strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Archive for the tag “new products”

Don’t Sell Out, Sell Purpose

Product placements and key messages are how brands survive today. Between movies, television, and the Internet, people can be in front of a screen at all hours of the day. How a brand develops its product placements and key messages is part of a strategic communications plan to connect with customers.

When faced with the idea of “product placement” many people immediately associate it with “selling out.” A scene from Wayne’s World comes to mind when Wayne and Garth claim they are not interested in representing any sponsors on their show, all while modeling labeled clothes and using brand named products.


Product placement is an effective method of advertising, and we see it on nearly every television show or movie. Sometimes it’s subtle: the main character takes a quick drink of a Coke in a scene. Other times it seems to be very in-your-face, ultimately taking away from the drama of the story.

I remember watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars during its first or second season. Those familiar with the show know that the four main characters are constantly plagued by text messages from an anonymous “A” person. “A” sends on average about 4-5 text messages per episode, so it is naturally part of the show. The characters and the audience are used to hearing the sound of a text alert and seeing the girls quickly take out their phones to read the next message.

There was one episode when I found product placement both extremely obvious and irritating. At the time there was a new Microsoft phone out called the Kin. It was a tiny phone with a slide up keyboard that claimed to be the perfect phone for social media. In the episode, one of the main characters, Aria, gets a text message and stops in the hallway saying “it’s my Kin!” followed by an extreme zoom in of her using the Kin. I didn’t remember them ever explicitly saying the brand of their phone before this episode, so this instance really stood out to me. It was the first time I’ve ever seen blatant product placement that was serious instead of a joke. I could not take it seriously and laughed at how obvious it was.


I am not alone in this opinion. Cowley and Barron (2008) state when “people with high levels of program liking see a prominent product placement, they may interpret the placement to be an attempt to influence the viewer, which could interrupt the viewing experience.” Fans of television programs want to be entertained by the world of the program, not by characters making a point about a product they use.

There are ways to advertise products without shoving the advertisement in the faces of audiences. Going back to the example of a character drinking a Coke, or even asking another character “Can I have a Coke?” is a natural way of mentioning a product, because most consumers see drinking Coke as a regular habit for many people. After a subtle mentioning of the brand, the next commercial break could begin with an advertisement for Coke. The brand is being delivered in repeated messages for recall, but it is not so over-the-top in the actual episode. Those who are highly involved with the show won’t feel the storyline has been interrupted strictly to promote a brand.

Another example is undercover word-of-mouth marketing, or “shill/stealth.” The example from this link (starting on page 235) involves 60 actors dispersed around New York and Seattle with a new product from Sony Ericsson. The actors were not given a script, but they were asked to use the product in public. When approached by people, they had to have an honest conversation about the product. It was easy to have an honest conversation since there were no scripts or guidelines. What happened is that people were engaging with one another and sharing information. Those who were interested in buying the product had to go find out where to purchase it themselves. This meant the consumers actually found value in the product and wanted to use it in their own lives.

It may seem sneaky, but how many times has word-of-mouth worked in your life? There is always that friend that jumps on a trend and talks about the benefits until you jump on too. Why not engage in personal conversations with customers about your brand?

When developing key messages, it is important to research your audience. What’s the population of your city and are you in a large metropolis or a small town? How many people drive across town for work? How many have access to cable and Internet? Is there a certain location where your company could engage with the most people at a single time, or is your online presence the strongest point? Answering these questions will aid in your messaging strategy.

One example of a leader seeking out message delivery to customers is Gap’s up-and-coming CEO, Art Peck. Peck is commonly referred to as the “digital guy” and lives up to this name by being enthusiastic about e-commerce sales. In a time where shopping mall attendance is slowly dwindling, online shopping has become more important than ever in terms of store success. Wi-Fi has been set up in 1,100 stores, and he is interested in measuring the number of clicks each site in the Gap family receives. Going back to last week’s post, Peck truly is a “visionary leader” in that he knows his customers, he knows how habits are changing, and he is using forward-thinking ideas to keep the company valuable.

Most recently, he is behind the campaign of “Dress Normal.” The campaign highlights ordinary style as opposed to the busy patterns and unique cut-out clothes. Neutrals, comfort, and hidden labels are the main components of this style, often called “normcore.”


I was not familiar with normcore when I first saw Gap’s slogan. My first thought when I saw “Dress Normal” was that the Gap was scolding people to dress in a way that is universally acceptable as opposed to some of the edgier styles out there. Further criticism includes those who do not want their style to just be “normal,” they want to be trendy and stylish. There are mixed reviews about the message Gap is sending, but Peck wants to stand by it for a couple of seasons to see how it plays out. He has explained his purpose behind the message and feels that if given the chance, it will be successful. On Twitter, the “Dress Normal” message is accompanied by pictures of models in what is considered “normcore” style, which assists in what the message is actually trying to convey. Their Facebook page also features advertisements with more messages about how clothes shouldn’t be what attracts people to you: your actions are more important .


Developing message and product placement strategies is more than just selling your name. What do you really want your audience to gain from your product? Make sure every advertisement option you use has a purpose behind it, and that it is not just selling out empty messages.


Communicating New Ideas

Greetings bloggers!

I started this blog 10 weeks ago for my Emerging Media class as part of my Masters of Science in Strategic Communications program. My posts centered on new media platforms that strategic communicators must adopt in order to succeed in the professional world. Now it is time to look at the leaders who are pushing forward with new technologies. This week I have just begun a new class: Leadership and Media Strategies. Leaders know that hiding behind the “We’ve always done it this way” attitude will do more harm than good. 


We are in a world that is constantly on the verge of adopting the next big thing! I will discuss how communication has changed and the benefits and challenges of these changes. I will be sure to include links to weekly readings discussed in class. As a reminder, if you wish to follow or bookmark my blog the address is:

We will begin discussion of leadership and media strategies with a frequently referenced theory: Diffusion of Innovations. Dr. Everett M. Rogers defines diffusion as “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.” Basically how do ideas not only spread, but stay relevant? There are multiple moving parts to diffusion. First, knowledge of a new innovation must reach an audience. Then after being persuaded to use that innovation, a member of the audience decides to accept it, implement it into his or her own life, and evaluate its results. Sharing information and persuasive results is done through a number of communication channels such as commercials, social media postings, news stories, and peer-to-peer conversations. Think of the amount of trends that have made their way into our lives, and how certain products had to adapt or be forgotten? One example in the journalism world that I talked about in my first post was how newspapers are moving to online versions and apps. 

The way the audience becomes aware of an innovation and decides to use it happens in shifts. This article gives a great summary about each type of user: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. The titles of these groups are pretty self-explanatory. The innovators are those who are always thinking of the next big thing or next useful tool. Those who adopt this innovation first are the Early adopters, and the the early majority and late majority follow in line after them. Laggards have the traditional view and often see more risk of innovations than benefits. Strategic communicators should know how to reach out to each of these groups in order to for them to accept the innovation. Think about what each group needs and establish a plan to


A business that holds this variety of people on their staff can succeed in releasing a new product or idea because it will go through the whole process internally before reaching the public audience. From the innovators, to those who are ready to accept it, to those who are supportive but may need a little more convincing, to those who want to discuss risks, these employees all help the company to stay grounded and efficient. 

When Amazon came out with their Kindle I was pretty much in the laggard category. As an English major and self-titled “biggest lover of books, of all time, ever,” I found the idea of reading a complete novel on a screen repulsive. Why was everyone so obsessed with technology that the value of holding a new book was lost?

My dad and I were Christmas shopping for my mom and I saw an advertisement for the Kindle. I quickly scoffed and said to my dad “I can’t believe that’s a thing. I would never replace a good book with a dumb screen!” My dad just nodded without comment. Well wouldn’t you know it, Christmas morning I open up my last gift and inside is a Kindle. My dad laughed a little bit and said, “Sorry.” My mom defended herself by saying phrases like “I thought it would be perfect because you love books!” and “All the commercials and reviews say it’s so good!” I felt like the worst person, and I was determined to give it a try for the sake of my parents.

Fast forward to today and I have 38 books and counting. I absolutely love it! As soon as I finish one book, I can immediately by another one! It’s especially perfect when reading a series—no mid-trilogy cliffhangers for me! It fits right in my purse, so it is especially perfect for traveling. I realized the benefits of the Kindle and now I recommend it to anyone. Currently, I am trying to convince one of my coworkers to get one because she says she likes reading but always forgets to buy books when she’s out shopping. Stay tuned to see if this peer-to-peer persuasion works.

My personal Kindle: the older version that prevents glare while you read. I love it.

My personal Kindle: the older version that prevents glare while you read. I love it.

The other point worth mentioning in this story is the fact that age was not the main factor with sticking to tradition here. My parents, who were not born in a technology-centered world, actually accepted this innovation before I did.

Social media is also a key communication channel to spread new ideas. One of my friends posted a picture of herself on Instagram saying she used the “Serena filter” on the Social Light app. Never hearing of this photo editor before, I went to the App Store and typed in the name and sure enough the first version was released October 5th. It only has 41 reviews and all of them are positive. This app has come at the right time because high society city life (re: Gossip Girl) has become a popular online trend. The app is also designed for those who are constantly on-the-go which is also relevant to the fast-paced lifestyle of the new generation. My friend is the first person in my “social circle” to use this app, and based on the amount of comments she already has, she has most likely set the trend. I have no doubt her followers will start downloading the app. How many photo editing apps can one possibly have, you ask? In a world where photography, selfies, and Instagram are dominating hobbies, people will try any new app at least once and see how they like it.

Strategic communicators and leaders must come up with fresh ideas that are relevant and useful to a wide audience. Innovators are constantly reshaping the ways of the world, and some of them that may have seemed so out of the box are regularly used today. Communication through mass media and interpersonal ties is crucial with spreading new innovations.

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