What I learned from watching the Big Game with non-ad people.

Old TV In a room

My partner Luis and I have worked on at least a dozen Super Bowl spots in some capacity. Throughout our careers, we have spent countless hours strategizing , creating, agonizing, pre-releasing, hashtagging and working long nights in preparation for that big day in February.

Yet, when it come times to watch, we both separate from our isolated ad family, and turn towards our real one. Every year, I gather with right-brained, advanced-degree engineers, math chairs, chemists, and the like. Watching the commercials with a group like this is a true reflection of how commercials hit in a real-world environment.

Nobody cares about your #hashtag

They don’t know why everyone keeps saying ‘”Big Game” and not Super Bowl. They have no idea how brands painfully decide each year when and where to pre-release. They are blissfully unaware of the thought that goes into hashtags, where to drive those eyeballs, and how to chase those real-time responses on Twitter (which are as elusive as spotting a unicorn).

Real people aren’t ad people. And that’s why I like them.

Watching with ad people is a much different story. Everyone quiets down when the commercials come on, some even shush the crowd. Attentiveness is the buy-in for parties like this, and a focus is given to every crunch of a chip, every step of a Clydesdale, every flip of a hair-spray enhanced fast food burger Ad people give themselves completely to those moments, to deconstruct it all through a marketer’s filter.

This is their day. Don’t mess with it.

But the rest of the world doesn’t think or act that way. It’s simply good or bad in their eyes. Most of the year they avoid the product we create, and that pushes us to create bigger, braver, funnier and more breakthrough work for our clients. But on this one day, when the ad world gets its 15 minutes (in reality, it’s more like 40 minutes) of fame, they are still not rarified moments. Even when budgets, star power and craft is at its peak, ads remain the de facto time to hit the bathroom, refill on guac or swipe right.

Guacamole

For ad people, what is the measure of a Super Bowl success? Well, the USA Today Ad Meter is the most democratic, based on votes. But, it also requires people to vote on them all. And that is a bit of an ask for anyone who barely cares about ads. So the Ad Meter is probably more reflective of the marketing community talking to themselves, rather than a true indication of what the rest of the country likes. And lord knows, marketers spend most of their time in a orbit. Watching with non-marketers is a much better meter for what the real world thinks.

Real people don’t think like marketers

As marketers, we tend to look at performance, and try to recreate into best practices. Often, those practices are self-sustaining and are the result of us being the focus group of what works. But real people don’t think like marketers. Our world is foreign. And we need to give them what is right for our brands, but also what they deserve. Low-hanging fruit like puppies and babies work in this setting but we must reach higher. But not so high that we take them out of the celebration, to make them reflect on their life or the lives of others outside this three-hour carbo-loaded escape from reality. We consider our real audience, on the one day of the year they are slightly more captive, so we can nail that deft touch with our work on Super Bowl Sunday and every day of the year.

So next year, skip your ad friend’s party and toss out the confirmation bias like you would with the leftover onion dip (seriously, it can get you sick). You will find a focus group of real people is a much better indicator of success than ad people who will critique every spot while the actual game becomes texture.

The Castoffs That Made Cast Iron LA

Cast Iron LA photoshoot on rooftop

How two 50-year-olds created a visionary digital marketing agency clients love.

The last casting session I did was in March. While there, I got a meeting request that made it clear my job of 23 years would be gone. I planned for the worst, barely slept, and the next day, my fears were affirmed. 

Last month, I was casting again in a downtown LA studio, and the memory of that moment was in the plastic folding chair next to me, staring at the white seamless. It felt as real as the day it happened. 

So I breathed. 

Yet, inside I knew this time was different. Now, I was here with my old partner, Luis Ramirez and our new marketing agency, Cast Iron LA. It was a strangely symbolic and delicate moment for us both. It gave me the chance to trade in the difficult, triggered memory of March, to fight for the light of this new milestone. I sat with my thoughts, rested my feelings and settled into this raw reality, trying to make sense of the new world we had built for us both. My partner knew the strange feelings I was wrestling with, and was there for me. 

Because that’s what partners do.

Staying Afloat

It’s almost dreamlike to think that eight short months ago, I had been cast off, and now was in a tiny craft with my partner. It was considerably smaller, we had to paddle, but ultimately, we were swift and in control. 

The anxiety I had previously felt from losing that big, safe vessel and all the people I cared about who remained on board, was swept away by the need to stay afloat. I was now a free-spirit, a digital vagabond riding the laptop workplace waves on a small vessel. We were wet, dirty and exhausted. And yet, it was beautiful.

Luis and I had been partners on some of my favorite, award-winning campaigns. He taught me so many things about brands and the need to personally participate in the platforms we were recommending for our clients. 

A few years ago, when I took over social and he took over digital, we only partnered on a few projects. Then, he was let go. On his own lifeboat. People come and go all the time in this business, but his exit hit different. Yet, several years later, when I was cast off, he was there to rescue me. The universe put our pieces back together, an old client reached out, and from there, more clients, more work, and our new agency was born.

We struggled with what to call ourselves, as naming a business is harder than naming a child. After many rounds, careful considerations, we ultimately landed on Cast Iron LA. It was the perfect name for a marketing agency started by experienced 50-year-olds. Because like Cast Iron, we get better with age. 

Rebirth

Cast Iron represents the rebirth of old metal that’s been cast away. It was the brake pad that kept your family safe while driving. The metal bridge that provided a way to work. The girder of a demolished apartment building that fell out of architectural favor. All those metal scraps were collected and melted together in a process that made them stronger than before. That’s why Cast Iron is so versatile and will outlive everything else in your pantry. As kitchen fads come and go, this one will remain. It is strong, resilient, easy to work with, and gets consistent results. 

The Cast Iron process is a mineral transformation and ours is a digital one.

And guess what. There are thousands of us out there. The old, discarded brake pads, the bridges, the buildings. We are marketing metallurgy. Big, experienced thinkers on small ships that thrive on the open water. Now, our collective wake is shaking up the agency world. 

Origin Story

There are less mixed-metaphoric parts of our origin story that don’t involve pans or ships. Without seed money, we started an LLC, and looked at everything through an efficiency lens. We needed an address, but didn’t need to work there. We needed staff, but not everyone all the time. We didn’t want to create unnecessary expenses that ultimately got passed on to our client partners, without any benefit to them. Our decisions would be smart, efficient and scalable. In an early meeting, our accountant said, “Start off the way you want to end.” We live by those words.

We also needed an ethos. What was our path and purpose? We want to share our gifts with the community, so we donate to causes we believe in, and volunteer in the area. We both have mixed-race families and care deeply about issues involving diversity, inclusion, mental health, and women’s rights. As we staff, we give opportunity to all underserved people in advertising, including those of a certain age who have been vanquished by an industry that values youth over experience.

More broadly, we want to help and inspire people on a daily basis. One place that happens is our Instagram. Every day we post ideas and perspectives that add optimism to the world. We don’t brag about the veneered world of #agencylife. We simply present a fresh, humble and hope-filled start to everyone’s day. 

Changing the Agency world

There are other big agency barriers we are out to break as well. I shoot every Instagram post, even though I’m a writer. And, at times, Luis, an art director, writes. Even at a small company, we didn’t want to be encumbered by self-righteous titles or dusty silos that slow the big agency ship.

Like many others, we got burned out by meandering processes that relied on the cog of the specialists to move forward, or having 25 people in a room, unable to make a decision or look up from their laptops to do it. Instead, we have chosen to be vocationally fluid, venturing into areas that traditionally seem outside the expertise a title may represent. 

Purpose

Our values are evident in everything we do. We needed a bank, so we chose one that had diversity and inclusivity. We did our homework, and believe it or not, Bank Of America topped that list. We needed to stand by our values, so we decided against entering a big pitch because of a little-known environmental concern we discovered. We go to Coffee Bean, because of how their employees stood up to a racist. We don’t go to Starbucks, for that very public moment of intolerance.

Zooming back into how we actually put food on the table, being multi-dimensional was the business way forward. Most big agencies struggle with scale, legacy leadership with fixed mindsets and processes that were made when people still smoked in their offices. Small agencies are more adaptable to change, but become highly specialized, and therefore rigid. Generally, there are two types of boutique agencies. A sector that specializes in the science, and another that specializes in the art. Our bootstrap background and growth mindset allow us to be both.

We use our experience to simplify the relationship between brands and agencies by offering direct contact between the creatives and the client. Bloat is our enemy, silos are our battles, so we are building creative teams that can create the work, manage the work and pitch it all to the client. That is our distinction. That is our disruption.

The Disrupters

Our renegade past continues to guide our bespoke future. Not so long ago, we were the digital pioneers of the mid-90’s. The disrupters who started when the Internet was born. We were the weird ones, the risk-takers, the misfits. We wore rainbow sandals and sprinted on Razors towards a future most agency leaders didn’t understand. They thought we were a fad. And they made that known. Sometimes expressed, but more often implied. We were never as good as the “traditional” creatives who did tv and print. Digital wasn’t creative. Then, social wasn’t creative. I guess, only a big, immeasurable, expensive TV campaign was creative. Sometimes, we felt like imposters. 

And more often than not, we were quietly treated as such. If you were in digital in the 90’s, you know what we mean.

But the digital misfits of the world are now driving the dynamism of the new agency economy because we know how to adapt. We fit, while others retrofit. The big agency ships are not so sturdy anymore. The water beneath them is churning and their course is obstructed by the collective swell of the small boats around them–nimble crafts that can move about quickly. Together, the misfits are looking for a new way. A better way. A way unburdened by the traditional agency model or the wide berth it requires.

Uncharted

Uncharted waters require a new path forward. A course correction for some, but simply a new heading for those of us beginning the voyage. All around us are the strategists, the photographers, the virtual assistants, all moored together. We saw the horizon, the storms up ahead. We jumped ship or were pushed off because our payload was too expensive to carry. Dropping weight doesn’t change the trajectory of a ship, though. It merely continues its slow progress until the next time it needs to do it.

The new agency world doesn’t look like Newport Harbor, it looks like Spring Break in Havasu. Experienced people hitching their small boats together to offer better services for less money. It is an attractive and efficient way for brands to stay afloat, as budgets get cut, workload increases and their agencies can’t figure a way to adapt. 

Read the trades. Right now, many agencies struggle to find efficiency and rely on historic relationships and bygone models to keep the lights on. Most holding companies are too large or simply don’t know how to adapt to the new changes, so they pad hours, add unnecessary fees, throw the interns on it, or absorb specialty boutiques which become more overhead and more removed from the work. 

Freedom

As we grow, our goal is to find multi-disciplinary creatives who can work beyond their specialty, directly with the client. This helps simplify the relationship between brand managers and agencies by offering direct, efficient connections between experienced, business-minded creatives and in-house marketing departments. The phone game between those doing the work and those pitching the work is inefficient and outdated, so we’d rather not be on that call. 

That happens when you have the right talent and are not bogged down by process, size or ulterior motives. We have no one’s ass to kiss, so we do what’s right for the client, not what’s right for our careers. We are early adopters of the new agency model and are glad to share these waters with so many other castoffs. 

Without them, we would be lost. We would not exist.

Positivity And Purpose

We’ve had our Lions, Clios, Pencils, Shortys, Webbys, etc. They’re distant relics of our past lives. With age, our priorities have changed. At 50, we don’t care about our books, we care about our client’s books. We don’t want to get rich, we want to make our clients rich. We’re less interested in heading to Cannes on the client’s dime, as we are about heading to get our daughters from school. For us, work and life do not live on opposite ends of a continuum. They live together.

As we self-actualize during our midlife, we realize what got us here today is positivity, purpose, listening and a sense of business acumen. That same law of attraction brings us worthy people and outstanding clients. And it will continue to keep us on this rewarding journey. That philosophy has allowed us to catch, rather than pitch.

We are Cast Iron LA, a small digital marketing agency, with clients in small business, medium business and big, international business. We help them efficiently navigate new waters with flexibility and experience at the helm. 2020 is the year brands should hitch their ship to ours, and go with us to the places the big vessels can no longer reach.

If you are still reading, you know we speak the unfettered truth. We invite you to join us on a journey that will feed your spirit, purpose and bottom line. Hit us up.

Breaking Brand

heart that is broken on string

When others control your brand more than you do. 

Remember brand campaigns of the past? They were those splashy reintroductions to the brand, when a new tagline, new logo or new objective would come out. They weren’t selling anything beyond an idea, an ethos, a spirit to drive the brand forward in new and exciting ways.  And hoping current customers (and some new ones) would come along for the ride.

I worked on brand campaigns. The team would sweat every word, every visual, cultivating a pure expression of the brand, synthesized into an epic 60-second spot. And maybe a spread. The platforms were limited and controlled. We were able to speak our strategically remastered piece uninterrupted. 

reputation management

But those were the old days. The life and death of a brand today can live today in a tweet that trends, a news story that goes viral, or an employee that makes an error in judgment. Because of that, many “brand” campaigns have devolved to more of a reactionary, reputation management approach with a conciliatory tone. The face of the brand appears more when something needs to be fixed, rather than something that needs to be celebrated. Think Chipotle after e.coli. Or Wells Fargo after the accounts scandal. 

Social media, cell phones and the unapologetic need to share have resulted in this hard-to-swallow fact for marketers: Your brand is only as strong as the person who represents it at any given moment. Sometimes that person is the face of the company, as in Subway and most recently Papa Johns. And sometimes not. 

Maybe your brand is being framed on a global stage by a barista in a green apron, casting personal prejudice across an entire brand. And all that brand work leading up to that moment goes down the drain as a new focal point emerges.

When your own employees hijack your brand

Look no further than the Starbucks Foundation to prove that point. It gives millions each year to charity, with programs around non-profit grants, community service, clean water and improving the community where their coffee is grown. 

The coffee chain has spent years cultivating a brand that is authentic to their ideals of standing for more than profit. They have reached pay equity across all race and gender in the US. They have moved to underserved communities after complaints that they only set up shop in white communities. 

Yet, that all came crashing down by a single employee who didn’t want two African-Americans to use the bathroom without buying coffee. The cost of $10 for two Latte’s and 10 cents worth of a toilet flush, led to many millions in lost revenue, crisis management, and a stigma that permeated the brand, including #BoycottStarbucks trending on Twitter.  In response, Starbucks closed 18,000 stores for a day to teach 175,000 employees racial bias training. 

Even if those employees were truly were not motivated by racism or unconscious bias, the optics suggest otherwise. And in a world of snap judgments and quick bursts of info, that’s what people will see. 

all employees are brand ambassadors

Like it or not (probably, mostly not) your network of employees are the new brand ambassadors, no matter what their title. The ticket agent that won’t make eye contact, the flight attendant who warmly greets you. The PR person who jumps on a plane after making an errant and tasteless tweet. For that moment, their individual identity is lost and replaced by the way they represent the brand, for good or bad.

But many times, it is hard for workers to understand they are doing more than just making coffee, ushering you to your airline seat or doing IT work. Education should not just be about racial intolerance. That’s pretty basic, and if someone needs training in that area, they probably should not be on your payroll.

Some basics every employee should know

  1. What your brand stands for, and how can they best represent that as they become the face of the brand, while performing duties on the brand’s behalf.
  2. That the values of the brand must come before the values or personal intolerances of the individual.
  3. That they are not being paid merely for their service, but for the ability to represent the brand with respect and dignity.
  4. Optics matters more than intent. Even if they are not targeting a particular group, if it seems like they are, that becomes the story.

For this to be successful, training should not begin after a crisis. It should be instilled from day one.  If you look at a brand like Disney, they have iterative analogies that help their cast members (not employees) figure out situations by following some basic outlines. When they are in public, they are “on stage,” jobs are “performances,” and uniforms are “costumes.” Everyone, no matter the level is trained to understand how to act, from day one.

The Commander’s Intent

It’s nearly impossible to run through every situation for an employee (or cast member), so defining an end strategy allows your team to make dynamic decisions that weren’t planned for. It’s a way to manage uncertainty, in a fluid world, and plan for the end, not for the steps to get there. The Commander’s Intent helps empower mid-term decisions for a pre-determined end game.

But it is also on the brand to keep their employees happy as well as trained. Because brand ambassadors must believe in what they do, or else they will give away a secret recipe, or even worse. So get the right people to happily live your brand every day, so all that good you build upon a corporate level, gets carried through.

Age- and gender-biased words to remove from the workplace.

words to keep our of the workplace

It can happen to the best of us. Sitting around the office, trying to brainstorm an idea, finally someone shouts out “Guys, we need to nail this, now.” Perfectly acceptable, right? Except, not everyone sitting there is a guy. And that’s kind of a problem.

We collectively sweat words each day, wrestle with them in our heads, nuance their meaning. Erase, fight, argue, push, pull. We write brand books and style guides about which words to use and not. We sharpen their meanings with a razor, all in service to the product or service we represent.

So how can a smart group of marketers, who fully understand the power of words, casually toss that aside in our daily conversation with colleagues? How can well-intentioned, educated people sit back and use non-inclusive, unconsciously biased words?

As marketers, we debate almost everything, from strategy to KPI’s to metrics to dynamic ads to logo size. But the one thing we can agree upon is the power of words.

WORDS HAVE POWER

Well, it starts with the root of our language. “Manpower” this, “Fireman” that, “All men are created equal.” The list goes on, so much so that we barely even notice it. And it’s not just men using these terms, it’s women too.

Removing these time-worn expressions isn’t easy. But it isn’t hard either. And as we strive towards a more balanced workforce, inclusive of all, we should work toward clearing these artifacts from our past.

WORDS ARE COMPLEX

We’ve grown adept at keeping the really hurtful words out of the office. The ones that leave no wiggle room on offensiveness. But other words are not as easy to spot. They are simple, yet can convey complex messages.

So here’s a challenge. As you so carefully manage your client’s brand, try doing it for your personal brand. Listen to the words you use, and as you take notice, pause before using them.

1. GIRL

This word is not immediately offensive. But it is for some, given meaning through context and intent. The rule of thumb is this, if the person is over 18, she is not a girl. But regardless of age, there is no real need to designate a colleague by gender, right? As basic as “girl” seems to be, it plays at the heart of the complicated, and sometimes misunderstood gender semantics discussion. “Girl” can set up an unequal relationship. It can feel patronizing. And in a world where there are gender biases, unequal power relationships and glass ceilings, language can feel amplified.

2. KIDDO

Beyond establishing an unfair gender dynamic, there is a bit of reverse ageism that presumably drives the feelings against its use. Most often, it is probably meant in a casual way, but respondents viewed it as unequal or condescending, and plays to a clear power dynamic. If a person is starting out and trying to be taken seriously, “Kiddo” strips away power and works against that intention.

3. MAN UP

Let’s examine the inverse, “Women down?” Does it make sense, yet? There is something implicit about this term, and the subtext is that men are stronger. Strength comes in many varieties these days, and it’s bad form to suggest men are stronger than women in any fashion.

4. BITCH

This is a bit more obvious. There are many uses, parts of speech and meanings of this term. And none of them are good. Rooted in gender, the implication is that women are complainers or difficult. When the term is directed at a man, it is meant to signal weakness. This word frustrates me the most, especially by the frequency in which I hear it. Uses like “Resting Bitch Face” have gone mainstream, which is the result of saying things, without thinking first.

5. GUYS

Seems innocent enough, right? Even women use that expression. But in the end, it singles out a gender, and as this list suggests, that is never a good thing. This is the one I catch myself saying. And even though I have qualified and defended the expression to my wife, I was ultimately wrong and am hyper aware of when it slips. Words to substitute when referring to a mixed-gender group could be “Folks,” “Y’all” (if you’re from a state that says that) or simply “everybody.”

6. DINOSAUR

It is used mostly by a people to describe themselves. She or he self-identified as a “dinosaur” in order to qualify an inability to understand something, most likely related to technology or shifts in culture. As important as it is to not label others, it’s equally important to not label ourselves. That term plays into ageism dynamic many people in the workforce experience and can set a damaging precedent.

Yes, there are more. But let’s take a step forward and get started with these. We work in an industry that can positively influence culture, so we need to take the lead to make things better and more respectful for the people around us. Once we take notice of the words we use, we become mindful of how they sound and what they convey. And that’s a good thing.

It’s easy to eye roll this away as oversensitivity. And some may. But the way language is received is important, not just for the brands we create, but for the people who help us create them. Perhaps you have used these terms in the past, and never assumed any negative connotation. And maybe we were never told. Working in an industry that helps drive culture for good or bad, we need to take the lead to make things better. And if you think it’s ok because no one has ever complained, remember this:

SILENCE IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT

Just because people don’t speak up, doesn’t make it ok. So don’t put co-workers in a situation where they feel less valued, or undermined, even if that was not the intention. Because when our language includes terms that are unequal, people begin to feel that way. And none of us want that.

So let’s all listen as we speak and be the spark to create a language that feels inclusive, contemporary and reflective of today’s workforce.

Ready people? Let’s nail this now.

The Complexity Of Simple

The Complexity Of Simple

You’ve heard it a million times: Keep it simple. But few understand the effort that goes into simplicity. Oftentimes, people look at simple as the beginning, but in reality, simple is the end.

Take, for example, this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Looking beyond the misogynistic language of the early century, this philosophy gets to the essence of simplicity, and how to achieve it.

Simplicity is a journey.

As we’ve evolved, the path to simplicity has become saturated. We are adorners, and create confusion with add-ons. We build layers on simplicity and fail to expose the essence of the idea. And finding essence is not something you stumble upon — it’s a journey.

Achieving simplicity is difficult. But if you are determined to make it simple, there can be no other path. For many, simplicity is the villain of the process and the hero of the execution. But understanding the journey can get you on the right path.

Here are 5 insights to get you on your way.

1. Simple requires work. 

Sometimes a simple expression is wrongly correlated with the lack of effort. In fact, the most gorgeous things in the world are born of the simplest elements. It’s about harmony and awareness. It’s doing a lot, only to express a little. It’s why a Rothko painting — even though apparently just one color — is so incredibly moving. It forces you to understand the process to appreciate the beauty. Or as Frédéric Chopin put it, “…simplicity emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

2. Simple is a fight.

The fact that we covet simplicity speaks volumes to the world we live in. We are not simple beings. We have complex brains. We are all beasts of excess. There are parking signs on top of parking signs, overly detailed product manuals and bloated remote controls. For us to achieve simple, we must fight our own excess. And we must prepare to go 12 rounds with ourselves.

3. Simple is ruthless.

Get ready to take off the gloves. Simplicity is unforgiving and uncaring. It respects labor, blood, sweat, and tears by wanting more. It wants worn-down fingers and bloodshot eyes. It wants your soul. That’s what simplification is about. It’s not artifacts or flourishes. It’s giving your creation purpose. If it can artfully survive in it’s least decorated form, simplicity has been achieved.

4. Simple is science.

Occam’s Razor states that the explanation with the fewest assumptions should be selected. If an element is inessential, it is meaningless. But knowing what to remove and what to keep takes work. And often work on top of work. It’s distillation. It’s concentrated. It’s about iteration, collaboration. Ask yourself: Is there more to refine? Does it feel right? Each step should not be about proving yourself right, but trying to prove yourself wrong. When you feel finished, take a break, and enlist other opinions. Then improve more. Simplicity has no ego, and neither should you.

5. Simple is natural.

David Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician, said, “Nature always tends to act in the simplest way.” Our ideas should follow the same path. Simplified creations exist without the need for explanation. They feel natural. They belong. And when people feel joy from seeing your work, or interacting with your creation, that is the reward.

So the next time you have the opportunity to refine an idea, don’t try to add, try to subtract. Because the hardest thing we will ever do, is make something simple. That’s why so very few achieve this complex feat.

The Social Media Playbook

If You Automate, People Will Player Hate

Social media isn’t easy for brands. And I’m not talking about the practical application of making content, posting content, replying, calendaring and all the details that go into your playbook.

Instead, let’s look at it in the abstract. Even harder than that combination of legwork, grunt-work, strategic work and creativity, the lack of control is what makes these platforms so challenging for brands. They move quickly, and it’s hard to circle around an idea when the clock is ticking. 

With everything, giving up control comes with the assumption of risk. And when you aren’t smart about mitigating that risk, a wrong move puts you in damage control. Trolls can easily pick up your fumble and run it back. 
Some brands don’t take things seriously enough. And when that happens, they get sacked. Today, we will look at two sports teams who have made bad calls that have cost them the game.

Robots Aren’t Always Good Teammates

In 2014, The Patriots became the first NFL team to hit one million followers. Strategically, they did a great job of honoring their fans, rather than themselves to hitting that milestone. The Patriots realized that and were rewarding fans who retweeted them, with a jersey personalized to their Twitter handle. Sounds great huh? 

Oh, then, this:

As rewarding as it was to the many who enjoyed the personalization, it only took one person to take a whole team down. Using a filter, or even having someone with a heartbeat overseeing this would have prevented such an offensive tweet. And, unlike the Pats on the field, they didn’t keep their eye on the social media clock, as the tweet was in play for an hour before they took action. Trolls 1- Pats-0

The Playbook Is There For A Reason.

Earlier this month, five years after the wildly publicized and highly indexed Patriots fiasco, Adidas took a page from the Pat’s playbook and created an automated and custom campaign, with, wait for it, the same harrowing results. 

Adidas created a new soccer Jersey for Arsenal. To publicize that effort, Twitter users who liked one of the brand’s tweets would get an automated reply, with a request to buy an Arsenal jersey with their Twitter handle on the back. The replies were sent from Adidas U.K.’s account and showed an automated image of the jersey. 

So if you were following the official Adidas account last week, you saw tweets to handles like @InnocentHitler. 

It read: “This is home. Welcome to the squad. Now it’s time to seal the deal – order your new home shirt here. #DareToCreate”

And there were others, even more, explicitly racist or just plain evil, referencing missing children or the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 where 96 fans died. Further, this seemed like the kickoff to the campaign, as their official Twitter account is still tweeting about the jerseys. Expensive video content and other pieces that were in their rollout plan were seemingly not scrapped. And the people who were offended are now trolling them for being so clueless, reposting the offensive tweets with “let’s talk about this Adidas.” As long as that campaign is alive, so will the blowback. And it will probably last forever. Think of them as them both as the Bill Buckner of Social media. 

Advice for brands.

There are many more examples like the two above. What stands out most is how the same misstep can be repeated so effortlessly. How people who don’t participate in the platforms or truly understand the industry can recreate the failures of the past. 

Pretending the dark side of twitter does not exist, or allowing automation without oversight are two ways these brands could have saved this campaign. Or even a quick Google search could have done the trick.

When I oversaw social creative for Honda, our client and team were vigilant about not having this happen to us. When we did offer some sort of customization, we not only looked at the handles but also vetted the profiles to make sure there was nothing of offense. It took more sweat equity than a simple bot and was much slower, but thankfully, we always knew when we responded, who it was we were responding to. 

So when you are planning your next social media high point, to mark an achievement or honor fans, don’t leave it to a robot. Be smart, be vigilant and mitigate risk. Because losing on social media hurts more than losing on the field.