Goofy campaign, or genius marketing strategy?

On a recent drive through northern Virginia back to Philadelphia, I heard a PSA on the radio (somewhere around Fredericksburg, Va.) that caught my attention. This particular announcement was voiced by children who seemed very concerned about the fate of the blue crabs of the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay. Little Johnny and Little Jane were describing the plight of the blue crabs, who apparently are choking and suffocating on fertilizers that wind up in runoff water that channels into the river and eventually the bay.

fightcruelty-theme-donatead-020614Now, I’m a pretty soft touch when it comes to animals and the environment. Do NOT play a Sarah McLaughlin song around me if you don’t want me to immediately weep at the images of beaten and abused dogs and cats that have been permanently impressed into my gray matter through the ASPCA ad campaigns. If you don’t tear up at those images, I can only assume you have a heart of stone. It’s easy to be sympathetic to soft, cuddly animals like cats and dogs, but I also have a great concern for wildlife too. After all, I work at an arboretum and preserving nature and its living systems is part of our mission. However, I never thought before about a blue crab suffering at the bottom of a river, suffocating on toxins that we have shamelessly infused into their ecosystems. And Little Johnny had me ready to stop along the Chesapeake Bay and start dumping what was left of my bottle of water into their little habitats, if only to help diffuse the chemicals. That it was something so ludicrous and so obviously ineffective didn’t matter–I HAD to take action! Little Johnny and the crabs needed my help!

Then Little Johnny stopped me in mid-fantasy of starting my own blue crab shelter and preserve when he got to the end of his call to action and hit the campaign’s tagline: No crab should die suffocating in oxygen depleted water. It should be steamed and eaten with Old Bay and melted butter.”

Wait. What?

Did Little Johnny and Little Jane just decry the horrific suffocating fate of blue crabs only to advocate them being steamed alive and eaten? Well, in short, yes they did.

studentsForget that I’m not much of a fan of seafood. The announcement made me laugh aloud as I thought about how silly it was to try to save the crabs from one fate, only to subject them to another man-made end. It stuck with me all the way home, how silly these kids sounded and how the marketers obviously used children for a good old tug on the heartstrings–“Oh how wonderful we are! Little Johnny and Little Jane are growing up to be an environmentally-friendly generation. Let’s all pat ourselves on the back.” I started to resent being subjected to–and in fact, pulled in by–the campaign. Didn’t they understand how hypocritical they sounded? I decided this was definitely fodder for a blog post.

But then something happened. I kept thinking about the PSA. And really, isn’t that what a good campaign strives for? To keep you thinking about something long enough to be converted into taking action? I no longer feel the need to start my own crab preserve, but I can say that after more than a week after hearing one single PSA on the radio, this is a good communication effort. Let’s break it down:

  • The campaign is targeted. Obviously, I never heard this PSA outside of the Rappahannock River/Chesapeake Bay area. The people there are very familiar with the crabs, apparently enjoy eating them, and some of those people’s livelihoods actually depend on the crab season.
  • While it may seem a little gimmicky to have kids deliver the message, I can say that the change from adults on paid radio advertisements to the sounds of children’s voices effectively cut through my highway hypnosis (an amazing feat in itself) and made me listen. And you know what? It DOES point to a more ecologically- and environmentally-friendly generation, a generation that is making toxin-free food sources a priority.
  • It is a coordinated effort. From ads to t-shirts to community partners to a robust website to Facebook to a logo and a “Skip the Fertilizer” slogan AND a documentary, this campaign is hitting all the right notes in a concerted way.


Because this PSA was nagging at me, I decided to Google it and see if there was a website. Sure enough, it was not hard to find and was full of information that was laid out in an easy to navigate. The copy is easy to understand and avoids jargon. And instead of just demonizing the use of fertilizer (I’m an organic kind of girl myself, but this is communications–try to move people into a latitude of acceptance, right?), it offers alternatives to spring fertilizing and even has tips for fertilizing better for your garden and the larger environment. For crying out loud, they even have crab recipes on there. When I checked out the Facebook site, I was surprised to find photos and events and LOTS of user comments and engagement. To my amazement, I even found out that students from Richmond County Public Schools are the kids that are providing the voice over talents for the PSA’s.

Wet my plantsSo basically, I have backtracked my stance on this campaign from one of ludicrous hypocrisy, to one of great job on a regional issue. In a way, it reminds me of the Rhett and Link commercials for local businesses. At first look/listen, I thought, “Wow, how could anyone think this is going to attract business?” But when I thought about it some more, those ads are GENIUS in the way they play on stereotypes rampant in locally produced commercials and make them so memorable, that you want to find the business behind the commercial just to meet the people who have such a great sense of humor. Don’t believe me? Check out the Red House Furniture commercial and then try to tear yourself away from watching more Rhett and Link local commercials. This is the crux of today’s issue–create a campaign that, just like melted butter seeping into fresh crab meat, lingers in your audience’s mind enough to make them seek out additional information. That’s when conversions will happen.

More than just a box

madmen-logoI’ve gotten on the Mad Men train and have been powering through the reruns to get caught up. Despite Don Draper’s condescension of public relations in comparison to his chosen profession of advertising, I’ve developed a true love for this show, its complicated layers, well-written characters and plot arcs (check it out!).

barbie2Anyway, during this process, I ran across an episode where the 10-year-old daughter of the main character received a gift from her mother, who claimed it was from Sally’s newborn baby brother, to help her feel more at ease with the new addition to the family. When Betty Draper pulled the gift-wrapped long, rectangular box out from under a pillow, I immediately knew the contents of the box. I caught myself saying out loud, “It’s a Barbie.” When Sally unwrapped it, she found that she was indeed the owner of a new Barbie doll.

barbiesThere are some brand images that go beyond logos, color palettes and fonts. Barbie is definitely one of them. The simple size and shape of the box was all I needed to see to think back to my own girlhood years and the countless Christmas and birthday gifts I received in boxes exactly like the one Sally received. What I think is most fascinating is the fact that this episode of a fictional television show took place around 1964. I started collecting Barbies roughly 20 years later, and even though the colors and design–even Barbie herself–went through several revisions, the size and shape of that box never changed. Go to any WalMart or Target toy aisle, and there you will find Barbie, another 20+ years later, nestled in the same style box that she started in. I wasn’t even alive in 1964, but all I had to do was see that tidily wrapped box to start thinking back fondly to my own childhood and the various adventures I would invent for Barbie and her friends.

tiffany-boxThink of a box from Tiffany’s. The size and shape of the box might vary depending on what gift is inside, but the Tiffany blue, the texture of the box, the little white ribbon…it’s all enough to make a girl’s heart skip a beat and know that someone thinks she is special enough to give the very best. The gift inside is icing on the cake, but the fact that it came from Tiffany’s…well, that sets it apart as special and elite.

Happy-Meal-Box1Sometimes packaging is just as important as the graphics and tag lines on the box and is inseparable from the contents of the package. When I took my nephew to McDonald’s years ago and discovered for the first time that the Happy Meal no longer came in the cardboard box with the little golden arches handles and activities on the sides, I admit I was disappointed. It contained the same food, the same kind of novelty toy for him to enjoy, and it even had activities printed on the paper bag, but it just wasn’t the same. His mean looked very similar to my meal, which also came in a paper bag. It felt as though it was no longer special, even though my nephew never knew the difference.

These examples are all of very iconic products, but I think recognizable packaging had a part in making their product images iconic. Updates and redesigns are nice when attempting to evolve with the times, but know what sentiments your customers might have for different aspects of your product–even something as simple as the box it comes in.

I don’t know if the flirtation with the paper bag was only at that particular McDonald’s location or if it was only for a brief time, but I’m happy to report that the Happy Meal box is back. In fact, check this out to see proposed plans for a Happy Meal box that promotes childhood literacy.

Communicating value in service-oriented businesses, Part 3: Convincing your clients to pay higher prices

Ok, here we are, finally in the promised land of the last installment of this case study series. Here are the important points from Part 2:

  • Perception of value is usually very subjective
  • Ultimately, value communication exists to raise customers’ willingness to pay for the value they perceive.  It is important to determine the type of benefits buyers are seeking from a purchase.  Are they looking primarily for economic benefit, i.e. the lowest cost?  Or are they looking for psychological benefits such as comfort, status, appearance, pleasure, or personal fulfillment?
  • One of the most effective ways to communicate value to psychological benefit seekers is by reframing the way the customer views the product or service differentiation, not in terms of the product’s immediate attribute performance, but in terms of a possible end-benefit
  • If customers believe they are getting value for money, they will remain loyal despite price increases

LedZeppelin1973_GruenNow, I’m going to discuss a bit of persuasive theory, but don’t shut down just because it is theory-based. I find that soothing music is my spoon full of sugar for the theory tonic. Right now I’m listening to “That’s the Way” by Led Zeppelin…I highly recommend this soundtrack for your reading/listening pleasure. Besides, this theory is pretty common sense. Here we go…

Many times, customers can be quite difficult when dealing with increases in costs charged to them.  As Sherif, Sherif, and Hovland put it, social judgment theory addresses why people can be challenging in these communications and offers a common sense approach to persuasion.  This theory classifies attitudes along a continuum (Baldwin, Perry and Moffitt, 2004).  Social judgment theory consists of five key principles:

  1. People have categories of judgment by which they evaluate persuasive positions and each of these positions has three zones—the latitude of acceptance, the latitude of non-commitment, and the latitude of rejection.  Before a persuasive argument is even made, each person has their own anchor position, or the most acceptable position for that judgment theory
  2. When we receive persuasive content, we determine which category a given position belongs in.  People do not passively take in information; rather, they make judgments.  Naturally, it is easier to influence a person with a larger latitude of acceptance than a larger latitude of rejection.
  3. A person’s level of ego-involvement, i.e. how important an issue is to a person’s self-identity, affects the sizes of their latitudes.
  4. Outside the latitude of accpetance
    Outside the latitude of accpetance

    People tend to distort incoming information to fit our categories of judgment depending on the anchor position.  If incoming persuasive information falls within the latitude of acceptance and is close to the anchor position, then people assimilate to the new position.  Conversely, if it falls outside the latitude of acceptance, then people will contrast that position and make it seem worse than it really is.

  5. Small to moderate discrepancies between anchor positions and the new advocated position will lead to change; large discrepancies will not.  Thus, change is likely to be small and difficult to obtain and will most likely occur slowly over a long period of time (retrieved from  Social judgment theory suggests that “major change will not occur within a single message, but that a campaign of several messages, even over a long period of time, might be more helpful” (Baldwin, Perry, and Moffitt, 2004, p. 147).

If the persuasive argument is to raise prices on existing products and services to reflect the intangible value of said products and services, then a probable anchor would be a customer’s reference price.  Reference prices are any price set against which other observed prices are evaluated.  Reference prices can be internal, contained only in the memory of the consumer, or may be external, determined by market stimuli (such as suggested retail prices) (Chapter 8 PowerPoint, Nova Southeastern University).  As pointed out earlier, many consumers do not draw the connection between intangible services and value pricing, so their expectations of pricing based on reference prices may be much lower than what the cost of services actually is.

In their 2004 article, Xia, Monroe, and Cox discuss perceptions of price fairness.  They warn that perceptions of price unfairness can lead to repercussions for the seller, including losing clients, a spread of negative information, or other behaviors that might damage the seller’s reputation (Xia, Monroe, and Cox, 2004).  The photography industry relies heavily on word-of-mouth referrals, regardless of specialty niche for the photographer.  Avoiding perceptions of price unfairness, especially during the somewhat difficult task of raising prices for existing customers, must be avoided.  This concept of price fairness is a judgment based in comparisons and typically notions of unfairness are clearer, sharper, and more concrete than feelings of fairness because it can be harder to articulate what “feels” fair (Xia, Monroe, and Cox, 2004).

crossed fingers at handshakeA correlation between perceived price fairness and social judgment theory can be drawn. “For price comparison, when the degree of similarity between comparative transactions is relatively high, buyers have little differential information to explain a price discrepancy.  The assimilation effect leads consumers to expect or believe that they are entitled to equal prices, and they are likely to judge that the price discrepancy is unfair” (Xia, Monroe, and Cox, 2004, p.4).  Because the new price (the persuasive argument) is so close to the reference price (the anchor), the client is likely to think they are being treated unfairly and persuasion does not occur.  One can deduce from this that while it is suggested that prices be raised incrementally over time, price changes that are too small and too close to the existing price will not accurately demonstrate the value of the service and will be rejected.  The authors also found that price increases that resulted from managerial influence rather than external factors are perceived to be less fair.  Trust and id

entification between the seller and the buyer also play important roles in perceived fairness of price increases.  Behavioral reactions to perceived price unfairness include no action, self-protection, and revenge and each of these buyer behaviors should be avoided when attempting to communicate price increases (Xia, Monroe, and Cox, 2004). This can be accomplished by communicating within the principles of social judgment theory.

So what was the point of all of this?

costomer loyalty crosswordAs researchers have suggested, multiple price increase campaigns over a long course of time would work best to adjust clients’ attitudes toward new prices.  By communicating within their latitudes of acceptance or latitude of non-commitment, Derek Brad Photography will be more effective in increasing prices without sacrificing client relationships.  As trust and identification are gained between Derek (the seller) and his B2B and B2C customers (the buyers), it is hypothesized that customer loyalty will win over future incremental price increases.

The bottom line:

Because social judgment theory recommends multiple price increases over a long period of time, unfortunately I was unable to get conclusive results during the six-month period of this internship. It would be necessary to do a longitudinal study on Derek Brad Photography to test this hypothesis. However, Derek did proceed with PR tactics based in value communication and has seen increased profits while being able to concentrate more on projects that truly interest him (and pay more), rather than multiple concurrent time-consuming assignments for little to no pay. His reputation as a professional as well as his mission statement have been reinforced by charging prices commensurate with the value he feels his services are worth.

I feel that the culmination of research from this case study and an extended study of the use of social judgment theory in practice with Derek Brad Photography could possibly be used as a model for other small service-oriented businesses.

As always, be sure to subscribe to this blog or check back later for the next installment. We’ll be taking a much-deserved break from the academic stuff and getting back to communication trends, tips, and pitfalls to avoid. You can also follow me on Twitter @laurakate79 or like me on Facebook to join the conversation and get updates. And as if that wasn’t enough, you can also follow me on Google+ and LinkedIn.

One last thank you to Derek Brad of Derek Brad Photography for his cooperation during this case study. If you need a creative and reliable professional photographer, I recommend this guy 100%. Check out more of his work at

Passion Pit at the Electric Factory. Photo by Derek Brad.
Passion Pit at the Electric Factory. Photo by Derek Brad.
of Montreal
Of Montreal. Photo by Derek Brad.
William Control
William Control album cover. Photo by Derek Brad.
Gary Clark, Jr. Photo by Derek Brad.
Gary Clark, Jr. Photo by Derek Brad.

Sigur Ros at the Skyline Stage. Photo by Derek Brad.
Sigur Ros at the Skyline Stage. Photo by Derek Brad.
Lindsey Stirling. Photo by Derek Brad.
Lindsey Stirling. Photo by Derek Brad.