2 Ways to Turn Small Ideas into REALLY BIG Ideas

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.16.40 PMOK, one last mention of The Ice Bucket Challenge. Such non-traditional promotional tactics are being used more and more frequently, and they can be very successful, with one important caveat.

What many businesses miss is the second half of the equation:

Generating awareness and sales by talking, in fact screaming, about their ideas.

The following examples illustrate two main ways of generating that attention, publicity and advertising. These companies did it right and turned an idea into a big idea.

Publicity (or PR), which differs from advertising in important ways (see below), is media exposure that is considered newsworthy and, therefore, the company does not pay for the media.

  • CVS announced months back that they would stop selling tobacco products, and just last week, they announced that they had implemented that policy early. They also implemented a new name and branding program.
  • Using press releases, CVS capitalized on the changes they were making to generate attention in the press and on social media. The tobacco announcement was newsworthy enough to get attention; the new branding/naming message benefited from that attention. Smart.
  • The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge also generated incredible attention. Though it originated with an individual, the ALS Association capitalized on the initial wave of publicity by updating the money-raised numbers, sending emails, and talking about this horrible disease. They took a simple idea and exploded it into a $100 million fund-raising tsunami.
  • Tesla and Patagonia both recently generated attention using a novel tactic. They both announced that they would make public previously proprietary information – about electric vehicle technology and plant-based wetsuits – to encourage other businesses to adopt the same technologies and create the scale economies to make them affordable, and ultimately, successful. Two large, well-established companies are giving away their secrets to help others and the planet. Now, that’s news.

Advertising, or paid exposure, is another way to get attention and turn an idea into a big idea.

  • Walgreens is now running ads touting its “Get a shot, give a shot” program. In contrast to CVS’s PR, Walgreens chose to go the more direct route of buying ad time and talking about their good works (and encouraging people to choose them for flu shots and vaccines.)
  • Dawn dish detergent has great “Dawn Saves Wildlife” ads that talk about donations of Dawn detergent to help clean wildlife harmed by oil spills. These ads also contain a subtle message beyond the feel-good message: If Dawn can clean cute little birds covered in oil, it can certainly tackle your dishes.
  • Tide detergent runs their Loads of Hope ads. They talk about helping people affected by disasters, such as severe flooding, by bringing in trucks to do their laundry. They also deliver a clear message about the effectiveness of Tide in removing tough stains.

Publicity or advertising, which route to take?

Certainty – advantage Advertising

Publicity: You have little to no control over whether your news item is picked up. Will anyone deem it newsworthy? Will there be other more newsworthy events that get covered in that timeframe?

√ Advertising: You can buy media to ensure exposure for your message.

Credibility – advantage Publicity

√ Publicity: A respected third party, whether media outlet or social media friend, holds tremendous sway over our opinions, our choices, and our purchases.

Advertising: People know that ads are purchased, and, with legal exceptions for false advertising, their creators can say whatever they want. Therefore, those messages are met with a degree of healthy skepticism.

Cost – advantage Publicity

√ Publicity: Generally, PR is less expensive, although PR professionals are paid for their planning and message creation skills, and they are invaluable.

Advertising: Costs include both creative development and purchase of media.

Timing – advantage Advertising

Publicity: A press release is circulated when the event happens or the news breaks, but there is no control over when media will talk about it. In general, if it doesn’t get talked about immediately, the news will be old and ignored.

√ Advertising: When purchasing media, you can control when your ads run. (A media plan prepared by media buyers can coordinate more complex advertising campaigns.)

Attention – tie

Publicity: If the message is compelling, it will get noticed.

Advertising: If an ad is funny or compelling, it will also get noticed

Viral-ness – tie

Publicity: People talk about, and share, what they like and what they find informative and entertaining.

Advertising: Here also, people share what they like, what is funny or touching, and what is novel.

Braggadocio – tie

Publicity: A well-crafted message will announce news and take credit for good acts without crossing the line into self-promoting arrogance.

Advertising: Good ad creative can also deliver an entertaining, interesting message with out being unseemly.

The next time you have a great idea for a promotion, consider the megaphone you will use to get the attention of your audience and budget for it. Will publicity or advertising, or some combination of both, be more effective in generating the interest that you crave?

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