Total Sensory: The Next Frontier of Digital Marketing

As a digital strategist who has spent a substantial amount of time in the experiential/event marketing world, one of the opportunities that intrigue me most is how to drive consumers from physical environments to digital platforms to create seamless experiences. A great example of this offline-to-online transition is Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s limited-edition #WHHSH beer activation at Coachella, encouraging concert goers to interact with the #WHHSH hashtag on social media. Our tools for this type of activation have typically included URLs and the dreaded QR code. As digital sensors better mimic our physical senses, we move closer to a seamless physical-to-digital experience.

Recently, I have seen national use of a technology that I’m stoked about for this purpose: sound recognition. More specifically, Shazam. The first was Coke Zero’s promotion with ESPN GameDay in which you could use Shazam to get a free Coke Zero after tagging the commercial. The second execution, a recent Target commercial, suggested one tag it with Shazam to “begin shopping.” However, this wasn’t the first Target ad to use the app, and several other brands have used the technology including Starbucks, Jaguar and Honda.

The benefits of sound recognition to drive online awareness include:

  • The sound in brand ads is inherently unique.
  • The user is not required to type in a URL.
  • Reinforces “sound branding,” like the sound of pouring a Coca-Cola or a revving Harley-Davidson engine.
  • Tag management in Shazam allows the user to visit the experience at their convenience.

While there are some criticisms of the market’s continued interest in Shazam and the user experience, for example, attempting to tag a TV commercial in 30 seconds, I believe that brands should continue to explore the use of sound recognition as a driver to online properties. As brands explore these opportunities, here are some uses that come to mind:

  • Distributing promotional codes/offer to an event audience (i.e., giving out a free song track at a concert)
  • Driving tablet second-screen TV viewers to product websites
  • Hiding audio “Easter eggs” within media content (e.g., movies, TV shows, branded video content)

Shazam has also recently added visual recognition to their functionality. If a user sees the app’s camera logo, he or she can unlock a deeper experience by pointing the camera at the image and tapping the Shazam app button. Now a brand’s ad itself or logo becomes the QR code.

As visual and sound recognition are being perfected and driving a more interactive world, what is the next step? The sense of touch is already being prototyped and is in experimentation mode. A TED Talk, “Shape-shifting tech will change work as we know it,” shows how we’re starting to interact with the digital world in physical space. These advances, coupled with other advances, like augmented reality and iBeaons, are bringing us one step closer to a total sensory digital experience. As a digital geek, I am all-in for the next frontier of digital marketing, further leveraging our five senses—perhaps taste will be next!

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THE FLINT DISASTER: Will Accountability Please Stand Up

“Here’s to Flint!” said Mayor Dayne Walling, lifting his glass.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, his toast would serve to commemorate the tragic “switch” in 2014 when the city of Flint changed its water supply from the city of Detroit to its very own Flint River. In combination with the city’s aging pipe system, the new water supply toxified the tap water flowing into every Flint home. Meanwhile, government officials described the switch as an austerity measure intended to help soften the blow of the city’s looming financial crisis.

Fast-forward two years; today, the aforementioned celebratory toast has turned into one of our nation’s most disturbing contemporary tragedies.

Many questions remain unresolved. Did the city of Flint sacrifice the health and safety of its residents to save approximately $1 million a year? Would the tragedy have been avoided altogether had the situation occurred in a less diverse, more affluent neighborhood? What are the long-term health outcomes for the victims of Flint who were exposed to the lead-laced water? Why did their voices go unheard for so long?

Congress hoped to give closer examination last week when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Both officials faced a withering barrage of questions and condemnation. Both were asked to resign. Neither did.

Politics aside, the continued blame game, finger-pointing and failure to accept full accountability on both sides—particularly for the popularly elected Snyder—is fueling the public outrage. Is good PR important to earning and keeping trust between an elected official and his/her constituents?

Let’s examine closer.

Fumbled public statements and responses haven’t helped Snyder’s office (nor the EPA) in gaining the public’s trust. In fact, numerous steps by these figures fly in the face of key PR tenets during a crisis: own your actions, communicate the facts and misdoings in a transparent manner, and inform people what you are doing to fix it.

Strike one. The facts were largely downplayed from the get-go. During a crisis, it’s critical to report the facts and interpret them objectively. Otherwise, you’re stuck in “media quicksand.” The more you say, the worse it gets.

As The Los Angeles Times writes,

“… The river drew more worrisome headlines when the GM engine plant in town decided to stop taking Flint’s water in October 2014 because it was worried the high levels of chloride, which the river water also contained, would corrode metal parts.

“The city insisted the water was still safe. GM employees, Flint officials pointed out, were still drinking the water at the plant. But then, on Dec. 16, 2014, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notified Flint that it had violated the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

Later, and in a background memo to the governor, the state Department of Environmental Quality downplayed the danger. Throughout 2014 and into early 2015, the state of Michigan continued to placate residents.

Strike two. Lack of transparency. As The Guardian reports this January:

The governor’s office declined to answer questions about what role it played in the decision-making process that led to Flint using the local river as its main water source, but what is clear is that the lead-contamination crisis took place while the city was under the control of Snyder-appointed emergency managers.”

Let’s not forget that the state of Michigan, under Snyder’s administration, originally authorized the switch.

Strike three. Accountability that only goes half way.

In a National Journal interview from earlier this year, Snyder admitted that his administration was aware that the state De­part­ment of En­vir­on­ment­al Qual­ity was mishandling the Flint water crisis in mid-2015. Even staff aides made him personally aware of the complaints about the drinking water.

Testimony from last week’s congressional hearing confirmed Snyder’s acceptance of some accountability, but it didn’t stop him from simultaneously pointing the finger in the opposite direction. (The fact that the EPA’s McCarthy is just as guilty misses the point.) In addition, it has become clear from media reports that everyone convinced each other that everything was “OK” because no one wanted to be the one to call out a problem.

Too little too late? To be fair, Snyder is on public record for saying, “I am sorry, I will fix it.” He also penned an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press following the congressional hearing declaring that he is not going to walk away from the disaster but will be a leader in solving the problem. He also gets high marks for recently recruiting the whistleblowers/heroes who raised concern early on; they are now on his team. Numerous officials at lower levels of government have lost their jobs as a result of how this crisis was handled.

Yet Snyder still faces an uphill battle in winning back the public’s trust.

NPR recently reported that he is losing support in Michigan, with approval rating falling 30 percentage points. A recall campaign has been launched. According to The New York Times, Standard & Poor’s lowered the outlook on Michigan’s credit rating to stable from positive, citing the costs of dealing with the Flint crisis, and also with a looming financial crisis affecting Detroit public schools.

Will Flint ultimately become Snyder’s “Nixon” or “Katrina” moment as a result of his PR blunders? This question, while a worthy one that will be watched by politicos and serve as a playbook for PR consultants, falls secondary to the health and safety of the thousands of people impacted by Flint’s toxic water.

—Monica McCafferty, Director of PR

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So Uncool: How We Flipped the Script and Made Greenspun Junior High the Uncoolest School in Vegas

When I joined R&R Partners, I was thrilled to step into the glamorous world of advertising. I imagined myself a female Don Draper … working on exciting TV commercials, making creative pitches for clients, and collaborating with some of the best ad agency minds out there. And yes, the culture at R&R is part of what makes it one of the best places to work in Las Vegas. What I didn’t expect is how collaborating on our Flip the Script anti-bullying project would be one of the most fulfilling, impactful projects I’ve ever taken on in my career.

The initiative began in 2011, centered on the idea of standing up against bullying by turning it on its head and “flipping the script.” Throughout the campaign’s history, which has even resulted in Nevada Senate Bill 276 (strong anti-bullying legislation), relevant messaging and thrilling events like USA Network’s Concert to Rock Out Bullying have put this important topic at the forefront of pop culture.

This year’s mission? We partnered with the Public Education Foundation to select three Clark County School District junior high schools as our clients for the next round of the initiative. Three teams of R&R employees signed up as volunteers for this project, and I was fortunate enough to be assigned team leader for Team Purple. We were comprised of several amazing people throughout many different disciplines − design, copywriting, media, research, leadership, PR, production, insight, brand − who pulled together to create a campaign that would meet our clients’ needs.

Speaking of our clients for this project, they were atypical. Namely, they were a group of leaders in sixth, seventh or eighth grade at Greenspun Junior High School, starting at age 11. Our clients were energetic, have been fluent in social media their entire lives, and shed extensive light on what bullying meant in their world. We welcomed these clients to R&R’s offices for two separate brainstorms − one to understand their (and their parents’) experience. The second session was to present our campaign concepts to them.

Resoundingly, one of our two options stood out to these students. The concept that they unanimously voted on was Uncool. Literally. If bullies are cool − think Regina George in Mean Girls or the students of Cobra Kai dojo in The Karate Kid − then our clients wanted to be uncool. If sitting next to a lone student at the cafeteria is uncool, these incredible students were all-in. If standing up for someone was uncool, these leaders were all about it.

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After this direction was determined, the R&R teams burst into action; our team was lucky enough to have the talents of Kristen Hart, our creative lead, manifesting our Uncool design. Through her, and other team members’ tireless efforts, our campaign concept became a reality. We had T-shirts, posters, banners and other items designed for our launch event and an ongoing student store to reinforce the campaign. Sarah Catletti, R&R brand manager who moonlights as foundation co-manager, says, “It was important to the team to make sure that after our campaign launched, Greenspun could continue to be the Uncoolest school and maintain the program. In partnering with school administration and teachers, we were able to provide branded materials for the student store that kids who were caught being uncool could purchase with Uncool bucks as currency.”

greenspun2All of this hard work for our clients culminated in an Uncool assembly to kick off the program. The team tirelessly sought out local talent who were behind the mission to donate their time and skills and to join us at the event on February 26. And talent we got! The ladies from the UNLV Pom team kicked off the event with a high-energy routine, and JC fromMercedes in the Morning on Mix 94.1 FM was a dynamic emcee. He kicked off a program of entertaining vignettes, including the No. 1-ranked flyweight UFC fighter Joseph Benavidez, singer/songwriter Franky Perez, and Flamingo headliner and juggler Jeff Civillico.

Each performer touched on how being uncool was the new cool, and our clients themselves kicked off their program at their school. “I had some of our eighth-grade boys raving, saying it was the best assembly they’ve attended at Greenspun! Their favorite part? The pom girls! “There was something for everyone!” shares Greenspun’s leadership student council co-adviser Dana Martin. “…Your team knocked it out of the park!”

With happy clients and a top-notch event, Team Purple ended this week tired, yet knowing that we had made a difference in students’ lives. As I draft this, proud of the work we did as a team, I can’t help but smile and think that Greenspun was just one of the three schools this project has impacted. Similar campaigns and events are taking place at Becker and Fremont junior high schools. “The Flip the Script initiative and the ways that our employees volunteer to positively affect others is what the R&R Foundation is all about,” says Jim King, principal and leader of the R&R Foundation.

Welcome to the sexy, life-changing, exciting world of advertising. Don Draper would be proud.

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Perception, reality … and Ciudad Juarez

To be honest, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about visiting Ciudad Juarez. Perceptions can do that to you. Color your opinions. Sway your feelings. Paint a picture in your head that may, or may not, have anything to do with its reality.

That’s how it was between me and Ciudad Juarez. Here’s the thing. I’ve binged on The Bridge on television. I sat in my local multiplex for a matinee showing of Sicario. I’ve listened to the music of At the Drive-In. I’ve been on more than one Southwest flight leaving El Paso and flying directly over one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. And I’ve seen the news reports over the last 10 years of drug cartel violence throughout Mexico, but especially within Juarez.

It all added up to a pretty scary picture. A picture I was more than willing to hold as the truth until I learned that we had signed Ciudad Juarez as a client. It was now our job to take the perception I just described and turn it around. Mold it into a narrative that describes today’s realities while acknowledging yesterday’s reputation.

  1. Perception and persuasion are what we do, after all. But this was uncharted territory for me. Did I have the wrong idea about the city? Was the reality of Juarez in direct opposition to my media-fed beliefs? I was about to find out.

The project began last December in a conference room in our Las Vegas office. I spent the better part of a day with 11 representatives from Juarez (and probably 10 or 11 of us – the room was pretty crowded) talking about challenges, goals and aspirations for their city. The day was a revelation. The people from Juarez were a joy – smart, friendly, articulate, open, and most importantly – honest. They were under no illusions. They knew their city was suffering from a problem of perception. And they fully acknowledged that, during the worst days of cartel violence, their reputation was well earned.

But in the course of that day, while we worked on the messaging strategies to begin convincing business owners and site selectors that Juarez is a hard-working city that deserves a closer look as a smart, and safe, place to do business, they managed to convince me that the situation in their city is changing. While still not perfect, the violence and the threats have decreased significantly over the past five or six years. And the attributes that make the city a strategically solid location for certain types of businesses (primarily manufacturing and distribution, with aspirations to high-tech in the near future) were still very much in place.

So on that day, we all agreed: Our first priority is changing the conversation from what’s wrong with Juarez to what’s right with the city.

Jump forward in time a month. The initial strategic work was done. Now it was time to travel to Juarez and present our recommendations. And as I’ve already stated, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about traveling into the city that once had the highest murder rate in North America. But there are times when you just have to journey into the belly of the beast − only to discover the beast isn’t so scary after all.

IMG_0272 The day began in a conference room inside the city’s sparkling new children’s museum. That facility alone almost re-wrote the entire narrative for me. It is a children’s museum that any city – I repeat, any city – would be immensely proud to call their own. It was staffed by a professional and courteous team and by 10 that morning, was filled with the voices of hundreds of school kids there on field trips to learn about their city, their history, their environment and their heritage. It was no coincidence that this beautiful new facility was the site for our meeting. It was stunning physical proof of all arguments we will soon be making on their behalf.
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After the presentation came a tour of the city. I would never go so far as to describe Ciudad Juarez as beautiful. But it isn’t frightening or depressing either. It’s clear that this is a city that works for a living. We saw wide streets, working-class neighborhoods, familiar brand names (Buffalo Wild Wings, McDonald’s) and many of the horizontal two- and three-story factories, or maquiladoras, that are the center of its economy. And throughout, there were people out and about, going about their daily lives. The fears of six or seven years ago were nowhere in evidence. We ended the day driving past the university and touring an exciting new technology center that will help lead them into the future. I never felt less than completely safe.

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The day ended with an hour-and-a-half wait at the border checkpoint to get back across the Rio Grande (or the Rio Bravo, if you’re on the Mexican side of it) and into the United States. While we were waiting, I asked the polite and well-spoken young woman who had been tasked with driving me back to El Paso what exactly had happened to quell so much of the violence. She said that the law-abiding leaders of the city and its business community had simply decided enough was enough and slowly but surely, they were taking their city back. Showing my natural skepticism, I asked if it was also the result of one of the two warring cartels actually winning and driving their rivals out of the city. She admitted that was a big factor as well. I’m guessing it’s some combination of the two.

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But in the end, does it really matter? The fact is, that while still battling many issues, Ciudad Juarez is definitely a city on its way back. Its citizens combine a powerful work ethic with resilience and pride that have allowed them to create a new reality that lies in stark contrast to the violent and negative perceptions.

I was able to see that on my day in Juarez. Now it’s time for us to help them show that reality to the rest of the world.

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Net Metering Explained

First, we need to understand the grid. This is the system of lines, power plants, solar facilities, wind farms, dams, switches, transformers and other very expensive infrastructure the U.S. power industry uses to generate and deliver electricity to all of us, 24/7.101600_01_RR_NetMeter_1_TransmissionLines

Into the picture come homes and small businesses that install solar panels on their rooftops to generate their own electricity – independent of the grid. They don’t pay a utility company for it. It came from their roof. It’s theirs.101600_01_RR_NetMeter_2_RooftopSolar

But the sun doesn’t always shine. So these homes and businesses stay attached to the grid because they need electricity 24/7. Of course, they pay the utility for the power they use when the sun isn’t shining.

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So far, pretty simple. But wait.

First, most of the homes and businesses with rooftop solar don’t use all of the power they generate. Where does it go? Since they can’t store it (at least not yet – a number of scientists and visionaries are working on technology to change that), it goes back to the grid, so the utility can deliver it to someone else.

And charge for it, though they didn’t generate it.

If that sounds unfair, don’t worry. The utility credits the homes or businesses for the rooftop-generated electricity they have sold to someone else. That’s the basis of the term net metering. In theory, the home or business owner isn’t billed for the total, or “gross” energy consumption. Instead, the charge is for the “net” consumption – the amount you use less the amount you generate.

But what price do the utilities pay? Utilities would like to pay what it costs them to generate, buy and deliver electricity. Rooftop solar owners, on the other hand, would like a price closer to what the utility is charging other customers. To further complicate matters, in some jurisdictions, prices paid to rooftop solar owners were established years ago, when solar electricity was much more expensive. Not surprisingly, the utilities would like to see the prices updated to reflect current (lower) costs. Just as unsurprisingly, rooftop solar owners resist that notion.101600_01_RR_NetMeter_4_Compared

There is yet another point of contention. It’s our friend, the grid, which, as we discussed, is very expensive. For the most part, the costs of the grid are baked into the rates the utility charges. Those rates are rooted the idea that customers are connected to the grid and pulling power from it 24/7. The theory: Spread the costs of the grid evenly across the entire ratepayer base.

However, based on that thinking, if rooftop solar owners aren’t pulling power from the grid all the time, they aren’t paying their fair share.

How so? Though they are always connected to it, they aren’t always paying the rate that includes its costs. Meaning those customers without rooftop solar will end up paying a disproportionately high percentage of its cost. Put another way, if a non-solar user pays a certain price for electricity and a solar user – after rebates – pays half that amount, the non-solar user is paying twice as much for a grid whose cost to both customers is constant. Utilities believe this is unfair. To close the gap, some utilities have proposed a flat service charge to rooftop solar owners to make up the difference and keep the costs of the grid distributed evenly. This has happened in Nevada.

Many proponents of rooftop solar resist. The original idea was that rooftop solar owners would derive savings from producing, using and selling their own power. Over time, those savings would cover the cost of installation and maintenance. They say that a combination of unfairly low rates for credits and service charges make that impossible. Again, the utilities disagree.

So, who decides? As with virtually everything in the utility industry – regulators decide. In Nevada, it is the Public Utilities Commission, or PUC. In Arizona, it’s called the Arizona Corporation Commission, or ACC. These regulatory bodies conduct public hearings in which all affected parties – utilities, rooftop solar owners, the rooftop solar industry, the general public – state their case and make their proposals. They then decide what net metering rates will be enforced and what, if any, service charges will be adopted.

101600_01_RR_NetMeter_5_RegulatorsThose hearings create a fair amount of news. This is happening in Nevada right now.

Like many issues in the world of energy, net metering can seem esoteric and confusing. But if you live in a state with conditions conducive to creating solar energy, it’s an issue that will surface, if it hasn’t already. Hopefully we’ve been able to unravel the mystery enough to give you a basic understanding of an issue that won’t be going away anytime soon.

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R&R Employs Water Expertise at the National Rural Water Association’s Annual Conference

Nothing is more precious on this planet than water. It’s the one necessary ingredient to produce life as we know it.

Unfortunately, most people use water every day without thinking twice about it. Where does it come from? How much do we have left? Is it safe to drink?

This is where R&R Partners, the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) and its state affiliates come in. On January 14 and 15, 2016, R&R worked with NRWA and its state affiliates to sponsor their annual water conference in Miami, Florida. The conference brought together like-minded individuals whose public health goals include water storage, safety and conservation.

So what exactly is NRWA and what does it do? NRWA and its members provide safe drinking water to thousands of communities across the country and help to protect America’s water resources. Together, they provide training and technical assistance to roughly 31,000 small and rural water and wastewater systems. In fact, NRWA comprises the largest utility membership organization in the U.S. It believes in empowering local groups through training and education so that they are able to safely manage any water issue that comes their way.

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Water issues are all too familiar to R&R Partners. Based in the drought-prone West, R&R first began working on water conservation efforts with the Southern Nevada Water Authority more than 20 years ago. Back then, residents in Nevada and across the West had many misconceptions on who was using water and how it could be saved. For example, most thought that huge hotels and golf courses were the biggest water consumers. The truth was, and still is, that the largest single user-group was homeowners. The vast majority of that usage is outside, keeping trees, shrubs − mostly lawns − alive in the West’s arid desert climate.

Over the years, R&R worked to educate the public on water conservation. Developing smart and sexy campaigns, we have saved billions of gallons of water every year with virtually no effect on the lives of the homeowners and business owners who conserve. Ordinary people continuing to do ordinary things, saving water, one gallon at a time. Today, the citizens of Southern Nevada are saving more than 42.5 million gallons of water every day. We have reduced our consumption of water from 248 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) in 2008 to 118 GPCD in 2014. We are saving water at a rate five times greater than the rate of our population growth.

Even with the good work done by R&R in Nevada, there is much more work to be done nationwide. Drought remains a top concern among many citizens, especially those who live in the West. In fact, a Colorado College Conservation in the West poll released last month revealed that this issue remains a top concern. In addition, scientists have predicted that the ongoing drought in the West will worsen in the coming decades. That is why it is more important than ever for R&R to continue working alongside important water groups like NRWA.

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Preview Las Vegas 2016: Future. Forward.

“If we’re all here at Preview,” I joked to my colleague sitting next to me, “who is running Las Vegas?” A flippant remark turned into perfect fodder for a tweet, yet as I reflect back on the January 29th program, it certainly rings true. A veritable who’s who in community leaders in both the private and public sector in Las Vegas descended on the Thomas & Mack Center for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Preview 2016 event.

“Future. Forward.” was this year’s theme, and Chamber CEO and President Kristen McMillan led us through an action-packed agenda centered on Las Vegas as an exciting, ever-evolving city for visitors, businesses and citizens alike. Peppered throughout were prerecorded economic insights from Dr. Stephen Miller, director of the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research. From many statistics and charts, I took away that Nevada’s economic recovery was underway − Dr. Miller dubbed Nevada “one of the fastest growing states.”

After a Star Wars lightsaber introduction, Dr. Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West, took the stage to share how Las Vegas is in the midst of a Metropolitan Revolution. He shared how proactive leaders led the city through the I11 initiative to UNLV’s Medical School to an economic environment attracting businesses like Faraday Future. Yet that was the past; in Dr. Lang’s opinion, the future stems on renegotiating tourist taxes to expand the Las Vegas Convention Center, build a light rail and construct a stadium.

“I think what struck me,” says R&R Partners’ Sara Macfarlane, “is the progress the business community has made of setting goals and achieving them − the payoff (I11, UNLV Medical School) has been good. And we get a front seat at R&R.”

Next up was a panel discussion hosted by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority president and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter on the topic of aviation trends, travel and security. Joined by Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, Roger Dow, president & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and Warren Eales, Port director, Customs and Border Protection, this portion of the program centered on trends in “internationalization” as an opportunity for Las Vegas as a destination, namely travelers from China.

Joe Martin, director of Strategy and Planning for R&R Partners, acknowledged that the time has come to invest in “destination internationalization.” “The LVCVA has done a tremendous job cultivating international demand and growing that segment of the visitation, the idea of creating a more welcoming experience for visitors from all over the globe not only makes sense, it has become imperative. For a destination as world-renowned and as reliant on tourism as Las Vegas, our goal as a community should be to enhance the visitor experience in everything we do.”

Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, warmly introduced Dag Reckhorn from Faraday Future. After the premiere of its concept car at CES and selecting North Las Vegas for a $1 billion plant investment, Future Faraday (FF − as its VP of global manufacturing shared with us) embodied the Future. Forward. theme of today. Additionally, Reckhorn pledged $6 million over six years to local K−12 schools, which roused the audience into a round of energetic applause. Future, indeed!

The final speaker of the morning was MGM Resorts International chairman Jim Murren, who stated that his comments would be a “celebration of Las Vegas.” He mentioned that few cities can host world-class events … at the same time like Las Vegas and challenged all sectors to unite around public education. He appealed to the audience about convention business, as well as the proposed light rail: “We need to provide multiple efficient points of travel.” Murren closed with calling Las Vegas a resilient, giving, sustainable city − the “Entertainment Capitol of the World.”

The Metro Chamber of Commerce gave us a preview into the future of our city, and as we’ve moved from economic recovery to economic development, I can see how we are indeed on a path to Future. Forward. In a city known for hospitality, service and dynamic energy, it is perhaps moving forward that we do best.

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Super Bowl Ads

MY TOP 6 IN ORDER

Doritos Ultrasound − Really fun and baked with truth, although actual Doritos are not baked with truth. They are baked with a lot of stuff that really isn’t that good for you. I love everything about this ad though. The dad who gets to play with his kid while the kid is still in the womb. The fact that they probably eat a lot of Doritos so the kid has already had a taste because Doritos are in the blood, man. So, I really do believe he knows what he is going after when he reaches for the Doritos. Doritos are the motivation for life itself in this ad, which involves the great ending that I didn’t see coming. Big laughs all around and a simple concept that comes across even if you can barely hear it with all the people crying about how bad Cam looks.

T-Mobile Restricted Bling − I was not a Drake fan, but he’s wonderful in this ad. His enthusiasm for the insane changing to his cellphone video is fantastic. And the ad gets the message across about the benefits of signing with T-Mobile in the best way possible − by bagging on the other guys in a super fun way. This was one of my favorites because we all are very familiar with the song and with Drake. I love that they play him against the rapper cast as a total sell out here. And with a performer who has the street cred of Drake, this makes for really good times and it was very unexpected. That is how sad I am. I used the words street cred. YO!

Audi, The Commander − First off, I am a Bowie fan and the song “Starman” is a favorite. It was sad to see him go. His song is used perfectly here with nostalgic images that evoke the excitement of the first space flight of our sad former astronaut. There is a great truth here for any young man who gets into the cockpit of a car. Most of us can’t fly planes or rocket ships, but we can drive. And our imaginations run wild. When we are behind the wheel of the right car, we are rock stars, jet pilots, secret agents − heck − we are gods for one small moment. The Audi ad portrays this perfectly and takes us all back to that time when we got behind the wheel for our first drive. In our sad astronaut’s case, he is remembering his first mission. Same thing. And it pulls him out of his funk. The only thing missing was the landing on the planet with the Amazon Women. Another thing men like; cool cars for speed − and women. Maybe that’s next year.

Mt. Dew PuppyMonkeyBaby − Say it three times. It might be the most talked about spot in the Big Game. Weird? YES! A little gross? YES! But simple, great and fun. You will not quickly forget Puppy Monkey Baby and you will want to try the product if you are in the demo. And if you are in this demo, the combination of insanity in this surely sugary nightmare of a drink will hit the spot at least once. And I guarantee when someone asks what it is, you will say, “PuppyMonkeyBaby.” It rolls off the tongue.

Jeep, 75 Years − Pretty nice anthem ad for Jeep. It talks about the heritage and the cultural significance of Jeep, but also makes you think that Jeep is for those who really live life’s adventure. Who doesn’t want to live life’s adventure to the fullest? And, of course, it’s got Steve McQueen in it. So there’s that.

Heinz Wieners − I LOVE WIENER DOGS. I have two miniature wiener dogs, although one has plumped from overfeeding. So I could watch thing this thing over and over. Some people said to me, “What? Are they going to eat the dogs?” I don’t like to think of my little doggies covered in catsup, ready to be eaten, but that isn’t the message here. The message is, Heinz condiments go great with hot dogs. So great, that even the hot dogs come a running for it. And it is done in a way that I could watch over and over and over and over. Job well done.

THE ONE I HATED −

LG’s Man from the Future − Liam was so great last year. So great. What was he doing this year? The ad wasn’t funny and it wasn’t good. They got my expectations up and then squashed them with Liam throwing cards at a screen and the card stops and his younger self gets in the card and then people start chasing him and he gets on a motorcycle and then Liam is talking about the Oled TV. Is the Oled TV some kind of technology that the Russians are after? I thought we were against ISIS now? I am really confused by this whole thing. I’ll tell you this. I am not getting that Oled TV. For one, it looks really expensive. It had to pay for some future Tron world and Liam’s cool suit and the flying playing card. And oh, I never liked Tron. So, no Oled TV for me. Thanks for the disappointing time, Liam. Even Taken 7 will be better than this LG commercial.

SOME I JUST NEED TO TALK ABOUT —

Snickers Marilyn − I read an article that skewered this ad because of the transgender rights movement. That seems really silly to me. These Snickers ads have been doing this bit for a while now and men have turned to women and women have turned to men. This isn’t the best one. It used a great iconic moment in film, but could have been funnier. The tone just wasn’t right. Dafoe, as a comic actor, always plays the serious scary guy. It’s funny in movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel, but not so great in a commercial where he needs to bring off a different tone. So, tone-wise, it was a tad off − Snickers shouldn’t be that scary and neither should Marilyn. However, it got the brand message across and was talked about, before the Super Bowl and after, so it did the trick. I am talking about it because I hate when the political correctness game is played against a silly ad like this.

Kia Walken Closet − I was not a big fan of this one. The Kia reminds me of the beige socks. So I don’t really understand the strategy here. Walken is always good. The writing is even good. But do I want to buy a Kia after seeing it? NO. Do I want to go and look at a Kia after seeing it? NO. Also, they take the joke too far when he goes to show him the car and then he is in the car. I feel like he is going to be in the office as well, having the guy sign the papers, talking to the loan officers, eating donuts. I will say this − there is some truth to it. There are some super-creepy salesmen at car dealerships. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Christopher Walken strutted out to show me a Kia. It actually might be a better commercial as well.

Budweiser #GiveADamn – Didn’t get this at all. It’s Bud. Why are you having a British person tell Bud drinkers to be responsible? Seems like they would drink more in defiance and drive as fast as possible under the influence. Is this knowing your audience? Is Helen Mirren the human manifestation of a Clydesdale? Do Bud drinkers even know who she is? Again, human manifestations of Clydesdales might make a nice campaign. Pay me, Bud.

Shocktop After Super Bowl Ad − http://creativity-online.com/work/shock-top-tj-miller-ad-review/45399

TJ Miller and the Shocktop Beer Tap take on the Big Game ads with their funny commentary. Great idea and a great extension of a Super Bowl ad.

Check out another perspective on the Super Bowl commercials from R&R’s Chief Strategic Officer/Principal, Randy Snow, here: http://www.rrpartnersblog.com/2016/02/08/a-safe-day-at-the-super-bowl/ 

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A Safe Day at the Super Bowl

OK. Another Super Bowl (the 50th!) has come and gone. The Denver Broncos once again upheld one of the oldest, hoariest clichés in sports: Defense wins championships.

But, who cares? We’re here to talk about the ads. Very soon, I’ll tell you about some of the ads I liked, some I didn’t and one I’m still not sure about.

But first, a few general observations:

Animals, babies and celebrities: All year long, we in the ad business talk about risk-taking, disruption, establishing new paradigms and performing “outside the box.” And every year, in the biggest advertising showcase of them all, we get … animals, babies and celebrities. You can set your watch by it. Anthropomorphic animals, incredibly advanced infants and celebrities by the boatload − commercial break after commercial break. When I first got into this business, I never thought that a flock of sheep singing a Queen song, or a Doritos-loving fetus launching itself from the womb, would be considered safe. But here we are. And at $5,000,000 for each half minute, I guess I can’t blame the advertisers (or their agencies) for sticking to the tried and true. That’s a lot of money to risk on disruption.

Dead people sell: Being dead certainly didn’t prevent you from appearing in a Super Bowl ad yesterday. We saw Marilyn Monroe on the screen and heard David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Harry Nilsson on various soundtracks.

Bodily functions: I freely admit that pharmaceutical companies have as much right as any advertiser to spend millions in the Super Bowl. But, as I was sitting at the R&R’s Super Bowl party, enjoying seasoned popcorn, hot dogs, chicken wings, mac & cheese, cookies, cake and all other manner of deliciously unhealthy food, the last messages I wanted to be confronted with were those for opioid-induced constipation or the severe diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome. And the less said about toenail fungus, the better. The animated intestines were cute though.

Finally, I was happy to learn that Hollywood is unleashing sequels to Cloverfield and Independence Day. That’s cool.

On to the ads:

Liked:

Mountain Dew Kickstart PuppyMonkeyBaby: Lots of people liked this. A lot of people didn’t. But a lot of people are talking about it, which is one of the points. I thought the ad did two things really well. First, it took a not-so-subtle jab at the tendency of Super Bowl advertisers to fall back on animals and babies. They created a memorable character that was both. Good for you, Mountain Dew. And second, their puppymonkeybaby actually helped sell the main idea: three great things in one package. A Super Bowl ad that actually sells its product’s main benefit. Well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql7uY36-LwA&feature=youtu.be

No More Text Talk: Many years ago, at a creative conference of some sort, when asked to explain his agency’s penchant for quieter, more thoughtful ads, the late Hal Riney replied, “When everyone else is shouting, perhaps it’s a good idea to whisper.” Yeah. So, when almost everyone else was trying to make us laugh with animals, babies and celebrities, this one drew you in with a quiet, effective, scary presentation of a really serious subject. Followed by a call to action that came directly from the production technique they used. Nice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cy6gjkICKfk&feature=youtu.be

Audi R8 Commander: Yes, this is theoretically selling a car that goes 205 mph and probably costs close to $200,000. How many of us can actually buy it? But I think the ad is more about the kind of company that will build such a car than the car itself. Liked the ad for a number of reasons. First, it features an old guy. I’m an old guy. We’re under-represented in Super Bowl ads. Second, it told a great story (two of them, actually). And third … Bowie’s “Starman.” Would have been perfect under any circumstances. Absolutely perfect this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diU_09jb4bI&feature=youtu.be

NFL Super Bowl Babies: Who knew? Apparently, there’s a phenomenon of babies being born to parents who are fans of the winning team nine months after the Super Bowl. Unexpected idea, executed really well. Kudos to whomever came up with this concept and even more to the team who actually found all of the born-nine-months-after-the-Super-Bowl adults and kids. The teasers and the 30-second spot were good, but if you get a chance, watch the three-and-a-half minute video. Here it is.

http://heavy.com/social/2016/02/watch-super-bowl-babies-nfl-commercial-for-superbowl-50-seal-kiss-from-a-rose/

Avocados from Mexico Avocados in Space: It’s a familiar trope. Pick a setting deep into the future and watch people marvel at how ridiculous our current lives were – or are. But this one was very current and very smart. And it had a few little nuggets for extra smiles: “And they had Chia pets, just like we do.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ndPEQCoSzk

Didn’t Like:

Budweiser Not Backing Down: If Donald Trump were a beer ad, this is the beer ad he’d be: loud, obnoxious, boastful, egotistical and more than a little bit xenophobic. Taken together with Helen Mirren scolding Americans for drunk driving (fairly effectively, I thought), it was clear that in Super Bowl 2016, Budweiser wanted to get all up in our collective faces.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rF711XAtrVg

Bud Light Bud Light Party – I really like Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen. I think they’re both really funny. They’re just not very funny in this. Not one, not two, but three – count ’em, three – big caucus jokes. Really? Opportunity wasted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JohgwbpQuy8&feature=youtu.be

Snickers Marilyn: First, I really like Snickers’ You’re Not Yourself When You’re Hungry campaign. Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi playing Marcia and Jan Brady was probably my favorite ad in last year’s game. But Willem Dafoe in drag as the late Marilyn Monroe is just a little creepy for me. And Eugene Levy: Why is he in it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhfntLl6xx0&feature=youtu.be

One I’m Not Sure About

Apartments.com Movin’ On Up: First, it is my belief that the presence of Jeff Goldblum makes any ad a good ad. He’s great here too. But I have questions. Will the younger, Millennial audience this ad is clearly aiming for, who will know Lil Wayne when they see him, have any recollection at all of a TV show that was cancelled 31 years ago? Secondly, will those in the audience who do remember The Jeffersons recognize Lil Wayne? Will they know one of his nicknames is Weezy? Seems like an odd mash-up of cultural references. But, maybe I’m wrong.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6OmHbZ2vHs

Check out another perspective on the Super Bowl commercials from R&R’s Executive Creative Director, Arnie DiGeorge, here: http://www.rrpartnersblog.com/2016/02/08/super-bowl-ads/

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Big Brands See Value in Good Behavior

This year, during the Super Bowl, some brands are shifting their focus from their products to messages about the use of their products. In simpler terms, they are learning to align consumer values to that of the brand. Colgate plans to air a spot to remind its customers to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth. The brand was looking for a way to ramp up its commitment and amplify what the company is doing to support water conservation. While Colgate has been doing this for years, especially in Latin America, it just recently starting promoting this in the U.S. It’s hoping that the Super Bowl will get its brand some additional exposure. And, in turn, make its customers more loyal by tapping into a national issue like water conservation, which is top of mind due to the severe drought the West is facing.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/colgate-to-make-super-bowl-debut-with-save-water-ad-1450805861

Another brand that’s shifting the focus from product to responsible consumer use is Budweiser USA. It has recently promoted a spot featuring Helen Mirren where she sternly lectures responsible drinking while promoting the hashtag #GiveADamn. Budweiser will be airing additional spots during the Super Bowl, but it’s clear that brands are seeing an impact in promoting their corporate responsibility efforts to a broad consumer base with similar values.

http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/budweiser-super-bowl-50-commercial-helen-mirren-chides-drunk-drivers-w163251

helen-mirren-zoom-990b5adb-1634-4388-8444-cef3c62f6589While corporate social responsibility has been around for quite some time, nowadays, it seems that it’s become a business imperative. And it’s moving into the mainstream this year with many companies’ efforts. Brands are choosing to make a conscious decision to purchase advertising during the big game to support and promote this type of messaging.

So, what does this all mean? How will corporate responsibility drive growth, transparency, empowerment and brand engagement? And maybe the biggest question of all, will brands secure long-term loyalty by implementing these corporate social responsibility efforts into mainstream advertising?

We shall wait and see.

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