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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

IdeaBar: The Retired Social Media Marketing Example List

I've been speaking at a lot of events lately, and several focus on similar topics in social media or interactive marketing. One of the consistent problems with speaking at events like this is that there is a danger of using or hearing the same examples and stories over and over. As my volume of speaking increases, this is one of my big concerns ... that people will opt out of coming to hear me speak because they feel like they've heard my point of view before. The other problem, of course, is that nothing makes you look worse that sitting up on on stage talking about an example that everyone has heard a million times before.

What if there could be a central list of interactive marketing or social media campaigns that were so overused we could retire them? Once a campaign or product makes it onto this list, the idea is that speakers would voluntarily avoid mentioning it, treat it as a cliche and think of other examples to use in their presentations.  The only exception to this rule would be if you actually worked on one of the retired examples personally.

I'm starting with five examples, and looking for more from you. If you have one, leave a comment and I'll keep updating this post. And if you disagree with one, say so and maybe we'll get it off the list. My aim with this list is to get us all (and especially anyone who will be speaking at an event in the near future) to think more deeply about examples to support what we are talking about and not use the same obvious examples over and over.  To that end, if you are about to speak at a conference, check this list and if you are moderating a panel, be sure to pass this list on to your panelists. Let's all aim to be smarter and more original.  The end result won't just be better discussions, but better events too.

About the Idea Bar: Working in a creative team, the life of our business is new ideas.  We come up with them every day for clients, but sometimes there are ideas that just don't fit a client.  They are too big, too different, or just not quite right. Inspired by John at Digital Influence Mapping Project, the IdeaBar is a category of posts that are meant to be "open source" and offer new ideas for marketing.  Take them and use them ... all I ask for is a link back to this post if you find these ideas useful and talk about them.  Read more IdeaBar posts on this blog.


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Great idea and thank you. Is it too soon to put Twitter examples from ComcastCares and Zappos on the list?

Hi Rohit - funny, I told Armano we should do a post with graphic about this late last year. I agree on "retirement" - but only by those who don't know how to use them properly. For the cases in point, any good presenter should be able to speak to ROI and lessons learned AND share perspective from the principals, not from second-hand reading.

To add to the list that should be used judiciously: Office Max's Elf Yourself and Comcast Sleeping Technician. I think that ComcastCares is still a great example - where's a more advanced use of microblogging for customer service?

Rohit -- I think it depends on the audience. I talk to a lot of marketers who might have heard of Will It Blend and have caught wind of Twitter, but don't know the details of these examples, or others you list above.

And to further this a little... any branding talk mentioning Starbucks or Apple should be on your list, too!


You are absolutely right. Time at conferences is so precious- think about the fact that 100+ highly paid professionals are listening to you. At $10K+ per minute they deserve better.

Also if the Social Media Mavens can't come up with anything new to demonstrate it's/their effectiveness then SM isn't that effective.


@Ann - I think whats interesting about talking about Starbucks and Apple today is that one has really begun to slip (Starbucks) while one continues, not just as a strong brand, but to continually become stronger (Apple). I suppose it depends on how you approach the issue.

@Lindy - These are good examples, I'm adding them now.

@Peter - Great point about the importance of the messenger. The problem in many cases I think is that the people "presenting" these examples are just using them as bookends without any real firsthand knowledge or research. You're in the unique role of being used to justifying your opinions. Many marketers speaking at these events aren't (but should be).

@Ann - I suspected that someone might raise this issue, about the assumption of knowledge. Actually, I have been at one or two events where people haven't seen examples that I consider as common as the Comcast technician sleeping video. So I know you're right. I think perhaps the solution is what Peter touched on in his comment, that all the examples on this list shouldn't necessarily be "retired" but rather used judiciously and specifically with more insight and background.

@Chris - You're spot on about the importance of being more original at these events that people are spending their meager event budgets on and precious time to attend. As speakers at these events, we owe them more deliberate and considered examples. Of course, if one of the ones on the list is simply the best or only one to make the case (like Peter notes, few other Twitter customer service examples can rival ComcastCares at the moment), then perhaps it is ok. But in many cases it just takes a bit more time and effort to find other more unique examples. I've had to do it when I was researching my book, and its a bit harder work, but much more rewarding at the end (and has the added bonus of making you look a lot smarter to conference attendees too).

@Josh - Good points about both brands. I think for now it may be too broad to include brands completely without referencing particular campaigns on this list, so I'll hold off on that unless other commenters feel strongly that they should be included.

rohit, speaking for one of the companies on your list, we would LOVE to be retired from it! Unfortunately, every time a speaker at a social media conference mentions us as an example, for his or her own purposes, our brand gets a fresh new bruise. we learned volumes from that experience about new media and dialoguing with the public; now we'd like to use these new tools without references to an event that was years ago. Feel free to scratch us from your lecture topics list and thanks for being so astute about this topic.

I still like to talk about Subservient Chicken because it was THE campaign that caused Dell to assign me to "viral marketing". I go on to explain that its also the reason why learned about the world of WOM far beyond viral video.

On another note, are we ready to say goodbye to Diet Coke/Mentos?

Great concept. I agree with commenters above who suggest that the necessity of retiring these examples depends on the audience, though.

Also, I disagree with the addition of the Dell Hell/Jarvis example, only because of its ongoing nature. Dell has turned its Hell around and is showing impressive improvement. The story doesn't end with "one blogger can ruin a CEO's day/week/year..."

This may be a little off course, but I would say any social media mention of Proctor and Gamble's Innovation Model should be retired. It's a little off topic because it is not about marketing directly, but it definitely fits into the social media realm of overused examples. I have seen it in at least three books on the topic (including Groundswell).

I think a fairly recent and applicable example would be the viral campaign for Warner Bros. The Dark Knight.

The campaign itself is meticulous in detail and expansive in reach - there are countless websites for "services" run by the Joker, ranging from a travel agency, to cab services and more. The best part about these sites is that they engender incredible user experiences.

The marketing agency that developed this campaign focused on interfacing the digital and physical world - in my opinion the reason why this effort was so successful (besides Heath Ledger's untimely death).

For those willing to invest the time and effort locating and exploring these viral portals, the sites offer directions to real life destinations chock full of tangible rewards (as odd as they may be).

For more information, see this website, which has tracked the campaign since its launch:

Dark Knight Viral Campaign

I think it really depends on the audience.

If you're talking to marketers savvy about social media, then yes, you need to think of some newer, more interesting examples to illustrate what you're talking about.

I'm at an event now where most marketers have never heard of Twitter, aren't on Facebook or MySpace, and don't knowingly read blogs. They probably haven't heard of Will It Blend and its ilk, and if they have, then it's a great starting point to try to hook them in.

Or you could invent a drinking game like "Bob" or the "Jakob Nielsen Drinking Game" around the banned cases.

I would say if you are at an interactive marketing or social media conference then yes avoid these examples.

On the flip side, I can't say how many times I've had to explain the full story behind Elf Yourself or viral videos. For example many clients bring up viral videos but don't understand how many videos are being uploaded to YouTube each hour. They also aren't aware of the numerous sites/experiences Office Max launched.

I guess if you're dealing with "integrated marketers" who have a background in traditional it's important to explain how some of these brands found success.

That was one thing I appreciated about Groundswell, it took me back to the Dove Evolution video but it talked about how several smaller wins led up what was a real break through.

I couldn't agree more - unless you have detailed inside information about what has happened since . . . (dell hell, subservient chicken, etc.) then find an example in which you have a personal stake or involvement and tell the story.


Here is a great new SM example from Goodby (from the AAAA conference in Miami this week.)


how about facebook group forcing hsbc to backdown over free student overdrafts...

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