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CVS makes big move, ditches tobacco products February 21, 2014

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CVS shocked the business world in February 2014 after announcing that it was getting rid of tobacco products in its stores. The company’s CEO called the decision “the right thing for us to do for our customers to help people o their path to better health.” Tobacco products make up about $2 billion of the company’s revenue, so it seems like a risky decision. However, with CVS entering the medical services trade, selling such products became inconsistent with its new image. As NPR’s Yuki Noguchi told Morning Edition, CVS is moving in the direction of the new pharmacy:

“Drug stores aren’t just filling prescriptions these days. A lot of drug stores are marketing themselves as wellness centers, and many, including CVS, are running health care centers and partnering with hospitals. So the company has come to the conclusion that selling cigarettes conflicts with these changes.”

Indeed, CVS Caremark CEO Larry Merlo admitted,”This decision is about much more than that. It’s about where we’re headed as an organization, where we expect to be in the future as a health care company.”

While CVS is winning praise from even President Obama for its latest announcement, critics are claiming that it should only be the first step in cleaning up its stores. According to Derrick Jackson of The Boston Globe:

“If CVS truly cares about all the sources of diabetes and other preventable diseases, soda should be the next target. Two days before Brennan’s op-ed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the most dramatic findings yet linking high sugar consumption to heart disease. The WHO and the American Heart Association recommend that less than 10 percent of a person’s daily calories should come from the added sugars found in processed foods, snacks, and beverages. But 71 percent of Americans exceed that figure.”

For more on the big move by CVS, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How was CVS’s decision to get rid of tobacco products a clear PR move?

2.  Can CVS be consistent with its new “healthy” image and still continue to offer the basics to its customers?

3.  What else would CVS have to eliminate from its stores to be completely consistent with its new message?

An anti-abuse campaign designed for kids February 16, 2014

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A Spanish organization called the Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk Foundation (ANAR) has designed an anti-abuse campaign uniquely designed for kids. A billboard ad was displayed in public showing different messages from different angles. For an adult, or anyone over four-and-a-half feet tall, the ad shows a sad child with the message, “sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” When a child sees the ad, though, they see the same kid with bruises on his face and a different message that reads (along with a phone number), “if somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you.” The ad was widely praised for its creativity, but some experts question whether the technique could eventually be abused to target kids with advertising invisible to adults.

For more on this story, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Are there ethical concerns involved in targeting kids with advertising that cannot be seen by adults? Why, or why not?

2.  How else could this innovative approach be used beneficially for PSA’s? What kinds of messages could alternatively target adults (assuming that kids could not see them)?

The amazing ad blitz for Anchorman 2 December 30, 2013

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Anchorman 2 has been rolled out with an advertising campaign rarely seen in the marketing world. Will Ferrell, the actor who plays the misogynistic news anchor, kicked off the campaign with an announcement in early 2013 on Conan O’Brien’s night show, that a sequel was in the works. As NPR described recently, the official blitz has featured a Ben & Jerry’s flavor, an exhibit at the national Newseum, several car commercials, an event at Emerson College marking the school’s renaming its communication department after the character for a day, and appearances on news programs across the country.

Why the massive ad blitz? As the Christian Science Monitor‘s Schuyler Velasco explained, the film’s target demographic is younger males. Because such young audiences don’t watch programming where traditional advertising works best, the alternative is to generate buzz that will make certain ads and appearances go viral. It’s little surprise that someone as skilled as Ferrell could help pull this off.

For more on Ferrell’s many appearances for Anchorman 2‘s marketing, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Which of Ferrell’s latest appearances for Anchorman 2  have you heard about?

2.  How does the ad campaign described here differ from traditional ad campaigns? Why is it employed?

3.  How has media demassification led to a need for more creative ad campaigns?

Dumb comments hurt good companies? Learning from Lululemon December 22, 2013

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Want evidence that PR matters? Ask Lululemon’s executives. The women’s clothing line was quickly becoming a corporate giant, until it hit some snags in 2013. First, there was a problem when the company’s $100 yoga pants were discovered to be see through. The company issued a recall, but failed to really fix the problem. Second, company executive Chip Wilson issued a really dumb statement not long after the mini-crisis, claiming that the pants “don’t work for some women’s bodies. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it.” Wilson’s comment was perceived as blaming fat customers for their problems, and according to the company’s Chief Financial Officer John Currie, it “undoubtedly” hurt sales.”

How bad did Lululemon get hurt by this bad PR? The company recently announced that sales in its fourth quarter would be flat, and shares fell 11 percent after the news. According to The Huffington Post, one marketing research firm also found that women’s perception of the brand dipped four times in 2013, and leaves the company in a tough spot as the new year comes.

For more, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How could Lululemon have dealt with its bad PR in a better way?

2.  What kind of message does Lululemon need to craft to win back consumers?

3.  What does the case study of Lululemon demonstrate about the importance of staying on message?

After revolutions, Egypt struggles to lure tourists November 28, 2013

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The Arab Spring saw democratic activists take down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but Egypt has been in a constant state of instability ever since. With another new government, the country that has long depended on tourism has experienced an economic slide. Even in the midst of a military takeover of the government, Egypt is begging tourists to come back. Public relations firm Rooster PR out of London has been tasked with a new campaign to target worried European travelers. Their first task, according to a representative of the Egyptian Tourist Authority, is to “communicate that the country’s key tourism destinations are safe to visit.”

How could a PR firm accomplish such a difficult task, especially when popular tourist destinations have been rendered ghost towns? One strategy has been to use webcams of live footage of tourist sites so reluctant travelers can see that certain spots of clear of violence. European governments are also making the campaign a little easier lately, as many have started lifting their travel advisories.

For more on this story, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is the problem impacting Egyptian tourism?

2.  How can the Egyptian government best persuade travelers to return?

3.  If you were to design a campaign for Egyptian tourism, what would you do?

Corporations weighing in on politics: Starbucks asks customers to help end the shutdown October 19, 2013

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has made it no secret that he’s fairly liberal. Occasionally, though, he uses the giant coffee company to try to influence political disputes in Washington, DC. During the government shutdown, for instance, Schultz took to Instagram and asked Starbucks fans to sign a petition to pressure Republicans and Democrats to come together to end the shutdown. The petition read:

“To our leaders in Washington, D.C., now’s the time to come together to:

1. Reopen our government to serve the people.

2. Pay our debts on time to avoid another financial crisis.

3. Pass a bipartisan and comprehensive long-term budget deal by the end of the year.”

Schultz’s campaign was on Facebook and Twitter, and the CEO even took out full page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

For more on Schultz’s campaign, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do campaign’s like Schultz’s really work? Why, or why not?

2.  How do campaigns like Schultz’s create fans for a brand?

3.  What are some of the ways that rhetoric like Schultz’s could create a backlash?

Food-sourcing themes in contemporary advertising September 21, 2013

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A new theme is going front and center lately in advertising for food products. Companies are reacting to consumer sensitivity about the origins of their food by highlighting the sources of their ingredients. In this case, “local,” “organic,” and “fair-trade” are all god terms.

While this trend is not necessarily new, Chipotle has proven the approach is valuable by launching two super-produced animated advertisements over the last few years highlighting their responsibly raised beef, pork, and chicken. Both have gone viral, and won praise from critics. Starbucks, too, is releasing a series of ads to highlight the origins of their coffee beans. The new “origins” campaign features documentary-style footage of plantations and local farmers, even following some of the individual workers to put a face on the people behind the legendary coffee. The campaign is similar to one running overseas, and is bound to create rich identification between consumers and the Starbucks brand.

For examples of the “food-sourcing theme” in recent food advertising, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is cognitive dissonance, and what does it have to do with “food-sourcing”?

2.  How do the ads above attempt to lower cognitive dissonance for consumers?

3.  How are these ads different from other ads that simply highlight the quality of a company’s ingredients? More specifically, how do these ads attempt to address issues of ethics in the food business?

Internal McDonald’s doc sparks protests against low wages September 8, 2013

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Fast food employees all across America took to the streets this summer to protest low wages. Many have demanded a hike in the minimum wage to as high as $15. While such an action by the U.S. Congress would be almost impossible, there is support for the idea. According to one study coming out of the University of Kansas, the average price of a Big Mac would go up only 68 cents if wages at the restaurant chain were doubled.

McDonald’s did not help itself in the face of this crisis, though, as an internal document aiming to help their minimum wage employees plan their finances was leaked to the public. The company’s document assumes some ridiculous things about its employees’ budgets, like health care costing $20 per month, rent at $600 per month, and not taking heating or A/C into account at all.

The trouble for McDonald’s and other fast food chains is that their fears of being driven to poor profits if they increase employee wages and perks don’t add up. According to countless news reports, restaurant chains are forced to pay higher wages across many parts of Europe, and while their prices are higher they do not appear to be suffering. Moreover, their employees in those parts are happier and earn far more for their families.

For more on this issue, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why do you think McDonald’s produced the internal document mentioned above? Why were they mistaken to do so?

2.  How should McDonald’s and other fast food companies respond to public criticism about low wages, assuming they do not plan to increase those wages?

Keeping up the fight: Coke’s new “Grandfather” ad ties product to good health (sort of) August 24, 2013

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Coca Cola has a new ad out called “Grandfather” which presents the average day in the life of two men – one from decades ago, and the other from modern times. With the split screen rolling, viewers see the life of a 1950’s man as healthier, slower, and more social, while the modern man is constantly rushing and stuffing his face. When the two men come together at the end, revealed to be grandfather and grandson, the premise is obvious: soda can be healthy if one lives a healthy life (just like grandpa).

The ad is a part of a larger campaign to defend Coca Cola’s products against government regulation and consumer backlash targeting food products linked to obesity. With sugary sodas linked especially to diabetes, Coke is trying to protect its image by blaming people rather than products. Nostalgia clearly helps in this battle.

See the ad yourself in the video below:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How has Coke’s image been hurt by growing concerns about obesity?

2.  What is Coke’s basic argument in this ad? Do you agree with it? Is it reasonable?

Scary good: Monsters U mock website blows away viewers July 29, 2013

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It is one of the biggest blockbusters for kids this year, but Monsters University is also blowing away adults. Part of the creative PR campaign for the film, Disney released a rather realistic website for the actual Monsters University (err…but still pretend). Eric Hoover for The Chronicle of Higher Education called the site “scary good,” noting that it conveys warmth and introduces potential students to the best and most personal parts of the school. While Hoover interviewed one expert who suggested the website falls short for not having enough information on costs, Disney can’t really be faulted for that.

Could the site be any cooler? Disney thought so. Ahead of its June 21 debut, Disney changed the website for April Fools’ Day, and made it look like a prank orchestrated by MU’s rival, Fear Tech. Visitors to the website were made to believe it had been hacked, featuring FT’s logo and mascot.

To see a promotional film for MU, and a trailer for Monsters University, watch the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is the key to creative PR campaigns? What are the characteristics of recent campaigns that have caught your attention?

2.  What are the characteristics of bad PR campaigns?

3.  After checking out MU’s website, why do you think this PR stunt works so well?