragedy struck. 
While crises typically occur unexpectedly, it is not an excuse for a professional within the industry to be unprepared. A critical aspect of public relations and communications within a company or an organization is to develop a crisis management plan before disasters occur. Public relations professionals must expect the unexpected, and they do this by implementing methods to create plans. The “R.A.C.E. Method” is commonly used in the world of public relations in order to develop strategies and plans that will get messages across clearly and effectively. 
The R.A.C.E. Method implements the use of research, analysis, communication, and evaluation. During the research process, one must ask what the problem is, what one is trying to achieve, what is currently going on, and what the current perception of a situation is. Tools such as surveys, focus groups, interviews, audits, stats, and media monitoring are commonly used in order to answer these questions. Secondly, an analysis of this data is done. One defines objectives, identifies target audiences, and develops key messages. During the communication process, a strategy must be developed (as well as a method to measure the effectiveness of this strategy). A budget must be implemented as well. Finally, when it comes to evaluation, a PR team must look back on their communication plan in order to develop it further and better it, if possible. 
It does seem, however, that the city of Ottawa was well prepared for this kind of emergency situation (at least, that’s what the city is implying). In my opinion, I believe that the PR reps for local and national politicians are doing a very good job given the current situation at hand. Assuming they already had a crisis management plan in place, the PR reps have responded to the needs of citizens by efficiently and effectively making public announcements for their clients in relation to the events. Hopefully this excellent work ethic continues as news reports and new information about the case keeps popping up over the next few weeks. As stressful as these traumatic situations are, if public relations professionals have a crisis communications plan set up and ready to go before tragedy strikes, they will be in for a much smoother ride indeed.