Why GM Loves the Transformers

Critics may love to mock director-producer Michael Bay, but he continues to laugh all the way to the bank, stacking up hundreds of millions in profits on movie after movie, mostly summertime popcorn fare with as many explosions as lines of dialogue. Audiences know they’re not getting Shakespeare. They love Bay movies for exactly what they are, and big-name brands love Bay movies for the massive exposure they receive for splashy and obvious product placement.

While Bay is known – and some would say renowned – for his myriad products prominently placed in every film, it’s probably safe to say that no brand has been more prominent in a Bay film than General Motors.

When the world first learned that Bay would be at the helm of a live action retooling of the hugely popular 80s cartoon and toy line, Transformers, it had to be a watershed moment for many automotive manufacturing marketing departments. This was going to be a series of movies where the cars were the stars. Whoever got in on that stood make a huge impact.

Turns out, that company got to be General Motors, who used the first Transformers movie to roll out a new model of an iconic sports car, as well as signature models of just about every auto body style imaginable.

There was the Pontiac Solstice, the GMC TopKick, the Hummer H2, and the most visible star of the show, the brand new Chevrolet Camaro concept car. In fact, the human characters in the film also say the word “Camaro” multiple times, in case the audience missed the ‘slow-roll’ vignette of the new Camaro gliding up to the lead actors. GM would go on to sell fleets of “Bumblebee” inspired Camaros, making this partnership with Bay’s Transformers a massive PR win.

In the follow up Transformers film, GM would introduce a concept Corvette Stingray, as well as a Chevy Volt, Beat, and Trax concept vehicle. In every scene, along with the prominent Autobot emblem, the automaker’s logos are front and center.

There’s no doubt both Bay and his main product placement customer, GM, benefited greatly from the partnership. The vehicles look impossibly cool, and the target fan base of 18 to 40 year old guys found themselves dreaming – and eventually going out and buying – their own “Transformer.”

Whether fans love the product placement in Bay’s movies, or they love to joke about it, companies will continue to line up to get the exposure as long as he keeps producing massive blockbuster hits.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Build a Bear Promotion Goes Bust

It could have been the marketing coup of the summer. Had Build a Bear successfully pulled off its “pay your age” promotion, people would be talking about it for years, especially every time they saw their child’s favorite stuffed animal. Now, though, millions of people will be talking about the promotion for very different reasons.

You probably know the story by now. Build a Bear advertised that it would hold a very special discount day. Parents could bring their kids in, and they tykes could build a new fuzzy friend for only the cost of their age. The news spread across social media like wildfire, causing tens of thousands to flock to Build a Bear locations across the nation, and elsewhere.

Many showed up well before dawn, waiting in line for their chance to capture the deal. Unfortunately for untold thousands of parents, with tired, cranky kids in tow, waiting in line offered them little more than disappointment. Stores ran out of inventory. Some malls cut off the line because the crowds were blocking access to many other stores. There were arguments and fights, and reports some children were injured in melees.

And, based on the company’s initial statement explaining why the deal was canceled, it seems at least some of those safety-related reports may have some basis in fact:

“Based on the unprecedented response to our Pay Your Age Day event in our early opening stores, we are experiencing significantly longer than expected lines and large crowds. Local authorities are requiring us to limit the lines and crowds due to safety concerns. We understand this is disappointing, we are working to address the situation, and we will be reaching out to our valued guests soon…”

So, after hours waiting in line, tens of thousands of disappointed parents and sobbing, confused children were led away, unsure if they would ever get what they came for. These people, of course, were live-streaming and tweeting their experience in real time. As word spread on social media, local news started showing up, taking video and interviewing frustrated parents and kids.

The complaints continued to pour in, criticizing the apparent miscalculations and disorganization both in planning the event an in executing it at the store level. What was supposed to be a huge win for Build a Bear turned into a constant, day-long embarrassment. Over the next days and weeks, planners will review the event, looking for where it all went wrong. They may want to start with why no one asked: What if everyone shows up?

Regardless of what they learn and what they decide, now Build a Bear has to rebuild its reputation with some very aggravated core customers.

zimbabwe public relations

Zimbabwe Bond Notes Create PR Nightmare

Back in 2016, The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe began using $10 million worth of “bond” notes as a replacement for traditional money, in an attempt to ease the problems, the country currently has with liquidity. Not only where the bond notes met with uncertainty when the country first began to introduce them, but they could pose a serious problem with PR nearly two years later, as they’re harming the area’s ability to attract international investors.

According to financial analysts from South Africa’s Rand Merchant Bank, Neville Mandimika announced that while the local feeling towards the bond notes has softened over the last two years, there’s still a lot of problems for the country to overcome. For instance, many people stare still confused about the bond notes and how they can coordinate with existing financial policies.

Problems for the Zimbabwe Brand

It’s often easy to forget that countries and locations, like businesses, can come with their own brand and reputation. In a time when Zimbabwe is desperate for the attention of the right investors, the country could be facing some serious troubles with this bond note issue. Particularly, investors have no idea what the bond notes are going to mean to the company in the grand scheme of things. Will the bond notes still be in place fifteen years from now, or is it just a part-time policy?

If they want to improve their chances of investment, the PR organizations responsible for boosting Zimbabwe’s identity will need to implement a plan to improve confidence about the future of the country’s currencies. On the international scene, the very concept of bond notes can be enough to conjure up dangerous images with fixed-income investments. One particularly important thing to remember is that the term “bond notes” in Zimbabwe is likely to mean something very different to the phrase used in the US.

For most investors looking to drive their money towards Zimbabwe, the concept of the bond notes is something that’s not easily understood or articulated right now. PR exercises need to be put in place to improve understanding about what the bond notes mean, and how they’ll affect investments in the long-term.

What Zimbabwe Needs to Do Next

During a conversation about Zimbabwe’s reputational standing, Mandimika suggested that the country needs to start taking advantage of the changing international sentiments around the space and look for ways to strengthen their policies. To some extent, prospects for Zimbabwe are looking much better today because many people no longer think that the area is going to be struggling from financial woes for the next four or five years.

As the conversation begins to change, there are opportunities for investment out there, but there are policies to clarify, positions to address, and plans to set in motion before anything significant can happen. Sentiment is on Zimbabwe’s side right now, but the country needs to make sure that the policy proposals going forward are as clear as possible – particularly after the elections take place.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian – founder of 5W Public Relations.

First, Ask: “Is it Worth it?”

When the manager of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia decided to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave before her party had a meal, Stephanie Wilkinson knew there would be consequences… But were those consequences worth the momentary feelings of justification that prompted the ouster?

That’s a question that will continue to be answered in the coming weeks and months as customers decide to cast their votes with their wallets. Already, though, lines have been drawn and decisions have been made as a result of the “you’re not welcome” that turned into national news.

By all accounts, the ladies, Wilkinson and Sanders, were polite during the brief interaction. No one tried to cause a scene or create a photo op. Sanders and her group quietly left, and Wilkinson returned her attention to her other guests. But that was far from the end of it. By the next morning, the incident was national news, and consumers across the country, as well as in Lexington, were taking sides.

Whatever happens next, the operative question is, “Will it be worth it?” Wilkinson has already chosen to resign her position as executive director of Lexington’s Main Street business alliance. The position is pivotal to the success of multiple downtown businesses, and protesters were threatening consequences for Main Street if the organization continued to support Wilkinson.

And that is only the beginning. Like it or not, Wilkinson has become a talking point and a figure to hold up, either to laud or berate. Wilkinson, for her part, is sticking by her reasons, telling the Washington Post she made the call because, she believes, Sanders works for an “inhumane and unethical” administration.

Those qualifiers are certainly not going to endear her to Trump voters, who are likely to have already scratched Red Hen off their dinner possibilities list. This choice was supported by the President who, in his characteristic way, unleashed on Wilkinson via Twitter, calling the exterior of the restaurant “filthy,” and declaring, “if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia began circulating a boycott petition. And those were just the obvious potential consequences of Wilkinson’s decision. There are cascading unintended consequences as well. Red Hen restaurants across the country are taking hits on social media and on Yelp reviews. At least 10 different Red Hen restaurants not affiliated, at all, with Wilkinson’s restaurant, have come out and asked people to stop trolling them, calling them, or leaving harsh Google or Yelp reviews.

For these business owners, they are now forced to respond to the PR crisis version of guilt by association… even though they are not actually associated. And that’s one of the biggest consequences to consider if you plan to spark consumer rage about a social issue. Understand that rage has to be directed somewhere… and that mobs, in public or online, are difficult to predict.

These Brands That Risked Their Reputation to Take a Public Stand

Taking a public stand can be a risk for a brand, but when it works, it can pay off handsomely. Here are a few examples of brands that took the risk and enjoyed a serious PR payoff:

Stella Artois

You may not expect an international beer brand to be at the top of the list, but Stella Artois makes it for their brilliant and compassionate campaign that helped bring safe drinking water countless people in regions where safe drinking water is a luxury, not an assumption. The campaign, called “Buy a Lady a Drink,” combined the thrust of Stella with the star power of Matt Damon and the boots on the ground of Water.org to encourage consumers to engage with the movement. Stella Artois even debuted a limited-edition bottle that, with each one purchased, sent a month of clean water to families in developing countries. Buy a sixer, and that represents six months of clean water for a family.

Yoplait

Who buys most of the groceries? Mom. Who gets most of the criticism about how kids are being raised? Mom. Who did Yoplait yogurt target with a powerfully-affirming, feel-good social PR campaign? You guessed it: Mom. Ostensibly in response to the constant critiques mothers get for every decision they make for their kids, Yoplait invented “Mom On,” which showed a series of moms responding to common complaints about how they parent. The women addressed issues ranging from breastfeeding to when they went back to work with well-placed humor and confidence. Moms – and women in general – loved the campaign, rewarding the company with their business in droves.

Uber v. Lyft

Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft waded into the heart of a very controversial situation: President Trump’s travel ban. When other taxi companies chose to strike to protest the travel ban, Uber chose to keep operating. When that resulted in an avalanche of criticism, then-CEO Travis Kalanickdefended the choice, saying his company was dedicated to work with the President on urban transport issues. Lyft, however, came down strongly and solidly on the other side of the issue, condemning the travel ban and offering to donate a large sum of money to the ACLU, which was fighting the ban. Now, regardless of how most people feel about the issue, most of Lyft’s and Uber’s customers sided with Lyft, which gave Lyft a net win.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian, Founder of 5W Public Relations.

nba pr

Rough Ratings Signal PR Problem for the NBA

What’s the matter with the NBA… and, when they figure it out, how can the league solve it? Opinions vary. Some say it’s the lack of star power. Others point to a serious dearth of parity, to a league of haves and have nots.

That’s not to say there isn’t interest in the Finals. Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals, which pitted the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors, drew huge ratings for ABC. But, while those games were watched by a good number of fans, they also illustrated what’s wrong with the NBA, and why viewership is down across the board.

The Cavs came in, once again, the Beast in the East. In fact, they have made it to the Finals four straight years… And they faced the Golden State Warriors. No other NBA team has come close to vying for a championship in years, and the best in the east can’t even win a game against the best in the west.

Sports leagues fare best when there’s a chance another team could win. Parity brings drama, and drama creates interesting narratives for commentators and fans to share.

Sharing narratives – from arguing about games and players to talking about them the day after – are a huge part of spectator sports. For more than a few years, now, the biggest storyline in the NBA is “what’s LeBron’s legacy?” Fans who are not diehard James fans are long-since tired of that.

Even young fans who were not alive to remember the glory days of the Lakes, Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls — when NBA drama dominated this time of year with “fantastic” action and suspense — are talking about the Great Ones: Magic, Bird, Jordan, Thomas, and Kareem. Others pine for Kobe and Shaq and Duncan. When fans are tweeting and talking about whether Jordan is better than Kobe while LeBron is on the court, that’s bad for the NBA. And it’s a narrative the league can’t seem to shake.

Coming out of yet another Golden State victory – they swept the Cavs this year – the “big story” in the NBA is if and when James will leave in free agency. Teams considered top contenders: San Antonio and Houston. If these or any other Western Conference team gets James, the NBA will have another serious problem to content with. When the best player and the best teams are all in one conference, the good rivalries die, and the good stories fade.

A trade might not happen, but if it does, the League will enter PR crisis mode. Hardcore basketball fans will tune in, but casual fans will drift away, leaving the league wondering how to manage having both the best player and the best team in at least a decade… and a fan base that’s just not interested in watching. And, even if it doesn’t, the League is still in a tough spot, trying to keep the interest of fans who believe the end is inevitable.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian is the founder of 5W Public Relations.

Facebook Faces Another Round of Consumer Rage

Facebook may have to go back to D.C. for yet another grilling in front of the Senate Commerce Committee. Just weeks after an obviously uncomfortable confrontation between elected officials and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO is being tasked with responding to reports of user date being shared with “at least 60 device manufacturers” according to Reuters. Again, this is not that long after Zuckerberg promised his company would change many of the business practices that angered users and caused some people to leave the social network altogether.

The problem then, was Cambridge Analytica gaining access to the data of millions of users. That enraged Facebook users, who demanded changes that resulted in Zuckerberg appearing before congress. Now, according to reports in the NY Times, as well as messages from ranking Senators on the Committee, Facebook has given access to other businesses, companies that, according to the report, were “able to access friend’s date even after the friends denied permission to share” such information.

The message from the Senators tacitly invited Zuckerberg to “revise” his testimony that he offered back in April. There was also mention that Zuckerberg’s team has yet to answer hundreds of questions the company said it would address. But Facebook is not the only brand that could face consumer PR backlash over this revelation. Other companies accused of using the data include Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, UTC, Samsung, and Microsoft.

Given the trust issues many Facebook users already had, when they learn the issue was much more widespread than just one political company, and that Facebook knew this, there could be yet another wave of people leaving the social network or taking a break from their daily routine of scrolling timelines. Meanwhile, the companies being accused of taking user data without permission could be seen as complicit in what is becoming one of the largest consumer PR scandals in recent memory.

While it’s true that many Facebook users are nonplussed by the previous revelations, that may change when people begin hearing just how common and widespread the “friends” data “sharing” activities were.

The latest reports excoriate Facebook for allowing “deep access” to user accounts and data, including the data of friends who had set stricter privacy protections. This happened, according to the reports, after Facebook said the company would no longer share such information with outside companies. At present, the story is developing, and the investigation is ongoing. But one thing is certain, consumer trust for Facebook will not be bolstered by these revelations, any attempts to repair that breach by the company will be met with distrust.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations.

Emergency Brake Disabled in Fatal Uber Crash

Thanks to a new report by a federal investigative agency, more facts have come out about the incident in which a pedestrian was killed by a “self-driving” Uber car this past March. The report, by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said the Uber vehicle’s self-driving mode did in fact “see” the pedestrian, but Uber had disabled the car’s automatic emergency brake, so the vehicle did not try to stop before striking Elaine Herzberg.

The report says the computer labeled the woman as an “unknown object” before pegging her as a “vehicle” then a “bicycle.” Herzberg had been pushing her bike across the road at the time. About a second before the impact, the computer noted the emergency brake needed to be applied, but was unable to do so, because that aspect of the system had been disabled.

According to the report, the vehicle “recognized” the woman about six seconds before the impact, but had no way to alert the “driver” of the car to apply the manual brake. These findings seem to point the finger of blame directly at Uber for the fatal crash. Now, many industry experts are weighing in, and what they have to say is making it look worse and worse for Uber, a company still struggling to move past last year’s PR issues.

Speaking to CNN, Bryan Reimer, research scientist at MIT and associate director of the New England University Transportation Center, said the point of the “self-driving” option was to keep the driver from having to do the driving. In this, it appears, Uber missed the mark: “The most shocking portion of the report is emergency braking maneuvers were not enabled… Is the driver expected to look at the outside world continually? It’s impossible when you’re providing tasks that interfere with that.”

That statement may appear nonsensical at first. Of course, drivers are supposed to keep an eye on the road… even when testing this tech. At least, that’s what people might assume.

As it turns out, Uber requires human “operators” in “self-driving” cars to pay attention to diagnostic messages on the vehicle dashboard, so they’re not always paying attention to the road. That’s supposed to be the car’s job… And, in this case, the vehicle did see the “object” that turned out to be a human being. It just couldn’t stop, because that function had been turned off. So far, Uber has yet to respond to this latest report.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.