How to Waste $154,980


A full page ad in the New York Times will run you something to the tune of $154,980 … not for the faint of heart.

With a price tag like that, you’d expect advertisers to give it everything they’ve got. It’s a one shot deal after all. Once the day is over — or more likely, once the morning is over — no one will see their ad ever again.

On June 21, Hampton Creek — a food company that makes mayonnaise and cookies — decided to take out a full page ad in the main news section of the Times.

Here’s what it said:

Dear Food Leaders,

I’ve had lots of successful folks give me advice about you. Advice on whether to work with you (be wary), on how to grow with you (go slow)—and the good we can do with you (very little).

We built a movement, and the fastest-growing food company on earth, around intentionally ignoring all of it.

We started Hampton Creek because we believe in the goodness of people—in the goodness of you. And you, the same folks who created a food system that often violates your own values, have validated what all of us knew: It turns out that when you create a path that makes it easy for good people to do good things—they will do it.

I know we’re all buried in the to-do list of the day. But you should know, that as of 5:33 AM EST on Sunday June 21st, our movement includes:

The largest food service company in the world

The largest convenience store in the world

The two largest retailers in the world

The second largest retailer in the US

The largest natural grocery retailer in the world

The largest grocery retailer in the US

The largest retailer in the UK

The largest grocery retailer in Hong Kong

The largest coffeehouse in the world

Two of the top ten largest food manufacturers in the world

Two of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (Forbes)

The sovereign wealth fund of Singapore

A former Republican Senate Majority Leader

The world’s leading virologist

The Co-founder of Facebook

A Medal of Honor recipient

The leading experts in machine learning

The Godfather of hip-hop

4,121 public schools

12 billionaires

And many of your kids

Just three years ago when we started, I thought you were the problem. And I was wrong. You have always been the kinds of folks who know what the right thing to do is. You have names. And families. And you, just like all of us, want your kids and friends and loved ones to admire who you are. And you, just like all of us, are just trying to figure it all out.

Did you know that our manifesto was written by you?

And that our 2015 impact is driven by you?

1.5 billion gallons of water saved

11.8 billion milligrams of sodium avoided

2.8 billion milligrams of cholesterol removed

You should feel insanely proud.

Talk soon,

Josh Tetrick, CEO & Founder

PS: You can reach me anytime at (415) 404-2372 or

Not sure what just happened? Me neither.

This ad would fail as a blog post, let alone a six figure campaign in a prestigious national paper.

It’s not worth hashing out all the problems with the ad because it’s obvious to anyone who read it. But it is worth thinking about what went wrong here for a moment.

Disaster could’ve been averted if Hampton Creek stopped to ask a few simple questions before running the ad (via Seth Godin):

WHO are you trying to reach? (If the answer is ‘everyone’, start over.)

HOW will they become aware of what you have to offer?

WHAT story are you telling/living/spreading?

DOES that story resonate with the worldview these people already have? (What do they believe? What do they want?)

WHERE is the fear that prevents action?

WHEN do you expect people to take action? If the answer is ‘now’, what keeps people from saying, ‘later’? It’s safer that way.

WHY? What will these people tell their friends?

Marketing isn’t complicated, it’s common sense. If your ad, email, campaign, or launch strategy doesn’t address the simple questions — you’re wasting time and money.


Flickr creative commons image via Michael.

Why Don’t Marketers Have a Mantra?

Everyone else has a mantra. Sales people have ‘always be closing’. Boy scouts have ‘always be prepared’.

Why can’t we have one?

Probably because marketers would never be able to agree on one. There’d be a lot of brainstorming sessions. A lot of white boarding and wire framing.

But no mantra.

Well, I’m putting one out there. Here’s my vote:

Always be producing.

Clearly this is borrowed. But for good reason.

The sales mantra is effective because it reminds the sales person what their primary activity should be.

At any point in a conversation with a prospect, they should be pushing the sales conversation towards the close.

What’s the primary activity of a marketer? The one thing we should always be doing? The activity we should default to when we’re not sure what to do next?

Producing content.

Content is the currency of marketing. When we’re producing content, we’re doing our work. And when we’re not, something is amiss.

The nature of marketing, and the role it plays in any organization, makes it easy to get caught up in excessive planning and deliberation.

But the rubber only hits the road when something tangible is produced. I know from my experience, I’d be a much better marketer if I produced something more often.

The Placebo of Coffee


I finally got the chance to sit down and read (most of) Seth Godin’s latest ebook on placebos.

The basic premise of the book is that placebos work. Not only in medicine, but in marketing too.

In marketing, placebos are induced by stories. The right story can actually enhance our enjoyment of a product.

Seth uses of the example of the sommelier in a restaurant. You can buy a bottle of wine from the store for half the price you’ll pay in a restaurant. But the experience created by the sommelier is worth paying for. Same product, different experience.

I don’t drink wine. So I didn’t really get it. Until I brewed my afternoon cup of coffee.

I recently bought a subscription to The Roasters Pack — a monthly subscription service that delivers three coffees from different roasters every month.

The cup I brewed this afternoon was from a roaster I’d never heard of: Monigram Coffee Roasters in Cambridge, ON.

On the bag, there was a quote from the roaster that read:

“We get a very clean finish on this coffee. Just a gorgeous rich cup that changes its composition as it cools.”
— Graham Braun, Owner/Roaster

With just a few well-placed words, my cup of coffee was given a story.

I noticed the clean finish. The rich cup. The changing composition as it cooled. I could literally feel the placebo effect doing its work.

Before today, I didn’t know a thing about Monigram Coffee Roasters. I had no reason to be inclined toward the coffee.

And whether or not the cup actually was clean, rich, or anything else — that simple story was enough to kick in the placebo effect and dramatically improve its chances of making an impression on me.

Now I get it.

Why Brands Should Think and Act More Like Humans

Harvard Business Review just put out an interesting case study called When the Twitterverse Turns on You.

It’s about a Canadian airliner that conducts a Twitter contest, on the advice of their PR agency, that goes terribly wrong. The twitterverse starts using the contest’s hashtag to bash the company, hurl customer service complaints, and rehash recent PR nightmares the company is still trying to recover from.

The case study details the discussion between the CEO, PR Head, Social Media Director, and PR firm on how to react to the negative tweets the contest is generating.

In the end, they put the onus on the PR Head to make a decision: Should we cancel the contest?

I’m no PR guru, but this one seems straightforward to me. The short answer is no. They shouldn’t cancel the contest.

But I know why the answer is straightforward to me, yet very complicated for the business leaders featured in the case.

I think like a human. They think like brands.

Humans have a social code. We have expectations on how we should be treated and how we should treat others. To be a functioning member of society, we know we’re supposed to act a certain way.

Thanking another human for holding the door open for you. Giving the human in the car behind you a wave when they let you merge into their lane. Not cutting in line in front of another human at the grocery store. These are the building blocks of basic human courtesy.

But brands think those rules don’t apply to them. In fact, they developed a separate set of rules to live by — different from the rules that govern the human population. They call it Public Relations.

Their rules worked perfectly in an era of mass-production, advertising, and economies of scale. And it’s only recently, through the transparency of social media, that their rules are being called into question.

The irony is that brands are managed by humans. You’d think their natural human inclinations, or at least the very soft skills that got them their jobs, would inform how they manage their brands.

But more often than not, they make decisions based on inhuman criteria devoid of consideration for how other humans (i.e. their customers) will react. And then they panic when the humans get upset about it.

To cancel the twitter contest is the human equivalent of giving everyone the middle finger. It’s flipping the bird to both the human who criticized you, even if justifiably, and the human who tried to engage in a positive conversation with you.

It’s to say we’re only interested in a conversation if it’s flattering. But if you’re going to have the audacity to tell us what you really think, this conversation is over — for everyone.

No one wants to engage with a human, or a brand, who carries that kind of attitude.

Brands may think the rules are different. But the rest of us will judge according to the same human criteria.