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Earned media roulette

June 28, 2012

Blogging about multi-colored Oreos seems to be trendy.  So we’ll play ball.  For background on what’s going on, see this article. Oreos posted a picture to show its support of gay rights on Pride Day.  A lot of people commented.  Some supportive, some not so supportive.  (Some examples of the not so supportive here.)

In the spirit of all press is good press, marketing experts are lauding the move, citing all the earned media Oreos has been getting as a result.  The brand has, after all, injected itself into the cultural conversation.  And isn’t that the point? Bloggers are blogging about it.  Writers are writing about it.  Facebookers are Facebooking about it.  I wonder, however, if it is for better or for worse.  Just as all press isn’t actually good press, all earned media is not necessarily good media.  I wonder if someone is asking what the real impact of all this media has been on Oreos’ key brand attributes.  Is there real brand lift?  Will the lift last?

I don’t want to start a whole political thing.  And look, there are brands out there that have formed their identity by associating with politics in aggressive ways (e.g. Kenneth Cole) so who am I to say it is a good idea or bad idea.  But its a big country out there.  And Oreos is a very pervasive brand.  They are freaking Oreos man.  This is apple pie stuff.  Being in favor of gay rights is admirable.  To say the least.  But I can’t help but wonder if, by associating themselves with issues of the day, the big brands, the ones that transcend and are already an integral part of our culture, aren’t diluting themselves.  At the very least the issues they do associate with need to resonate very organically with the brand.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Renee Milliaressis, currently at Mindshare and a pioneer in the media field and one of its smartest thinkers.  She’s helped navigate clients through trivial things like the rise of cable and internet.  So she’s got a little bit of perspective.  She said something that is, as with almost everything she says, immediately relevant (I am paraphrasing):

There are advertisers out there that had the great fortune of being able to build their brands over the course of the later half of the 20th century.  These brands don’t know how lucky they are.  And they don’t know how valuable what they have built is.  Because you will never be able to build brands that big, as cost effectively as they did.  They need to evolve, they need to stay relevant.  But above all else, they need to do so without diminishing what they will never be able to afford to build again.

Brand equity has never been harder to build.  Every time you engage, or spark a conversation, you put at least a little of that brand equity at risk.  Because you can never control how conversations go.  As a brand puts itself out there to gain earned media, it needs to ask itself what it really want consumers to do.  And then ask what kind of earned media will help drive consumers to do that.  Otherwise, you’re just rolling the dice.

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