Archive for February, 2012

Does Storytelling Sell The Product?

shakeologyThe latest issue of BusinessWeek offers the feature, “The Adventures of Superfood Man.”

The lead takes from one of those life-is-better-than-fiction moments:

On a good morning in Paradise Cove, Malibu, the water is so clear you can see halibut lurking in the kelp. Little Dume Point rises from its cliffs to the north, and beneath it a few surfers on stand-up paddleboards rise and fall on the swell waiting for their wave.

Darin Olien, who looks like a Tarzan action figure, is talking to a surfer in his early twenties named Igor about the health benefits of alkalinization in the body. He tells Igor, who’s trying to balance his board and blinking back the sun, that 7.4 is where the pH of our body wants to be and that most of our diets are far too acidic, which leads to inflammation and degenerative disease. Red meat is very acidic; coffee, corn, and wheat, too.

That’s the piece in a nutshell.

Teaching the Igors (and Igorettes) of the world there’s better fuel than T-bones and Starbucks. It’s called Shakeology.

Yet, the science supporting the claim is nowhere to be found according to the FDA and nutritionists.

Here’s the part that got my attention.

Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council (trade group for herbal remedies), answers his own question on how the company justifies a premium price for a concoction that isn’t much better than a placebo:

“Construct a compelling story.”

I don’t think this was meant as a compliment or rallying cry for all business communicators to jump on the storytelling bandwagon.

Just to be clear, business storytelling should be grounded in truth.

But as an academic exercise, let’s evaluate whether Beachbody, the company behind Shakeology, delivers on the “compelling” part of the story.

The core sales pitch comes in two components:

Shakeology®, an ultra-premium nutritional health shake provides the widest array of nutrients from around the world in a nutrient-dense but low-calorie formula. One that can’t be replicated anywhere.

Wouldn’t call this a riveting narrative.

Part two:

We searched the world for the most potent ingredients your body can easily absorb and utilize, creating a perfect combination of enzymes, prebiotics, antioxidants, and many rare ingredients like adaptogens, Camu-Camu, and Sacha Inchi. Here are all the different kinds of nutrients you’ll get from a single glass of Shakeology.



I suppose the idea is to mesmerize the potential buyer with exotic ingredients he or she hasn’t heard of.

Next, we dig into the customer testimonials, pulling the one from Caterina P.:

I feel so energized!!!! (Yes, those exclamation points are real energy! :) Drinking Shakeology has given me so much energy-which I used to get from drinking coffee or Red Bulls-not anymore! Throw those nasty things in the trash where they belong and pass me my shaker cup!

One sign that shocked me was how ridiculously fast and strong my nails have grown. I used to wear acrylic nails for years, which forced them to be weak and yellow. They would never grow, and I had a terrible habit of biting my nails and the skin around them. Well, now I get asked, “Are those your real nails?” and I can say yes! I’ve even stopped the habit of biting! So Shakeology can help break bad habits and treat your body well.

Now, that’s “savvy” marketing, striving to touch all the major demographics including women under 40 who bite their nails.

And someone should alert the copywriter that a bunch of exclamation points doesn’t hone realness.

I do like the way they doctor up the nutritional value in such an official manner. Still, the power of the packaging loses something when you’re told:

Keep out of reach of children.

After careful analysis, I have to disagree with Mr. Blumenthal.

The story is not compelling.

I wonder if Igor agreed.


Donut Drama, Brand Disconnect And Interrogating A Virtual Assistant

Here’s my second “Grab Bag,” pulling together a few vignettes that caught my attention.

Donut Drama

I’m a huge fan of The New York Times Dining section that appears every Wednesday.

How much drama can be found among a bunch of glazed donuts?

Actually, quite a bit if you’re Pete Wells observing the action at Federal Donuts:

A DOUGHNUT was falling, and everyone in the restaurant watched.

The woman behind the counter at Federal Donuts in the Pennsport neighborhood here might have reached just a bit too high, or else she never really had a grip on it. Whatever happened, the doughnut slipped from her fingers and began to tumble through space.

Almost all of the two dozen or so customers packed into the tiny room stood motionless, wondering if anything could stop the plunge.

The outcome was going to have a direct effect on one of those bystanders, who would not be getting a cinnamon-apple-walnut doughnut that day. Federal Donuts starts out each morning at 7 with somewhere around 150 glazed doughnuts, more on weekends. When they are gone, there are no more until the next day.

Empathy at the Expense of Brand Disconnect

Here’s a disconnect in brand-building you don’t see every day, particularly at a company like GE.

So much of GE’s brand-building revolves around “Imagination.”


Yet, GE’s CEO had this to say at a conference which went out on the GE Twitter feed:

“People don’t care as much about imagination at work – right now they care about work and jobs.” –Jeff Immelt

Cultivating empathy from the audience is a good thing.

So is self-deprecation.

Still, he could have said it differently.

Humanizing Customer Support

Would you rather get help from a virtual assistant or Jenn?

Alaskan Airlines concluded that Jenn was the way to go.

alaska air website

I attempted to dig further.

It wasn’t easy. Thanks to my superior interrogation skills, I was able to ascertain that her name is indeed Jenn.

ask jenn

That’s a wrap.

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Media Training Lessons From None Other Than Jeremy Lin

jeremy linYou want storytelling? 

How about that Knicks/Mavs game last Sunday? 

After overcoming racism, Ivy League basketball, not being drafted by an NBA team, getting cut by two teams, relegation to the Reno Bighorns, and pestilence in third-world countries, Jeremy Lin is a legit star. 

As you would expect, his story has been chronicled down to the microscopic details. 

The New York Times tracked down his grandmother in Taipei and broke the scoop that she doesn’t watch those game videos that Jeremy sends her. 

But here’s a dimension to the story that hasn’t been touched by Time, USA Today or any of the mainstream media. 

Jeremy offers a lesson to communicators around the world. 

Forget bridging, the technique of taking the reporter’s question and moving from that topic to safer ground. 

His interview with Heather Cox on ABC demonstrates how you can jump straight to the safe ground with the right words and earnest body language. 

Our crack research department transcribed the interview: 

Heather: Yesterday you said that last year you were just trying to fit in, but this year you vowed to play your brand of basketball no matter what. How close are you to that vision? 

Jeremy: I think right now I’m being aggressive and learning a lot from my mistakes. But I think I am trying to play the way I’m supposed to play, which is aggressive and putting pressure on the defense. 

Deftly dodges the grandiose vision thing. 

Heather: How much more weight does this win have knowing it came against one of the best defensive teams in the league and the defending champs? 

Jeremy: We’re just thankful for any win that we can get and obviously this one is a big one just because they’re a great team, defending champions. And we also wanted to come out here and be aggressive and see where we measure up with them and we’re glad we won. 

Spike Lee is glad too. 

Heather: You guys spent a lot of time in the center of the court once this game was finished. What did you guys say each other? 

Jeremy: We’re just going to continue building this chemistry. Obviously, J.R. gave us a lift. We haven’t even practiced with him one time. Novak, I mean, just on fire. And so we’re just trying to build with each other and try to develop that chemistry so we can move forward and continue to win some games. 

Nicely done. 

Parts of his cadence borrow from John Belushi in Animal House, “Neidermeyer, dead.” 

Lest you think Jeremy can do no wrong, his command of language isn’t exactly Harvard-esque. 

Then again, this could be a savvy technique to fit in with the guys. 

You can see the video of Jeremy’s interview with Heather Cox below.



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Q&A With Marketer Behind Parody TV Ad Promoting John Grisham’s Latest Novel

the litigatorsI highlighted a clever video by Doubleday last week, part of the marketing campaign behind John Grisham’s latest novel, “The Litigators.” It shows the storytelling possibilities that can come from combining owned media and social media. 

John Pitts, VP, Marketing Director at Doubleday and the person behind the Finley & Figg TV ad, was good enough take us behind the curtain on this project (thank you @doubledaypub and Joe Gallagher for pointing the way). 

Lou: I’m a John Grisham fan and just finished “The Litigators.” How did the idea of doing a phantom TV ad for the book come to you?

John: The idea behind the video was to highlight the humorous nature of the novel, which is unusual for Grisham, and to do something different to potentially reach a new reader. There are plenty of cheesy legal ads out there so the opportunity for satire was hard to resist.

Lou: Did John Grisham need to approve the direction or get involved in the brainstorming? Did he share any feedback on the finalized video?

John: Grisham did not get involved, but his agent, David Gernert, did.

Lou: It had to be fun creating this video … kind of reversing the typical creative process to magnify the schlock factor. True?

John: It was fun. I used a video crowd-sourcing firm called PopTent, got a number of treatments from different high-end production companies via them, settled on a company in LA called “Mischievious Studios” and went through a number of script revisions. They shot it in one day and then we had some back and forth about edits.  

Lou: Great casting. Did you actually conduct a casting call or just know the perfect Chicagoan?

John: They cast a real SAG actor named Richard Gleason who has significant film, TV and theatre credits. I think he took the gig because he liked the novelty of doing this sort of humor.

Lou: Rationalizing the cost of video is something communicators are constantly grappling with. Can you share roughly what the video cost to produce and how you measure or will measure the ROI?

John: While I can’t share the specific cost, I can say that it would have been high for a book trailer but not all that much for such a quality production and access to a number of treatments.

Lou: What about ROI?

John: The question on ROI is tough. Grisham is a brand that we are always working on, in which we have a lot invested, so this carried some risk but I felt it was worth the chance.  

Lou: Because you were in control of the final product?

John: Right. If we didn’t like the outcome, it didn’t have to see the light of day. And it was a small part of a fairly big marketing push for “The Litigators.”

Lou: Can you see the day when this type of content is actually integrated into a novel’s e-book version?

John: Yes, we talk about video in e-books often. The typical book trailer may not be all that exciting, but something more sophisticated, like this, could work for the right book. The book would almost have to be written with the enhancements in mind.

Lou: Any other insights on the video or social media front?

John: Finley & Figg also have a Facebook page and you’ll see that I had some fun posting as Finley & Figg on various pages. For example, I posted “Tattoo misspelled? We’ll fight for you!” on a Facebook page for tattoos, etc.

finley and figg                                                    

Lou: Good stuff. I like the cross-pollination with the Tattoo Facebook page which happens to have more than half a million likes. 

Thanks for dropping by.

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Novelist Takes Parody A Step Further With Fake Ad

During my investigation of novelists and their personal biographies, I stumbled across a clever use of owned media by Team Grisham

Every publisher sends out copies of a new novel to various media in hopes of garnering positive reviews. 

The marketing team behind John Grisham’s latest novel, “The Litigators,” went one step further. 

They created a fake TV ad promoting the “esteemed” law firm of Finley & Figg which delivers the storytelling fodder for the novel. 


Good stuff. (Surprised there’s less than 12K views.) 

The Dr. Seuss-like rhymes recited with a classic Chicago accent – “Hit by a bus; good thing you came to us” – work. 

Also enjoyed the insider’s reference to all those staking claim for inventing Facebook. 

Perhaps the Winklevoss twins will contact Finley & Figg about taking their case. 

Oh, that’s right.

They already settled.


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