The Essential Problem With Academia

Hirshberg, the founder of Stonyfield Farms, describes his struggle with how he wanted to go about creating a more sustainable world, and why he decided business was the ultimate way to evoke that change:

"If he had stayed in academia, he reasoned, he could work to create models until he was '70 years old and maybe explain 65% of the time what the probability is and that a problem exists. [Yet] he wouldn't have done a damn thing about actually solving the problem."


A tweet from 2013 is still making its rounds on social media, after being lauded as one of the most impressive handling of social media by companies. 

The tweet? Oreo’s Superbowl XLVII “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the example – during third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII (Ravens vs 49ers), a power outage at the Superdome plunged the stadium into darkness. Minutes after the occurrence, Oreo’s released a now-iconic image of an Oreo cookie surrounded by a similar darkness, but now with an added guarantee: “Power Out? No problem.”

This fulfills many of Mashable‘s definitions of a good social media campaign – especially in the way it taps into “genuine emotion to make an impact.”

How did Oreo do it? As it turns out, from idea creation to execution, it would’ve only taken Oreo 10 minutes or less to react to any situation at all (Wired). They came totally prepared with a 15-member team of copywriters, strategists and artists, and social media strategy is at the forefront of their brand awareness campaigns.

And they were spot-on about tapping into real-time, genuine emotion. Those desperately cruising social media for updates on the blackout found Oreo’s targeted message instead. The tweet eventually went on to receive over 15,000 retweets on Twitter, and 20,000 likes on Facebook. More importantly, Oreo received nation-wide media attention on the tweet, arguably more valuable than a traditional Super Bowl spot costing millions of dollars.

As if it wasn’t apparent enough: smart companies do smart social media.


According to an infographic posted on Marketing Tech Blog, 46 per cent of web users look towards social media when making a purchase.

Sure, that means a lot to the average consumer. More and more people are looking for authenticity in reviews, turning to the web as a result. With the average Twitter user following five or more brands alone and , this means one thing: smart companies have to do smart social media.

And what does smart social media mean, exactly?

Consider how a social media campaign created by the Make-A-Wish Foundation went viral.

In November of 2013, a little boy named Miles with acute lymphosblastic leukemia was granted his one wish: to become Batkid. Of course, Make-A-Wish threw themselves behind the idea, planning a public display of heroism in San Francisco for the young boy, added in a damsel in distress, a villian, and Batman himself for good measure, and most importantly, documented this process on social media under the hashtag #SFBatkid.

The result?

Over 20,000 people showed up to watch Miles’ adventure as Batkid, with over 555,697 tweets from users discussing the campaign (Make-A-Wish). In their own words, Make-A-Wish commented on the journey, “Through the power of social media and the internet, the request [for audience volunteers] was publicized widely and went viral.”

Though Make-A-Wish’s goal was never to outright solicit funding from the public, this campaign did shine a spotlight on the nonprofit’s goals to fulfill children’s wishes. Make-A-Wish’s website saw a sharp spike in traffic after the campaign – so much, in fact, that it crashed their servers for several hours. The organization also candidly admitted that the wish did bring in increased offers of help, donations, volunteers, referrals, and other services.

Overall – smart social media doesn’t start with blatant promotions: successful campaigns played into the heartstrings of its internet audience.

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Unless you’ve been living underneath a proverbial rock for the past week, you’ve heard of the online debate about #TheDress that’s been taking the world by storm. But to quickly recap: for some scientific reason or another, different people have been seeing the following photo of a dress as being either White and Gold or Black and Blue:

A cultural phenomenon, the dress has spawned hundreds of thousands of debates on social media networks such as Twitter and Tumblr, the photo’s origin, as to the color of the dress.

Of course, this amount of interest generated about one topic has marketers on the edge of their seats, searching for ways for their brands to join in on the conversations. Many thought to relate their products to the colors that seem to be at the center of it all – blue, black, white, gold – including the store that sold the original Black and Blue dress, Roman, who quickly promised a future White and Gold version. Others made deliberate, witty references to hashtag #TheDress (see: Scandal).

One brand, however, went above and beyond to hijack interest in the dress. And that brand just might surprise you.

Credit: The Salvation Army

The South African division of The Salvation Army took a brilliant leap into the heart of issue, transforming the hype towards the dress into a powerful message against domestic violence. Every word considered, the ad was perfect in the way that it evoked unity between those who see the dress as White and Gold and those who see the dress as Black and Blue, in the sense that both camps should care about something that actually matters: abuse.

And it does this flawlessly. Having the model don a white and gold dress (which, as we know from photos of the actual dress, is incorrect), The Salvation Army juxtaposes its purity to the the black and blue bruises shown on the model’s face, along with the following question: “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?”

A hashtag that was created to track conversations relating directly to the message, #StopAbuseAgainstWomen, helps create new forum for the expression of support towards abuse. The campaign piggy-backs off the popularity of #TheDress, yet still manages to shed a new light on a thought-provoking message. This coupled with International Women’s Day on March 8, strongly establishes the need for women’s rights and female equality, bringing the issue into the forefronts of people’s minds.

Two thumbs up for a powerful message perfectly executed.


Just prior to the Superbowl, McDonald’s revealed a teaser for a campaign that had many scratching their heads. A 30-second spot that appeared mysteriously and without warning on their Facebook page, the ad showed real customers in real stores that were equally confused when told of their order total at the checkout line.

Turns out McDonald’s was introducing a whole new way to pay: Pay With Lovin’, where randomly chosen customers who adheres to the cashier’s wishes – a high five, a hug, anything goes – would receive their meal free-of-charge.

On the surface, this was a great idea that aims to boost the company’s public image, which had deteriorated over the years after bouts of bad publicity stemming from questions about the food’s ingredients. A second spot, which coupled social media with the Superbowl, showed the ideals of the campaign: customers who paid with lovin’ laughed, danced, cried in a good-feeling, inspiring sort of a way. It generated

However, the campaign seemed to have struck a negative cord when executed in real-life.

According to the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s “caught off guard quite a few of the more than a million patrons asked to participate.” 32-year-old Jennifer Wilson, who experienced Pay With Lovin’ at a store in Memphis, only wanted a simple breakfast sandwich – without the fuss.

“I went in for breakfast in a hooded sweatshirt,” Wilson told The Wall Street Journal, “I hadn’t showered. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone, and of course I had to turn around and tell all these strangers to have a good day.”

Overall, the customer sentiment seemed to have been this: Pay With Lovin’ was awkward and intrusive in practice. Some even flat out refused the cashiers’ request, and handed over money instead. With 14,350 restaurants participating at a revenue forgoing $560 per restaurant, McDonald’s spent over $8 million on this campaign – not counting (expensive) ads that ran promoting it.

And it doesn’t seem like the campaign did a whole lot to drive overall brand image. While it did help increase the number of people talking about the company from 26 per cent to 29 per cent (YouGov BrandIndex), the brand itself was still relatively neutral in the minds of its consumers, with a score varying from -1 to 3 on a scale of -100 to 100 on the Index’s Buzz.

It’s hard to gauge how the campaign will affect February sales, though according to the Consumerist, based on its effect on brand image, the campaign is unfortunately unlikely to have a deep impact on revenue.

In short, despite the positive social media buzz generated, the impracticality of Pay With Lovin’ was the downfall of the whole operation. This bags the question: does social media always work in driving up sales?