You’re a fine DJ, Mr. President

I’ve often said that brands are the new DJs because of the exposure they can give to musicians through the commercial use of their songs. And it turns out that the president of the United States can be one, too. Sales of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” have increased 490 percent since Barack Obama slipped a few verses of the classic 1972 love song in a fundraiser speech last week.According to Billboard, “Let’s Stay Together” has enjoyed the best sales week for a song since SoundScan began tracking downloads in 2003. On the other hand, Billboard reports that singer Kelly Clarkson has seen a 40-percent drop in sales for her album Stronger since she unofficially endorsed presidential candidate Ron Paul. Here’s why Al Green saw a sales bump:

  • Obama endorsed “Let’s Stay Together” onstage in a public venue (whereas Ron Paul did not endorse Stronger).
  • Obama actually did a passable job as a crooner, due to his charisma and a voice that did the song credit. A lame rendition could have had the opposite effect. Bill Clinton might have pulled it off in his day, too; George Bush, definitely not (although Bush might have been an intriguing choice for George Jones material).
  • The song was captured on YouTube. Multiple uploads of the video footage have been viewed millions of times, and it’s only a matter of time before more DIY remixes circulate, like this one:

Without YouTube’s influence, the impromptu Obama concert would have been, at best, a one-day phenomenon reported on the nightly news. It also helps that we now live in an always-on world, where conceivably consumers have been viewing the footage 24/7 since last week. (I’m writing this post at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday as a toggle between YouTube and sites like Global 14.)

The story brings to mind other instances of public figures acting as pitchmen, sometimes by their own natural habits, and other times in a more formal way. For instance, one-time legislator and presidential candidate Bob Dole became a pitchman for Viagra and even appeared in a Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears:

A few years ago, Obama himself famously voiced his support for his BlackBerry device, which prompted The New York Times to speculate that if Obama were to charge for his endorsements, he could probably earn $25 million. (Certainly BlackBerry’s manufacturer Research in Motion sorely needs his support now.) It is commonly believed that John F. Kennedy hurt the sale of men’s  hats by his own personal preference for going hatless — an assumption that has challenged, by the way.

For more insight into public figures and product endorsements, check out this Cracked article that covers some decidedly offbeat moments in the history of famous public figures endorsing products. And hum along with President Obama while you read it.

Real-time marketing requires real talent

My employer iCrossing has been collecting digital executives. Thought leader Roger Wood joined the company’s digital media practice in May. Former Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein joined the strategy team in June. And, as announced today, former NBC Universal executive Tarah Feinberg has been appointed head of the Live Media Studio. So what do all these hires add up to?

Real-time marketing.

Real-time marketing is all about sharing content that engages people instantly. As I recently discussed with PSFK, brands ranging from Facebook to Toyota are practicing real-time marketing because they can become more nimble and relevant to their customers – a good example being Toyota’s use of a live-streamed event to promote the Prius.

As a senior executive at a Fortune 500 firm recently told me, “I became a believer in real-time marketing because I got tired of spending months formulating ideas for brand campaigns only to see that consumers had changed by the time I had launched the campaign.”

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When a superstar leaves your company


One reason I encourage my Razorfish colleagues to embrace social media is that I believe employees are our best brand ambassadors. Employees who have an active conversation in the markeplace via blogging, Twitter, etc., make the Razorfish brand more authentic while they build their own personal brands at the same time. Recently I was asked whether I still feel that way since thought leader and social media lead Shiv Singh left Razorfish to pursue a career at PepsiCo. To wit: should Razorfish encourage employees to create strong brands for themselves when we know they can take their brands with them if they leave the company? My answer is an emphatic “yes.” Here’s why:

  • Employees are not indentured servants. The days when employees sustained lifetime employment at one company ended a long time ago. Rather than fear the inevitability of losing talent at some point, employers should embrace the reality of the employee as free agent. Employers should maximize the  value of an employee’s brand while the opportunity exists. With an active social voice, a strong thought leaders can generate business leads and goodwill for your company brand. If you fail to empower a thought leader, you’re just going to leave brand-building opportunities on the table.
  • We live in an era when employees can build their personal brands easily — with or without the help of the employer. Employers should get with the program by empowering employees with useful guidelines such as how to Tweet effectively or guidelines for blogging. I would argue that the employer has a responsibility to help the employee use social media the right way and avoid mistakes that can hurt the employee and the company brand.
  • Encouraging your employees to have active social voices builds goodwill and trust. It comes down to doing the right thing and exercising some common sense at the same time: employees who feel like their employer wants to collaborate with them (instead of hamper their social voices) are going to become even stronger ambassadors. And remember, today’s employee could be your client tomorrow and most certainly will talk about you to potential hires. If and when your employee seeks a career elsewhere, he or she will pay that goodwill back to you.

Rather than fret over losing social media superstars, employers are better off building a network of them. In the case of Razorfish, we are fortunate in that we have strong talent uniformly, in my opinion. As Shiv pointed out in his own blog, Andrea Harrison has assumed Shiv’s role as Razorfish social media lead and is off to a great start, having discussed social CRM and Facebook privacy recently at OMMA Social.

On a personal note, I wish nothing but the best for my good friend and colleague Shiv, and I’m incredibly excited about collaborating with Andrea.

Amnesia Razorfish builds its brand by doing

In January, my Razorfish colleagues Garrick Schmitt and Malia Supe wrote an insightful blog post, “Brands Do.”  They asserted that in the era of consumer participation, brands must spend more time doing things than saying things.  Amnesia Razorfish (part of the Razorfish global network) just provided an example of the “Brands Do” ethos.

For three consecutive years, Amnesia Razorfish has won the Adnews interactive agency of the year award, and its embrace of Social Influence Marketing is one of the reasons.  Amnesia Razorfish doesn’t tell the world, “We understand social!”  The agency shows everyone through its actions.

For instance, on June 30, Iain McDonald, an Amnesia Razorfish founder, conducted an experiment to test the power of Twitter.  He publicly challenged Coke and Pepsi to say hello to each other on Twitter and then asked others to retweet his challenge — no small task given the rivalry between the two brands:

But within hours, Coke gave Pepsi a hello on Twitter and even started to follow Pepsi:

Not long thereafter, Pepsi responded in kind:

It’s not the first time rivals have said hello on Twitter.  Yahoo famously welcomed Google to Twitter.  What’s different about the Coke/Pepsi story is how Iain collaborated with the Twitter universe to inspire the two brands to play nice — a real application of one of today’s hottest buzzwords, crowd-sourcing.

The experiment worked because the idea was irresistible and because Iain leveraged the many influential followers he has built on Twitter.  Those followers, in turn, influenced their followers.  The story has generated attention in publications like Advertising Age and Brand Republic — a boon for the Amnesia Razorfish brand attributable to Iain’s actions as opposed to anything he overtly said about Amnesia Razorfish.  For those of us trying to live the social values, Amnesia Razorfish offers a lesson in building a brand through action.