Monday, February 3, 2014

The Ties that Bind: From My Wife to a Beat-boxing Santa Claus

As humans, we seek to employ strategic, coordinated communications everyday.  As a father, it's rarely productive to give an instruction or comment to one of my sons that is out of alignment with one given by my wife.  As a manager, I seek to ensure I am comfortable with how those who work with me represent the work we are doing to others, both inside and outside our organization.

These realizations put me squarely in the camp of those who agree with the research of Argenti, Howell and Beck, who promote through their research the idea that communications must always be aligned with an organization's strategy and focused on enhancing the organization's strategic position (p. 83).

The challenge, then, lies in our ability to align ourselves across the media we use to communicate.  Much like I have to be sure the message I leave for my teenage son aligns with the instructions Mom gave this morning, we in our professional lives have to ensure we use the same voice and personality whether we are employing advertising, social media or website content.

A company that I find does this very well is Virgin Atlantic Airline.  The company takes it cues from its founder, Richard Branson, who advocates that companies "dream big and start an adventure" (Branson, 2013).  The company's IMC efforts take on that mission as well. Watch this video to see what I mean.

The company extends its "adventuresome" attitude into social media as well, with the company and its employees using the hashtag FITFOO (flying the the face of the ordinary) to denote its outsider status .  Even their in-flight promotions are more edgy, and cool than their traditional counterparts -- including employing a beat-boxing Santa Claus on flights during the holiday season.

They've been able to strike a unique, authentic tone, and carry it through across the platforms they utilize. In this way, they give their customers a sense of being a part of the Virgin experience, and make that experience fun.


Argenti, P., Howell, R. & Beck, K. (2005). The strategic communication imperative. MIT Sloan Management Review, 46(3), pp. 83-89. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Branson, R. (Feb 2013). Leader success. Leadership Excellence, 30(2), pp. 18-19. Provo, UT: Executive Excellence Publishing. Retrieved from, J. (Apr 12 2013). How Virgin Atlantic's marketing nails it.  Inc. Retrieved from

Virgin Atlantic Airlines. (Dec 14 2013). Little Red brings a beat-boxing santa to passengers travelling for a festive treat at 30,000 feet. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Michael - great post this week. As a kid, I remember the (sometimes useful) fact that Mom and Dad may not always be on the same page about what I was allowed to have for dinner. Dad always seemed to be OK with pizza... :)

    I agree with you in regards to the need for consistent messaging that resonates with your audience. The way you would communicate with your son (or other teenagers - just guessing) is drastically different from how you communicate with your employees, and the teams that you manage. You're adjusting your channel, message and style based on your assessment of the audience.

    But what happens when an organization misjudges the tone / message that their audience is expecting? Over the Super Bowl, JC Penney tried (and failed) at a clever social media campaign pushing their line of Team USA gear for the Olympics. The campaign wasn't as successful as they had hoped - responses from Doritos and Kia suggesting that JC Penney was "drunk" and limited RTs (only 3,706) suggested that the pre-planted / pre-planned response was "lame". Not to mention the fact that it wasn't cold enough for the mittens in New Jersey. Many viewers and social media strategiest "felt that there needed to be at least some degree of spontaneity in order for the brand to feel authentic" (Taube, 2014).

    JC Penney's previous attempts at rebranding themselves to attract a hipper, younger crowed have also been unsuccessful. What do you think about their strategy to try and pull in younger viewers? Should they continue to push the envelope and come up with "witty" social campagins? Or focus on a different segment of the market where their traditional messaging & strengths may be better recieved?

    Taube, A (2014) "JCPenney Was Acting All Weird On Twitter Last Night Because It Got The Weather Wrong" Business Insider. Retrieved from

  2. I think the practice companies employ needs to mirror the personality the company has and the outcomes it seeks to achieve. In some cases, witty works. In some cases, like my favorite Will Ferrell movie "Elf," stupid works.

    It all begins with clarity. Clarity of mission, clarity of goal, clarity of strategy. Too many times, companies do what they do because "they can" rather than "they should."

    Just this past holiday season, SpaghettiOs was vilified by some for a tweet commemorating the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Some noted it was tone deaf, while others thought it a great marketing ploy because the brand got a huge amount of discussion (Stuart, 2013). Which was it? If you agree with the "all attention ends up being good attention" it might be OK. Thoughts?

    Stuart, H. (Dec 7 2013) Uh oh, SpaghettiOs' Pearl Harbor tweet sparks backlash, company apologizes. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

  3. I've never seen that SpaghettiO's tweet - but, wow.

    I'm inclined to lean towards the "offensive" camp on this one. I'm not one to shy away from controversy - especially if it sparks what could become a valuable conversation about, and around a brand.

    However - there are some things that just shouldn't be used as a marketing ploy. I, personally, don't see this ad as being any different as if SpaghettiO's was using 9/11. It's an old adage, "any publicity is good publicity" - but I have to disagree. Especially in the especially fragmented / competitive "canned foods" industry - SpaghettiOs is taking a huge risk by using something as upsetting as an attack on American soil as a marketing statement.

    1. Hi Mike,

      First off, I have to say the title of your post intrigued me when I first read it. I thought that I clicked into a personal blog accidentally until I started reading what you wrote-very clever. This is a great way to draw people into reading your blog, along with the short video.

      Also, I would have to agree with you that Virgin Atlantic Airlines leads by example when it comes to keeping their brand aligned throughout their marketing campaigns and social media networks.

      Like Adrienne, I am somewhat skeptic about the attention SpaghettiO's received from their tweet commemorating Pearl Harbor. In order to support the statement, "all attention ends up being good attention," I would have to see a result of their sales directly after the incident. If a mass amount of people were all talking about SpaghettiO's, what percent of them decided they'd go out and buy some versus what percent decided they'd stop purchasing SpaghettiO's for a little while? Or, what there any difference at all?


    2. Hi Adrienne and Nicole,

      I actually agree with you about the Spaghetti Os attempt. They were too focused on themselves rather than both their audience and the people they intended to celebrate. Still, there are those who think any attention equates to good attention in the long run.

      Interestingly, there is, a lot of research available on the impact of negative word of mouth. In 2009, Xueming Luo wroet in Marketing Science that "NWOM’s long-term financial harm becomes more destructive in magnitude, kicks in more quickly,and haunts investors longer" (pg 148). This should make us all pause the next time we have a great idea that we think will generate "buzz." Good "buzz" would be great. Bad "buzz" that detracts from our overall brand statement would be bad.

      Can either of you cite buzz marketing efforts that have gone awry? If so, tell me what they might of done differently to be more successful.


      Luo, X. (Jan/Feb 2009). Quantifying the long-term impact of negative word of mouth on cash flows and stock prices. Marketing Science, 28(1), pp 148-165. Linthicum, MD: Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. doi: 10.1287/mksc.1080.0389

  4. Hi Mike,

    Though I didn't find great examples of buzz marketing efforts that have gone awry, I did find an article by Forbes discussing the results negative buzz can have on social media.
    The article states that negative buzz "stimulates controversy between product lovers and product haters that accelerates good buzz—product-lovers rush to defend the brand." (Mourdoukoutas, 2013) Mourdoukoutas goes on to say that "bad buzz can help accelerate good buzz, if managed right." (Mourdoukoutas, 2013)

    Here's the article below-

    Mourdoukoutas, P. (2013, November 7). Good Buzz, Bad Buzz, Brand Management: A Social Media Strategy That Pays Off. Retrieved February 8, 2014, from Forbes website:

  5. I think you make a good point about the challenges we face as professionals to align our messaging across all of the communication channels. This is especially difficult on social media where there are certain terms and restrictions. For example, the 140 character limit on Twitter makes it challenging at times to ensure consistent messaging. Same with YouTube, which is focused on video content and doesn’t leave much room for text explanation. How do you think companies can best tackle this challenge? How can they ensure consistent messaging when they are up against different platform layouts?

    I like your example of Virgin Atlantic’s strategic communication plan. I think they’ve been very successful in developing their own unique tone of voice and sharing their message across social media properties. It helps them to stand out among a crowded market and engage with consumers in a fun and memorable way. What do you think of their FITFOO hash tag? I think “flying the face of the ordinary” is a mouthful and is not easy to commit to memory. Do you think a shorter, most succinct message would have better results for their communication plan, especially on social. What are some other ways they can drive awareness to and affinity for the hash tag? Perhaps posting weekly “out of the ordinary” video content across all of their platforms would be a good way to start reinforcing this messaging. Any other ideas? They also should think of ways to amp up the “exclusivity factor.” I think there are many other airline companies like United and Jet Blue that are beating them out in that department, so there is room for growth there as well.

    1. Hi Kristen,

      What has struck me is the consistency of message and tone that Virgin is able to keep. They are incredibly disciplined, which, in the current state of fractured media and attention, is really critical.

      As for FITFOO, I am willing to bet it works for them. Virgin has no plans to be a mainstream airline. They are smaller, more boutique, so the people they cater to are likely more apt to "own" the message as well because they see themselves as "boutique" in some way.

      Thanks for commenting.