Four Ways to Maximize “Minimalist” Marketing

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Familiar with the tiny house, declutter, and downsizing trends? Then you may have heard of the “Minimalist” movement too. The concept has taken off, with more than four million followers of its books, podcasts, a documentary, and tons of media attention.

But what the heck is this minimalist thing and why does it matter to marketing?

First some backstory: the Minimalists idea emerged from two 30’s, corporate worker bees who walked away six-figures jobs in the throes of typical American “success.” They were miserable on the endless hamster wheel and wanted to find more meaning in their lives. The Minimalist Guys (yep that’s what they call themselves) decided to strip away the life clutter. Disengage from rampant capitalistic culture. Find happiness and make time for what matters―stronger connections, personal growth, and happiness.

Intrigued by this idea, I watched the “The Minimalists” documentary. It begins with quick-cuts of the ‘90s consumerism excesses as the narrator quietly judges our complicity. It was a stark reminder that not much has changed in the digital age. “More” is still the mantra. The time is ripe for marketing to adopt own brand of minimalist philosophy.

Here are some ways you can apply the Minimalist principle to your marketing and be more effective with less.

Keep your content clean (NOT the NSFW kind)

When you’re living the Minimalist life, your home won’t be packed with “stuff”. No knick- knacks. Electronic devices gathering dust. Pictures that don’t bring you joy. Yet every day (every waking moment, let’s get real) consumers are overstimulated by busy websites trying to get us to click, crowded social media news feeds, red notification lights blinking and buzzing incessantly. We, as marketers, should help our readers focus on the most important messages. There’s a reason why Apple, Volkswagen, and other iconic brands share the legacy of of the best advertising around: there is a strong visual element, few words, and a supporting message hammered home. Adopt this principle of simplicity wherever you communicate. Keep everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Channel Your Inner Editor

The life of a minimalist means that you don’t overcomplicate things. Take what you need. Give what you can, but do no more than that. As marketers, the writing practice should be just as disciplined. Don’t let the important messages you have to say get lost in a word jumble. As a writer, I strive for brevity but it often tempered (and tempted) by wordiness. Instead, deliberately choose your language wisely and say no more (there’s this thing called editing. And more editing.). And don’t overwhelm your reader with messages. Make more impact with less. Something else to ponder: if you can’t say what you need to in a sentence, go back to the drawing board. The last benefit? Readers will notice what you say instead of staring into a sea of words.

Social Media Master of None

Minimalists don’t do five things at a time and multi-task the hell out of them, they one or two very well. Visit a friend, make a connection, focus on the beauty of the moment. When it comes to social media marketing, we tend to view all channels as one unit―incorrectly. Social media now an established part of the marketing mix, but you don’t need to be everywhere―just where your customers are. Some companies hop on the latest platforms because they’re “cool” or for novelty’s sake. Sure, test the waters, but don’t invest tons of time and energy with a square peg in a round hole. Spend social capital with what works best for your business. If your target audience is young, Snapchat. If you have a visual product or can creatively express your business on Instagram, post away. If you’re B2B, LinkedIn and Twitter make sense. If you have a start up, there are other considerations. Reign in your social media in and you’ll reach the people that matter.

Choose Quality Over Quantity 

Though the Minimalist Guys hug as many people as possible at their events, their philosophy is about making the space to spend time with those that really matter. In the same way, as a marketer, don’t try to attract every audience. Do a spring cleaning of your database and get rid of the dead-weight; take a hard look at your personas and see if you’ve overdone it and can condense or toss a few; drop excess mailing lists you’ve been on that aren’t paying off; and finally, scrub “we’ve always done it this way”from your marketing vocabulary. Excising marketing programs can be a painful pill to swallow for marketing organizations, but a worthwhile change.

These are a few ideas but certainly is not an exhaustive list. What would you do to pare down your marketing? What will be the first thing you cut?

 

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7 Ways to Better Marketing in 2016

2016
Let’s start the new year right: out with the old and in with the fresh.

#1 Get off the training wheels articles

Dear content experts: We know that images are processed 60x more than text. We also know that tweets with images get tons more shares than those without. We get it. There are hundreds of articles on these basics. If you want more SEO, be less of a sheep and more of a leader. Got an interesting take on why Twitter sucks for certain businesses? Or an argument to do long-form blogging instead of 500 words? Bring it. Make us think, provoke us and push us further in our education, don’t give us the same-old.

#2 No more gobbling up junk food infographics

Ratios are important, including infographics. For instance, when the largest element of an infographic is the logo of the company that produced it, it’s a clear warning sign. Many infographics these days are filled with fluffy, contextless stats aimed at showcasing themselves for shares and/or hopping on popular culture (not very well). We have more innovative data visualization opportunities than ever. Let’s use this information to educate and inspire ideas, not dumb down readers.

#3 Overthrow the content monarchy drivel

…Is so 2013 (I’m guilty myself). No more using “content is king” or corollary: “content is queen” context, engagement or anything else that is sidekick to the King. (and why does the Queen always have the helping role?) These cliché terms are ubiquitous and mean nothing anymore. We’re way beyond this revelation (see #1). It’s time for the next level analysis when we write about content. Speaking of which…

#4 Doctor’s orders: marketing does not cure cancer

I do suggest one new monarchy term: “Content is the new court jester”. We’re a pretty humorless bunch. We do have the Condescending Corporate Facebook page, Clickhole, recaps of social media flubs, and the occasional catch-all. But more laughs and less self-importance is the prescription for what ails us. There are brands that get humor thankfully. Yes, meaty, relevant content is an essential ingredient for smart marketing strategy and contributes to revenue (fingers crossed), but let’s have some fun, people.

#5 A fresh litter is worth 10 copycats

A blog post compiling expert views is one thing, but regurgitating others’ ideas with few word changes has a centuries-old legal term: plagiarism. It’s spread online like rancid butter. If you have an opinion, state it and back up with well-thought ideas and research. While we’re at it, let’s do away with hijacking trending stories unless an authentic connection is there. The passage of time often reveals more interesting or thoughtful insights. Better yet, let the story ride out its 15 minutes and write about something original.

#6 Social media deserves a demotion

There, I said it. While social media continues its star billing, advertising (save for ethically ambigious “sponsored content”), events, and everything else in the marketing wheelhouse is relegated to the D-list. Social also gives  click-bait culture a huge boost. True, social media disrupted how we communicate with each other and brands, but ALL marketing is a part of the promotion landscape. Young marketers are taught to burrow heads into their screens 24/7 without understanding or caring about what they can learn by looking up and around. All pieces of the promotion pie are part of our rich legacy. (P.S. Apple does billboards, so you know it’s still cool).

#7 Time travel to forward-thinking content 

There are tons of articles about “next year…” this time of year, but what about visionary pieces that look at marketing five or 10 years down the road? The internet of things, mobility, and other technologies are reshaping the way we market. Let’s peek into future so we can plan for the Next Big Thing (or avoid a trending rat hole). Like: why virtual reality will change the way we shop or how robots are invading into journalism . Let’s learn about these futuristic ideas now and start planning for what’s to come . Even if these predictions never come true, it opens our minds to new possibilities and ways of thinking.

Here’s to a great marketing year in 2016….hold the filler.

 

 

 

 

 

What Becomes of Content in 2015?

cwordThe word “content” has supplanted itself as The Marketing Word in 2014, to the point that I’m hard-pressed to find a digital headline or article without it this past year. Then there are the white papers, conferences, books, and even the Content Marketing Institute (sounds very heady, doesn’t it?). You get the idea. But let’s get some perspective here: Content, in all its incarnations over the years, was simply called something else—be it copy, copywriting, promotion, website content, marketing blurbs, plain old writing, insert big etcetera here. With the rise of social media and other digital marketing to further a brand—whether posts or podcasts, vines or viral videos—this marketing expansion now sits under the same umbrella: Content. One and all. The blending of terms combined with the craving for sky high shares brought to the forefront big changes swirling around in advertising, journalism, and marketing the past several years. Some good, some not so good. I believe we reached a tipping point in 2014 and are venturing to the point of no return. Sure, there is plenty of smart, insightful, and creative content out there, but it is overshadowed by junky digital filler caused by “content mania” and insatiable need to feed the social media sharing beast. Let me explain.

Sponsored Content, aka Native Ads

This kind of promotion has been around for ages in other forms (corporate advertorial in trade magazine, anyone?) But online sponsored content is a bit more dangerous in such prolific quantities. Why? It’s more than a hoodwink; it confuses consumers expecting unbiased articles, whether they care or not.

Sponsored content has seen explosive growth in the past few years due to the expansion of digital publishers, coupled with news outlets desperately looking for a panacea to cover plummeting ad profits. Mission definitely accomplished, but the tricky (read: ethical) part is the barely-there line between “real articles” and those brought to us by our favorite and not-so-favorite brands. Even the bastion of buttoned-up news, the New York Times, got into the sponsored content business. You see, the lines have really (really) blurred, even for the Gray Lady. The FCC stepped in to help consumers identify sponsored content, but many readers eat it up if it’s “interesting” no matter how indigestible the thought of brand involvement might be. Studies show it decreases trust of content, but it doesn’t stop them from clicking.

Brand Journalism

Which leads us another trend from the content explosion—brand journalism—companies who deploy articles the way a news reporter might—factual information? Yes, but with words that supports the brand’s message, liifestyle, or agenda. This content fuels brands with a great resource for well-written blogs, C-level ghostwriters, and sponsored content, not to mention spawning new careers for jaded journalists, frustrated fiction writers, and corporate careerists looking for a fresh start.

Hootsuite’s CEO Ryan Holmes even nonchalantly dropped a reference to its corporate “newsrooms” at a conference earlier this year. A reach perhaps, but it appears to be the future of The Brand. Welcome to the new blurry world of the “news” where articles you read might not have a clear bias but the source of the materials will.

Attack of the Content Creators

Another way content has taken hold lately is the crazy-big growth of “content creators,” “content experts,” and other fill-in-the-blank content titles (full disclosure: I brand myself this way too). Hardly anyone is simply a “writer” anymore. Sure, including a white-hot industry in your title might make your keywords stand out more, but consider the downside: lots of competitors use this title too, making it a crowded field.

Digital publishing outfits like the Huffington Post, Gawker, and other media companies large and small often won’t pay or divvy out peanuts based on article shares. After all, if you won’t write for free, someone else more hungry for the lure of digital fame will. The more that writers that offer their services without compensation or laughably low pay, the more devalued the profession becomes. This cannot be undone (another disclosure: I have written for zero pay to get my name out there). I get why it happens—it’s called supply and demand—but there is collective power in writers holding out for what we deserve instead of giving in to this pressure.

On their own, none of these trends is necessarily catastrophic for content. But when you put them together it gives me great concern to think where content is going in 2015 with the jumbling of words, images, and audio breeding only as share fodder, the cocktail of news and brand agenda, coupled with the cheapening of writing as a craft, I wonder if we’ve lost some of our core quality standards and beliefs in what content is about. Like the “click-bait headlines” that trick us into thinking we’re getting one thing instead of another, we’re fooling no one but ourselves to say it doesn’t matter in the future.

Image: Velocity Partners

Confessions of a Marketer: 3 Buying Sins We Commit

airline-word-cloud-540x368No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make, there are common things we tend to do when it comes to buying products. Marketing 101 tells us that these decisions are based on logical touchpoints like price, familiarity, ease of use, brand experiences, and the like. But then you add the emotional flavoring packet of how we feel when we use it, reaction to the colors, influence from friends, to name a few. The melding of logic and emotions is so interwoven and subconscious during the buying process that it’s nearly impossible to pull the two apart. Our brains on brands can be quite the conundrum, and, frankly sometimes make no sense. Take three diametrically opposed buying behaviors that many of us engage in regularly, whether at the Big Box retailer, the local store, or that online site.

Buying from brands we hate: For me (and millions of others), Comcast is No. 1 when it comes to brand loathing. Unsurprisingly it’s honored on the 10 most hated companies in America list. The majority of the top 10 are popular and profitable, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Ironic or par for the course? For me, I’m a hater of Comcast’s horrible customer service, erratic connection, and dominance on an industry, yet I still pay that hefty “Triple Play” bill each month. Admittedly, part of the reason is that I am too lazy to find other resources for my internet, cable, and landline (yep—I still got one), many of which are equally unappetizing. In a nutshell, I stay with crappy Comcast because it’s the path of least resistance, and shamefully that trumps everything else sometimes.

Supporting small brands that went corporate: One of my favorite “natural” products is Burt Bee’s Coconut Foot Creme. I love that undisturbed-coconut-y aroma. For years I thought my purchase was going to a small, organic company in some cute Vermont town, which made me love it even more. It turns out I’ve been supporting Clorox’s corporate coffers since 2007—that’s quite a different smell. But Kashi, Honest Tea, and many other “small” brands have also gone big. Large corporations will chase the organic, sustainable money on its unstoppable upward trajectory—they obviously want a cut of that action. The recent purchase of Amy’s Organic to General Mills reminded me of the grieving process I went through with Burt’s Bees: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I tend to get stuck at the bargaining stage: I don’t like the fact that my David is now a Goliath, but I am willing to forgo my values for their awesome macaroni and cheese. Sadly, case closed.

Going with brands that are against our values: This can be the most difficult one. Even if you’re not a scrapbooker or DIY type, you’ve probably heard of the recent Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court case: It fought and won against covering birth control pills for employees under ObamaCare, claiming it went against their values. If Michaels and Hobby Lobby were equal distance from my house it would be an easy decision for me. But plenty of corporations we do business with every day espouse opinions and use profits from our purchases for causes that we mildly or vehemently oppose. For instance, Dominos Pizza and Carl’s Jr. are big anti-abortion supporters and Expedia is a supporter of a climate change denier organization. But do these factors weigh in when we want to buy something? Yes…and no. Knowing the political and cultural leanings of corporations means we might think about switching, but the emphasis on “might”. We’re guilty of sometimes squashing our moral values for a product or service we love, need or is easier to get.

Ultimately, the only person we answer to when we buy something that goes against our core is that face in the mirror— how do we feel ethically, morally, and financially about our purchasing decisions? Whatever “games” we have to play to make that occur, we will do it if motivated enough, because in the end, we want what we want. And isn’t that what consumerism is all about?

Turning a Daily Deal From One Night Stand to Long-term Relationship

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Research shows that getting a deal has no financial or social status boundaries—it’s a human thing. We love the thrill of scoring savings, especially for something with higher perceived value or item we crave—cue the dopamine. According to Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever,” consumers should never pay full price for anything anyway. Nowhere is that living proof more so than on daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, and the myriad of me-toos, now a staple of our online culture. The “half off” lifestyle is here to stay, and we’re ready to pay. But how can vendors get these deal-seekers to come back for more?

Every new customer is gold

Don’t judge a consumer by their cover (in this case, an online deal). The person could be dressed down but actually have money to burn, or poor communications skills but is brand loyal to a fault.  The point is, be nice, gracious, and give the same service you would a full paying customer: making assumptions about a consumer based on a short-lived experience can cost you future business. If you don’t treat them well, they’ll feel it, resent it, and won’t be back (unless you offer another deal perhaps).

Don’t put off deal customers

A few years ago, I tried out a new salon at full price (ironically), and  my stylist spent time on the phone arguing with a deal customer who was trying to set up an appointment before her voucher expired. Instead of trying to fit her into the schedule, the stylist would not budge. In the end, it affected my perception of the salon (not to mention I wasn’t crazy about the cut). Or the restaurant I attempted to use my deal at but the (very) fine print on the voucher prohibited me from cashing in except weekends (which was also accompanied by serious attitude I got from the proprietor). Don’t break your bond with a potential customer before you even have it. I’ve also heard vendors complain about customers that come in “just for the deal and never come back.” Yes, they came in for the great price, but what did you do to keep them interested in doing business with you again? Which leads me to my next suggestion…

Offer incentives to visit again

Besides giving great service, offering something of value is always welcome as a goodwill gesture, either during the deal time or for when the consumer returns. Though not every consumer will not be motivated by the promise of future savings, throw in that dessert at your restaurant, offer a loyalty card at your store, or 20% off for a future service—something that says “I want to continue our relationship and I care about getting your business.” Even if the person doesn’t plan to visit again anytime soon, it will leave them with warm fuzzies, perhaps compel them to leave a good Yelp review, or will want to give a personal recommendation to a friend.

Know your motives for the deal (but don’t overshare)

Each business is driven by different reasons to offer a deal: it’s a slow season, or a new business fishing for customers, to name just a few. But contrast how two vendors handled the goal to reach customers at their new locations: An aesthetician who recently moved her business to San Francisco could not schedule me until after regular-paying clients got in. When I got my appointment, she spent the majority of time telling me how popular she was and this was “just to get new business in the neighborhood.” Contrast that with another service professional who humbly and gently described how people couldn’t find her new location because it was a busy street and was difficult to be noticed. She was grateful for every new customer she attracted, and even sent me a thank-you email for visiting. Which business do you think I will go back to in the future?

These are but a few ways vendors can maximize consumers’ daily deal experience so they will want to come back again (and again and again). Automatically pigeonholing deal customers as cheap one-timers without long-term potential shorts everyone in the transaction and is a missed opportunity for future business.

But daily deal vendors aren’t the only ones that need training on  etiquette, customers need their own lessons too. In a future post, consumers get pointers on best practices for cashing in on their half-off vouchers.

What Marketers Need to Know From Ad:Tech San Francisco

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Early in my career as an advertising manager at a software company, we used a fax machine to place ad insertion orders. Guess what? Those are still in use at many companies, according to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who delivered the opening keynote last week at ad:techSF. It was just one of many inflection points for an industry that is rolling in dough but still playing catch-up with the pace of the world. And then there was the appearance of P.Diddy/Puff Daddy/whatever he’s calling himself today… (but we’ll save that for the end).

The Advertising Industry is Stronger Than Ever (But Still Inefficient) 

To begin with, the number of exhibitors at ad:techSF nearly doubled this year from 2013, a clear sign of growth in the digital ad space (worrisome though on how many companies had the words “spy” or “facial recognition” staring back at me from booth graphics).

eMarketer kicked off the event with some industry stats: Advertising is anticipated to be a $50B business in 2014—that’s a whole lotta media buys. And another huge growth spurt for the current media darling: native advertising: 73% of all publications have adopted some sort branded/sponsored content program. This popular method of advertising has ignited the flailing publishing industry with a model that looks here to stay (learn more about sponsored content here). Despite all the good news, manual inefficiencies still plague the industry (like the aforementioned faxed insertion orders), flying in the face of the digital world’s frenetic pace. Which leads to my next takeaway…

Advertising Needs Better Automation With the ‘Human Touch’

Convergence. Omni channel. Multi platforms. Cross screen. Second screen. Call it what you will, but they all mean basically the same thing—the all-on digital consumer viewing ads on multiple devices. Your potential customers might see an ad on TV and switch to a tablet, meanwhile someone else is viewing it on their phone. The problem is that media buys are transacted in silos so there are not accurate measures of ad performance. And purchasing inventory in separate buckets doesn’t allow for immediate insights into consumer buying  patterns either. Yes, there is real-time bidding but that doesn’t resolve the complex cycle to target, purchase, and analyze an ad campaign’s results in concert, and quickly. This has become a huge thorn in the ad industry’s side at a time of huge growth.

One solution is the potential of “one-stop shopping” for all of these cross-platform buys, but that too has a hitch: Armstrong argues that while there needs to be “programmatic advertising“, the best media buying decisions can only occur with “mechanization”—the human+machine working together. That means computing automation can go so far, but doesn’t have the human brainpower to soak in rich data and make smart decisions on the fly to test or purchase across platforms quickly, or even switch the ad plan altogether. No surprise: AOL will be launching a one-stop solution later this year, and I’m sure other media conglomerates and start ups alike will introduce new methods to attempt to conquer this issue. Either way, the ad industry is clearly thinking about the future and taking steps to resolve the issues.

The Sales Funnel is Disrupted by Digital and Mobile

With the all-on consumer, the traditional sales funnel has become more chaotic and unpredictable for brands and media buyers to navigate. Gone are the straightforward days of TV, print, and radio buys. Cross-platform viewing and buying continues to create disarray to the familiar consumer purchasing process. The Zero Moment of Truth when a person decides to pull the (sales) trigger can no longer be pinpointed in the classic linear path of awareness-interest-intention-purchase. To witness: People spend more time on their computing devices than watching traditional TV in their living rooms (right now the difference is about 2 minutes; in 2018, digital consumption is expected to surpass TV altogether). Add to that, mobile is poised to overtake desktop computers and exceed its usage by 2016. This also underscores the need to have an advertising “central command” to respond to buyers’ behavior quickly.

The Rise of Real-Time Marketing (and it’s Free)

Real-time bidding isn’t the only buzzword these days. Real-time social selling is all the rage too. One of ad:techSF’s smartest and most engaging keynoters was Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, who shared “secrets” of his company’s success in social marketing (though it appeared he was gently coerced into changing the title of his presentation for effect). Holmes gave examples of how brands can get in on the story of the moment (for no investment) by taking a nimble approach to their content marketing, as when Hootsuite released its version of the Harlem Shake immediately after the original went viral. It included both office staff and the adorable Hootsuite owl mascot (“Be the show, not the commercial”). Holmes also pointed out how companies can amplify and piggy back on an existing campaign, like the JCPenny #tweetingwithmittens, which won the Superbowl ad race with its social media stunt and enabled other brands to get in on the action (ironic given JCPenney’s poor performance off the social media stage, but that’s another story). Holmes also called for company marketing departments to build up their “newsrooms” (yes, folks, this is part of the “branded journalism” movement, it’s a real thing). And if you’re going to tell that story, do it, in Holmes’ words, with “heart.”

The Final Lesson: P.Diddy’s “Keynote” and What Not To Do

This one is easy (unfortunately): 1-Don’t show up 30 minutes late. It’s rude and disrespectful to your audience. 2-It’s best to know what conference you’re attending and why you’re there (side note: might not to tell the audience that you’re unaware of both). 3-Even if you’re asked lame questions by the interviewer, try to respond with answers that might make sense to the audience instead of vague, unrelated statements. 4-Product placement is OK but drinking and mentioning your alcohol-infused “product” the entire time? Not OK. 5-Swearing every other word (even for me, who appreciates some good sailor talk) does not add to your credibility, likability, or intelligence quotient. If you want to get the full effect of the uncomfortable and perplexed vibe in the room, check out the live tweets. 

But back to the good news: the state of the advertising industry has never been stronger, despite the challenges of yesterday’s inefficiencies and today’s complex media buys. The rise of the digital, always-connected consumer leaves a wide open space for brands and media buyers to take advantage of new opportunities to reach and engage them where they are, all the time, and in creative ways. It also means the methods ad purchases are constructed, measured, and responded to will require more sophisticated, converging levels of automation—but also knowing where those human lines should intersect. How that happens, we might not know until next year’s ad:techSF, but undoubtedly a bevy of ad revenue will provide breadcrumbs along the path.

Image: Hotel Marketing Strategies

Humor Me: Advertisers Go to Extremes to Break Through Web Clutter

prank_golf_1988When I temped at Sun Microsystems in 1988, I worked as a lowly records clerk in the same building as CEO Scott McNealy. April Fools’ Day was always a big holiday at Sun. In fact that year, McNealy’s and another executive’s office were transformed to a complete one-hole, par four golf course, replete with a tee area, sand traps, water hazard with cherub fountain, golf carts, ball washer and bench—but not too many people knew about it outside the company since it was before the explosion of the Internet. If that were today, you can bet there would be YouTube videos gone viral, social media shares, pic retweets, and Facebook “likes” and comments – now it’s remembered with a simple web page archives of Sun April Fools Day jokes.

Times have changed a lot since that day at Sun, but April Fools’ Day pranks are still a staple in many cultures. The difference now is that a worldwide online audience expects über-enterainment with a daily diet of  funny cat videos, humor web sites, and mini-mockumentaries. That’s why it was only a matter of time before brands took notice and started serving up funny on April Fools’ Day too.scope bacon

In fact, the past few years has seen an Olympic-size competition to see which brand can deliver the biggest-budget, cleverest, and over-the top internet joke—usually at their own expense or industry’s peril—and with that, a ton of unpaid publicity.

Now it seems that a growing number of companies are embracing this snarky humor as part of their general advertising strategy.  “Prankvertising”  as its known or “pranks on steroids” and branded entertainment, are now part of this trend: to be as funny as possible, get the most attention, and Internet buzz. Some prankvertising stunts have even provoked lawsuits from its victims.

So why did advertisers start spending so much time and effort poking fun at themselves, other brands, and even their customers and prospects?

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