April Fools Review: The Thin Line Between Success and Failure for Social Media Pranks

Joseph Alessio (dribbble).jpg

How brands can successfully accomplish a festive brand promotion without drawing the ire of internet trolls or general backlash.

April Fool’s Day is always an entertaining day in the calendar to engage in fun jokes/pranks with friends, family and colleagues. Brands have become more involved over the years in these festivities with strategic promotions played off as pranks that are spread to consumers.

The practice lives mostly on social media, to control the spread of the message, rather than on more traditional channels.

However, with the saturation of case studies year after year consumers are becoming much more vigilant and unforgiving in their responses to these kinds of promotions.

Take this prank from White Castle promoting a new “whey protein” product. It was clearly meant to be light-hearted and fake, but it was lambasted for its shoddy production quality and random message.

Granted, this could have been a deliberate attempt to make use of a cheap pop culture term and go viral, but that signals a larger problem of vision and quality in marketing campaigns.

When pranks are pulled off correctly, they can be big boosters for a brand’s image, but marketers must be careful not to be perceived as out of touch with different subcultures on the internet. Studies showing the importance of the humor in advertising are often touted, but content that is one-dimensional will often fall on deaf ears.

On the contrary, a great example of a brand prank from April Fool’s Day was from a startup textbook rental company Chegg. They “introduced” a new energy drink called Chugg to help students get through their stressful finals season.

While it is not groundbreaking, it is a clever brand extension that is both humorous and relatable to their core clientele. The promotion does not attempt to co-opt a viral trend but rather speaks to the target demo directly while subtly showing the value of their own product.

A great example of a celebrity marketing hoax came from NBA star Anthony Davis in association with Red Bull. For the entirety of his career he was known for his uni-brow look that ran counter to traditional grooming culture. The week before April 1st, Davis posted a poll on his Twitter account asking his fans whether it was time for a change. The day of, he posted a video where he appeared to shave it off.

Yet, the next day he revealed it was all a hoax. Some may consider it cheesy, but the stunt garnered front page coverage on sites like ESPN, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated.

As I mentioned previously in my blog on the topic, April Fool’s Day promotions/pranks can be valuable given the proper circumstances and creative vision, but marketers must also be careful to properly gauge the pop culture environment and not overextend their efforts into content that consumers will not appreciate.

photo credit: Joseph Alessio via (dribble)


The Monthly Report Card: March

A new monthly series that will showcase the best practices of the industry and provide insight into how to best use celebrities or influencers to your brand’s advantage.

With a rather busy month of celebrity marketing news in March behind us, a new series is beginning on the Brand Agent Blog. Each month, I will grade the performance and creative aspects of the major celebrity/influencer partnerships that were announced and offer my take on how effective they were…or were not.

Here are some good, and not so good, examples of celebrity marketing in action:

(1). Isle of Dogs Movie – Bill Murray Dog Poem (SXSW)


Grade: B+

Following the budding trend of colorful brand activations at the SXSW convention, Fox Searchlight used this poem as a clever extension of director Wes Anderson’s style by blending spoken word poetry (about a dog of course…) with a Bach accompaniment. Added bonus points for its cost effectiveness as Murray was already attending the event for the press junket.


(2). Tommy Hilfiger – Lewis Hamilton


Grade: B

This is a good move for Hilfiger. Hamilton is Formula 1’s international superstar and perennial title contender; the perfect way for them to continue their longstanding association with the sport. Would be an A if not for Hamilton’s lack of reach into the US market.


(3). McDonald’s – W (International Women’s Day)


Grade: A+

Not celebrity marketing per se, but Chief Diversity Officer Wendy Lewis deserves recognition for this one-off. What at first looked like a vandalism prank garnered more attention when it was discovered as a deliberate attempt to honor the women of the company. A very simple, but powerful and authentic statement in support of a noble cause. Well done.


(4). Apple – FKA Twigs & Spike Jonze Short Film


Grade: B

As I mentioned in my blog post on the spot, this short-film is a great example of the innovative side of celebrity marketing. It is stunning to watch, but it is missing one major element, the product! A HomePod commercial should feature the product for more than three seconds when the music turns on. If you blinked wrong, you might not have even realized it was an Apple commercial!


(5). Burger King – Conor McGregor


Grade: D

This just does not make much sense. It seems Burger King is trying to associate their brand with luxury and excellence, but it just came off as cheesy and unnecessary. Not a great fit between the two. Honestly, this does not seem the best response to falling behind in the Twitter wars with Wendy’s.


(6). Sonic – Ellie Kemper and Jane Krakowski


Grade: C

This was clearly an attempt to shake up the rather stale lineup of comedians Grosz and Jagodowski (the two guys in a car), but they could not help but repeat the same formula. Attempting a shake-up but leaving your spokesmen in the spot seems like some sort of bad fan service. They deserve credit for landing a recognizable comedic duo, but a missed opportunity overall.


(7). Barbie – Role Models (International Women’s Day)

Mattel Barbie Role Models

Grade: A

Mattel has been facing backlash for years over the uniformity of their Barbie products, and this new Role Models line is proving they are stepping up to the challenge and embracing diversity. The lineup in particular is genius with figures like Chloe Kim, Patty Jenkins, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Amelia Earhart and Ashley Graham. Representation is key, and Mattel hit the nail on the head with this effort that will inspire the next generation of female leaders in any field.


(8). Dos Equis – Ditching “The Most Interesting Man in the World”


Grade: D

Mixed feelings about this one. While the brand did see a decline ever since Jonathan Goldsmith retired his character and was replaced, you’d be hard pressed to find a consumer who doesn’t associate the brand with the famous campaign. It is understandable to want to go in a different direction but erasing the character from your channels is a step too far, major points off.


(9). Zumba – Meghan Trainor

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Grade: B

It is not secret that Megan Trainor has tailored her music to be rallying cries for females around the world. This is a great way to continue that identity by pairing with another icon in Zumba. While it is rather down the middle in terms of ambition (and why its not an A), it is a solid example of how the right celebrity can be a perfect fit with a brand’s values.


(10). Tourism Australia – Chris Hemsworth


Grade: A

Kudos for keeping your foot on the gas Tourism Australia. This entry refers more to their ingenious Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns spoof they pulled off during Super Bowl LII, but the agency is continuing their partnership with Hemsworth by releasing a series of digital videos. Not only did they pull off a perfect marketing hoax, but they incorporated nearly every A-lister associated with the Land Down Under with perfect casting for the campaign. Top marks all around.


What are your thoughts on these partnerships? I’d love to hear your opinions on Twitter at @bobwillia.

Embracing Change: Why Celebrity Marketing Looks Beyond Facebook to be Effective

reddit (giphy)

The growing trends of consumer dissatisfaction with social media privacy is a roadblock that marketers can avoid with the right strategies in place.

For good reason, headlines around the world have been dominated by ongoing problems for the world’s first social media giant. Privacy has always been a concern for consumers but the issue has flared up again with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

It is important to understand the nuance behind the issue. Social media companies and corporation have been utilizing data legally obtained from users who sign terms of service for years and it has let to features like micro and geo-targeting.

The current controversy deals with the illegal collection of data through a third-party research firm who violated Facebook’s terms of service and multiple requests for deletion of data. As usual, the optics are terrible despite Facebook’s good intentions, while consumers are growing impatient with the lack of progress in privacy standards.

Not too long ago, people were calling on Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg to run for President, now he is being called to testify in front of Congress for his company’s shortcomings.

The advent of social media has been a boon for marketers and advertisers, providing endless opportunities to interact with consumers and tailor brand identities, but anticipating change is a much more universal and time-tested marketing tool.

With this in mind, marketers should be very wary not to have a reliance on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by diversifying their ad spend in other mediums.

Television is a tried and true marketing method and will remain so, but more surprising is the relevancy of audio advertising (radio and streaming) in the age of social media. Studies continue to show that radio is still healthy in the ROI department and streaming will become a global standard with the rise of AI home assistants/speakers.

This does not negate the effectiveness of social media marketing however, but there are plenty other up and coming platforms that marketers should be aware of.

Of course there is Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram (I include Instagram even though they are owned by Facebook due to the lack of personal information needed on the platform). There are many other niche sites that can be used to target consumers; check out this great list from Hootsuite.

Other platforms like YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr, Flickr, and LinkedIn are sites striving to protect their marketing integrity and are free of the issues plaguing Facebook. Diversifying your brand’s digital/traditional footprint by moving away from a Facebook monopoly is a great way to insulate your brand from future scandals involving the privacy of consumers.

photo credit: reddit via (giphy)

What Apple’s Viral HomePod Ad with FKA Twigs Tells Us About Celebrity Marketing

VladJanuary (flickr)

With the viral success of Apple’s ad for its newest product line, what can brands learn to boost the effectiveness of their celebrity marketing campaigns?

In June of 2017, Apple announced their intention to enter the wireless speaker/AI assistant market with their new HomePod line. It marked a significant new step away from the brand’s identity of traditional hardware, but an acknowledgment of the changing pace of the device marketplace.

However, consumers were already well aware that Apple was lagging behind Amazon and Google in this tech sector, so how did Apple’s marketing strategy combat this?

For nearly two decades, Apple’s brand identity has been centered on music. After all, they invented iTunes which dominated the early digital music market and made the iPod a global phenomenon.

They have stressed that the HomePod will be a “music-first” device and followed up that brand message with an ad/short film directed by Spike Jonze and featuring FKA Twigs that quickly gained viral status.

Here’s what this viral spot tells us about celebrity marketing:

1). Incorporating Celebrities’ Talents Can Elevate a Brand’s Message

Any consumer who watched this short film will immediately remember the old iPod campaigns with silhouette dancers and vibrant color pallets, which we must assume was the intention.

Clearly Apple wanted to continue but modernize their core message. For this they used an Oscar winning director, Spike Jonze and a world-renowned dancer/musician, FKA Twigs.

Many outlets praised the ad simply for the credentials of those involved, which gave consumers an early perception of quality of the spot and the brand.

Celebrities in their natural environments not only produce better quality marketing tools, but it streamlines the planning process by encouraging innovation from the artists.

2). Implementing Cause and Artistic License is a Sure-Fire Way to Success

While maintaining the brand message, creative license was taken to incorporate concepts of dealing with depression. During the film, Twigs uses the music that Apple can provide to overcome her feelings of repetition and despare from her career.

It is important for marketers not to take this element to far however. There is often a fine line between partnering or discussing a cause and taking advantage of it to sell products. Consumers are attentive and do not enjoy faux-cause marketing strategies.

Regardless, there is little doubt that the creative element of the ad has led to its viral success. The colorful set has also driven extra content about the ad on social media. The best ads rarely need pinpoint cooperation to show their value. Seeing the passion of everyone involved to discuss their product proves that the correct creative priorities can reinforce a brand’s message.

3). The Ad Directing Trend is Here to Stay

Add this spot to the growing list of short films that have been produced by Hollywood regulars for various brands. Walmart enlisted the talents of Dee Rees (Mudbound), Melissa McCarthy and Nancy Meyers for an Oscars campaign. Apple is no stranger to using this method having first done a similar project with Ridley Scott in 1984 when launching the Macintosh computer.

This method will only continue to prove its power of innovation in the advertising industry. Brands with short films have received very positive responses and it is a great way to partner with celebrity influencers to make use of their talents.

photo credit: VladJanuary via (flickr)

How to Properly Track the Results of Your Celebrity Marketing Campaign

Tony Babel (giphy)

To maximize ROI, the statistics of a celebrity influencer campaign analyze the impact and aid future learning.

Celebrity influencer campaigns are fast becoming one of the pillars of marketing in many industries and almost all of these happen in the digital sphere. Whether social media activations, streaming events or website ads, the potential for making unique impressions is massive.

Traditional media relied on sources like Nielsen ratings or simply sales figures to tell them how impactful their ad campaign was, but times have changed.

Marketers today need to understand the importance of measuring your campaign’s success, not just through the use of social media analytics. A combination of data streams will provide a much better proof of your methods and can help refine or reinforce a brand’s message.

Here are three ways marketers can properly track results of their campaigns.

1). Treat Social Media Platforms as your Friend, but not your Spouse

At present, many brands receive data for their campaigns from sources that focus on the Big 3 platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These form the backbone of analysis for marketers, but it should not be the only source you rely on.

Diversity of data sources is never a bad thing.

2). Track Real Time Data of Competitors 

Now I’m not advocating you create a corporate espionage division, but public data that details your competitor’s activities can be invaluable to strategizing your brand’s approach to a campaign.

Programs like Rival IQ and quintly are great sources for data.

Say for example your beverage brand wants to break into a community of consumers who love a certain activity. If a competitor already attempted reaching consumers with an influencer and met severe resistance to corporate influence, you can tailor your message or perhaps avoid the space and learn from others.

3). Search Engines are a Treasure Trove

I’m not sure where search engines rank on the all-time best inventions list, but their impact is pervasive. According to SmartInsights.com, a total of 1.2 trillion searches are made each year. To put that into perspective, that’s 164 searches for every person on Earth.

With this much activity, marketers can take advantage of data available from search engines to show how campaigns increased online traffic relating to their products.

Programs like Clicky, Moz, and Google Analytics are the premier sources for this data.

You don’t need a complex analytics degree to properly track the success of your celebrity influencer campaign, you just need to know where to start. If you want to take the gut feeling out of your marketing decisions, quantify choices and increase confidence, look to these programs to increase your ROI.

gif credit: Tony Babel via (giphy)

Why Voice-Over Partnerships are Still Important to Celebrity Marketing

Tommy Lopez (pexels)How consumer trends are shaping voice-overs and how your brand can benefit.

Partnerships don’t need an appearance on camera to be effective. Voice work existed long before television marketing in the form of the radio, which may make the practice seem dated. However, current consumer data continues to prove voice-overs are an effective marketing tool.

Previously I outlined “Five Reasons to Add Celebrity Voice-Overs,” but here I want to revisit voice-overs in celebrity marketing and its relevance in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Here are three reasons voice-overs are still valuable to celebrity marketers.

1). The Emotional Connection

If you are a regular reader you understand my fondness for personalization in digital marketing. This concept should extend to the traditional voice-over medium as well.

A recently released survey of marketing professionals compiled by Voices.com found the most desired element in a voice-over partnership was maximizing the emotional connection to consumers.

Now that sounds quite vague and it’s supposed to be. The magic of celebrity marketing firms like Burns is an ability to identify the best candidate to achieve emotional connection.

Even if the celebrity isn’t a recognizable A-lister, the right voice can elevate a brand’s connection to consumers.

2). The Potential for Broader Demographic Reach

Voice-over marketing does not have to be restricted to a commercial setting. With the evolving world of advertising moving towards digital monopoly, marketers can preempt the trend by incorporating voice-overs into their digital marketing.

As voice actress Joan Baker puts it, “It seems more and more [that] technology leads to the need for more voices to humanize the tech experience. It’s the nature of communication to want to spread information to a wider and wider range of people, and people overwhelmingly prefer to be spoken to by other people.”

Another finding by the Voices.com study backs up Baker’s point. At 93%, a large majority of consumers would rather hear a natural voice over an artificial one.

This gives marketers a great opportunity to apply voice-overs to their digital marketing strategies to personalize customer experiences and better shape an online identity.

3). The Ability to Re-brand

Voice-overs are also a great way to kick off a re-branding process. Many brands including Allstate, Progressive, Coors and Weight-Watchers had massive success establishing their voice.

Carl’s Jr. and Hardees’ is a great example. They have taken a lot of flack over the years for their controversial advertising campaigns that objectify women, but recently shifted strategy with a new partnership. Using Matthew McConaughey in a voice-over, they re-established their brand with a recognizable voice who immediately associated the brand with southern comforts.

They may not be the best quality or most viral ads on the planet, but sometimes they don’t need to be. Using voice-overs in celebrity marketing is still a highly effective means of emotionally connecting with customers and building the brand. The data proves it.

photo credit: Tommy Lopez via (pexels)

Young Olympians Can Teach Celebrity Marketers About Generation Z

Elena Vasileva (flickr)Now that the Olympic stars of the future have arrived, how can they improve marketers’ understanding of the next generation?

The Olympic Games are a unique event in human history, for they bring the world together through the pursuit of excellence and celebration of the human spirit.

These athletes have unprecedented reach and been used for decades in marketing campaigns to represent brands.

However, the Winter Games have been taken over by a new wave of young superstars like Chloe Kim, Red Gerard, Maame Biney, Vincent Zhou, and Nathan Chen. Not surprisingly, the successes of these athletes have almost been overshadowed by their personalities.

Here are two major lessons that these new Olympians can teach celebrity marketers.

The Myth of “Digital Obsession”

We have all heard the critics of Millennials and Gen Z lamenting that the social fabric is being ruined by rampant use of technology. These cliches have become rather toxic.

If there is anything that these athletes are proving, it is that this myth needs to die quickly. Celebrity marketers must meet Gen Z on their level, creating experiences and content that appeal to them.

Chloe Kim dominated the half pipe on her way to a near perfect score, gold medal, and national headlines. But many outlets reported instead that the tweeted her cravings while waiting for her next run.

That is unheard of in Olympic sport. Instead of folding under pressure, she tweeted and showed her composure, then went out and became the youngest gold medal winner in the history of the event.

It would be naive to suggest there was no danger associated with rampant obsession with technology, but celebrity marketers who understand that technology usage by younger generations is not to be feared will be in position to reap the rewards as it becomes embraced as the new normal.

Influencer Personality Doesn’t Have an Age Requirement

A common perception held by some marketing professionals is partnerships with younger influencers are much more volatile and not worth the risk. Young Olympians have already begun to buck this trend.

Simply by qualifying, athletes like Red Gerard, Maame Biney, and Chloe Kim were approached by top brands for sponsorship opportunities and they have been rewarded by their successes.

Generation Z should not be defined by traditional standards of maturity and the need to reach a certain threshold to be an effective influencer. These athletes are still teenagers by any measure.

However, it reinforces the emerging doctrine that influencers should be recruited for the experience they give consumers rather than relying on old endorsement standards.

A 17-year-old who wins a gold medal in a sport they live for, who willing tweets they are hungry for ice cream or chips to calm nerves can be just as impactful with consumers as a more expensive A-lister with less connection to the product.

Partnering with an Olympic athlete can be tricky since they aren’t in the public eye for long periods of time, but young athletes like those mentioned above are the future. Smart marketers and brand agents recognize, even if you do not partner directly with them, that the way these stars interact with the market should be adopted to succeed.

photo credit: Elena Vasileva via (flickr)