The Marriage of Colleges and Social Media Influencers Is Bad News

Last week a lot of people’s cages were rattled when it was revealed dozens of the nation’s wealthiest individuals had paid outrageous sums to consultants and others who would help their kids get into the most elite colleges and universities around. The situation starkly revealed the disconnect between the ideal – that an education is open to anyone based on merit – and the reality, that those with privilege have unique advantages not available to the common citizenry.

It shouldn’t have been that surprising. Earlier this year there was a report that part of the education gap between white and black students is due to the lack of black teachers in lower grades. The top 20 colleges in the country receive over one-quarter of private donations despite educating less than two percent of students. The system is skewed in favor of the wealthy and has been for a good long while.

One aspect of the story that got some new attention is how colleges are on some level working with social media influencers such as one of the young women caught up in the scandal as part of their marketing and recruitment. The schools may not actually enlist the paid services of these influencers, but having one around who’s using the campus and facilities as background for their #sponcon certainly isn’t a bad thing. Other brands are already targeting influencers at college as a way to bring their message to the similarly-aged audience they have.

While there’s some disagreement that colleges are actually considering whether an applicant is an online influencer with a massive following, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. A study last year showed one third of college admissions officers actually reviewed the social media posts of those applying to the school while two thirds feel doing so would be justified.
The reasons cited include monitoring to make sure kids weren’t using racist language online or engaging in behavior that could be unethical or otherwise unacceptable, something that would reflect poorly on the school if anyone made the connection.

If colleges are on some level showing preferential treatment to those who have built up influential online profiles and personas, it signals a troubling future not just when considering equal access to education but equal consideration for future employment as well.

70 percent of hiring managers already report researching the social media profile and posts of those who have applied for work at a company and almost half say they monitor what current employees are doing online. The emphasis is usually on how those posts and profiles might be used by current or potential employers to discipline or even fire someone, but there’s the converse in that they are looking for credentials and endorsements along with industry-specific content.

Notably, 18 percent of respondents said they were specifically looking for whether or not the individual had a large social media following.

It’s not that far-fetched to think that someone’s social media influence and the size of their follower network will come to be a bigger factor when it comes to who does and doesn’t get hired. After all, more and more companies are engaging in influencer marketing campaigns to the extent some agencies are bringing those influencers in-house to gain unfettered access to their creativity. Macy’s and other retailers are even looking within their own ranks for those with sizable social networks to become brand ambassadors as a way to avoid becoming entangled with outside influencers who may be problematic in some way.

In fact it’s a road we’ve been down, at least partly, before. Back in the early years of the decade there was a substantial conversation around how someone’s Klout score – an imperfect (at best) measure of someone’s expertise or influence on a topic – might be used in the hiring process. There were reports that people were being rejected for jobs because their Klout score was too low while others were more seriously considered because of a high score, one that likely didn’t meaningfully reflect reality. Professors were even preparing students to keep their scores up to increase their odds of finding work.

[In brief, my problems with Klout are centered around how it mistook engagement for expertise. Someone who was Retweeted a lot or who got a lot of Facebook comments was seen as more of an expert on a topic than someone who didn’t. You could have two decades of experience and multiple degrees on a subject but if you got fewer replies on Twitter than someone who knows how to scratch itching ears you were out of luck.]

The problems with using social media influence as a measure of who does or doesn’t get hired is troubling enough that listing all the issues inherent in the idea would take days. Such status is akin to a form of professional accreditation or certification, the attainment of which can cost money and necessitate time many don’t have. Such status is indicative of class and privilege itself, with only those who can afford to achieve it then being seen as qualified as moving into higher-paying jobs. It’s another way systems supposedly based on merit are actually skewed in favor of those with resources.

Not everyone can be an official, recognized (and paid) influencer on social media. The bar for achieving that level shifts constantly as platforms come in and out of style. Someone who’s devoted significant attention to LinkedIn may find themselves shut out of work when it’s not what a company is looking for, or when attention shifts to some other network. Such criteria are just as discriminatory as anything else that’s less about the quality of the work and more about the show someone is capable of putting on. And it discounts the efforts of someone who enters an agency at a lower level and finds they are there to support the profile of a “Big Name” instead of building up their own industry reputation.

What happens in what sector, such as education, will impact another. If colleges go deeper into actively choosing new students based on the size and influence of their social networks that will bleed into the job market, even if there’s no distinct intent to do so. It’s something schools should consider when making their choices.

Marketing Is Partly Fixing Non-Existent Problems

One of the hallmarks of the first era of PR blogging was that everyone was a problem fixer. Any time a company made the slightest misstep and experienced any kind of blowback from its behavior there were a dozen experts right there to identify what went wrong and share their solutions to the reading public, solutions that coincidentally often matched the writer’s overall philosophy or the consulting services he was happy to offer.

That editorial approach has seeped into the media at large. Anytime there’s a rallying of public opinion around a perceived issue, there are sure to be editorials on well-regarded sites with suggestions on how the problem can be fixed and advice on how to avoid such obvious issues in the future.

It’s an approach I’ve tried my darndest to avoid over the years. I may take issue with something, but I try to steer clear of making it a central theme of my blog archives because it’s self-indulgent, egotistical and just annoying. It’s also startlingly transparent since these editorials are now likely to come from execs at companies and agencies whose goal is still to drum up business.

Many of the “problems” identified in such pieces are also only “problems” if you ignore the fact that that they’re often features of wildly successful products or companies. They may be slightly annoying or sub-optimal from a user-experience perspective, but they’re not massive issues requiring immediate fixes.

Take the recent attention paid to Netflix and how previews on the site’s home, category and search results pages auto-play when you hover over them with your mouse. There have been countless articles like this that have identified it as an issue that must be addressed lest Netflix suffer irreparable damage to its product and brand.

The reality is that it’s going to be fine. That UX might be slightly annoying, but it’s not the kind of thing that is likely to truly and strongly discourage anyone from using it, not when measured against the advantages of the service and site as a whole and what it offers. It’s a small speedbump, not a barrier to usage.

Still, the “X company has a problem that can be fixed in five easy steps” genre is an example in and of itself that marketing is often not about selling aspirational (if unattainable) goals but simply offering a solution to a problem. McDonald’s is selling customers 1) the idea that its food will help the whole family be happy, something every parent wants, and 2) a solution to the problem of not having enough time to make dinner for everyone given conflicting schedules, picky eating habits and other obstacles. Netflix wants subscribers to 1) feel well-informed on the shows and movies that are at the center of the cultural buzz, and 2) use it as a one-stop shop for all their viewing needs instead of subscribing to dozens of cable channels they never watch.

While there’s more than a little BS in the editorial genre of offering solutions to non-existent problems, it does reflect how quickly issues can escalate from the imagined to the very real, providing an opening in the corporate armor just big enough for a competitor to slide a knife.

There are real problems and there are trumped-up problems that “the internet is freaking out about” but which amount to nothing. People calling out the latter often overlook that these features are well-tested and considered and have some positive purpose. They haven’t been slapped up without forethought or planning, no matter how they’re made to sound by those looking to stir up a hornet’s nest.

Content Marketing Insights: Developing a Program Framework – General Principles

A content marketing program is more complex than some would have you believe. This is one in a series of posts laying out some best practices and essential steps to take when developing or evaluating a program for you or your organization.

When you, your team and whatever other stakeholders are laying the groundwork for a content marketing program the first step is to create some sort of structure for that program. These aren’t hard and fast rules on what content is or isn’t included or instructional how-tos on publishing and engaging.

Instead the Program Framework is a set of ideas and objectives the program will use as its guiding document. If content marketing programs are a journey – and they very much are – the program framework isn’t a map with specific directions. Instead it’s more of a repository for where you want to go, what you want to see along the way and at your destination, who’s going to decide where to eat and how you’ll decide whether or not the trip was a success.

A good program framework, in my experience, consists of five overall sections, the first of which is.

General Principles

When drafting the general principles for a program, remember to think big picture and not get caught up in granular tactics or even goals. These are the kinds of statements that make for effective principles:

We will share information that is relevant to our business and interesting to our audience and customers.

To be a resource for those seeking information on the kinds of products and services we offer as well as address the needs of customers and others.

To be fresh and funny while still conveying a clear message about all aspects of our business or organization.

Each of those can be fleshed out a bit and tweaked to your particular industry, business or audience, but the overall tone should be clear: That you want to lay out “this is what we’re all about and the kind of tone we will seek to take in our communications.”

These principles are, as you may notice, platform agnostic. At no point do they mention any one outlet because they should be applicable to as many platforms as the program encompasses while allowing for new ones to be added. You can adhere to those principles whether you’re talking about Instagram, email, a blog or whatever new platforms will come on your radar two years from now.

There will, of course, be shifts that occur in those principles since, while they are flexible enough to be relevant most anywhere, business goals and needs will change over time. So if responding to customer questions becomes less of a priority, or direct sales become a bigger element of the program, it’s alright to revisit this statement of principles and make revisions.

That being said, doing so lightly can lead to confusion and cause more problems than it solves. This is the basic foundation of the program and should be treated as such.

Going back to the analogy of taking a trip, this is the part of the planning process where you say “We are going to Disney World for four days.” You haven’t laid out what route will be taken, what form of transportation you’ll be taking, where you’re eating meals or how much money you’ve budgeted. It’s just the high-level statement that should be easily understood by all involved parties.

Changing the statement of general principles is akin to saying “We’re now going to New York City for five days.” The entire premise on which what’s coming next has changed, leading to the need to secure buy-in and agreement from those involved all over again.

In that way, the general principles of a content marketing program are both vague and specific. They can be applied to many aspects both present and future of the program and don’t tie you to specific tactics or goals, but they also explain to everyone who touches the program what there is to be gained.

No, Ethics Have Been Around For A While Now

Of all the various issues raised by the dueling documentaries – one on Hulu, one on Netflix – recounting the events of Fyre Festival, one of the most pervasive has been the actions of Jerry Media, a creative agency hired by the founders of Fyre to promote the event online. The agency, which produced the film available on Netflix, has come under significant criticism since it debuted, primarily because it has a history of stealing other people’s photos and comments and republishing them under their own @fuckjerry Instagram account.

The comments have become so widespread that Elliot Tebele, Jerry Media founder, has felt it necessary to respond with a post on Medium that seems intended to defend (or at least deflect) some of the charges leveled against himself and those who work for him.

Here’s the key graf from his post:

I know I’ve made enemies over the years for using content and not giving proper credit and attribution to its creators. In the early days of FuckJerry, there were not well-established norms for reposting and crediting other users’ content, especially in meme culture. Instagram was still a new medium at the time, and I simply didn’t give any thought to the idea that reposting content could be damaging in any way.

Alright, let’s take that apart a bit.

The “early days” of FuckJerry are 2011, which Tebele positions as the Wild West of the internet, free from rules and structure, where anything went and people were ruled only by their hedonistic impulses.

Right from the outset he has shown himself to be either A) a liar, or B) ignorant. For the sake of argument let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and go with “ignorant.”

The Federal Communications Commission enacted guidelines for disclosure of paid social media and online postings in 2009. What Tebele is talking about isn’t exactly that, but it’s important to note that the Federal government deciding to weigh in on what should or shouldn’t happen online is at least 10 years in the past, occurring prior to the free for all described by Tebele.

Conversations around what did or didn’t constitute “fair use” of consumer-generated media predates even that. Those conversations were happening as far back as 2004 (if not earlier), as soon as the first brands began using photos people were posting online in their ads and other marketing. It quickly became evident that the same sort of permissions collected from professional photographers were necessary when dealing with the owner of flickr.com/FloridaPhotoGuy.

So Tebele’s statement there was a lack of “well-established norms for reposting and crediting other users’ content” betrays a startling lack of awareness of basic principles that had been around for at least a half-dozen years. If he was unaware of them it’s because he had a vested interest in not knowing what they were. It’s true he may not have been around while those foundational discussions were being hashed out in blog posts and comments, but if he wanted to build a business around online marketing he had a responsibility to educate himself, something he obviously didn’t do. That makes him at best negligent.

If he’s running a stupid little Instagram account with a “shocking” handle that’s one thing. It’s another if he’s using that philosophy as the foundation for a creative agency that purports to do actual client work, because ultimately those clients are going to be responsible for the actions taken on their behalf.

In many ways the Jerry Media situation offers a perfect example of the modern state of online marketing, one where getting people’s attention is the end that justifies any and all means. So it’s fine that, as of 2017, only 11 percent of marketers were aware of FTC guidelines around sponsored content disclosure. Why should they, when it will only get in the way of posting the kind of material that resulted from that epic microbrew-fueled brainstorming sesh.

It’s a generation that has come up *after* the ones that had the kind of original conversations mentioned earlier. Unfortunately as they gained influence they discarded much of what had come before, perhaps because they didn’t make their bones in the age of links and attribution, instead being raised on social media sharing where nothing came from an individual, it was all just there on the platform. And brands were all too happy to sign up with these buzz-driven agencies founded by one or two dudes who were “good at Instagram” and who would help them seem cool with the kids.

While they were doing that – often on the cheap – those who took a more ethical and sustainable approach to the business kept doing their thing. Flashy agencies came and went but more ethical shops stuck around, often picking up the pieces left behind when some other agency exploded the brand’s reputation or caused other problems that now need to be fixed.

Outside of all that, Tebele’s comment that he didn’t give thought to the idea reposting content without attribution could cause problems simply doesn’t hold water from a rhetorical point of view. He obviously did, otherwise he wouldn’t have removed the name of the person who originally posted it. It’s like filing off the serial number on a gun and then claiming you had no idea doing so would make it harder for police to trace.

In the documentary, Tebele rationalizes his involvement with Fyre Festival by saying something like “Well you can’t expect vendors to vet the people and companies they do business with.” But that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do. Is this a legitimate company or venture? Do the people I’m working with have a history of ethical behavior? Can I trust them?

The Jerry Media team didn’t worry about that – and apparently have never worried about it – because it simply doesn’t matter to them. If it seems fun and like an opportunity to party, they’re in. Rules can be ignored, if they’re aware they exist at all.

Everyone Is Competing Against Everyone, Just Like Everyone Else

The only thing surprising about the comments made by Netflix in its shareholder report about how it’s competing against Fortnite more than it is HBO is how surprised so many people were.

That level of surprise and bewilderment seems indicative of how companies are viewed almost solely within the silos of their industries, assumed to be competing only against others who are also in that category. So Sears is only seen as competing against J.C. Penney, Whole Foods against Kroger and so on.

If you’re in marketing and have been for any length of time you should know that such a narrow view of the world is problematic and can keep you from not only seizing opportunities but anticipating problems. It’s essential to take a more holistic view of the world if you’re going to successfully help your clients or employer succeed.

The reality is that of course Netflix is competing against Fortnite. It’s also competing against Fallout, Avengers: Endgame, the new Stephen King novel, YouTube, Starbucks, iMessage, Superman comics and everything else.

Marketing means you are asking the audience for two things:

  1. Their time
  2. Their money

It’s that simple.

The problem is everyone else is making the same requests. They all want the same time and money, but people only have so much of both. If they are spending $12 on a Netflix subscription that’s $12 less they have to spend on food or other goods. If they spend two hours seeing Aquaman in theaters, that’s two hours less they have to read a book or magazine.

Marketing’s goal is to make the product being sold appear to be more attractive and worthwhile than *everything* else that’s out there, not just the other options within a specific category.

Now there is some level of direct competition that happens. Target wants to make its stores more attractive to shoppers than Walmart and will work to send that message as frequently and effectively as possible. Similarly, each individual movie that’s released is hoping to get the $X someone has that’s dedicated to entertainment.

That’s why so much of marketing conveys a strong sense of urgency. The people sending that message wants to make the audience feel like they *need* to see a movie on opening weekend, or buy a product as soon as it’s available. When you are able to create or latch on to those moments where the product you’re responsible for crosses over to become a conversational touchpoint, you’ve done something special. And you have to seize those moments because they are fleeting and there are always scores of other things out there waiting to get people’s attention. Your product can be knocked off its perch – or kept from ever reaching the top – by any of them.

Part of the problem is that so much of marketing industry as well as the economics industry is siloed, which limits perspective. If you’re a “retail marketing expert” or “retail industry analyst” you’re more likely to view everything that happens to a member of that industry through the very specific filter of their experience. So the demise of Toys ‘R’ Us is chalked up solely to changes in the retail industry, not to the role Netflix and other streaming media might play in taking up more of kids’ time and parents’ money, or the rising cost of equipment necessary to pay for kids to be in traveling soccer leagues or any of a number of other factors.

Successful marketers, I’ve found, need to see the whole board, not just the section their client says they want to own or dominate. Only then are they fully able to advise those they’re working for about what’s coming, what’s hot and what they need to know about in order to successfully sell their products or services.

“Brand Safe” Has Never Been a Thing

Last week AT&T made headlines when it was revealed it would once more be advertising on YouTube, something it hadn’t done in two years after discovering to its great dismay and shock that those ads might be appearing alongside offensive – or at least questionable – material. The company had decided that YouTube had addressed those concerns and assured it those ads would receive more favorable placement.

At the same time, those same concerns about content on Instagram aren’t dire enough to result in advertisers leaving that platform anytime soon as they still want to reach the audience there.

These conversations are the same ones that have been around since the early days of social publishing, as brands at one point were concerned about their Google Adwords ads showing up on offensive blog posts. There’s always been a fair amount of hand-wringing about online advertising and consumer-generated media. The fear is that if your ad shows up alongside some piece of neo-Nazi propaganda it might harm your band reputation.

It’s worth considering, though, just which platforms or media outlets may by any stretch of the imagination be called “brand safe.”

In the last few years we’ve seen a number of instances where advertisers have been pressured through boycotts to stop advertising on various Fox News shows featuring Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingarahm and others. Those shows regularly feature all sorts of white supremacist talking points, nationalist rhetoric and lots more of what could generally be considered hate speech. Many of those stoppages have been short-lived, though, with either the original advertiser returning or new ones coming in to fill the void.

While those are extreme examples there’s plenty on TV or radio that could be considered controversial or too edgy for brands to want to be any part of. Yet you rarely hear about that sort of concern being expressed. The reach and influence of those media platforms, just like Instagram is now, too great to spur companies to take actual action.

There’s always a fair amount of risk involved in any marketing. Sometimes that means your ad or other message is going to be seen during or along with content you may not wholly approve of. Two main differences are in place now, though.

First, it’s no longer just large companies producing the ad-supported media, even if they are still the ones providing the publishing platform. Advertisers aren’t placing their ads alongside YouTube’s video, for instance, they’re placing it against PepeICE4Evah’s video that’s hosted on YouTube, which is very different.

Second, the ability to pick and choose where and when ads are displayed is much more granular. YouTube and other platforms have introduced tools along advertisers to whitelist or exclude certain content or producers because of what they’ve put out in the past. So the advertiser has more control over the situation than they did when mass media was the only game in town.

Put together that means the amount of risk that brands even have to consider being comfortable has diminished to some extent. When it does become an issue, then, they are extremely sensitive to even the slightest threat, pulling ads from Fox, YouTube or whomever else as long as the math of “whose loyalty or trust will we gain” and “whose loyalty or trust will we lose” works out in their favor.

And there’s the key to this. No platform or outlet contains material that’s 100 percent safe to advertise against. This is all extremely situational, depending to a large extent on whether there are dollars to be gained or lost by taking one or another action in any given situation. When a platform is considered “brand safe” it means they have decided their corporate reputation will incur minimal damage, not that they necessarily approve of the content the ads appear within. It’s simply a pragmatic calculous being used, not an indication of brand values.

Take the Pressure Off Social Responses

More terrible data pushing the terrible notion that brands engaging in marketing efforts via social media should feel the need to respond to each and every comment directed at them. This time it comes via a survey of U.S. adults, gauging what they feel is an appropriate response rate. Unsurprisingly, most people feel such responses should come in less than a day, if not within a couple hours.

That’s fine, but it’s also nonsense.

As with most such surveys and reports, it appears to start out from a faulty premise. Namely, that every person mentioning a brand online *wants* to hear back with a response. That’s simply not the case.

Simply consider this: Most of the advice you might have read about how a 100% response rate within 24 hours of an individual’s comment comes from one of two sources. Either it’s from a company selling a social media monitoring and customer engagement software solution or someone selling their consulting service. Both have a vested interest in guilting a company into feeling they’re not doing enough.

In reality, the best guidance is the same that’s applied when you come across one of those “here are the best times/days to publish on social media” pieces. Namely, do what works best for your own company/industry and for your own audience.

Here’s a quick, admittedly abbreviated, checklist to work down as you’re deciding how (or if) to scale up your social content team to more fully respond to consumer comments and posts:

1: What’s the tone? Are people saying anything constructive? In 98 percent of cases, people who are just dragging a brand for the lulz don’t want – or deserve – a response. Nothing you say will change their thinking or attitude. They just want to burn you. On the other hand, someone who seems to be coming at you, even if they’re saying something negative, from a place of good faith is worth your time.

2: Who are they? There’s so much intentional terribleness on social media it’s often hard to find the signal in the noise. The rise of bots and disinformation farms has only made problems worse and it’s not clear companies are adequately staffed or informed to deal with them, outsourcing much of that work and worry to the same CMS vendors mentioned above. It’s only worth engaging with those who are verifiably real people.

3: What are the next three parts of the conversation? Strategic thinking is an essential, if often undervalued, aspect of corporate communications. It’s necessary when developing engagement/response strategies and tactics, though. Before diving into a conversation, and assuming it’s even a conversation the person on the other end wants to have, consider for a moment what the next three steps of that conversation are going to be. What does it seem the person wants out of the back-and-forth and are you ready to deliver it? More importantly, are you ready to be the one who hangs up the figurative phone if things take a turn.

That last one is essential. As ready as brand managers need to be to engage in a conversation, they also need to be ready to end it. Someone always has to be the one to walk away, and in many cases that will be the person who’s operating on behalf of the brand account. So is everyone on the team empowered to make that call?

If, as the lead on a brand social content program, you’re comfortable holding yourself and your team to a 100 percent comment response standard, go for it. For most, though, it’s going to be an unreasonable goal that, even if it were achievable, isn’t going to do much more than incremental good for the brand image in the eye of the public. And when you inevitably fall short of it you will have set a poor precedent for the program, not to mention set yourself up to answer uncomfortable questions from stakeholders.

Don’t buy the hype and don’t give in to the pressure established by those looking to sell their wares and services.

Content Marketing Programs Require More Than Three Steps to Develop

Over the course of the last several years there have been countless blog posts, videos and other material shared by various experts (both real and otherwise) on how to effectively create and and manage an online content marketing program. Just recently there was a post that crossed my RSS feed that boiled developing such a program down to three simple steps:

  1. Define goals
  2. Obtain shareholder approval
  3. Define success and measure results

Those steps are, of course, overly simplistic and vague. There’s almost nothing actionable in there.

What that kind of thinking shows is how the concept of content marketing has become reduced to the lowest, most basic ideas without an idea of how to dive deeper. It shows the kind of “everyone/anyone can do it” mindset that has been common for a few years now as the standards for how and when to manage such programs were lowered.

These programs aren’t easy. They aren’t something everyone can do. At the risk of sounding haughty, it takes a particular kind of skill set to not only launch them but also continue managing them and achieve significant business results through them.

Allow me to add a bit to that initial list:

  1. Develop a program framework
  2. Create a program styleguide
  3. Obtain stakeholder approval
  4. Determine content types
  5. Build a program team
  6. Develop a content workflow
  7. Create community engagement guidelines
  8. Report on program metrics
  9. Offer analysis and recommendations
  10. Repeat at regular intervals

Over the course of the next several weeks I’ll go in-depth on each one of those points, offering insights and opinions based on the experience I’ve gained in the nearly 20 years I’ve been running and participating in programs like this.

AR is the New QR

Walmart, according to Sarah Perez at TechCrunch, has begun adding AR to its in-store experience, with tags on select items that add price and other details to shoppers using the story’s mobile app.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s only a slight variation on what was promised years ago when companies and marketers were slapping QR codes on everything that didn’t run away from them. In that case the experience offered was slightly different, with users told they could access additional information about the product being displayed or advertised simply by scanning the code.

The problem, as I and many others have pointed out, was a lack of public education. This was the early days of mobile adoption and there wasn’t any one app or a set of clear directions on how to use the codes. Despite this, you see the QR concept being adopted by Snapchat, Amazon, Spotify, Shazam and many others, each of which has created their own proprietary code that works exclusively with their app.

It seems, though, that AR is headed in the same direction as its QR ancestor. There are so many companies offering AR experiences – each within its own app – that eventually the mobile user base is going to feel inundated by such requests and, lacking a common app through which to access them, some people will eventually choose nothing.

The only way to overcome that will be by offering the user something truly unique and helpful. It might be quick access to a deal, it might be exclusive content that actually enhances the experience they’re having, but it will have to be something they can’t find anywhere else. And it will have to be available quickly and persistently, or it will require too much heavy lifting on the part of the user.

Augmented reality advertising spending is predicted to grow significantly over the next few years, outpacing the more complex and hardware-reliant virtual reality. And the last couple years has seen some interesting experimentation with AR marketing efforts.

You can’t *make* anyone use the technology, though. If you could I’d have long since implemented rules stating everyone must be an RSS reader. All you can do is create experiences people want to have and offer content they want to consume. If you do that adequately and – and this is key – educate people on how to use it, adoption will follow.

Let’s Not Beat Up on Bad Ideas

I’ve been saving stories about a couple notable marketing missteps for a few days now, wondering what, if anything I should write about them. In quick succession, Marvel both announced and then ended a promotional partnership with Northrop Grumman, drawing criticism for working with a military contractor. At about the same time, McDonald’s came under fire for not stocking enough of the “Szechuan Sauce” it rolled out after being featured in an episode of “Rick and Morty.” Fans apparently weren’t satisfied with (or didn’t understand the concept of) the actual volume of a limited supply product.

There have been a number of hot takes on both topics as people wonder what Marvel might have been thinking, it being assumed the company is working to indoctrinate children into a militaristic worldview. And McDonald’s is feeling the full brunt of one of the internet’s most rabid (and sexist) fan bases as it failed to cater to each and every one of them. Both efforts have been labeled “fails” by the conventional wisdom providers.

It’s tempting to pile on. Marvel certainly wasn’t reading the room. While its statement upon ending the partnership pointed out the intent was to focus on exploration and innovation, the complexities of corporate ownership made that goal difficult. It’s likely McDonald’s felt the limited supply of ketchup mixed with teriyaki would stoke demand and turn the product into a sought-after collector’s item, not fully realizing the internet wants everything right damn now.

There’s little point in doing so, though. I can try to make myself look smarter and more in-tune with reality than the people who green-lit these efforts by chastising them. I can deride them as clueless and promote that, if I were in the room, I would have said something that would have ended or adjusted these campaigns. I can fluff myself up at the expense of others.

While I certainly feel more marketing and communications need a “jerk” who will provide the most annoying point of view (while interrupting corporate inertia and disrupting the onset of groupthink), my experience is that no campaign or other effort is conceived by clueless individuals. Some could certainly benefit from a bit more time devoted to brainstorming, sure, but almost everything is considered and thought-out before an announcement is made or campaign launched.

No one, in other words, is acting either in bad faith or from a wholly uninformed point of view. These are good people, doing their best for their employers, clients and others. They want everyone to succeed and they want fans to benefit in some manner. Marvel likely truly did think the Northrop Grumman deal would expose more kids to sci-tech and inspire a generation of inventors. McDonald’s likely thought the limited supply of Szechuan Sauce would create buzz as fans shared their successful efforts to secure a package. There were plans, goals and other structures in place.

Just because things turn out badly or are poorly-received doesn’t immediately make them failures, certainly not intentional ones. We can have our points of view, but to assign poor motives or laziness to anyone in these and countless other scenarios is bad form. We don’t need more hot takes, we need more consideration of what the goals of the program were and how effectively those goals were or weren’t met.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.