#MakeBoringBrilliant: Subway Surprise

As a digital marketing consultant, I am regularly approached by publishers and advertisers with the same request:

“What is native advertising? How do we do branded content? How do you make a video go viral?”

I can never sum this up in a few sentences. But from now on, I will reply with these three words, “WATCH THIS VIDEO,” before I even begin to launch into best practices. And, please do (click on image below). It’s two minutes of your life and it’s worth every second.

#MakeBoringBrilliant Panhandler Prank

Why This Video Went VIRAL:

  • It’s relate-able to those who commute by subway
  • It provides a SURPRISE
  • It’s less than two and a half minutes
  • It’s FUNNY!

Why Advertisers Love NATIVE ADVERTISING:

  • Video Views (Over 100,000 as of this post and it was posted 5 days ago!) — it is hard to reach that with a purely branded video
  • Vitamin Water is integrated seamlessly into the content which is true to the College Humor brand
  • Vitamin Water-branded landing page on trusted College Humor web site provides authenticity


  • Video is also hosted on YouTube — reaching even more eyeballs and appearing in search results
  • The opening billboard contains both the College Humor and Vitamin Water logo, and the hashtag: #makeboringbrilliant which ties in organically with the content


  • There is a post-roll video ad — which is super-effective, because it’s yet another funny video ad, but this one is completely Vitamin Water
      • Viewers HATE pre-roll, akin to “banner blindness, where users are frantically searching for the X button to end it NOW!
      • BUT it you have a post-roll video ad played at the end when viewers are already engaged, they’re more likely to absorb and remember a brand’s advertising message

I’ve admired Vitamin Water’s #MakeBoringBrilliant campaign underground and I love the online extensions. Content Marketers take note — this is an excellent example of native advertising.

Vitamin Water, you have made my DigiDay!



Last weekend, I indulged in speed-dating, but not the usual kind where a bell dings every 7 minutes. This was a weekend-long advertising strategy speed date. After being introduced to my teammates in Griffin Farley’s Beautiful Minds Competition, we were inseparable — mentally, spiritually and physically for the following 24 hours. And after making it to the finals, our date went even longer — another 4 nights!

We all had one thing in common, we wanted to find a career track where we could be creative and strategic, and we wanted to WIN.


Griffin Farley’s Beautiful Minds was created to pay tribute to a wonderful strategist who died too young. Instead of the standard scholarship fund, Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York honored their former colleague with what he did best — create groundbreaking propagation strategies and mentor aspiring strategists. Although my team had never met him, we felt his presence all weekend.


After a day of insightful lectures from renowned industry strategists, including BBH Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Watson, we were read a creative brief at 4pm, and had until 1pm the next day to deliver an impactful presentation in front of the judges. The Client: Citi Bikes. The Task: Create a strategy to increase membership to 100,000 riders by May 2014 (they currently have 50,000).

As fellow competitor Bart Motes shared on the Huffington Post, one question rang through our heads that night:

“Do you want to sleep or do you want to win?” 

My group did not sleep. We gchatted, brainstormed and wrote our deck until 3am Sunday morning and met again at 9am. We were cranky, on edge and nervous. We had to present in front of  judges at 1pm, and our idea still had holes in it.

Magically, and with the help of Red Bull, multiple cups of coffee and pure adrenaline, we pulled our presentation together. We also had amazing mentors Gautam Ramdurai, and Brooke Rothman who taught us the power of drawing a virtual red thread throughout our presentation. Brooke told us our communications message and strategy had to flow through to each of our touch points, so that our audience would exclaim “I got it!” when we unveiled our concept.

We assumed the other groups (10 in all) would be bitching about the NYC commute and subway hell, and how bikes afford you freedom, blah, blah, blah.  We had to be different. We looked at the problem — why weren’t more people signing up for Citi Bikes? Was it because those blue metal machines were a little dorky? Seen as a tourist-mobile? Yes, maybe. So, we sexed it up.


We not only zoned in on the demographics of our target group (New Yorkers, 21-40, college-educated), but who they really were: Pleasure/adventure seekers, commitment-phobes who ignore risk, and it got us thinking about a certain type of friend…

The Magic: Bikes With Benefits

BWB logo-07

The Barrier: New Yorkers perception of Citi Bike has prevented them from letting loose and sealing the deal

Our Communications Objective: Change the target’s perception of Citi Bike from a typical transportation mechanism into an opportunity to maximize pleasure with minimal commitment

The Strategic Idea:  Encourage New Yorkers to embrace Citi Bikes as a lifestyle resolution

Benefits: Affordability, Flexibility, Convenience, Disposable

Connection Moments: Late summer/fall when people are returning to NYC and getting back in the flow; Mondays — highest signup day of the week

Touch Points:

  • Media: Out of Home and Mobile
    • Outdoor TVs streaming video footage at prime docking stations. Someone cruising the docking station may get inspired to hop on and take a ride!
    • Outdoor Ads: Reaching consumers while they’re peering into the subway tracks or waiting for the bus and considering alternate prospects.
    • Mobile: Since 1/3 of mobile users do this in the morning — check their phones before they get of bed, we would employ dayparting, and also target ads at the end of the day when someone may be getting a late night invite.


  • Experiential events: Dock-to-dock speed dating — even if there’s ZERO chemistry, you’re still burning calories! Potential partnership with How About We or OKCupid. TV special on NY1 or New York Live (NBC)
  • Social: With the hastag #BikesWithBenefits, launch a crosstown competition (East Village vs. Williamsburg, Chelsea vs. FIDI)  – where Citi Bike riders can spill the beans on how many bikes they’ve ridden, how many miles they’ve logged. Bragging rights for the group who’s got the most notches on their bike post!
  • Digital: Equip Citi Bike’s most vocal advocates and riders with webcams so they can share their solo escapade — streamed online and on Outdoor TVs
  • Word of Mouth Marketing: Provide Citi Bike members with Buddy passes to share

Our ICE-BREAKERS for creative speak for themselves:


The Result: The judge’s panel included very influential industry innovators and when their mouths were left hanging open at the end of our presentation, I didn’t know what to think. Did we go too far? Should we have toned it down?? Turns out it was a good response. We took home top honors and won the inaugural Griffin Farley’s Beautiful Minds Competition!

I involuntarily teared up, and I AM NOT the emotional type. It’s extremely rewarding to see a large group of advertising strategists (over 100 people present at the final round) — get your idea!

Cheers to Team E, you not only made my DigiDay, you made my month! #BikesWithBenefits!




P.S. A special shout-out to Angela Sun for organizing the inaugural event and coordinating it seamlessly.

#United4th: Share Your Patriotism

While most of us are absorbed in the daily grind, July 4th is a reminder to celebrate our nation’s independence and each other. With landmark issues being battled back and forth in Congress, the states feel divided.  Independence Day reminds us we’re UNITED.

This holiday weekend, Clear Channel Outdoor invites us to celebrate the 4th with the first cross-country digital billboard display of “The Star Spangled Banner.” From Albuquerque to Atlanta to Seattle to Times Square the billboards will beam the lyrics to our nation’s anthem. As you drive to the family BBQ or walk downtown to your rooftop soirée, be on the lookout for the red, white and blue billboards.

Watch a sneak preview with this moving short film (2 mins.) and hear the “Star-Spangled Banner” sung by New York-based Indie pop singer Ingrid Michaelson. I always rate a rendition of the anthem with the “chills factor”. Hers: Goosebumps galore after one verse.

This weekend, promote your patriotism with the tag #United4th. Share your slice of watermelon, your child’s face smudged with ice cream, fireworks on the Hudson and your good old-fashioned sparklers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine — and connect with Americans cross-country. Plus, your photo may appear on a future Clear Channel billboard.

#United4th, you made my Digiday!


Twitter’s Vine Battles Instagram Video

I was surprised when I recently received an email from Twitter promoting Vine: A new app for creating short, looping videos. It’s an obvious response to Instagram’s new capability to host short-form video clips. But Vine is not a new app. Yes, some people do live under a rock and may not have heard of Vine or seen its 6-second loops, but the key for any digital marketer is to ABP — Always Be Promoting! Having a reactive versus proactive approach makes Twitter look desperate. And with Instagram in the spotlight once again, Vine usage is drying up like flowerbeds in Las Vegas.



Is it possible that in one week Instagram video has already had an effect on the amount of Vine posts to Twitter? According to MarketingLand, YES. And it’s a dramatic dip. See below.


Here’s WHY: Instagram is a one-stop-shop. As users, we are inudated with Apps, social media outlets, blogs and sharing tools. If I already have an Instagram account with followers that allows me to #hashtag to my heart’s content and post my photos simultaneously to all my social media accounts — why would I not prefer to use one super App (Instagram) as opposed to two?

Instagram Video has taken the best of Vine and innovated, extending video clips to 15 seconds in length and most impressive, providing 13 filters. That’s a feature alone that will get more users to try it. It’s what made Instagram photo sharing so popular, the opportunity to make your photos look 100x better than the original.

I think Vine was revolutionary, but unfortunately most great ideas can be copied. And it was.

There is still hope for Vine, but in my opinion it applies to pre-roll video advertising. Whenever I see a pre-roll ad begin to play with a 30-second countdown clock, I’m either looking for the “close ad” button or opening another window to look at something else (similar to TV channel flipping).  BUT, a 6-second video looped ad, Vine’s premiere advantage, would keep users engaged and ala, they may actually absorb the advertising message. Vine is in tune to the average internet user’s attention span, and that may still prove to be its one and only advantage.

Vine, you still make my DigiDay, I have a super short attention span, 6 seconds works for me!


Brand That Mailbox!

During a recent visit, my boyfriend’s father shared that the struggling U.S. Postal Service is exploring new revenue streams. One consideration is to have brand advertising displayed on their delivery trucks. This is a logical fit as their trucks are on the constant move in every neighborhood in America. But plenty of trucks and taxicabs carry branding, so there’s nothing unique enough there to attract potential advertisers (besides the sheer volume of their fleet). Disruptive media — the unexpected — always makes for a more successful pitch.

For example, in NYC, we like our random encounters with painted cows, painted pianos and other forms of abstract public art. This summer, huge baseballs have been popping up all over the city. Yes, they make for a great photo op, but they’re really to promote the 2013 MLB All-Star Game to be held at Citifield.


So how about branding the USPS mailboxes?

Let’s light up those permanent blue fixtures that blend into street corners. Make them pop! Branded campaigns can include treasure hunts, where random mailboxes contain clues that lead to another mailbox…and then another mailbox. Since the number of letters being mailed is on the decrease, give people a reason to stop at the blue box — to tweet a clue, scan a QR code and get in on the hunt!


Today, it’s easy to wrap just about any structure in branding and a mailbox isn’t that big. It can be part of a Geocaching adventure, sponsored by Ford Explorer. Or a simple heads-up that McDonald’s is up one avenue.

With digital banner blindness on the rise, Out of Home advertising is what stops people in their tracks. It can also be the kickstart component that brings an Integrated Campaign to life.

Come on, USPS, Make My DigiDay!


8 Tips to Successfully Market Your Event Online

Everyone loves a good party and every advertiser loves a good event. It all sounds great in theory, but it’s the execution that ensures the success of future events. So how does one go about successfully marketing an event online when there are dozens of evites sent out daily? Here are some tips using Time Out New York as an example.

#1: Think About User Behavior Before You Hit Send

As an email marketer, you need to get inside your reader’s head. Fortunately, there is plenty of data to back up open rate metrics, but common sense applies, especially when it comes to food and beer. For example, at 5:41PM today I saw this message in my inbox from Time Out New York:


While I may have dismissed this email earlier in the day, they hit me right where it matters — the stomach! After 5pm, a burger and Amstel Light are two keywords that are more likely to make me salivate. Use this behavioral reasoning when choosing your “send” time. If you’re hosting a networking breakfast event a month from now, send the invitation in the morning when coffee and eggs are on the brain. It’s a simple strategy and it works.

#2: Create An Event Logo and Use It As Primary Branding

You only have a few seconds to make a first impression. A logo quickly brands your event and pops out from a bevy of text. If I read nothing past the first two inches from Time Out New York, I know BATTLE of the BURGER is the event. The logo establishes authenticity, trust, and the event name is memorable, telling you what it is. The imagery is also simple — straight to the stomach. Score another point.


#3: Have One Primary Call-to-Action

Time Out New York is inviting you to “VOTE NOW!”  In the copy, they tease with “score your ticket,” so there’s more reasons to click.  But the primary call-to-action is in bold red and pushes you to proceed.

#4: Create a Natural Sponsor Tie-in

What goes better with burgers than beer? Amstel Light’s sponsorship doesn’t feel forced or artificial, like having this event sponsored by say Ford, when burgers and cars don’t mix and often make a mess.  The email states the event is “Presented by Amstel Light” and as a potential attendee that will only make me happier because it means there will be plenty of BEER!

#5: Make the Landing Page Consistent with the Email

A bad user experience occurs when you click on something and are taken somewhere completely different than expected. This promotion is seamless because the same branding that appeared in the email flowed to the landing page. The page skin is visually stimulating (if you’re hungry), and in the browser tab you’ll see the page is hosted on TimeOut.com/NewYork. They didn’t dupe readers and send them to Amstel Light or a random burger microsite.


#6: Make the Voting Process EASY

If there are too many fields and the user has to click “next page”, they’ll be gone and at Burger King faster than the page loads. Beware of the abandonment rate when posting online voting and/or surveys. You can always reduce the number of questions/fields if the bounce rate is high.  In this promotion, Time Out used Survey Monkey, which is easy to implement and FREE if under 10 questions.


They could have made it easier to scan by ordering it alphabetically by restaurant — even though users are voting for “best burger.” What’s interesting is you have to submit your email to vote, but then you will also be receiving emails from Time Out. That’s a flaw! There should be an opt-in box underneath where users have the choice if they want to receive emails.

The positive on the voting element is making the user feel part of the event experience and in-book coverage. They will be contributing to who gets crowned “Best Burger.”  (The finalists had already chosen through reader polls.)

#7: Drive Ticket Sales and Attendance

At the top of the landing page is a clear “Click Here to Buy Tickets” with the Time Out New York logo prominently displayed. Again this stresses the trust factor and builds off the reputation of their existing events. The link drives to “Time Out Offers” which is their version of Google Offers.


This makes sense for a property such as Time Out whose platform is promoting local events. This doesn’t make sense for others, so I wouldn’t suggest running  an “Offers” program for any brand. But creating a sense of urgency to get tickets is key!

If your event is FREE, you still need to stress the sense of urgency — limited space, limited seats, limited giveaways, etc. People are more likely to show up when they have paid, even if it’s just $5, so perhaps it’s offering a special premium item at your event for $5.

#8: Hold Your Event at a Desirable Location

Battle of the Burger is being held at Hudson Hotel’s new beer garden, Hudson Common. COOL EVENT, HOT SPOT. That’s a one-two killer event punch. Not only do you get all the beer and burgers you can eat for $35, you get access into a venue that everyone (well at least on the West Side) is trying to get into.

Congrats, TimeOut NY and Amstel Light, you made my DigiDay! And yes, I am ordering my tickets right now!!



Don’t be Thrifty, and I mean that literally. This morning, I received an email from Thrifty Car Rental offering me a free day. A born and bred New Yorker, I was instantly skeptical. Besides, I have a Zipcar account and the name Thrifty suggests I may be driving a deathtrap, especially if they’re offering me a FREE ride. So I deleted it a few seconds after scanning it.

A few minutes ago, I received this email message in my INBOX:


Seeing the “mistake” part, I opened immediately to read this LAME email:


So Thrifty, you offered me a “free rental” by MISTAKE, it’s not valid and I should accept your apology? How about, I’ve never used your rental car service and never will. Great first impression. You spam me (or your incompetent email marketing manager did), and then you offer me nothing, but your apology. Understandably if 10,000 people took you up on the free rental you might go out of business. But how about $10 off? Or some other incentive. That may have introduced 500 new customers.

Thrifty, you have gotten my attention, but in a negative way, and now I’m writing about it and sharing this story with my friends. I’m what you didn’t want to happen. I’m the annoyed, non-customer who has a blog and a social media following spreading news of your blunder.

Email marketers, learn from Thrifty, be EXTRA CAUTIOUS before you hit SEND. If you do make a mistake, offer a consolation prize besides your apology.

THRIFTY, you did not make my digiday! Take a lesson from Zipcar, they send great emails.