Category Archives: Offline Marketing

The power of utility marketing as showcased by Mountain Dew

Marketing statistics

It ain’t easy being a marketer these days.

The people you’re trying to talk to are increasing cynical about your profession and don’t really care about what you’re trying to say.

The prevalence of blocking advertising messages has increased steadily in the past few years, and will likely continue to go up.

And even when you do get that ad out there, attention spans have become increasingly fleeting, as the sheer volume of branded communications and channel choices have ballooned.

But dry your eyes lads and lassies.

As Mr Chris Martin once sang ‘nobody said it was easy’.

Advertising these days is becomes less and less about communication or interruption, and more about entertainment, facilitation and adding value.

Why would you piss somebody off with an ill timed message, when technology allows us to come up with novel solutions to interesting problems?

We expect things to be easy, fluid and frictionless these days, and brands that make that happen are valued. Look at some of the most valuable companies in the world like Uber (taxis & delivery), Amazon (one click shopping) and WhatsApp (communication between friends).

Each understands the power of simplicity.

Us marketers can learn from that.

Making life easier

Good marketing can be executed by simply making life easier for your customers. We need to become less arrogant and far more empathetic, more understanding of consumers rather than presumptuous around their needs, more about adding value and creating solutions than using the megaphone to interrupt.

A good examples of this new style of utility marketing comes from Mountain Dew in Colombia.

In attempting to attract notoriously cynical ‘skaters’ to their product (a cohort of over 2 million in the country), the strategic team behind the brand searched long and hard for an idea that could connect the brand with their needs and expectations. Through a week long ethnographic process with the skater audience, they uncovered an interesting truth.

They found that skaters spend 50% of their life in activities related to skateboarding, 60% of this time is spent skating. The remaining 40% is spent on fixing their boards. The damage that their boards suffer is so big that they spend a lot of time on bringing them back to action, making this a massive pain point.

But surely no brand could take on that challenge right? Surely some print and digital ads was the way to go?

Mountain Dew didn’t think that way.

If they really wanted to connect with the skater community, they couldn’t do a traditional advertising campaign. Instead they had to create something that was part of their lives.

The opportunity was staring them in the face, and for me, it’s a brilliant example of marketing as utility.

Mountain Dew created the “Dew Tool” concept – the first soda that also worked as a tool to fix their boards. The bottle had a cap with a 10mm gap so it could be used as tool on any skateboard (all skateboard’s wheels and truck screws are the same size).

The brand produced 10,000 Dew Tools and took them to point of sales where skaters usually concentrated.

And the bottle became a cult hit collector’s item.

With a low budget, the Dew Bottle Tool was sold out in less than 2 days and the skater community demanded to have more of this special edition through social media networks.

A simple truth, a little lateral thinking, a willingness to move beyond advertising and an understanding that consumers these days want more than just interruptive ads stuffed down their throat.

When are marketers going to realise that the old model is dead?

Over the weekend, I saw a revered Irish marketer bemoaning the fact that advertising is becoming irrelevant.

A more sincere, empathy driven way of acting is our opportunity to regain that credibility and relevance once again.




The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Originally written for Marketing Magazine


A ‘viral’ was something a brand manager actively avoided rather than desired.

A ‘smart’ phone was a landline that could stretch into the other room, away

from the prying ears of other family members.

‘Time shifted’ television watching meant catching a re-run of The Late Late at

some godforsaken hour of the morning.

‘Social network’ meant the back of the church or more likely, the lads at the bar.

Yes 1990 was a very different place for marketers.This magazine is a record of one of the most interesting eras in marketing, and has documented the change in the period since. Through all of this, it’s clear that one addition to our vocabulary has had more impact more than any other.



Let’s talk ‘digital’. Like all industries, Irish agency land has found digital disruption a long, tough journey with plenty of casualties. As with any meaningful technological innovation, from the printing press to radio to T.V., the web has been met with confusion, apprehension, fear or misunderstanding by some, matched with a gleeful sense of optimism and opportunity by many others.

What first began as an afterthought, the sprinkles on top of a campaign if a budget allowed, a way to tick the innovation box, digital marketing has now fused itself right into the fabric of what we do. But it’s also been a steep learning curve. Along the way, we’ve learned the difference between microsites and websites, native advertising and digital display, between UX and UI, and all how to excel at digital buzzword bullshit to boot. Digital marketing is so pervasive that agencies have formed around former sub-categories like content, social, search and analytics. Another big change is that the default output for a big brief is no longer a T.V. ad. Indeed if it is, you should fire your agency. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s now a cop out for any Irish marketer to think that digital ‘isn’t part of their job spec’.

It’s all just marketing now.


In a wider sense, Irish digital adoption has also kept pace with the most advanced economies in the world, meaning our industry has been at the arrowhead of change. We’re early adopters, social media devotees, smartphone addicts and have developed an e-commerce buying habit. As a parallel, Irish consumers are also more world aware and cynical of brand intentions than we’ve ever been.


Elsewhere, doomsdayers say media and marketing is in danger of imploding unto itself, such is the relentless pressure of technology. Brands are in combat for our decreasing attention span with an army of amateur internet creators and the media world has moved from a finite, desired inventory to an infinite inventory with plenty of willing volunteers to fill it for free. The internet has also meant that the sheer pace of cultural change has sped up. Witness how campaigns like the ‘ice bucket’ can spread like wildfire and then be dropped in a heartbeat.

So we’re all truly aware of how digital has impacted our industry. But has it really profoundly changed what we do? Or is that actually the biggest fallacy of the past 25 years? Here’s a question to chew on, in the time since this publication first reared its head, has our role as marketers really changed all that much?


As a digital native, I’m sometimes accused of bias towards technology. Yet despite this great industry makeover, I actually don’t think the basics of what we do have changed. Nor will they any time soon. According to Prof. Byron Sharp’s excellent and respected book ‘How Brands Grow’, consistency, distinctiveness, noteworthiness, excellent targeting and constant reach are all tenets of brand growth. Another key to growth is to achieve distinctiveness with sensory brand assets and cues.

Through digital mediums, it’s never been easier to achieve each of these tenets. In fact, not only has our game not changed, but our arsenal has never been bigger.

Sure, the space we exist in and the channels we use are vastly different, as I’ve explored above. But above all, we shouldn’t forget that it’s still about selling great ideas. Just nowadays the ideas should be agnostic of channel.

No matter how much we emphasise analytics or technology, it remains that great marketing can never be reduced solely into binary 1s and 0s. Over-reliance on measurability, and less allowance for creativity is a sure fire path to obsolescence for ad agencies. For most great campaigns, there isn’t a research group or algorithm that could predict success.

That’s why David Ogilvy’s writings feel as fresh now as they did back in the Mad Men days.

Sure, marketing is and should always be part science, and digital has increased our reliance on this.

But just like in 1990, and just like it will be for as long as this magazine keeps going, it’s the art part that really counts.

Maybe it’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Media agencies, the podcasting revolution and missed opportunities…

While browsing around Twitter last night, I somehow came across an interesting interview, recorded earlier in the year (ironically on a niche podcast!).

Ken Early of Second Captains fame and Andrew Mangan of Arsenal fan blog ‘Arseblog’ shared their insights into podcasting and building a niche media business. Both touched on the inertia that so often defines big media these days.

Listen to the Early’s thinking from around 24.00 in, it’s particularly riveting.

Paraphrased, the flame haired one, no stranger to making a strong point or two, takes aim at Ireland’s media agencies,  their lack of innovation and awareness about the power of niche/new media and podcasts. Early also muses that the legacy systems of big media aren’t interested in ‘what else is going on’ and are ambivalent about new media.

He might not work in advertising or media, but he’s pretty much bang on from my experience.

In the Irish Digital Consumer Outlook 2014, I mentioned a prediction that podcasting would explode in popularity across this year and next. In fact, it’s already reached that stage.


In the U.S., ESPN’s Bill Simmons (‘Grantland’) and Ira Glass (This American Life) led the way, but even in the past year, influencers like Tim Ferriss and James Altucher have grown their own communities through the power of the pod.

With channels like Stitcher, Soundcloud and iTunes all growing distribution options, the podcast medium has grown in popularity and the trend doesn’t seem to be stopping.

Another plus is that the rules of podcasting are different. There are no gatekeepers or editors, the listening habits are different, the economics are different.

Plus, when you have a direct relationship with your listener you can do really cool interesting things. Many of those mentioned above use their podcast to leverage other parts of their businesses like books, courses or attempt to become ‘thought leaders’


Back across the water, we’re a little slower, but the momentum is building. Second Captains’ decision to go pod only, and of course the Irish Times facilitation of this is a huge step. While Jarlath Regan’s ‘An Irishman Abroad’ is an excellent example of high quality, enthralling audio that, in 1990, would have taken thousands of people to create.

This trend is all part of the democratisation of media away from the hands of big behemoths. Similarly in the world of print, we’ve seen the rise of the personal brand journalist. The likes of Walt Mossberg, Nate Silver and Ezra Klein, along with the aforementioned Simmons, have all left large institutions to set up their own, niche media brand.


And traditional media is slowly beginning to take heed.

In the past year, big entities like Harvard Business Review, ESPN, PBS, RTE, Irish Times, Re/Code, Sunday Business Post, 99U, Talksport and Newstalk all create their own podcasts, either as re-cut radio broadcasts, or more often than not additions to written and video content. For example, the Irish Times offers an excellent businesses podcast hosted by Tom Lyons which serves as a supplementary canvas for their business journalism, while ESPN’s magazine podcast gives a look behind the scenes at how an edition is created.

I’ve written before about the necessity for media brands to diversify their revenue portfolio, and podcasts seem to be a key part of that.


So with listenership numbers increasing and a general growth in the space, the question remains, where’s the advertising? 

Despite reaching 250 shows and having over 115,000 Soundcloud subscribers along, I’ve only ever heard one add on Second Captains, for KBC Bank as a competition sponsor.

Just today, they announced a new deal with Rabo Direct, who must have some cash floating about in their sport sponsorship budget after moving away from rugby. So perhaps the tide is changing?

The issue comes with the fact that small, niche brands often aren’t on a media agencies radar, or don’t have the scale to make contact worth the while. Media agencies would rather play it safe and go to the traditional big radio channels.

In digital display, we’re seeing smarter, agile media agencies like Sweatshop pop up to fill this gap. Perhaps there’s a need for a podcast equivalent?

In the U.S., condensed ‘podcast networks’ are popping up, and are seemingly lucrative. Who will be brave enough to create an Irish/European equivalent?


Squarespace is one big company which has invested heavily in the low cost, high engagement space. Founder Anthony Casalena has constantly reiterated the high ROI of sponsoring niche podcasts, and for good reason. Americans are listening to more podcasts than ever it seems, according to a Squarespace blog.  According to the Washington Post, podcast downloads passed 1 billion mark last year and monthly podcast listeners number 75 million per month. Even USA Today is taking notice

Sure,  numbers in Ireland at the moment might be relatively small, and not enough to support a big advertising business. But for those advertisers and podcasters who are able to find success and a certain level of listenership in this medium, podcasting could soon be an important part of the new media model, even if its on a small scale.

Time to wake up and start listening media agencies.