It’s been a good week for the Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Marilyn Hagerty, a senior citizen, food critic, and writer for the local Grand Forks Herald newspaper visited the newly-opened restaurant and wrote a positive review in her “EatBeat” column. The column, published on the newspaper’s website, was mentioned on the Gawker food blog, which blew it into a viral sensation.

How did a humble Olive Garden impress this food critic? Not surprisingly, she was not overwhelmed by their similarity to real Italian food. In some ways, in fact, it was just the opposite that impressed her. The Olive Garden presented themselves as exactly who they are- an Italian-American restaurant that offers delicious Italian-American food at a reasonable price.

Ms. Hagerty noticed architecture and decorations that added warmth and a relaxed ambiance to the restaurant. The servers were friendly and eager to assist their patrons. Though the food may not have been “authentic” Italian, it was tasty and warm. Italian-American food is what the Olive Garden does, and they do it well.

Authenticity is especially critical in our 21st-century world, where the negative consequences of a single errant tweet can potentially reverberate for years. Remember New Coke, the spectacular failure of the Coca-Cola Company to reformulate their 100-year-old recipe? What about Harley-Davidson’s 1990s attempt to sell perfume, aftershave, and wine coolers, or the Coors Brewing Company’s turn-of-the-century attempt to sell “Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water”? Though these companies eventually recovered, they all suffered as a result of their attempts to be who they are not.

The formula for authenticity is both the simplest and most complex formula in marketing: just be yourself. This is what will set you apart from your competitors. In a world of high-gloss, full-page, “pay-attention-to-me” ads, an authentic connection will help you find and keep customers.


Santa: The Master of Marketing


He’s never spent a dime on marketing, but his brand is one of the most well-known in existence. He bursts into homes, but he is never charged with breaking and entering. For most people, just thinking of him brings positive emotions to mind. He has endured wars, depressions, scrutiny (is he real or isn’t he?), and even opposition from parents or certain religious groups. Every year, without fail, he returns with his sleigh, reindeer, and gifts.

How did Santa Claus build a brand franchise that is the envy of other marketers, despite the obstacles thrown at him? What marketing lessons can we learn from him?

  • Santa has a clear mission and a clear target market. He has been bringing joy (and presents) to children year after year. His target has never strayed. His mission is so clear that nearly everyone knows it.
  • Santa is a strong and unique brand. He wears a red suit and shiny black boots, has a white beard, and has his own personal catch phrase, “Ho ho ho!” These set him apart from the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny, and these images are nearly universally associated with Santa.
  • Santa utilizes a team, with clear roles and responsibilities. The elves make the toys. Rudolph leads the delivery crew. Mrs. Claus supervises the day-to-day operations. This allows Santa to interact with his customers and perform hands-on consumer research about market trends.
  • Santa is reliable. Regardless of freezing temperatures, Dad losing his job, or moving to a new house, Santa never lets us down. On Christmas morning, children wake up to find a plate sprinkled with cookie crumbs, an empty milk glass, and presents beneath the Christmas tree; these provide evidence of a late-night visit from Santa.
  • Santa delights us. Who doesn’t smile when they think of Santa? Whether it’s delivering a beloved toy or making a surprise visit to a holiday party with a bag full of goodies, Santa consistently leaves happiness wherever he goes.
  • Santa is the original viral advertising campaign. As his customers get older and become parents, they deliver Santa’s message to the next generation of customers for him. It’s not just parents, either. Other companies, such as Coca Cola or Macy’s, pay for advertisements starring Santa, hoping to build on his popularity.

He has been making his Christmas deliveries for many years and, by continuing his branding secrets, he will continue to make his deliveries for many years to come. Santa “gets” branding and, by adopting some of his branding strategies, we can borrow a little of his magic!



I Discovered Justin

I’m 21. Is it wrong to be in love with the 17-year-old boy who half the world has become obsessed with?  Have I conformed to society by falling in love with Justin Bieber?

Don’t get me wrong, this love that I have for JB is not a creepy kind of love…it is more of a desire for him to be my little brother.  That’s not weird, right?

I mean I’m not the girl that’s crying or passing out at his concerts – I’m just the one jamming to his music in the stands.  Yep, that’s right, I attended his concert in Kansas City this summer and I’ll admit it – it was AWESOME!

Anyway, this is all beside the point. My point is that social media has completely changed the way the world works.  No more do people need to move to Hollywood to have their dreams come true.  All they need is the Internet.  With facebook, twitter, YouTube, flicker and all other social media tools you can immediately share information or display your work with the click of a button.

I mean…it’s amazing when you think about it. JB’s mom just started posting up videos of him singing on YouTube, while brushing his teeth on day, and then all of a sudden, he’s famous!

The reason so many kids have the “bieber fever” is because they feel some sort of attachment to him.  It’s simple, they’re the ones that looked him up, watched his videos and then spread the word about him, and now they feel they have ownership over him.  I’ve got to be honest; I feel a small part of ownership over him as well.

And, if you want to talk marketing for a second, he completely owns the teenage girl market.  He has enchanted them with songs that make their heartbeat fast and flicks his hair just the right way to make them sigh in awe of his cuteness.

But Justin isn’t the only one.  He may be the MOST POPULAR celebrity to come from social media, but there are many others as well.  For example, Rebecca Black recently became a legend for posting her catchy song “Friday” on YouTube, Keennan Cahill for his amazing lip singing talent and Rebekka Gudleifsdottir who posted her photos on flickr, got a gig shooting the photography for a Toyota advertisement.

We live in an age where breaking news no longer comes from the morning paper and celebrities aren’t necessarily born and raised in Hollywood.  Social media has taken over the world, and if you want to feel the power just log on to the Internet.

Well, if Justin, Rebekka, Rebecca, and Ke got famous, I can too, right?  I think I may take on the challenge.

All right everybody – be on the lookout for some new YouTube videos from me.  I’m thinking a good parody of Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”  What do you think?

We could all learn something from Lady Gaga. Yeah, really.



Think about Lady Gaga for a second. What is the first thing that pops into your mind? Let me guess…eccentric, crazy, interesting, awesome or weird? Well, whatever thoughts, perceptions or opinions you have of Lady Gaga, I imagine they all focus on her unusual songs, bizarre outfits and strange personality. Believe it or not, she’s brilliant at branding.

As BURN Advertising’s new Firestarter, I was given the opportunity to attend a presentation, “Personal Branding in the Digital Age,” by Ramsey Mohsen. Mohsen is known as an “Internet addict” and works for Digital Evolution Group in Kansas City. For him, personal branding AND good looks come naturally (self proclaimed).

The focus of his presentation was that a brand must be three things: authentic, passionate and consistent.

Seems easy right? Well, it takes more work than you might think, and using social media sites can help people more effectively create a brand.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and foursquare enable people to stay informed about a person’s everyday life. While it is not always necessary to know exactly what the person ate for breakfast, being able to understand what Lady Gaga is doing between photo shoots and recording sessions really has helped her communicate just how authentic she really is and why sometimes we ask: “Was she born this way?”

Next up on Mohsen’s list is passion. People can feel the passion when it’s there and will know when it’s not. If you are not excited about your brand, how do you expect others to be excited? For Lady Gaga, passion is overflowing. She rides her success on her fans and, to show them her appreciation, she tattooed “Little Monsters” (the expression Gaga uses to refer to her fans) on her arm that holds the microphone. Now that’s passion!

Last but not least, consistency. Consistency is important to assure that everyone understands the message of your brand. If Lady Gaga showed up to the Grammy Awards wearing a pretty pink gown, her fans would be confused and totally disoriented. Her unpredictable outfits on the red carpet keep her brand consistent.

Personal branding is a reputation that needs to be upheld, and the best way to be authentic, passionate and consistent is by being yourself! Thanks to Lady Gaga, we know exactly how that’s done.


Rooty Toot Toots And Rummy Tum Tums…

It’s the holidays and time to further advance the shared definition of Santa’s character.

Let me explain. Most know the basics about jolly old St. Nick, but without the typical autobiographies, press junkets through Oprah, Dave and, if really desperate, Jay, it’s difficult to know the real man behind the magic.

The annual cartoons only tell us a small portion of the story … the same stories every year sung to us from the grave by Burl Ives. Speaking of these, I wonder when the next generation takes control and pulls the plug in favor of whatever Justin Beiber bequeaths. Keep an eye on those whipper snappers.

Back on the topic of Santa’s character … lucky for all of us, we have oodles of others to help fill in the gaps. For instance, from various movies, we know Santa is prone to illness and injury, necessitating others to pick up the slack. If any of us worked one day per year and called in sick that day, we wouldn’t last long.

It’s fairly well established that he loves Coke, but the same evidence we have for this (marketing) affinity showed us he is also a Camel man, a Murad man and a Chesterfield man? The old boy can smoke ’em when he gots ’em.

The Wiggles (a children’s dancing and singing group) tells us “everyone knows Santa likes to twirl, hence the Christmas Polka!” I had never heard that before. I checked with many friends and they also haven’t heard this. It must not have made it to the Midwest.

He has more than 15 Facebook pages, which has to be a major hassle. Keeping one or two updated with good material is difficult enough. YouTube tells us that Santa likes to rock it, to move it move it and to party. He may also like big butts, which seems somewhat appropriate.

It’s any wonder what we will indirectly learn about Santa next year. It shows us a perfect picture or example of what happens if you don’t control your own brand message, someone else will.


Once more, with feeling.

You know, too many of us hide our emotions. Frankly, we hide from them. Even when we’re alone.

When I was growing up, I heard this a lot: “Quit wearing your emotions on your sleeve.” First of all, what does that really even mean? It doesn’t make sense. And secondly, why is it bad to emote?

Emotions are what make us human. They’re what make us feel the world around us. And they’re what help us connect with one another. If you’re sad, I can see it, and I can empathize. If you’re happy, I can feel it, and happiness washes over me, too.

It’s good to emote. Emotions are great. So why would we ever try to hide them?

Study after study show that emotions play a huge role in the products and brands we select—even for big ticket items, even for items that we purchase for our businesses. Yes, there will be logical reasons, but those are mainly supportive. But even if they are the main reasons, they are supported by an emotional tie to the brand or product we end up choosing.

We don’t turn off our humanity when we get to work.

When it comes to branding (no matter what the product or service), if we ignore the emotional side of the argument and rely strictly on reason, the competitor that hits the emotional chord is going to beat us almost every time.

This idea might make some business-to-business marketers feel kind of emotional right now. And it should. There should be a little fear, a little anxiety, but also a little glimmer of hope. Because every brand, every product, has an interesting story. If you disagree, you better look harder, because if you’re bored by your brand, your customers are going to be bored by it (because you’ll be wearing your emotions on your sleeve). Share your passion.

Passion. Oh yea. That’s an emotion, too.

I don’t just dabble. I play with fire.

(insights from a BURN intern: By Paige Weber)

As the newest BURN victim in the agency’s much desired summer internship program, I have gladly taken on the role of Fire Starter, literally. (I won’t bore you with the story of how I tried to set the studio on fire while burning business cards.) Pyromania aside, I am ready to light a fire under our clients’ brands. And, yes, I do come with a warning label indicating incredible productivity, proactive attitude and fun personality.

While it was initially a challenge to assimilate to my new schedule of traditional office hours from my normal class schedule that allows me to sleep in and wear whatever I want to class, I did find it a breeze to love who I work with. I now completely understand when people say you will like your job even more when you like the people you work with. My bosses, Sarah and Jeff, have been great professional role models as they teach me the real world ins and outs of the advertising industry. They are fun creative individuals with a passion for their work. And while I know I am but a lowly intern, I am never treated like one. They make me feel like a vital part of their tight knit, talented team. (I don’t get paid more for writing this, by the way.)

Of course I didn’t come as a complete blank slate for them to work with; I have been crafting my skills through various classes, activities and volunteer work while in college. I like to think as a communications major that I have exceptional communication skills. I am a passionate and hard worker who strives to anticipate my boss’ needs. I try to creatively think of new ways to approach the situations the head brand evangelists here at BURN face each day for their clients, whether it is targeting a market a certain way or a simple organization process. And they give me the freedom to explore my ideas!

I am still getting use to the coffee boost needed at times to “put a pep in my step”, but I am loving what I do. And, fire hazard aside, I must say the red, hand-burned business cards done by yours truly, look really good sliding into my red wallet. I may not be getting a summer tan every day, but this summer is definitely pretty hot.