BKI Hot Takes: Just Say “No” to Passive Aggressive Marketing

BKI Hot Takes: Just Say “No” to Passive Aggressive Marketing

We’ve all done it (or at least thought about it): Shared an off-the-cuff line in a brainstorming session that manages to be on-message and makes everyone laugh. Sure, it might be a little cheeky or off-color, but it’s just so funny! But when it reaches your audience, will they be laughing, too? Or will the joke fall flat?

If you’ve spent any time shopping online in the past year or so, you might have come across a very specific example of this kind of marketing humor, which we’re semi-affectionately dubbing “Passive Aggressive Marketing.”

Many times, this tactic takes the form of a pop-up or nudge modal on a website, giving you the chance to do things like save money on your next sale or join an email list. You’re used to this binary choice: either you take the (presumably) great offer or you miss out on the brand’s generosity.

The passive aggressiveness comes into play should you decide to opt out of this deal, where you are forced to click on a button that, for lack of a better word, is SUPER judgmental. For instance, maybe you “Don’t Want to Protect Your Family” (security company) or “Want to Spend More Money” (clothing site) or “Hate Reading” (book retailer). Now, of course, none of these things are likely true, but the pop-up forces you to choose this ignoble path.

Now don’t get us wrong: we love a witty repartee just as much as anyone. But once you’ve seen this passive aggressive marketing tactic a few times, the joke begins to get a little stale.

And therein lies the danger: if you’re not one of the brands absolutely nailing the right tone, you’re simply following a trend that has the potential to annoy or even anger your audience.

Think of it like this: many people already find pop-ups that take over your entire screen to be burdensome; but now the pop-up is forcing them to say something that may not even be true. And if you’re using a basic pop-up that fires for everyone who visits your site, you might be badgering first-time visitors who aren’t familiar with your brand. What kind of first impression is that?

A good compromise might be to let your opt-in CTA have a little humor or edge to it, while the negative route offers a polite, neutral decline option like “No thanks.” That way, you can lighten the mood and test the waters with a little humor without putting your audience into a weird, passive aggressive corner.

As with any new tactic, it’s critical to consider your audience. If your brand routinely incorporates humor into your marketing and has a sarcastic, ironic tone, using these pop-up modals might be a huge hit for your audience. So make sure you do the important work of analyzing and considering your audience before implementing this tactic, just like you would any other.

Or don’t, or whatever…

BKI Hot Takes: Oatly’s Epic Marketing Fail

BKI Hot Takes: Oatly’s Epic Marketing Fail

Every brand dreams of a marketing strategy that is creative and functional enough to help drive demand for their product or service. But what happens when your strategy is so effective and demand becomes so high that you actually run out of the thing you’re marketing?

Newsflash: it’s not good. Just ask Oatly.

Established in Sweden in 1994, Oatly is food and beverage company that invented oat milk: an alternative dairy source developed from research on lactose intolerance and sustainable food systems. Despite its nearly 25-year existence, the company did not gain a lot of traction until a few years ago when a revamped marketing strategy helped put their brand on the map in Europe.

Oatly eventually made its way to the U.S. market in late 2016. Instead of introducing their oat milk on grocery shelves and promoting its tongue-in-cheek branding through traditional advertising, the company opted to utilize specialty coffee shops as oat milk ambassadors. These influential advocates would raise awareness of their product with the hopes that this targeted approach would slowly grow a faithful following.

It worked.

In just one year, Oatly spread from 10 locations in New York to more than 1,000 locations nationwide as demand for their oat milk boomed. In fact, “exploded” is probably a more appropriate word to describe their growth. This niche approach, timed perfectly with an insatiable demand for dairy alternatives, made its oat milk so popular that the company literally ran out.

Demand for the product became so high that the Oatly production team could not keep up. This past March, coffee shops across the country were without oat milk for upwards of a few weeks, leaving coffee shop owners and customers shaking their fists and earning the company a few headlines in the process.

Oatly responded to the shortage with an apology and a promise to ramp up its production. But despite their efforts to quickly resolve this issue, coffee shop owners and oat milk lovers alike were left pondering a valid and important question: How did this happen? And would it be an issue again?

Here’s the thing: Oatly had no idea of just how popular they were going to become. They knocked it out of the park when it came to their marketing tactic: introducing a high-quality product with little to no competition (oat milk) in an increasingly expanding field (alternative or non-dairy products) into a new market (United States) through a select and controlled medium (specialty coffee shops).

But they failed to ensure their supply chain was equipped to handle such a swift climb to the top. And a blunder like this can affect more than just a brand’s short-term revenue – it can have a lasting impact on their long-term reputation.

And while we haven’t seen it happen yet, miscalculations like this also open the door for a competitor to step in and deliver the service you had previously cornered the market on.

It may seem a bit obvious to consider, but the next time you’re developing a marketing plan to promote your product or service, don’t forget to stop and evaluate whether or not you have the capability to deliver on your promise. Once damaged, brand reputation can be a difficult thing to revive. And in today’s world where most markets are overflowing with high-quality brands, you want to be sure yours stands out for the first-class commodities that you offer – not because of your shortcomings.

BKI Hot Takes: When Brands Respond to Natural Disasters

BKI Hot Takes: When Brands Respond to Natural Disasters

As the Carolinas begin to recover from the devastation Hurricane Florence left behind, people across the country are pitching in to help those affected, including many well-known brands. Airbnb, Anheuser-Bush and Lyft are just a few of the dozens of companies that have announced plans to participate in disaster relief efforts, despite not necessarily having direct ties to the communities affected.      

Charitable giving and other humanitarian efforts are nothing new from the likes of large corporations, celebrities and athletes—especially when disaster strikes. But when Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc on the Gulf Coast in 2005, more brands began to participate in relief efforts. Fast forward 13 years, and now 87% of global consumers believe companies of all sizes must play a role in natural disaster response.

What changed?

Simply put, the widespread response by brands to Hurricane Katrina—the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States in the last 90 years—redefined the ways in which people could lend a hand.

Before 2005, companies often responded to natural disasters by writing a check to agencies such as the Red Cross. When it became clear that the need on the Gulf Coast eclipsed what traditional monetary donations could provide, they found another way to help: through the donation of invaluable resources such as their services or employee volunteers.

Businesses like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot sent generators, food, water, flashlights and batteries into the areas hit. Ford provided vehicles for search and rescue. HCA, a large private hospital company, helped evacuate people on their privately-leased helicopters. The contributions of these much needed supplies and services along with numerous other selfless acts showed that large financial contributions are not the only way to have a positive impact.

This realization has set a precedent that is still implemented today. In fact, nine out of ten global citizens now think companies should leverage their unique assets to lend support to affected communities. This shift in expectations has greatly helped with recovery efforts because brands that many not have the same financial capacity as larger companies or direct community ties to an event are still finding ways to help.

Increased participation by companies and people alike sometimes means that brands don’t receive the same amount of public recognition or praise for their efforts that they once did. But at the end of the day, what or how much your brand contributed isn’t the recognition that matters—it’s the act of stepping up to help fellow citizens is what’s remembered the most.

Click here to help in the Hurricane Florence relief efforts.

BKI Hot Takes: Voice Activated Technology

BKI Hot Takes: Voice Activated Technology

If your first thought when hearing of Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home was, “How can my brand be a part of this?”, you’re not alone. Technology is expanding and improving at a rapid clip, and no one wants to be left behind.

Much like the adoption of social media or mobile phone apps, voice-activated technology (VAT) is producing three tiers of responses: Full-on early adoption, cautious toe-dipping or skeptical reticence.

But like any new technology, the most successful brands will employ a healthy mix of all three approaches.

And as the Managing Director of Mindshare America puts it, you can’t be “sidetracked by the short-term wins that come with [VAT] custom skills and light-touch activations. They’re an important step, but not the end game.”

So why exactly are brands and marketers so excited about VAT? There are three main avenues by which it’s breaking new ground, each with their own set of rewards and challenges.


As reported by iHeartRadio, 38% of all US Amazon Echo owners made a purchase with their smart speaker within the last 30 days.

Think about how many walls that process removes between a consumer and their purchase. Unlike traditional e-commerce, there are no product pages to wade through; there are no carts to fill or abandon; there are no checkout screens that require lengthy input forms.

Using the most natural form of communication we have—our voice—you can re-up on popcorn and rent tonight’s movie in only a few seconds.

Of course, this presents a challenge for brands in a crowded space: How do you remember to specify Charmin when most of us will simply say, “I need to buy some toilet paper”? To grapple with that confusion, brands will need to begin carving out “audio niches” for themselves in a similar way that logos create distinction in a visual space.

Like any new technology, the most successful brands will employ a healthy mix of early adoption, cautious toe-dipping and skeptical reticence.

This is also an opportunity for brands to partner with the technology makers directly at an early stage, wherein Toll House might be able to position itself as the default “cookie” order when using Google Home.

The playing field is still relatively sparse in many of these scenarios, so brands have the opportunity to act quickly and own those spaces (much like the most agile companies were able to dominate the App Store listings early on).

The challenge here is that most brands are not Toll House and are unable to lean on marketing budgets provided by their parent company Nestlé. However, we’ve noticed opportunities sprouting at the local level, too, that allow companies to incorporate themselves into the VAT space.


Our Integrated Media Director, Lesley Thompson, was recently pitched the ability to sponsor select “skills” (the VAT equivalent of an app) within local markets through one of our media partners. Using these spots, a local deli could append itself and a brief marketing message to a user’s “Flash Briefing” (a morning news run-down), much in the same way they might with a local radio spot.

The difference here, though, is that your message isn’t limited to the “every hour on the hour” timing that constricts a radio spot—potential customers would literally hear your message whenever it was most convenient for them to check the news of the day.

Another tremendous benefit to VAT advertising is the diversity of placement: because the technology integrates to our homes, our cars and our phones, those branded spots will likely have high reach potential. And as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow, incorporating our thermostats, refrigerators and doorbells, so does advertising placement opportunity.


According to Google, nearly 20% of all searches are voice-activated. So while SEO pros and amateurs alike are working diligently to keep their content optimized for written keywords and phrases, nearly one quarter of all results are returned through voice commands.

Digital assistants like Google Home or Apple’s Siri are becoming more integrated into our everyday routines, which means that Google’s 20% metric is only going to rise. Marketers will have to begin optimizing content based on the way we speak-rather than how we type.

Machine-learning and AI will help push this technology forward, improving the landscape to where they will understand not only “what is said but the way it is said,” according to Voices.com VP Kirby. “Tonal inflection and all the other characteristics that add meaning to the spoken word will become part of the process of comprehension.”

Voice Activated Technology stats

So how have SEO experts already started grappling with this changing landscape? By understanding certain key aspects of voice search, such as the fact that it more often than not occurs on a mobile device and is location-specific (“Where can I get tacos around here?”).

They’ll also begin integrating the notion of conversational keywords that mimic the way we talk to one another. For example, Search Engine Land describes the difference between typing “Best digital camera” into Google and asking, “Alexa, where can I get the best camera for Facebook streaming?”

We love geeking out about the latest technologies and innovations. Want to chat about how we can leverage them to help your business?

BKI Hot Takes: Why Radio is More Important Than You Might Think

BKI Hot Takes: Why Radio is More Important Than You Might Think

As marketers, we are always in danger of relying too much on our personal preferences as opposed to our professional knowledge. Our instincts may tell us that “no one” reads the newspaper or “everybody” is online all the time, but is that true of your audience or just of you? Article after article drills this belief further into our brains. And while it may be true of some traditional media that overall consumption is down, some at least are far from dead. Let’s look at how one juggernaut—radio—might still be more relevant than you think.

Rarely do we (especially in an agency) find ourselves precisely in the center of the target audience for the brands we work on. But ironically, our strategy recommendations might be adversely affected when we are. Making assumptions based on our own personal preferences is simply too easy; most marketers don’t even realize they’re doing it. From choosing a color palette for your brand to defining your message to selecting the right platforms for that message, each person on the team will have an opinion based more or less on data than existing prejudices and expectations.

For example, more often than not the suggestion of adding radio to the marketing mix is met with at least some hesitation or skepticism: “But I don’t listen to the radio.” Yet a 2017 metrics report from Nielsen (the ratings gurus themselves) has shown that radio remains one of the top vehicles to reach consumers, no matter the platform. 93% of Americans tune into radio each week. And while many of that 93% of listeners also watch television or engage with smartphone apps, radio reaches millions more. Interestingly too, if you tally up up the number of minutes per week consumers spend consuming broadcast radio (AM/FM) versus streaming audio (e.g. Pandora), broadcast radio outpaces streaming by 14:1.

93% of Americans tune into radio each week

Another common reaction to radio is that it only works for awareness and doesn’t drive action; and even if it did, you wouldn’t be able to measure it. However, a study by the Radio Advertising Bureau showed that radio can even drive search traffic – a 29% increase across 8 brands studied. By delving deeply into search analytics and aligning it with specific days and dayparts during which radio was running, then weighting it with frequency of the campaign, they were able to discern a lift in the volume of searches for each brand.

As unexpected as these statistics may be to some, they certainly demonstrate the danger of judging our audience by our own media habits. Conversely though, we should also be cautious of being too reliant on generalized data to make decisions—even if radio is still relevant overall, the RAB study also showed that some industries see better direct results than others. Certain creative, too, is more likely to drive customers to your site, such as making an offer or personalizing and localizing your message.

While traditional may not yield the same type of easy-to-obtain, tangible, measurable results that digital does, at least we know that people are listening.

BKI Hot Takes: The Past, Present & Future of Black Friday

BKI Hot Takes: The Past, Present & Future of Black Friday

The origins of the term “Black Friday” are a bit murky. One common theory suggests it was named for the day’s ability to bring retail stores “into the black” for the year. Another competing narrative says that members of the local Philadelphia police department called it Black Friday in the 1960’s due to the increased burden on their officers.

However the term came into our lexicon, one thing is clear: Black Friday remains the single largest retail shopping event of the entire year, even as mobile purchases continue to overtake in-store purchases.

You’ve no doubt seen the videos of the mad rushes that ensue in the early morning hours after Thanksgiving Day. Maybe you’ve even fought through the crowds yourself! After Kmart began opening their doors on Thanksgiving to combat the craziness in 2009, other retailers ran with the idea and began opening all day on Thanksgiving. That backfired in 2014 when retailers saw the first major dip in “Black Thursday” sales, and ever since, there has been a move back towards the traditional Friday-only hours.

In the last few years, however, we’ve seen an even more surprising development: Some major retailers are not opening their stores at all.

The leader of this pack is REI, whose #OptOutside campaign urged people to forgo the calamity of Black Friday in favor of spending time outdoors with loved ones. It was a bold move, especially considering how lucrative Black Friday earnings tended to be.

REI’s trendsetting move worked for one reason: It was a sincere representation of the brand. In addition to the company being a co-op “owned” by more than 6 million members, REI’s emphasis on the natural world and sustainable practices lends itself to sitting out on Black Friday.

Their CEO recognized a shift away from “promotions and consumerism,” so REI put a stake in the ground and let their audience know where they stood. And even though the company had enjoyed massive Black Friday profits in years past, shuttering nearly 150+ stores worldwide has only earned them more goodwill with their customer base.

They’ll continue that tradition in 2017, taking things a step further: the company will not process any online sales on Black Friday and instead offer employees a paid day off to spend outside.

This “opt out” mentality is trickling down to smaller brands, too.

Los Angeles-based clothing company Everlane, who pride themselves on supply chain transparency, creates Black Friday Funds each year to help out the men and women who make their clothing across the world. For example, their 2016 campaign used Black Friday profits to purchase thousands of moped helmets for workers in their Vietnamese facility, emphasizing their desire to give back to their people instead of simply promoting their products.

Now, this is not to say that all brands should be eschewing the traditional Black Friday bonanza, but it’s worth noting that a large contingent of major retailers (including H&M, Guitar Center and Nordstrom) are keeping their doors closed on Thanksgiving this year.

Consumers seem to be mostly comfortable with this course-correction after the years of Black Thursday, too. A recent survey by BestBlackFriday.com found that only 15% of those polled supported stores opening on Thanksgiving.

We expect to see online sales continue to dominate Black Friday, especially as consumers move further away from brick-and-mortar establishments and wait for deals on Cyber Monday. The days of stampeding crowds and bleary-eyed employees might be coming to an end sooner than we think.

[democracy id=”1″]

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