The Skittle Fairey…Yum!

19 03 2009

mb-headshot33This past weekend I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit Supply & Demand. You know him for his Obama portrait, a pop cultural icon that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. For someone who came up in the art world by graffiti tagging and plastering stickers with the face of Andre the Giant and the word “Obey” just about everywhere, being featured at the ICA and National Portrait Gallery is a sign that what was once street is now truly mainstream.fairey

And when you think about it, what’s really happening in the world today, from a communications standpoint, is that the Shepard Faireys are taking over. Before there was a Facebook wall for you to write on, Fairey was tagging walls with his graffiti art, and spreading his stickers virally. His “Obey” stickers preceded the Internet age and became so ubiquitous that they’re the precursors to those “Original Irish Gifts” and other Facebook flotsam and jetsam that is seriously clogging up my information arteries (not that I don’t love a virtual Guinness as much as the next guy).

In the way that Fairey is subversive by taking traditional images of propaganda (Mao, Stalin, Bobby Seale) and giving them an ironic (and often hilarious!) twist, marketers are using the power of social networks to have you, the consumer, mess with their brand and help to define it anew, remix it, make of it what you will. Consider Skittles, the bite-sized candy in a rainbow of fruit flavors. I love them because they’re delicious. And as someone in marketing, I also love them because the brand is going outside of its safe zone. With its “Interweb the Rainbow” campaign, they’ve created a widget that floats from Facebook page, to YouTube channel, to Twitter, to product page so you can seamlessly experience their brand as a participant. Like Shep Fairey, you can “tag” Skittles by tweeting about them, creating a video and uploading it to YouTube, write on the FB wall, etc. Skittles is opening themselves up wide for all that YOU have to say about them.

We’ve all heard the joke about the bad blind date who talks on and on about his many accomplishments to his companion, and then pauses to say, “Well, enough about me, what do you think of me?” In our increasingly digital age, where self-publishing and social networking technology is free to everyone with a smart phone or an Internet connection, who you are isn’t what you tell the world, it’s what the world tells you. Now go have a Skittle.



In Facebook All Business Is Personal

11 03 2009

mb-headshot32Last week our agency received a visit from Lisa Hickey, a self-described “Slightly insane creative thinker and writer. Designer and strategist. Global conversationalist.” She worked at almost every local Boston area advertising agency (with the exception of Mullen) and when she was laid off last year, she re-branded herself as a social media consultant.

Her compelling tale of personal growth via use of Twitter, Facebook, etc. was stirring for all attendees. Given the tragicomic state of the economy today with layoffs everywhere, we can expect other marketers to follow her lead from the unemployment line into social media, and a proliferation of “social media gurus.” By the way, social media guru is a term that I personally loathe because in this day and age we should all be digitally literate, rather than relying on some sort of digital elite (See: Chinese Ch’an master Lin-chi I-hsüan and “Killing the Buddha”). 

Anyway, one thing she said really stuck with me: “Today, people are becoming brands, and brands are becoming people.” It’s true for Lisa, and it’s true for a lot of companies today. Consider how Facebook pages for companies have proliferated, and the very same week of Lisa’s visit Facebook changed those pages to resemble individual profiles. Check out this fantastic whitepaper from The Advance Guard on how those changes can be optimized.

Now, what Facebook doesn’t tell you is that if you wanted to get a customized URL for your company’s fan page that will start at around $100K and involves a media buy. Not a lot of individuals will be in a position to brand their own personal profile at that high price tag.  So, I guess companies are becoming more like individuals, but still get corporate pricing courtesy of Facebook. (Nice. But it’s probably better than spending the money on redecorating a bank’s bathroom.)

So what’s my point? I guess I’m left feeling like Randall Stross, who in his Digital Domain column on Sunday really opened up the can of worms that individuals becoming like companies, and companies becoming like individuals entails. His belief is that it’s ruining our sense of privacy: “When the distinction blurs between one’s few close friends and the many who are not, it seems pointless to distinguish between private and public.” It will be interesting to watch companies open up in the social world and see just how much they’re willing to share. What do you think? Are we over-branding ourselves and destroying what little is left of our private identities in the process?     


Seth Godin on PR vs. Publicity

10 03 2009

mb-headshot3I just want to celebrate Seth Godin and the wisdom he demonstrates in his post “The Difference Between PR and Publicity.” I can’t really write what he wrote any better than how he wrote it. But I think it’s important for all clients to understand the difference between PR strategies/counsel and getting ink, and to demand that their agency delivers both.

 I also feel that an agency that delivers great press coverage without great strategy is performing some kind of miracle. For great press coverage is the result of great PR strategy — the two are not mutually exclusive. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how an agency can deliver results without strategy, or strategy without results. I seriously doubt that it’s possible.

Tweeting Together/Alone on the Red Carpet

20 02 2009

mb-headshot3If you participated in the tweeting about the Super Bowl advertising and joined Mullen at, then you will certainly enjoy our latest adventure in sourcing the wisdom of the crowd. By going to you will be able to watch everyone commenting on the Oscars before, during and after. And you can participate in polling and tweet directly from the page. If you’ve harbored a desire to be like Joan Rivers or Ryan Seacrest, providing play-by-play commentary on the action, now is your chance to do just that in the Twitterverse.  


James Michael Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations” was never more relevant than today, when micro-blogging services such as Twitter have enabled masses of people to share their thoughts about everything from Doritos TV spots to Kate Winslet’s gown.

I read a recent review of a film festival being held in New York for horror movies by director David Cronenberg (“The Fly”, “Videodrome”) in which they wrote that “One of the advantages of seeing one of these high-Cronenberg extravaganzas with a midnight-movie audience is that everybody gets to go “Ewww” at the same time, which kind of relieves the tension.”

The same can be said of these two experiments in Twitter mass participation. By viewing the Oscars and tweeting your impressions and sharing those impressions with others via the hashtag #redcarpet09 you are experiencing something with a group, even though you may be alone in front of your TV set with your laptop or iPhone and a bowl of popcorn.

Adweek and The Boston Globe have taken notice of Mullen’s adventures in tapping into the collective wisdom of crowds, and that can only help boost participation (#sb43ads was the fourth-most tweeted topic for a time during the Super Bowl, inching out Bruce Springsteen for a moment – can’t feel bad about beating the Boss).

Edward Boches, our chief creative officer, feels that these Twitter experiments are really only scratching the surface of what’s possible with Twitter (read his post here). The sky is the limit for where this service can go, and I’m excited to be a part of taking it there. As David Pogue wrote, “Don’t worry about the rules. Including mine. Use Twitter the way you want to. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.”

We hope you take part to see what can be accomplished when we tap into our collective conscious. If you have any thoughts about how Twitter can be used for other purposes, feel free to comment here.       

Look Before You Tweet!

5 02 2009

slocricchio1“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Didn’t we learn this social etiquette way back in pre-school, or through our grandparents or somewhere along the line? Like everyone in our trade, I’m immersing myself further in the social media world. Just as I thought I mastered all that Facebook has to offer, along came Twitter to make me feel like a newbie. The one thing I’ve noticed about social media is that a lot of those who indulge in the various forms of online interaction seem to forget that it’s SOCIAL.

Like a childhood game of telephone magnified 100 fold, what you post can spread through the office or around the country in mere minutes.

For example, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about a recent misstep by a Ketchum PR guy. Upon deplaning in Memphis, for a FedEx client meeting, he tweeted a negative comment about the city to his Twitter account. A few hours and now weeks later, PR people all over the country are nervously laughing at that guy’s folly and secretly thinking, “Thank Heavens that wasn’t me.” (PS: We’re also all thinking, “I wonder if FedEx is shopping for a new agency?”)


We should be our authentic selves when posting a Tweet or making comments on Facebook, and we’re all certainly entitled to our opinions, but would you verbally say to someone what you would write about them? Would that PR guy have said to his client, I would die if I had to live here? From email to Twitter, non-verbal communication seems to makes it permissible to forego social norms and fire off messages that may be perceived as rude, inappropriate or just plain foolish.


I’m certainly not saying we should hide our personalities online or reject our right to free speech. I often exchange very silly and bizarre comments with friends and post obscure videos and links. I just believe everyone needs to be conscious of the fact that what you post can and will travel far, and if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all (or at least don’t say anything stupid that could come back to haunt you).


I just read a great book on blogging called “Naked Conversations” that gives some great insight into this topic. For a humorous take on what the Facebook experience would feel like in the real world, check out this video and reply to this post about your thoughts about where virtual reality and true reality split online and what our social networking P’s and Q’s should be.


Tweeting About the Super Bowl

30 01 2009

mb-headshot31While we’re all bummed that the Pats didn’t make it, the Cardinals won’t be the only birds in the game on Super Bowl Sunday. The Twitter universe will be tweeting about the advertisements in real time and all of the play-by-play commentary will be compiled at “Trash Talk from Section Twitter.”


To participate, get a Twitter account and type #sb43ads in your tweet plus your canny commentary.

As the Boston Globe just reported, Mullen, as well as “a group of ad agencies and Boston University students are looking to get a real-time Twitter debate going on the merits of Sunday’s Super Bowl ads.”

According to the Globe, “the ad agency group is looking to harness the social networking technology of as a way to get folks to post instant and pithy critiques of ads they loved or loathed – even as they are watching the game.”

Edward Boches, Mullen’s chief creative officer, said of the upcoming Twitter experiment on Super Bowl ads, “We’re looking to use a new medium to comment on an old medium. The idea is to get the whole community more familiar and comfortable with the concept of social networking as another option in the marketer’s tool bag. And if we’re lucky the comments will be funnier than the ads themselves.”

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Twitter Jitters

16 01 2009


Love it or hate it, twitter is getting more attention and the days of the service being “for early adopters only” are (like the Bush administration) coming to a close. David Pogue’s recent post in New York Times Circuits, “Twittering Tips for Beginners” outlines what is both beneficial and frustrating for those who use twitter in its current form.

But Pogue has really only scratched the surface of what twitter can do for monitoring brands, customer service,  and media relations (the work of PR professionals like yours truly). Well, here are some things that his eminence of technology missed:

Companies like Comcast, Zappos, JetBlue, Starbucks, GM, Best Buy, Kodak, H&R Block, and other Fortune 500 bands are on twitter, and they’re using it as a customer service tool to help resolve issues (Hey, my DVR records every episode of the Daily Show, what gives?) and to answer questions (Ground or whole bean?).

Instead of simply engaging with consumers directly on their twitter pages, these companies can also monitor what’s being said about them by setting up RSS links to searches of every mention of their brand (visit, type in the terms you care about, click on the RSS feed to receive real-time feeds to anyone posting anything about the brand).

Those twitterers out there trashing or praising your products and services can then be followed by your PR agency or others, and the adequate response can be taken (provide a coupon online for half off the Ethiopian roast, or a discount on shoes ordered online).

When all employees at a company are twittering, as is the case at Zappos, they have  direct channel into the thoughts and activities of their leaders, like Tony Hsieh. I’d bet that during the financial crisis, the employees at Lehman Brothers would have appreciated knowing what was going on with their leaders via twitter — if they would even share information. Is Bernie Madoff on twitter? Probably not. But, when an entire company is on twitter, the cross-pollination of ideas and esprit de corps is pretty amazing. It’s not for every corporate culture, though. Glasnost didn’t work out so well in the Soviet Union either.

This ability to track all brand mentions can lead to a “Big Brother is watching you” feeling. I tweeted about Zappos once and Wham! someone from their company was following my every tweet. I suppose I could have blocked him, but I was impressed by the company’s level of responsiveness to those who are thinking about Zappos.

I don’t really agree with Pogue when he writes about twitter that “No other communications channel can match its capacity for real-time, person-to-person broadcasting.” Actually, quick notes about what you’re doing is handled quite well by facebook, and facebook is great for posting video, links to other sites, detailed information about you, photos, etc.  None of those things are easily accomplished with twitter (Do you like having to shrink a URL to post it to twitter? I don’t. Do you want to create a hashtag for an event? I don’t.)

Other sites that help you find those who are most followed on twitter, are useful:

Pogue also neglected the ways in which PR professionals can engage with media contacts who tweet. By following journalists like Pogue ( you can tap into what they’re thinking. Sometimes they’ll even give you insight on their upcoming articles and you can pitch them (But hey, have some class, send them an email and don’t tweet a pitch to them in twitter. It looks kind of desperate). If you follow MicroPR on twitter, you can see a ton of journalists looking for leads (think of ProfNet but for those who use twitter). Follow this link for a partial list of some journalists that use twitter.

But one thing that Pogue wrote is certainly true. Twitter is a big “time suck” along with facebook and MySpace. But when your job is communications, it’s not a time suck so much as it is your daily work. And companies that aren’t hearing from their agencies about twitter, and learning how to use the service to their own advantage, are missing a powerful tool. A new day is dawning on Capitol Hill, and we’re about to swear in a Twitterer-in-Chief. Time to get on the bandwagon!

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