Let’s Talk Turkey!

I love Thanksgiving–always have. In fact, my husband proposed to me kneeling in a heart I drew in the sand with a stick on Thanksgiving Day long ago. It is a memory I treasure. My Thanksgiving Days have been filled with family, food, and laughter over the years–and I wouldn’t change it.

In recent years, there has been a push to start the Christmas holidays as soon as possible. Now, it seems the pendulum is swinging back.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR. we’ll talk turkey (literally!) and see how message placement for two companies is part of the overall strategy to connect with customers over Thanksgiving.

Retro: Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line (1981)
The Thanksgiving scene around family dinners across the nation can be a landmine. Let the turkey be cooked incorrectly, and you’ll become the family joke. The stress is real, especially for those first Thanksgiving dinners the new couple will host.

Enter a brilliant message placement strategy, courtesy of PR firm, Edelman. Before we get to that, the backstory is as tasty as the result.

Butterball brand managers theorized that sales were lagging because people didn’t know how to cook the turkey. Edelman’s plan sought to get to the root of the problem implemented a 1-800 number where someone could answer those frequently asked questions and inject the chef with a bit of confidence.

Six home economists armed with their expertise and a telephone bank would change the


Vintage Butterball Turkey Talk experts take phone calls.

the course of Thanksgiving Day in 1981. Eleven thousand people called in for help. Not only did it boost sales, it solidified expert-status to customers.

“This was a unique approach to building sales for Butterball. It not only raised consumer confidence in the brand, but the talk line itself got media coverage, thus heightening Butterball’s profile.”

The publication Ad Week, even noted the strength in the message placement of the turkey company:

“Butterball’s help line is also shrewd marketing, positioning the brand as the turkey experts in the minds of many home cooks, even those who may have bought a Purdue or Bell & Evans turkey.”

If you find yourself needing some tips during the months of November and December, go ahead and give them a call at 1-800-BUTTERBALL, they’d be happy to help you save your holiday meal.

Modern: Target, Home Goods, & T.J. Maxx Bring Back the Holidays Campaign (2015)
I must confess: I have only participated in one Black Friday event in my life. I didn’t particularly enjoy it but did get a TV at a great price out of the trip. But it seems that the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier each year.

My Facebook feed has friends declaring they will leave the dinner table at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to go shopping. Really?!!? I. Just. Can’t.

Last year, T.J. Maxx (and its subsidiaries which include HomeGoods and Marshall’s) introduced the “Bring Back the Holidays” campaign.

Talk about message placement! The effort “focuses on people, and creates opportunities to bring them together,” according to a news release issued by the campaign. This work was predicated on the results from a 2013 Pew Research Study in which nearly 70 percent of people say they most look forward to time with family. That same study showed that nearly a third of people said they dislike the commercialization of the holiday.

As a result, the three stores will be closed on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can spend time with their own families as opposed to minding the bedlam that is door-buster deals. Consumers are taking note, with many bloggers focused family and parenting issues highlighting the campaign on their own blogs.

Additionally, the effort uses social media to extend the conversation. By using the hashtag #bringbacktheholidays, people can win prizes designed to create special moments for families. For example, 20 people won $2,000 travel gift cards to help them get home for the holidays in 2015.

While there is something to be said for corporate altruism, it is more likely, large companies read the 2014 research from the National Research Federation that highlighted the fact that “the early Black Friday launch has caused costs to rise, while last year saw an 11 percent drop in Black Friday weekend sales.”

The online push of the social media campaign is yielding results. Sentiments like these abound on Twitter:

With more people moving their shopping experience online, what’s one day?

Final Thoughts.
For retailers, a key question to answer will they highlight the value they offer to customers or will they highlight the value of family. It seems that both Butterball and the companies under the T.J. Maxx umbrella have found a way to do that that is consistent with their respective brands.

There are real costs associated with both of these business decisions. Plus, the upside is worth noting too.

“Instead of using it as a way to make money, companies are losing money…and saying that’s okay, that’s okay cause it’s going to help our image and the goodwill that customers have in their minds about us,” said Pete Fader, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, in a podcast with Business Insider.

Additionally, the decision netted an increase in media coverage for both companies. As TV stations looked to fill content during a slow news period, they called on the experts from Butterball to offer tips and promoted the names of companies who will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Prime placement considering the fact that many people are off during the holidays and watching a little more TV than usual.

The bet is that after you’ve had your fill of turkey (and maybe your family), you will be more inclined to patron those companies whose values mirror yours and shop on your time, not theirs.

My wish for each of my readers is to have safe and joyous holiday season! Feel free to share what you are thankful for or your favorite Thanksgiving memory in the comments below. I’ll be doing what I am always doing: eating and enjoying time with family.


The Mother of Invention

“Necessity is the mother of invention” – Unknown

Truer words were never uttered; especially for companies termed “Built to Last” by authors James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras. Eighteen companies made the list including 3M, American Express, Boeing, Citicorp (now Citigroup), Disney, Ford, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott, Merck, Motorola, Nordstrom, Philip Morris (now Altria), Procter & Gamble, Sony, and Wal-Mart.

Collins and Porras contend “visionary companies prosper over long periods of time, through multiple product life cycles and multiple generations of active leaders” (1994, p.2). It’s evident that each of the 18 companies has staying power, but equally important is how they communicate a new life cycle to a new generation of consumers (audience).

In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we’ll examine the leadership General Electric (GE) needed to make to continually tell its story of past and future.

Retro: GE’s Live Better Electrically/Medallion Homes Campaign (1950s)

For a family of the 1950s, new advances in technology were becoming available for the modern home. The spot showcased a variety of products available for purchase including, a dishwasher, range and refrigerator/freezer combo, among others. The concept that GE was really selling was time and improved quality of life. Imagine no longer having to actively perform routine tasks manually. That would be a time-saver in itself!

In the 1950s, GE, in partnership with Westinghouse, would “co-sponsor a multi-million dollar nationwide campaign to promote the sales of electric appliances and the benefits of electric power. The campaign, called “Live Better Electrically,” was also endorsed by electric manufacturers and utility companies. The ultimate marker of having these features was to be called a “Gold Medallion Home.”

According to an article published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, certain characteristics were required for the designation:

“To earn a gold medallion, a house had to be solely sourced with electricity for heat, light, and power; have full 150-ampere service with a specified number of outlets

Homes meeting the criteria received the designation and were usually found near the front door or garage.

Homes meeting the criteria received the designation and were usually found near the front door or garage.

and switches per linear foot; and include specific appliances like an electric range, refrigerator, and even air conditioner—customary now, but revolutionary then” (Walsh, 2016, p. 9).

The visual of the Medallion Home was found on house keys, sign posts, doorbells and even embedded in the concrete sidewalk surrounding the home. One sign of the success of the effort: entire planned communities sprang up touting Gold Medallion Homes for sale. If ever there were an opportunity to keep up with the Joneses, this was it.

For a home to have the Gold Medallion was a symbol of modernity of the times. In an article published by the Los Angeles Times, the campaign was deemed successful: “By some estimates, the nationwide goal of about 1 million all-electric homes was achieved, according to the Edison Electric Institute, although data on the actual number built is unavailable” (2001).

Modern: “What’s the Matter with Owen?” Campaign (2015)

In the future, the United States will need “nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade and 2 million of those jobs are likely to go unfilled due a “skills gap,'” according to a 2015 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. Making it more difficult for companies like GE was the idea that millennials with skills in tech-related fields didn’t see a place for themselves in a legacy brand like GE.

Sensing an opportunity, GE embarked on a rebranding effort to lead the way in attracting a new generation of talent. With these 17 words in a tweet, GE ushered in the dawn of a new era for the company:

“Hammer”  is one of a series of “What’s the Matter with Owen?” commercials which has seen heavy rotation. Through the campaign, the company positioned itself as “GE. The digital company. That’s also an industrial company.” The emphasis was no longer on industrial products, but rather digital ones.

This clever campaign was developed in 2015 as a way to recruit the next generation of big thinkers to the company. In order to compete, GE needed programmers and lots of them. The campaign sought to shift public opinion, but as evidenced by the ad, the fictitious character “Owen” struggled to convince his own parents of the company’s transformation.

However, the ingenuity of this spot resonated with job-seekers in a new economy, particularly those with technology-based backgrounds. This campaign showed how a developer could be connected to something larger than him or herself: it was a connection to a storied history.

It should come as no surprise that the effort paid off for GE as company officials told Business Insider visits to GE’s online recruitment site 66% month over month.” Now other companies are forced to play catch up.

Final Thoughts.

The key to being built to last appears to be staying relevant as GE has done with the examples outlined above. According to Forbes, GE held the spot of the world’s 10th most valuable brand of 2016.

Leadership success always starts with vision,” according to John Ryan, president of the Center for Creative Leadership. Oftentimes, it is a vision which no one else sees. The housewife in the first GE commercial couldn’t see it over budget concerns; the fictitious parents in the “Owen” commercial were dubious because GE was known for making things one could see and use.

The idea of change can be a difficult one to accept. That’s why in each of the two advertisements, one can see GE trying to ease the cognitive dissonance between the present state and the future state by providing a reasoned explanation of how change can come about. In the Retro example, it is done by the announcer advising the housewife to buy what her budget will afford bit by bit. In the Modern example, it is with “Owen’s” explanation to his parents of how programmers can help with the manufacturing process.

Leadership means selling others on an idea of not just seeing what no one else can, but also creating it and having others adopt the new innovation.


Collins, J. C., & Porras, J. I. (1994). Built to last : Successful habits of visionary companies(1st ed.). New York, NY: HarperBuss.

Walsh, P. (2016). Gold medallion homes bespeak decades of energy efficiency. ei, the magazine of the electroindustry, 21 (3), 8-9.

Find Your Adventure

In my mind’s eye, I am an adventurer. I have this unmet desire to explore the world around me. How about you? I was the kid who as fourth-grader would read under the covers with a flashlight (until I would get caught by my mom) to travel to places far away and back in time. Perhaps we all have a bit of wanderlust.

I first fell in love with the craft of writing when my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Elmore, shared her fellowship experience of learning about Herman Melville and visiting the places he found his inspiration. There is something romantic (in the writer’s sense) of seeing how writers in different eras put pen to paper in a way that withstands the test of time.

Getting the word out when you are a communicator for a government agency can be a challenge, especially when advertising budgets are a fraction of your private-sector counterparts or perception issues on spending curb ad-buying. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we’ll explore the challenges of communicating on behalf of the government.

Retro: The National Parks Portfolio

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the American people had heard of President Teddy Roosevelt’s travels preserve those special places found only in America. Roosevelt’s conservationism paved the way for an organization to manage these places. Since his signing of the American Antiquities Act of 1906, 153 sites have been preserved.

In the same year, Ivy Ledbetter Lee wrote The Declarations of Principles, in which he advocated that public relations practitioners have a responsibility for the work in which they do.

“This is not a secret press bureau. All of our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. …. In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.”

The public relations industry was in a state of transition between models from press agentry to public information. This is notable because, in 1915, a former journalist-turned government official was tasked with setting up a National Park Service. The effort would be seen as monumental for Stephen Mather, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, who called on a former journalism colleague to help. Former journalist, editor, and publisher Robert Sterling Yard, a preservationist, signed on to the role.

Over the course of a year, Mather privately funded Yard’s travel that allowed him to author a series of articles about places such as Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, and published them in 1916 in The National Parks Portfolio.

Yard described Yosemite (1923), thusly, “The first view of most spots of unusual celebrity often falls short of expectations, but this is seldom, if ever, true of the Yosemite Valley” (p. 44).

el capitan.PNG

El Capitan in 1923.

In the third edition of the publication, Mather wrote in the introduction: “The main object of this portfolio, therefore, is to

present to the people of this country a panorama of our national parks and our national monuments” (Yard, 1923, p.5).

Mather believed public support would be needed to build Congressional support for the effort, a fact noted by the Secretary of the Interior John Barton Payne who posited if Congress were to fund a National Park Service, the parks would become even more of a treasure (Yard, 1923, p.4).

Yard’s publication was distributed to all members of Congress and is attributed, in part, to the passage of the bill signed by President Woodrow Wilson to authorize the National Park Service in 1916.

Modern: #FYPx (Find Your Park Expedition/Encuentra Tu Parque)

In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated 100 years in existence. The need to raise awareness still exists, but tools have changed. These days, people may be more inclined to explore Pinterest rather than Pike’s Peak. How do you update the work of Yard to raise awareness of the treasure of America’s parks system?

Social media crowdsourcing, of course!

fypx_headerThe Find Your Park Expedition (#FYPx) is an “education and awareness campaign connects media influencers nationwide with America’s national parks and allows their stories to be told.” It first began in 2015 and recently the second edition returned from its expedition.

Little had changed in the picturesque scenes from Yosemite from 100 years earlier, including the cost of travel. This time, there would be no private funding of the trip, but rather, corporate sponsorships to cover the cost.

As part of the centennial campaign, eight social media influencers were selected to travel to national parks, including Yosemite. While it may sound like a television show, each of the bloggers represented diverse audiences to be introduced to national parks.

The updated campaign had five areas of focus:

  1. Diversity, History, Relevancy, Heritage, and Education
  2. Working with the National Park Service
  3. Conservation and Environmental Stewardship
  4. Outdoor Recreation, Fitness, Nutrition, and Health
  5. Digital Engagement

Unlike Yard’s first edition of The National Parks Portfolio, the 2016 effort prominently featured photography from the great outdoors. (It should be noted that many of the bloggers selected in 2016 had backgrounds in either photography or design):

Final Thoughts.

Even today, the need for government public relations is questioned in a downturned economy (Liu, & Levenshus, 2010, p.1). Limitations on advertising spending for government-agency communicators, whether real or perceived, provide opportunities for creative solutions to this age-old challenge. Since Yard’s original publication did not include photographs (those would come later), it was his writing which allowed the reader’s imagination to be captured.

 Yosemite’s El Capitan still looks the same as when Yard first wrote about it; the only difference is that now the adventurer’s photos are in color. However, the objective of the original effort still exists: introducing Americans to its national parks. 

The in-the-moment tweets from #FYPx campaign allow for the influencer’s followers to vicariously journey with them, but it will be their travel (b)logs which really paint a picture of the great outdoors to a new generation. In this way,  the 21st-century adventurer is born, crossing what National Park Foundation calls the “digital frontier.” It may very well be that this latest chapter in American preservation lasts for the next 100 years, too.

That said, where will you find your next adventure? Drop me a comment and let me know!


Liu, B. F., & Levenshus, A. B. (2010). Public relations professionals’ perspectives on the communication challenges and opportunities they face in the public sector. PRism 7(1):

Yard, R.S. (1923). The national parks portfolio. (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office.

Snack Attack!

Who doesn’t love a good snack? Salty or sweet, a good snack is satisfying–except when you can no longer get it. Recently, I overheard my kids discussing their Halloween loot. My son had only gotten one Rice Krispie treat (his favorite snack!) in his trick-or-treat bag but knew his sister had one, too.  That’s when I heard: “Can I borrow your Rice Krispie treat?”

We all knew that “borrow” wasn’t the word he was after. As you can imagine, we all had a great laugh because we knew she’d never get it back. Nevertheless, she listened and understood what he was after and handed over the snack. As he gobbled it down, I started thinking about how this scenario has played out in real life and how listening can ensure a happy customer (or little brother). It wasn’t so much his communication that mattered; it was her response.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we take a look at two treats and see what happens when a couple of campaigns–one modern and one retro–threaten consumer snacking habits. See what happens when consumers bite back.

Retro: New Coke

In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formulation of its iconic drink, the first rebranding in 99 years. The invention was an attempt to stem slumping sales against competitor Pepsi. New Coke was introduced with great fanfare by the company.

The new drink was supposed to be cheaper to make, smoother and  sweeter. Needless to say,  it didn’t go down well. The effort failed when tastemakers failed to adopt the new formulation and shared their displeasure far and wide.

The backlash came quickly and furiously. Corporate offices received numerous phone calls and letters in an effort to voice displeasure. The organization noted a 275% increase in call volume each day for more than two months. The scarcity caused by the lack of access to the familiar flavor, caused customers to hoard it rather than drink a product they didn’t like. In The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company, it was noted that even the bottlers for the drink demanded a meeting with the parent company (Hays, 2004).

One of the first rules of strategic communications is to know your audience. Coca-Cola missed this point. Everyone wanted a return to the original formulation; everyone that is, except Pepsi which was able to capitalize on the blunder to reinforce its brand amid the blowback in the press (Hays, 2004).

In a campaign hailed by Time magazine as one of the “greatest marketing blunders,”  the company failed to recognize the national nostalgia many people held for the popular drink.

The Real Thing at my local convenience store. Photo by Lesley Bruinton

Through critical listening, Coca-Cola found its way back to the real thing for fans of the product: the original mix. It only took 78 days to herald the return. Fittingly, the announcement of the elixir’s return was a breaking news announcement during the daytime soap opera General Hospital.

Modern: Twinkies

Time for nostalgic noshing? Photo by Lesley Bruinton

A declining economic forecast meant Hostess had to do something. Hostess, the maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, was heading towards bankruptcy–again. The 2012 bankruptcy filing would be its second in three years. Debt and rising costs were to blame. Less than six months after the bankruptcy filing, Hostess broke the news to fans on Twitter:

Despite a 150-year relationship with consumers, the response was swift and severe with lots of backlash on social media. Couple that with news stories that Twinkies may soon be off the shelves for good and only a distant memory. The scarcity principle kicked in and folks soon begin filling their baskets with the creme-filled cakes.

It was clear that consumers were not ready to give up the sweet treat. A savvy investor heard the demand online and responded. Smelling an opportunity, Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo bought the iconic brand for $410 million, which extended the shelf life of the famed food.

Twenty-four months after the brand’s reboot, the investors were making dough, and in the process, confirmed its own prophesied return to the market as “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.”

Final Thoughts.

With any strategic communication plan, there should be a component dedicated to crisis communications. The strategically-minded public relations practitioner should have the opportunity to ask the question “What if this doesn’t go as planned? How will we respond?” It is apparent that no one asked those questions ahead of time as in both cases it took months for a response which addressed the consumer concerns.

Phone calls. Letters. Tweets. They all share the same trait in these two examples: communication from the consumer. But it wasn’t the action in either case that it noteworthy, it is the reaction. In order for effective communication to have the message sent must be received and responded to. In Listening Effectively, the author notes “Responding, then, is a form of feedback that completes the communication transaction” (Kline, 1996, p. 26). In both cases, the product’s maker responded by reviving the brand.

Ironically, the cost-saving decisions by both companies caused more problems than they solved and alienated their respective audiences. However, it was by critically listening to consumers both companies were able to positively affect the bottom line as consumers flocked back. The critical listening allowed both the Coca-Cola Company and the Hostess brand to understand the pathos of its respective consumers. In both cases, the companies heard the pathos of fear and through their response were able to solidify loyalty.

Although one campaign played out in the social media era and one did not, both have been able to capitalize on emerging technology. Hostess created a social media campaign to allow customers to take credit for Twinkie’s return, by encouraging the retweeting of a graphic saying “I Saved the Twinkie.”

Today, the Coca-Coca Cola Company has embraced the sour segment of its history and brought it into the 21st century by inviting consumers to share their New Coke experiences, which include hoarding the classic version in favor of the update.

Pretty sweet, huh?



Hays, C. L. (2004). The real thing : Truth and power at the Coca-Cola Company(1st ed.). New York: Random House. http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/random041/2003046609.html

Kline, J. A., & Air University (U.S.). (1996). Listening effectively. Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Air University Press.