Under (and so over) the Influence

Marketing influences often come from unexpected places. The happenings, people, and brands driving marketing trends, keeping consumers’ interest piqued, and getting marketers to proceed with both aplomb and caution come from both inside and outside the industry—from memes to over-the-top marketing tactics to legislative battles. Here are 15 movers and shakers that have catalyzed marketing most over the past year.

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Meme celebrity:
Grumpy Cat

Brands love her. Internet cats want to be her. Yet, she’s never happy. Grumpy Cat, the 15-month old kitten known for her scowling grimace, first debuted when Bryan Bundesen uploaded a picture of his sister’s and niece’s cat to social sharing website Reddit. Grumpy Cat—real name Tardar Sauce—has since partnered with major brands like Friskies, made numerous television appearances, and will soon be starring in the first ever meme-inspired film.

“It’s like trying to explain why The Beatles are good,” says Ben Lashes, a meme manager whose clients include—besides Grumpy Cat—Keyboard Cat, Princess Monster Truck, and Scumbag Steve. “You could write five books on the topic, but you still wouldn’t be able to really just capture the entire saying.”

The popularity of Grumpy Cat underscores the way memes can pounce on the cultural zeitgeist unexpectedly and at very little cost. “You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars on a [marketing] campaign, and if the idea behind it isn’t good, you can’t buy the hit,” Lashes says. “The difference between the people who execute something that actually goes viral and the people who don’t is the ability to understand how things go viral in the first place and why they go viral, and who they go viral with.”

Out-of-this-world content marketer:
Red Bull

Felix Baumgartner not only broke the speed of sound when he jumped from a space capsule approximately 128,000 feet above the ground; the event, sponsored by Red Bull, streamed live and had the most concurrent views in YouTube’s history—eight million to be exact. The free fall, called Red Bull Stratos, was featured on the energy drink manufacturer’s official YouTube channel and now has more than 34 million views. In addition to creating out-of-this-world virality for Red Bull, Baumgartner and Red Bull showed marketers how to take their campaigns to new, daring heights. At the Adobe Summit 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Baumgartner described himself as a “risk manager” and said he was able to complete his mission because he had straight vision and the right team—two essential components of marketing. He also advised the summit audience to focus on meeting specific goals instead of worrying about how to tackle the overall big picture. “You cannot look at the big picture, because it’s overwhelming,” Baumgartner said. The jump also showed that Red Bull Stratos is a shining star when it comes to content marketing. Red Bull not only updated its Facebook page with articles, photos, and videos leading up to the jump, but also has continued to post content after the jump. The brand now has more than 38.7 million likes.

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Prognosticator:
Laura McLellan, Research VP, Gartner Inc.

Quick: Which prediction appeared on the most PowerPoint slide decks in 2012? Try this: “By 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs.” This conclusion, much beloved by marketing technology vendors worldwide, originates from research presented by Gartner Research VP Laura McLellan, a 16-year veteran of the research firm. As part of the Gartner for Marketing Leaders team, McLellan serves CMOs and other marketing executives, sharing how digital strategies are being integrated with traditional marketing. With an extensive background in marketing and information technology services, she works to help CMOs understand how companies are using digital marketing technology and marketing services to improve business results. She joined Gartner in 1996 after 20 years in the IT services industry, where she worked in IT services strategic planning, marketing, sales, and services business management.

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Social scene-stealer:
Pinterest

Debuting in 2010, Pinterest introduced online socialites to a whole new dialect with the terms pin, repin, and pinboard. And despite the website’s young age, Pinterest is one of the fastest growing networks on the social scene. According to Nielsen’s “2012 State of the Media: The Social Media Report,” Pinterest’s number of unique U.S. desktop visitors skyrocketed 1,047% from 2011 to 2012. In addition, these consumers spent more than 1.2 billion minutes on Pinterest via their desktops, approximately 721 million minutes via mobile apps, and more than 120 million minutes via the mobile Web. Brands can attach (or “pin”) content on their branded Pinterest pages to attract users and direct them to their e-commerce websites—making the image-sharing website a vital source of referral traffic and a content marketer’s best friend. Additionally, marketers can use Pinterest Analytics to determine which images are getting the most pins. Pinterest also recently introduced Rich Pins, which allow brands to include details for product, movie, and recipe pins including pricing, availability, and ratings. Before cofounding Pinterest, Ben Silbermann worked on AdSense at Google, and Evan Sharp served as a product designer at Facebook. (Cofounder Paul Sciarra left Pinterest in 2012.)

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Gaming phenom:
Candy Crush Saga

In the decade that King.com has been providing arcade-style games on its website, it has paid the bills by selling advertising. In June, however, the company announced it was out of the ad game. It had found a way to mint money—with actual mints. Its Candy Crush Saga game proved to be more addictive than chocolate, and the company pushes Crush junkies onto higher levels, often attained with the purchase of extra lives for real cash money. With 45 million monthly active Candy Crush users on board, according to AppData, it’s good to be King.com.

In the six months since the game was made available on iOS, Candy Crush attained true phenom status. It surpassed Farmville 2 as the most downloaded game. A bogus trailer for a nonexistent Candy Crush movie registered 2.8 million views on YouTube in less than a week. The game is logging in excess of 25 billion plays a month—even more than Angry Birds.

Like most overnight sensations, the game is accessible. You can learn to play it in seconds and jump in and out of games to fill time waiting on checkout lines or in the doctor’s office. Eschewing the promotional route used by mega games such as Angry Birds—which hitchhiked on Windows 8 advertising—the company released its own slate of Candy Crush TV ads in June. Let the merchandising begin.

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YouTube sensation:
Gangnam Style

Gangnam Style, a pop song-and-dance craze by South Korean artist PSY, spread like wildfire last year. The music video was posted on PSY’s official YouTube channel on July 15, 2012 and has since earned more than 1.6 billion views and more than seven million likes. In addition to generating more views than most brands can even dream of, Gangnam Style proved to be timely and culturally relevant, as demonstrated by the vast number of Gangnam Style parodies. For example, Mitt Romney Style and Obama Gangnam Style were both released on YouTube months before the 2012 presidential election and generated almost 48 million and 15 million views, respectively. Notable brands also caught the Gangnam Style fever. On September 15, 2012, Intel posted a picture of a toy Intel employee doing the signature Gangnam Style dance move on the company’s Facebook page. The post generated more than 500,000 likes and more than 41,000 shares. With adults between the ages of 18 and 24 watching Internet videos for more than two hours a week, according to “State of the Media: The Nielsen Cross-Platform Report Q3 2012,” video content can be a powerful way to get a brand in front of young consumers.

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Real-time reveler:
Oreo

The Baltimore Ravens weren’t the only winners from last year’s Super Bowl. When the Superdome lights turned off, Oreo’s creativity switch flipped on. Within minutes, Oreo’s digital marketing agency 360i tweeted an image of America’s favorite cookie along with the words: “You can still dunk in the dark.” The tweet generated more than 10,000 retweets, more than 18,000 likes, and more than 5,000 shares within the first hour alone, according to 360i. Shankar Gupta, director of social marketing strategy at 360i, attributes the agency’s success to Oreo’s two Super Bowl commercials (not run by 360i), the brand’s build up of culturally relevant content on Facebook and Twitter within the past six months (such as with the Daily Twist campaign), and the ability to get its content out quickly. “Brands can generate a tremendous amount of earned media value by being timely, relevant, and entertaining,” Gupta says. “Creating content around up-to-the-minute happenings is something that consumers have been doing ever since Twitter launched—and until recently, brands have moved too slow to get into the act. But if you can set up your brand and your agency to take advantage of this white space, you can reap enormous benefits.”

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Coveted influencers:
Brand advocates

When Nielsen asked 28,000 consumers worldwide what product and service recommendations they most implicitly trusted, 92% said those from people they know. Among corporate-sponsored media choices, only websites and opt-in emails won the approval of 50% or more. “Personal recommendations are the number one or two influencers in nearly every category, from cars to computers, from fitness memberships to fish tacos,” says Rob Fuggetta, author of Brand Advocates. “Brands belong to brand advocates now, not to marketers. They have the power to build or destroy brands.” Not surprisingly, in a recent study by Fuggetta’s Zuberance agency, 65% of marketers identified advocates as “very important” in 2012 and 79% said they would be even more important in 2013.

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Multichannel master:
Nike+ FuelBand

Nike brought its customer experience “A” game by incorporating data into a multiscreen experience with the Nike+ FuelBand. The FuelBand, which was unveiled in January 2012, allows users to set their own performance goals, track their daily activities, and share their achievements with friends. The FuelBand tracks four common metrics: time, calories, steps, and NikeFuel (a calculation of physical activity) to give FuelBand wearers a unified way to compare their performances. FuelBand users can synch their data into the Nike+ mobile app and check their performance progression over time. Athletes can also get a deeper dive into whether they’re meeting their performance goals via a desktop interface that lets them share and compare their performance stats with their friends. This multiscreen experience reinforces the idea that brands need to be where the customers are at all times—whether they’re stationary or on the go. The brand also designed the band with the active consumer in mind, creating a snug, light fit for the athletes and building a chargeable USB cord into the band for easy charging. Any brand that recognizes the importance of pairing convenience with data is a true winner.

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Direct advocate:
Linda Woolley, President and CEO, DMA

Every industry needs an advocate. Direct marketers have Linda Woolley. Last year when a group of congressmen called out nine third-party data providers for collecting information on minors, Woolley sent a letter to lawmakers reminding them that unnecessary restrictions on marketers could hurt job growth. Later in the year the FTC ordered nine “data brokers” to supply information on their operations; Woolley challenged the agency’s effort to color the term as a pejorative.

“The whole data-driven marketing industry is under assault in a big way,” Woolley says. “You mostly hear about Do Not Track, but there are people in high-ranking [government] positions who want to stop the flow of all data—births and deaths, home sales, college records. If that happens, it can set us back decades.”

American enterprise is in denial, says Woolley, about the potential of legislators and privacy activists’ moves to block marketers’ use of data. By way of example, she mentions Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who has made government control of data a priority of his tenure as president of the National Association of Attorneys General. “When you tell this to people in the C-suite, they look at you and say, ‘You can’t possibly mean that. That’s like saying get rid of all cars.’” Woolley says, adding, “Exactly.”

Data defender:
FTC Chairwoman, Edith Ramirez

Under departed Chairman Jon Leibowitz, the Federal Trade Commission pursued a Do Not Track (DNT) policy and called out the “data brokers” who use customer data to finely tune marketing appeals. The pressure on data-driven marketers is not likely to subside under his successor, Edith Ramirez, who took control of the agency in March. A Harvard Law–trained litigator who specialized in false advertising, unfair competition, and intellectual property cases in private practice in Los Angeles, Ramirez took a special interest in consumer privacy issues during two years as an FTC commissioner.

Marketers in the United States cower from talk of synching with the EU’s e-Privacy Directive, which requires companies to erase customer data after initial use. Yet, Ramirez appears to favor international standards for data retention. She was a major proponent of the FTC being named the privacy enforcement authority of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC) cross-border privacy rules shared by nations including Chile, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, and Russia, among others.

In her first public address as chairwoman to an audience of business leaders, Ramirez opined that a DNT policy should be guided by advertisers and consumer advocates. Members of the Digital Advertising Alliance would argue that they have made such a policy unnecessary, but perhaps they can put hope in another comment made by Ramirez that night. “I feel that we’ve used…authority very judiciously,” she said, “and I want to see us continue to do that.”

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Transformer:
USPS’s Gary Reblin

“When I think of commercial mailers, I think that we have to put ourselves in a mode that looks at them as competitive customers,” says Gary Reblin, VP of new products and innovation at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). “We have to make sure the product we’re offering is giving them return on investment.”

Reblin’s department has been tenacious in seeking new ways to add value to business mailers large and small, with such programs as Every Door Direct Mail, QR codes on mailings, and Simple Samples. He is steadfast in his conviction that, even in an increasingly digital world, the mail is the marketer’s best friend. “I think it’s one of the few avenues for a truly effective push strategy. Being in people’s homes every day and putting something into their hands that can help them make a decision is still unique in the marketplace,” says Reblin, who joined the USPS’s engineering group in 1991, helped develop the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb), and later served as VP of shipping services. “You can go right to customers you know have an interest in your products and services instead of hoping they find you searching online.”

Still, Reblin recognizes the powerful place assumed by digital technology in the marketplace. “QR codes are just a very basic beginning of how a direct mail message can integrate with digital to deliver better customer experiences,” he says. “My job is to work with the industry to integrate mail into new technology and create a win for the mailer.”

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Opposition attractors:
Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks
Dan Cathy, President and COO, Chick-fil-A

They say politics, religion, and sex are three topics one should never discuss at the dinner table. In most cases, brands tend to follow this etiquette to avoid ruffling any feathers. But when brands choose a side of the political fence, media frenzy and even changes in sales ensue.

For example, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz received applause after he announced the company’s support for same-sex marriage at the brand’s 2013 annual shareholders meeting. This announcement followed the National Organization for Marriage’s 2012 “Dump Starbucks” boycott, which took place after Starbucks declared its support for marriage equality legislation in January 2012. Despite the boycott, Starbucks experienced 14% revenue growth and 38% total shareholder return in 2012.

On the flip side, Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy told The Biblical Recorder last July that the brand supports “the biblical definition of family unit.” Despite the negative consumer responses that followed, brand advocates helped the chicken-centered brand reach $4.6 billion in system-wide sales in 2012, far exceeding the $4 billion in annual sales the company had accumulated in 2011.

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Postal reformers:
U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (pictured) and Elijah Cummings

When Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) promised an assemblage of postal industry insiders a new USPS reform bill this summer, he pegged his optimism on the fact that he had engaged in promising discussions with U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the legislators who will guide what provisions will be in the bill put before the House after Senate approval.

The philosophically divergent chairman (Issa) and ranking member (Cummings) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have been on opposing sides of the issue over what the USPS should be in the future: free-market enterprise or federal job-creation machine?

After the USPS’s Board of Governors reversed Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s decision to move to a five-day mail delivery schedule, free-market roughrider Issa came out with guns blazing. Criticizing the board for undercutting “the credibility of postal officials,” Issa added, “While I will continue to work on comprehensive postal reform legislation that can pass both the House and Senate, this reversal will clearly be a setback to such efforts.”

Staunch labor advocate Cummings, meanwhile, went on MSNBC to make an appeal for the preservation of decent-paying middle class jobs. Noting that eliminating one mail delivery day could eliminate up to 30,000 jobs, Cummings said that “easily 40% of them would be African–Americans, Hispanics, and Asian–Americans” and that “40% of postal employees are female and warned that many are single mothers.”

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