by Chelsey Webber
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about integrating societal concerns into a company’s identity, allowing it to act as a corporate citizen that stands for more than making a profit or reaching sales quotas. This mouthful of a phrase has steadily become one of the most important business practices today. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a successful company that hasn’t, in some way, delved into the world of CSR. Sustainability, hunger alleviation, and charitable donations are a few examples of CSR practices utilized by organizations worldwide.
Doing “good” in the world has become more than just a trend that consumers are interested in. Consumers often make their purchase decisions based on a company’s CSR efforts. It is for that very reason that CSR is an important part of public relations. Forbes recognizes PR as a fundamental tool involved in shaping a company’s identity. The implementation of CSR programs by PR professionals can set a company apart from its competitors.
TOMS Shoes is my favorite company that’s mission literally revolves around its CSR programs. Its “One For One” creed dictates that every single product purchased by consumers will help someone in need. This approach gives customers the guarantee that if they shop with TOMS, they will ultimately do good for someone else.
Locally, MADI Apparel of Kansas City takes a similar approach. For every pair of MADI underwear sold, the company donates a pair to a woman in need. Additionally, its products are made with organic, sustainable fabric – corporate social responsibility at its finest.
Apple is another company that just gets it when it comes to CSR. Its dedication to sustainable business practices is no joke. As a mass producer of electronic software, Apple takes every step necessary to ensure that its carbon footprint remains as small as possible.
When a company dedicates itself to doing good in the world, it bolsters the brand in a way that isn’t easily accomplished otherwise. Consumers are much more likely to get behind an organization that represents itself not only as a money-driven corporate entity, but as an active, caring member of the world community. Socially responsible companies offer the world more than just the latest greatest product of choice; they offer the world a helping hand and sometimes that’s the best gift they could give.
by Evan Whittaker
In today’s professional world, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t recognize the logo of technology industry giant, Apple. In addition to how strong the company’s brand identity is, consumer perceptions of it are overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by its current standing as number five on the Fortune 500 list for 2014. Those perceptions are so strong and positive, in fact, that people wait in line for days to receive the company’s newest products while knowing virtually nothing about them.
So, how has Apple managed to amass such a loyal audience and create a powerful brand identity? The answer can be found in the company’s consistent design principles and genius marketing techniques. Let’s take a look at a few of the elements that contribute to Apple’s success.
Improvement, not innovation
You might be surprised to learn that smartphones, portable music players and tablet computers all existed before Apple made its foray into these markets. Many find this surprising since Apple’s iPhone, iPod and iPad have dominated these respective markets since their releases. If Apple wasn’t the first to introduce these products, why have its versions become the most popular? The answer is the company’s focus on improving and refining existing products to entice consumers.
These refinements take various forms: reduced device size for increased portability, simplified operating systems and construction using premium materials. While these may seem like trivial changes, the results are anything but. Consumers would pick up a rival product, then compare it to Apple’s thinner, lighter and more attractive version. Given that, is it any surprise that many would lean toward the latter? There is certainly something to be said for Apple’s focus on improved aesthetics.
It’s not a device, it’s an experience
Apple creates products. What Apple sells, however, are experiences. It’s not a phone with a camera, it’s the ability to capture memories. It’s not a video-chat feature, it’s the ability to be there even when you’re not. It’s not an app store with more than one million apps, it’s infinite possibilities.
Much of Apple’s marketing focuses heavily on emotional appeals. Rather than highlighting what its devices are capable of, Apple highlights what you are capable of if you own those devices. By connecting its products with sentimental activities consumers can relate with, those consumers, in turn, connect Apple itself with those activities.
It’s quite clever, really. Can you really put a price on sharing moments with your loved ones? As it turns out, you can if you’re Apple – it’s $199 with a two-year contract through your wireless carrier.
Join the club (read: cult)
Humans are social creatures. We have an inherent desire to feel included. So when a brand becomes associated with luxury and exclusivity, consumers tend to want it merely in order to feel like they’re a part of the club. It works for high-end fashion and high-end cars; it works for Apple as a high-end technology company.
This is an interesting development that has occurred over time as Apple has employed the marketing tactics listed above. Think of it as a passive benefit the company has attained through active processes. This is not to say that Apple hasn’t acted strategically to drive desirability for using their products, though. Features like AirDrop, iMessage, FaceTime and AirPlay offer improved functionality for those who want to connect with other Apple device users. Now that Apple has managed to position itself as the industry standard in terms of high-end technology, every new product release has consumers clamoring to drink the Apple iKool-Aid.
Apple did an incredible job of establishing itself as a technology industry giant. Although its products may not be the first of their kind, premium materials and effective marketing techniques are sure to convince many that they are the best. With all of the hype surrounding the new Macbook and Apple Watch released this month, Apple’s streak of successful product launches and sustained brand loyalty are showing no signs of stopping.
by Kristina Keeling
Product placement in television has become more important to marketers because of the way people are watching television. Viewers are able to skip over commercials and enjoy shows without any interruptions. Product placement advertises to consumers subliminally, if done correctly. However, marketers are becoming more aggressive with product placement promotions to reach their audiences.
How does it work?
To put it simply, product placement is when a company pays to have its product showcased on a television show or in a movie, but a lot more goes into product placement than we think. The film, “Man of Steel,” had more than 100 product partners, earning close to $160 million before it hit theaters. Product placement is also in books, video games and even on YouTube. When done successfully, product placements can have lasting impact on viewers. Some agencies actually specialize in product placement promotion because of high demand.
HERO, an advertising agency in Los Angeles, specializes in product placements. Its clients have placed products on well-known shows, such as “Two and a Half Men,” “Glee,” and “The Good Wife,” just to name a few. Its website states that “the brands in a viewer’s favorite shows have a much higher likelihood of becoming that viewer’s favorite brand.”
House of Cards
The Netflix original series “House of Cards” is notorious for its not-so-subtle product placements. The series had such an overload of notable products that the Los Angeles Times said, “House of Cards? More like House of Product Placement,” mocking the hit TV series for its poor use of product placements. The very first sentence of the first episode referenced a Toyota Prius. Netflix spent a total of $100 million producing the first season, but offers no disclosures of any paid product placement, only crediting the product partners by saying all logos were “used with permission.”
Now that “House of Cards” is in its third season it is confirmed by Advertising Age that Anheuser-Busch is the exclusive beer brand for the series, along with Samsung being the tech-of-choice. Anheuser-Busch is not paying for this placement however, but rather supplying production with its product. Samsung also offered its customers Netflix subscriptions when buying select Samsung products. It is rumored that Coca-Cola, Dell and Nike are all working with “House of Cards” for similar deals.
The Emmy Award-winning series, “Modern Family,” now on its sixth season, is another show littered with product placement. Steven Levitan, executive producer and creator, said the show turns down about 90 percent of its product placement offers, and for a good reason. ABC wants to stay true to the characters on its show. The Toyota Prius, an environmentally-friendly car, appeared on the first season, driven by Mitchell Pritchett, who is an environmental attorney. It wouldn’t make sense for him to drive a gas-guzzling truck.
“Connection Lost,” a recent episode of “Modern Family” has sky rocketed to the top of the list of brilliantly used product placement. The episode was shared with viewers entirely through Claire Dunphy’s MacBook Pro. In the episode, Claire is trying to find her daughter after having a huge fight, but she is stuck at the airport and has to use Facebook, iCloud, the app, Find Your iPhone and FaceTime to track her down. The episode didn’t feel like one long commercial, cleverly blurring the lines between entertainment and advertising.
Is this all too much?
Products are everywhere. Your favorite character is going to have to make a phone call or use a computer for research, so why not have them use an Apple product to do so? What do you think? Have “Modern Family” and “House of Cards” gone too far with product placement? Let us know in the comments below.
by Jordan Rafferty
Facebook and Apple are two leading competitors in their industries, always staying one step ahead of the game. Apple recently released a new iPhone and iPad, while Facebook has surpassed 1.35 billion active users. Both share a competitive nature, so it’s no surprise when they both make the same announcement, creating quite a stir.
Both companies announced a new employee “benefit” for women. They offer female employees $20,000 to cover the cost of two rounds of freezing their eggs. Apple released a statement saying, “We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.”
My first reaction to these announcements was a positive one. I commend them for being ahead of the game (or so I initially thought. A few other companies offer similar benefits). Women are now having children much later in life because they want to focus on their careers or finding the right partner. Facebook and Apple noticed this trend. Yet, 43 percent of women leave their careers because they have children (according to theatlantic.com). By offering to pay for the delay of children in a female employees life, they are able to keep their staff longer, and it’s enabling women to rise up to higher positions because they stay with the company for longer periods of time.
Social media reaction
So, I am really excited about this announcement, and then I get on Twitter, Facebook and Google News. Some people do not like this one bit. There has been far more backlash than either company anticipated. Here are a couple tweets I saw on my feed:
People are concerned that Apple and Facebook have the ulterior motive of forcing women to put the company first and a family last. This is a concern that could address by communicating to their publics on the issue. Some are also concerned with the health risks of the procedure itself.
I went from excited to sad for Apple and Facebook in a matter of minutes. In my heart I believe the companies are trying to do the right thing, but I can’t help but think that they should have done the research to anticipate the negative reaction. Remember the first step of the RACE model? Research, Research, Research. You never know what you will come across. The smallest detail could make or break you.
I read a number of the articles on Google News and,according to alternet.org, hyperstimulation of the ovaries (the freezing process) uses what some see as an aggressive and potentially dangerous hormone therapy that uses non-FDA regulated drugs. Those opposed believe a number of things can go wrong with this process, like punctured ovaries or organs, abdominal bleeding and other complications. Bloggers and Twitter users alike are concerned with the risks to the procedure and are questioning why Facebook and Apple even agreed to offer such a thing to their employees. Some feel that by offering to pay for this the companies are basically saying that families are not important.
Communicate with your publics
I searched to see if Apple or Facebook ever responded to the negative reactions, but so far I haven’t found a thing. The fact that I haven’t seen a response concerns me. Sure, there are other things going on with the companies, but they should be communicating with their audiences. As a PR specialist I would suggest responding early. Tweet back to those concerned and reassure their audiences that they do, in fact, care about families. They are just offering to pay for the procedure, and not every female employee has to do. Like Apple said in their statement when they made the announcement, they are empowering women. There are women who want to hold off on having children, and Apple and Facebook are making that possible.
by Jonathan Haile
In today’s world, we’re bombarded with so many media messages and advertisements that it has become difficult for brands to stand out. Think about it. When commercials come on, we change the channel. If a commercial comes on Hulu, we open a new tab in our browser.
Brands have to be able to stand out; to break through the clutter and reach the people that matter most. These are things that a brand can do to get my attention. While these are my opinions, I’m willing to bet others share these with me.
1. Your brand addresses a problem with a unique solution
Take Boston’s fast-growing men’s clothing company, Ministry of Supply, as an example. Men get up every morning, put on their nicest dress clothes, but by the time they arrive to work, they’re drenched in sweat and left uncomfortable for the rest of the day. The guys at Ministry are addressing this age-old problem by manufacturing shirts that absorb the heat that makes you sweat. The company’s signature Apollo Dress shirt is also wrinkle free.
You don’t see bigger clothing companies doing this and I really wonder why they haven’t caught on. Ministry of Supply is a little clothing company that, I imagine, other companies are going to start paying attention to.
2. Your brand is minimal
Minimalism can take many different meanings for many people, but in this case, I’m talking about the aesthetics. Apple is the perfect example. From the iPhone to the Mac Pro, the designs are simple. They look like something from the future and while more and more people buy these products, each one looks like it was crafted with a great deal of care.
The genius behind Apple’s minimal aesthetic is Jony Ive. You can see how after Apple shifted to this style, other brands followed suit. After all, Apple sued Samsung because their designs were similar.
3. You care about the customer
We’ve discussed, in previous, how Twitter is a growing customer service tool. In some cases, social media can get companies into customer service trouble, but in many cases, it’s nice to see brands interacting with the people that keep them afloat.
4. You have fun, and it shows
Workplaces are, first and foremost, places of business, but companies and brands don’t want employees to hate coming to work. Social media allows brands to show how much fun it can be to be included. We see goofy photos of employees, teams celebrating awards after months of hard, company picnics and celebrations of key customers.
5. Your focus goes beyond selling a product
Corporate social responsibility can have large influence on purchase decisions. Take TOMS, for example. You want to buy new shoes. You can buy from Brand X, who rakes in the cash and manufactures more shoes, or you can buy from TOMS, who will, in turn, donate shoes to needy children.
TOMS’ following continues to grow because it makes the statement that it’s going to make the world a better place when it sells a pair of shoes, or glasses or coffee. It isn’t the only example. Brands partner with Product (RED) to raise money for AIDS research and treatment. Seventh Generation, a natural household products, is committed to bringing sustainable options to consumers. Even Walmart is reducing its carbon footprint by continuing to install solar panels on more and more stores.
6. Your brand DOESN’T use social media
What…? Really…? Yep. Seems like a contradiction to what I said before, but brands that don’t use social media become more impressive to me each day. The lack of a social presence could be seen as being out of touch, but I think it’s bold. Apple only uses Youtube, but simply as a tool to share commercials rather than interact with customers. Trader Joe’s doesn’t use social media (or traditional advertising). It relies on a loyal customer base, a clever website, and a good reputation to keep moving forward.
by Jonathan Haile
There aren’t a ton of people who have $1,500 to drop on Google Glass. No matter how steep price, it’s going to be strange seeing people walk around with it on. Equally as strange as it looks, hearing someone say, “Ok Glass, record a video”, is going to be an adjustment for those who aren’t wearing it. Google, however, seems optimistic that Glass will be a hit, and I must admit, there are things about it I find very appealing.
Even though the Glass probably isn’t in my future anytime soon, I think it has some benefits once you get over it’s oddity. Instead of looking at computer screen while you “hangout” with someone on Google, they appear in the heads up display and can see what you see. Giving them your perspective allows you to share the experience. That’s why I think Glass and future examples of wearable technology have huge potential in the world of public relations and marketing.
Demos, How-Tos, Etc.
I’d never thought of product demonstrations, walkthroughs, or how-to videos as parts of PR until my first internship, which required me to blog a ton for various companies, their customers and followers. If you can, somehow, get over the price, Google Glass has to potential to be a great asset for demos, giving the customer or viewer the perspective of the demonstrator. It could create a more personal experience for those who want to learn how to do something. Maybe using a toolkit to fix something is made easier when you see it done from a first person viewpoint. Similar experiences can be seen through the lenses of GoPro cameras, which are becoming more popular every day.
Likewise, companies that are trying to sell experiences and locations could use Glass to show the product from a potential customer’s perspective. What will a tour of Paris be like when you visit France? Well, let a French travel company show you. And say you’re pitching an idea to a company. You could use Glass to show that the experience will be like. I’m not going to say there are limitless possibilities for wearable tech, but the number of uses in PR could be big.
Wearable tech isn’t limited to glasses
Wearable technology isn’t a new idea, but it’s finally starting to take off. We’re seeing Google give a lot of focus to it with the Glass, while Samsung and Apple prepare to square off in the smartwatch arena (basically watches that do everything smartphones do). Applications, marketing campaigns, demos, and so much more for these devices are going to give PR practitioners and marketers a lot more responsibilities. There might even be social media-related contests centered around this tech. And don’t expect Apple and Samsung to be the only ones involved. Wearable tech startups are going to see growth as well.
Imagine these wearable devices being able to monitor your health, your heart rate, and your fatigue. That’s what it’s coming to, and any healthcare-related entity is going to be in a very good position once they grasp that concept and run with it.
The future is wearable
For marketers, advertisers and communication professionals, getting people’s attention is becoming more difficult. It it isn’t enough to show a commercial on television or place a print ad anymore. It’s about creating positive experiences, sometimes fun experiences, for the publics that matter to us the most. Wearable technology will allow us to continue creating new experiences. It will also be a fun to see how it influences social media in the future.
by Jonathan HaileIt’s almost hard to imagine a major American company in 2013 that doesn’t utilize Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, yet you really don’t have to look very far. You won’t find Apple on any of those channels (so if you’ve become a fan of Apple on Facebook, it’s an unofficial fan page).
In fact, you can’t even find Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, on Twitter. People like visible CEOs. It makes them seem “human”. Clearly that’s not Apple’s priority. They want to make products that challenge the status quo and that’s why their following continues to grow.
Their products speak for themselves. Their sleek and minimal aesthetics are almost futuristic-looking. Couple that with software that’s easy to use, understand and organize and you have phones, computers and tablets people love.
The brand benefited from Steve Jobs intellect, charisma and leadership. People were eager to know what Steve had in store at the next keynote speech. He was the face of innovation. You’ll see now that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has his speeches where he’ll introduce the next wave of the site’s technology. He probably wouldn’t be doing that if Steve hadn’t made it so cool.
Since Steve’s death, the company has taken a bit of a tumble. Tim Cook is a smart guy, but he’s no Steve Jobs. Apple is still more than afloat, however, ranking as the most valuable company in history. That speaks to how much people love their products.
If there has been a major criticism of Apple, it’s the company’s unwillingness to compromise. Their prices are reasonably high and they’re a secretive company. Being active on social media would give customers another avenue for voicing frustration with prices.
Don’t get me wrong. Apple is okay with customers having a voice. That’s what word-of-mouth is for. When someone gets a new iPhone, they tell their friends. They show them what the phone can do and why it’s so innovative.
Maybe they’re an extreme exception, but Apple proves that social media doesn’t have to rule how they interact with customers and followers. Keep that in mind, PR students. Social media isn’t everything. It’s good to be skilled and knowledgeable when it comes to online social networks, but don’t overlook those traditional PR skills. Apple’s communication team certainly hasn’t.