McDonald’s is Bringing Back an Insanely Popular Promotion (and This Time It’s Trying to Avoid Riots)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

And so we're back at the scene of the crime.

We left it in October, when police were called

Thousands and thousands of unhappy customers were assaulting the image of McDonald's, after it completely bungled the re-release of its Szechuan Sauce.

It seems, you see, that McDonald's had underestimated just how many odd people lived in America.

Odd people who were fascinated by a sauce that had been largely made famous as part of a Rick and Morty joke.

Last October, McDonald's went from Rick and Morty to rigor mortis after being assailed by the passionate and possibly deranged faithful who were sauceless.

Some had traveled from state to state in search of the little packets of, well, fairly ordinary sauce.

And goodness, was McDonald's ashamed of the outcome.

Now, McDonald's is going for it again.

This time, its releasing 20 million packets. Each restaurant will apparently get 6 boxes of 250 packets each.

You, then, oh passionate and possibly deranged person of faith, must decide which is the most unpopular McDonald's.

For there, I suspect, you're most likely to get hold of your sauce. 

Naturally, it isn't all going to go smoothly.

The sauce will begin to appear on February 26. It's unclear, however, which restaurants will be favored first with supplies.

Next week, therefore, there might be quite some absenteeism across America, especially among nerdy types.

I understand that the company will also be releasing a podcast called The Sauce.

This will explain in glorious detail just where the company went wrong last time. I understand it's a horror podcast with a 15-rating. (Only the last sentence is a joke.)

Can you cope with this much excitement? 

Please let me know how it feels if you finally get hold of some. 

And please, if it's already sold out, don't call the police. 

There's nothing they can do.

How College Athletes Can Immediately Be Building Their Brands

Jeremy Darlow is a creative brand wizard. While apparel and shoe company Adidas went on its rise over the past few years, Darlow was working behind the scenes on strategy and was a key component to its success as part of the football and baseball division.

But now Darlow has decided to pivot from the corporate environment to starting his own venture. The author of multiple books including Athletes Are Brands Too: How Brand Marketing Can Save Today's Athlete has created his own consultancy for college athletes under the name DARLOW.

The consultancy will focus on teaching college athletes how to develop and grow their personal brands; however, the clients will actually be the colleges that retain DARLOW. And Darlow believes that schools will not only cause their athletes to benefit from the services as they either become professional sports figures or businessmen, but it will also give the schools a competitive advantage in the extremely cut-throat domain of recruiting talent.

"Today, more than at any other point in history, athletes have the opportunity to build personal brands that transcend the sports they play," says Darlow. "The schools that invest in developing the personal brands of their athletes will inevitably attract better talent and win more games."

Darlow says that he will cap the number of college clients to six institutions in his first year of conducting business. He also is willing to give a single school exclusivity (after all other existing contracts run their course) for an annual flat fee of $1 million. He justifies the spend for exclusivity by stating that it covers an entire athletic department which, across 500 student-athletes, comes to a $2,000 investment per athletes, or $166 per month per athlete. Whether a school jumps at the opportunity remains to be seen, but it definitely counts as one more way that Darlow is able to make a statement in the development of a new brand -- this time his own.

"The goal is to teach athletes how to build personal brands that set them up for success in life, regardless of what happens in sports," says Darlow. "Too often athletes are defined entirely by their athletic careers without developing influence in other areas of passion. My goal is to change that."

Schools that commit to DARLOW can expect to receive new brand marketing and growth strategies posted each week on a private education platform and obtain Darlow's own brand development template to use to build their brand plans.

Starbucks Just Took a Stunning Decision That May Affect Coffee-Drinking At Work

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Of late, Starbucks has had its problems.

It's tried to address overcrowding in its restaurants.

It's tried to charge customers for paper cups.

It's even tried to avoid controversy over its Christmas cups.

Through it all, it's also tried to make some of its offerings more upscale. 

Because nothing says Starbucks more than a $10 coffee.

Now, however, it's trying something that could affect coffee-drinking at work around the world.

It's leasing its coffee-making machines to businesses.

This surprising move has been made in Japan, where, as the Asahi Shimbun reports, five companies are already graced with the barista-quality machines.

The motivation behind shoving the baristas' machines into offices is stiff competition from convenience stores, which entice customers with cheaper coffee. 

The machines, indeed, are large, square things -- just like the ones you see in your local Starbucks. 

They have a screen where you push buttons to achieve your professional effect.

But what a tempting thought for some businesses that might not want their staff to leave the office for any reason -- not even a coffee run.

Some might fear, though, that these Starbucks machines don't quite make quite the same coffee as the ones in the restaurants.

Apparently, though, they can make "20 kinds of drinks, including caffe latte and caffe mocha, using Arabica coffee beans of the same quality as those used at its stores."

Naturally, Starbucks is charging for the privilege. 

For the machines, the beans and, yes, the paper cups. 

How much companies charge their workers is, of course, up to them. 

Will some try to make a profit? Will others seek, instead, to offer these machines as a perk, one that keeps workers where their bosses can see them?

I contacted Starbucks to ask about the surprising development.

A spokesperson for the coffee chain told me: "Starbucks is passionate about providing customers with the unique Starbucks Experience wherever they are and, through the Foodservice channel, we will be able to further connect Starbucks to more customers outside of our stores."

Yes, but whenever I've had supposed Starbucks coffee in hotels and other establishments, it hasn't quite tasted the same. 

The spokesperson, however, insisted that these Japanese machines created "single-serve machine that brews and crafts a limited selection of premium Starbucks espresso beverages, brewed coffees, teas and hot cocoa."

Currently, the coffee chain's business services don't quite seem to embrace leasing these fancy barista machines.

Indeed, Starbucks told me that these machines were created specifically for Japan.

But what if companies in, say, the U.S. see this and think: "Aha, now the Starbucks run will only take 30 seconds and everyone will be happy"?

Companies have dangerous thoughts.

Starbucks Just Took a Stunning Decision That May Affect Coffee-Drinking At Work

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Of late, Starbucks has had its problems.

It's tried to address overcrowding in its restaurants.

It's tried to charge customers for paper cups.

It's even tried to avoid controversy over its Christmas cups.

Through it all, it's also tried to make some of its offerings more upscale. 

Because nothing says Starbucks more than a $10 coffee.

Now, however, it's trying something that could affect coffee-drinking at work around the world.

It's leasing its coffee-making machines to businesses.

This surprising move has been made in Japan, where, as the Asahi Shimbun reports, five companies are already graced with the barista-quality machines.

The motivation behind shoving the baristas' machines into offices is stiff competition from convenience stores, which entice customers with cheaper coffee. 

The machines, indeed, are large, square things -- just like the ones you see in your local Starbucks. 

They have a screen where you push buttons to achieve your professional effect.

But what a tempting thought for some businesses that might not want their staff to leave the office for any reason -- not even a coffee run.

Some might fear, though, that these Starbucks machines don't quite make quite the same coffee as the ones in the restaurants.

Apparently, though, they can make "20 kinds of drinks, including caffe latte and caffe mocha, using Arabica coffee beans of the same quality as those used at its stores."

Naturally, Starbucks is charging for the privilege. 

For the machines, the beans and, yes, the paper cups. 

How much companies charge their workers is, of course, up to them. 

Will some try to make a profit? Will others seek, instead, to offer these machines as a perk, one that keeps workers where their bosses can see them?

I contacted Starbucks to ask about the surprising development.

A spokesperson for the coffee chain told me: "Starbucks is passionate about providing customers with the unique Starbucks Experience wherever they are and, through the Foodservice channel, we will be able to further connect Starbucks to more customers outside of our stores."

Yes, but whenever I've had supposed Starbucks coffee in hotels and other establishments, it hasn't quite tasted the same. 

The spokesperson, however, insisted that these Japanese machines created "single-serve machine that brews and crafts a limited selection of premium Starbucks espresso beverages, brewed coffees, teas and hot cocoa."

Currently, the coffee chain's business services don't quite seem to embrace leasing these fancy barista machines.

Indeed, Starbucks told me that these machines were created specifically for Japan.

But what if companies in, say, the U.S. see this and think: "Aha, now the Starbucks run will only take 30 seconds and everyone will be happy"?

Companies have dangerous thoughts.

This 1 Very Common Mistake Could Sink Your Marketing Efforts

It happens: with multiple departments to oversee, deadlines piling up, and the urge to just get. it. done. small business owners may decide to act on marketing ideas--maybe even good ones!--without a comprehensive plan in place first.

As it turns out, though, throwing up blogs, videos, podcasts, and social posts without creating a strategy around them first is the number one mistake brands make with their content marketing, according to Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Advisor, Content Marketing Institute.

There are plenty of other missteps well-intentioned brands can make as they aim to engage audiences. Watch out for these four all-too-common blunders.

Writing for Search Engines

We've explored what Google wants, but Rose cautions that unlike real people (your customers!) search engines don't pay the rent.

"I've seen companies who are amazing at getting to the front page of Google, but then once you click through - there's nothing else there beyond the answer to the question the user asked," Rose says. 

The copy that you create has to serve double duty--both quenching the reader's curiosity and motivating them to learn more by moving deeper within your brand's website. 

Expecting an Immediate Payoff

At the content marketing agency I co-founded, Masthead Media, I often encounter marketing managers who are eager to see their content investment yield near-instant results...or, perform at least as quickly as a Facebook ad. Because most content needs time to be discovered organically and built momentum, an ultra-fast ROI rarely happens.

"Many of the businesses who struggle simply see content marketing as a replacement for traditional advertising, or other sales collateral production," says Rose. "If the business expects content to provide the same value, in the same timeframe, as an ad, then there will be nothing but disappointment."

Instead, you should look to content as a long-term, rather than a campaign-based investment. By creating high-quality content, you're actually investing in the relationship you have with your audiences--and the one they have with you. Over a period of months, and even years (not days!) that enhanced relationship can yield exponential value. 

I recommend mapping out short-term and long-term KPIs for your content--not just your revenue, but metrics that demonstrate that you're building trust with the audiences you care about. Total and returning traffic, traffic from search, time on site, pages per session, and click-through rates can all indicate if your content is gaining traction--and enhancing your relationship--with audiences. And remember, content can have an endless shelf life if you know how to use it.

Not Spending Enough on Content

While CMI research indicates that most organizations are spending between 10 percent and 30 percent of their overall marketing budget on content marketing, the brands that are successful are spending, on average, 40 percent. So if your content budget is still just whatever's leftover after funds for traditional marketing channels has been earmarked, you're really creating an uphill climb to results.

Giving up on Video

This is where expecting immediate results and not making the investment collide.

Sporadically putting up videos here and there and expecting impressive results does not a video strategy make. And looking at video as the uber-expensive medium it once was is a mistake, too.  "The costs continue to come down in terms of quality and production," says Rose.

On the flip side, beware of putting all of your eggs in the video basket. "Those that are good at video will create a swell in the marketplace," says Rose. "For others, the noise will become so loud, that you'll see a bit of a backlash to it."

To set yourself apart, consider tapping microinfluencers who excel at video content creation to supplement your video strategy. The built-in distribution can help kickstart a robust video presence. 

7 Simple Marketing Strategies to Use in 2018

If you're anything like me, one of the biggest reasons you tune into the Super Bowl each year is to check out the latest and greatest commercials. I don't know about you, but I, for one, was thankful that this year saw a return to humor -- the last two years have been filled with pretty heavy ad spots.

As consumers, we are overwhelmed by ads every day; as marketers, we know how challenging it is to find a strategy that stands out from the crowd. Consumers respond to creativity, but it can be exhausting to stay cutting-edge. If you're struggling to stay ahead of the curve, here are a few marketing ideas to get your creative juices flowing again.

1. Build Mystery

If you present someone with a mystery, they're going to feel a powerful urge to figure it out. Think of the attention-getting marketing for season seven of the hit TV show The Walking Dead; viewers knew a central character had been killed, but all marketing stubbornly refused to show the crew, driving ravenous speculation about the identity of the unlucky victim.

If you're a fan who found yourself feeling tortured before the premiere, you already understand the power of this technique. Even simple strategies, like adding a "coming soon" page to my website, have dramatically boosted my social media engagement and the buzz around my brand.

2. Think Outside the Facebook Box

If you follow marketing at all, you know that a social media presence is considered a must-have at this point. But just because social media is ubiquitous doesn't mean it can't be creative. Plenty of brands have found unique combinations of platforms and products to create pleasantly unexpected branding experiences. I've explored less tried-and-true avenues, like Snapchat and Periscope, for marketing opportunities that could bring my brand to a whole new audience.

You don't necessarily have to platform-hop to be successful, either; one of my favorite social media campaigns was NASA's #globalselfie project, and it used the familiar platforms of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to do it. If you're a fan of some seriously stunning, truly out-of-this-world photography, you should join me in following them across social media.

3. Form Partnerships

Partnerships are another marketing technique that can grab attention when done in an unexpected way. Goose Island Brewery and the Weather Channel joined forces for a campaign which explored how the weather affects a hops farm, for example. If you make a less-than-conventional partnership, it's important consumers still recognize your brand in a startling new setting. Whenever I form new partnerships, the first thing I do is strategize how to brand the new campaign in such a way that both businesses are effectively represented to potential and returning customers.

4. Get Experiential

Experiential marketing events are made for popular social media platforms, and they're perfect opportunities to experiment and get creative. M&M's used this strategy in May, when they used augmented reality to turn Times Square into a candy-themed arcade to promote the launch of a new product. It doesn't have to be that tech-centered to work, though; pop-up stores, a popular trend that I've been exploring, can be another example of experiential marketing at play.

5. Offer Freebies

Few things get people more excited than free stuff, generating buzz around your brand. Bud Light tried this strategy when they offered free beer to the entire city of Philadelphia if the Eagles won the Super Bowl. True to their word, the company offered one free can to bar-goers during the winner's parade, drumming up a heck of a lot of press coverage. 

(I confirmed with my Eagles-fan and Philly native friend that he did, in fact, get his freebie -- there were a lot of hugging strangers in the city after the big game!).

When it comes to making this strategy work for your business, you need to carefully consider ROI. I've been burned too many times by doing a big giveaway only to attract freebie-hunters; the goal is to bring your product or service to a new audience that will become repeat customers, not hand out free stuff for the sake of publicity.

6. Get Artsy

The combined creative power from marketers and artists coming together can produce seriously powerful campaigns. Refinery29 created a pop-up interactive art museum where visitors moved through rooms in which artists, fashion designers, and other creatives provided interactive setpieces. The show was popular in New York and recently moved to Los Angeles, where tickets sold out quickly. I use "artsy" marketing to inspire the development of visually stimulating, high-quality image content across my social media accounts.

7. Play Games

Gamification is a hot marketing buzzword right now, but it's based off real human psychology that keeps players worldwide returning again and again to video games and other challenges. I used AppyPie to whip up an interactive app on the fly, no coding skills necessary.

What creative marketing strategies will you use to overcome marketer's block in 2018?

Domino’s Just Overtook Pizza Hut as the World’s Biggest. Here’s the 1 Reason Pizza Hut Lost

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Perhaps you've noticed. 

Or perhaps you assumed it was always the case.

No, I'm talking talking about rampant world insanity. Not today, at least.

I'm talking about Domino's becoming the world's biggest pizza seller.

Or, as its fourth-quarter earnings release termed it: "The largest pizza company in the world based on global retail sales."

Which might make one or two people wonder: "Whatever happened to Pizza Hut?" 

Well, as I mentioned last year, the Yum Brands-owned chain, the one you feel like you (used to) see everywhere -- it still has more locations -- fell behind in one crucial area.

It didn't observe carefully enough how people had begun to live.

For Domino's, this meant investing heavily in digital and delivery. 

Which has now led Domino's to enjoy $12.2 billion in global sales for 2017, compared to Pizza Hut's $12.03 billion.

Oh, I hear your groan, mobile and all that can't have made such a big difference.

Well, Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle told Bloomberg that digital accounts for more than 60 percent of its sales.

"The percentage of those is less important than what you do with those customers. So if you do have a great analytics group, which we do, you're finding ways to drive more sales from those customers once they've signed up," he explained.

I contacted Pizza Hut for its view of this apparent descent from the throne.

I'll update, should a reply be delivered.

For Doyle, however, it's simple: "We're really the original disruptors in this space. We've been doing digital and delivery for a very long time now and we've gotten pretty good at it."

It's one thing to decide you're going to disrupt.

So many shaving-free boys in Silicon Valley think they're doing this every day.

Few, though, consider real people and what they want and how they prefer to interact with a business.

Then again, they do say pride comes before a descent into pain, penury and despair. (At least, they do at my house.)

So all this apparently good news was tempered somewhat by Domino's missing its fourth-quarter estimates.

Moreover, there are rumors that Restaurant Brands International may be trying to buy it.

You don't know the name? They own Burger King.

If you're a disruptor, you see, you can't have it your own way for very long.