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…

3 Ways to Maximize Your Holiday Marketing Efforts

3 Ways to Maximize Your Holiday Marketing Efforts

Trying to capture some of that holiday spending for your business? Or maybe you’re concerned about cutting through the extra clutter? There are many factors—both good and bad—to contend with when marketing during the winter holidays. Here are three things to consider as you get started.

1. Embrace the Uptick in Radio & Streaming

Audience action for some media outlets increases during the holidays. This is good news especially for B2C marketing. One example is radio & digital audio streaming. A great many listeners who might otherwise be tuning in to a bunch of disparate stations or just listening to their own playlists all start to gather ‘round the fire of holiday music. If your market has a holiday music station (e.g. 99.5 WMAG in the Triad), November and December may be the best time to buy as you can maximize your reach in a small period of time.

By the same token, many listeners of digital audio like Pandora or Spotify are more likely to be streaming during this period, too. And the best part is, your message doesn’t have to be holiday-themed — it just has to be good and relevant.

2. Find Your “Red Umbrella”

Standing out in a crowd can be tough. As inboxes become increasingly inundated during the holidays, even niche B2B marketers may find it challenging to reach their audience. Emails seem to hit an all-time high in frequency, so how can you make sure yours is seen?

Timing is one element you can control: test and measure throughout the year to learn when your audience is most likely to open and engage. You can also try to focus in on the quieter periods when they aren’t being bombarded, giving your email a better chance of standing out.

To that end as well, you need a captivating, relevant subject line. Whether it’s the offer of a discount or the answer to a burning question you know comes up at this time of year, make it clear what you’re offering (without making it spammy). And if you segment your email list, it should be even easier to keep your subject line and offer super relevant.

3. Create Your Own Reason for the Season

Car companies have done it: car sales increase dramatically during the end of the year because car companies have created the belief over time (whether it’s true or not) that the holidays are the best time to buy. You, too, can create your own buying season within your B2B or B2C market.

If you have a great offer and market the heck out of it, you can secure your audience’s attention when you want it. So instead of trying to elbow your way through the holiday marketing crowds, find a time of year that works best for your audience — you know them best. When do they have the time, interest and budget to talk? What offer will propel them one step further toward becoming a customer or increasing their current business with you?

On the flip side, this tactic can sometimes train your customers to wait for a sale before buying anything. If that works for your sales cycle and bottom line, no fear. But consider carefully before you proceed.

So as you’re gearing up for the holidays, consider these three ways you can make the most out of a busy, noisy marketing season. With the right tactics and patience, you’ll find a campaign that works for you and your audience.

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.

4 Reasons to Rethink Your Trade Show Approach

4 Reasons to Rethink Your Trade Show Approach

In today’s digitally-focused world, it may seem like there’s less value in a trade show than there used to be. Why should you spend precious resources on something that just doesn’t seem to hold a candle to your digital marketing efforts? If you’re no longer seeing the ROI on trade shows, it might be time to rethink your approach and strategy for these events. Let’s look at 4 reasons to attend trade shows and why they can still be a valuable marketing tactic.  

1. Network, Network, Network

Everyone knows that networking is a necessity when it comes to growing your career or business. And while LinkedIn has changed the way we network, nothing beats an in-person connection. Getting in front of potential customers in a face-to-face meeting gives them a chance to connect with your brand and ask questions in real time. As product and service offerings for consumers and B2B companies continue to grow at a furious clip, having that personal connection is more important than ever.

Trade shows also offer the opportunity to see what your competition is up to. By talking to other retailers when you attend a trade show, you might just be able to find someone who has the inside scoop on what’s going on in the industry. It’s also a great chance to see what innovations are coming down the pike—as well as what gaps in service or product might exist where your brand can fill a need.

2. Plan for the Future

No budget for a booth? No problem! Speeches, seminars, conversations and “walking the floor” are all opportunities to plan for your company’s future. Doing so gives you a chance to see who’s there, what they’re doing, how potential buyers are reacting to them and how many people actually attended the show in general. You can use this as an opportunity to start planning for next year so you’ll know if it’s actually worth spending money on exhibiting or sponsorships.

You can also see if there’s an opportunity for you to speak at the show. If you can dazzle the crowd with your ideas and insights, you’re subtly promoting your brand and boosting your credibility as an expert in the industry. Bonus points (and increased attendance) if your course gives continuing education (CEU) credits. It’s also a chance for you to educate yourself on your industry by learning from and interacting with other thought leaders.

3. Generate More Targeted Leads

In addition to all the networking and educational opportunities, trade shows are a hotbed for generating new leads. Virtually anybody who attends one is looking to learn more about companies like yours and the services and products you offer. So whether you’re simply exchanging business cards or using a digital device to sign people up to your mailing list, a trade show can deliver targeted leads for your sales and marketing teams.

In addition to generating leads, your trade show can bolster other important brand metrics, too. With the right efforts, you can increase traffic to your website, grow your social media presence and build your email database. These “softer” leads will certainly take time to groom and turn into customers, but they have the added value of both a more personal connection and the knowledge that they came from a niche, targeted source.

4. Debut a New Product

For many companies, a trade show is the ideal place to showcase a brand-new product or initiative. Particularly for brands in the B2B world, there are few opportunities quite like a trade show to generate hype and excitement around a new launch. Many companies in this space don’t have the benefit of being able to sell directly online or in physical stores where their customers can interact with products in person. A trade show gives you that space to really make a big impact—but you need a well-designed, captivating booth to do that (that’s a blog post for another day).

Even if you’ve got a forthcoming product that’s not quite ready for the limelight, you can use a trade show to quietly field test what you’ve got. From having real customers interact with the product to receiving valuable insights from the folks who will use it, a trade show can be a fertile testing ground for your R&D team.

Final Thoughts

Although there are many good reasons to exhibit at a trade show, they are not all created equal.  It’s important that you do your homework before committing to any trade show. Compare the conferences and trade shows in your industry and ask yourself some important questions:

  • How much attendance does this trade show typically attract?
  • What’s the breakdown by job title and function?
  • What kinds of exhibit or speaking opportunities are available?
  • How much time do attendees actually spend in the exhibition hall versus in conference sessions?

If you can, try to attend a trade show without exhibiting before you make plans to build out a full booth. If it doesn’t seem like you’re going to get a good bang for your buck, make another plan. And of course, you can always ask us to be your second opinion.

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.

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