Category: Industry Insights

Starbucks Ad—BMW product placement

Since the Federal Trade Commission has been talking about “cracking down” on brands, ad agencies and PR firms in the social media space, I thought I’d take a better look at the FTC’s actual language.

In a nutshell, the FTC wants social media “influencers” to clearly attribute posts as being an ad, sponsorship or endorsement if they show or mention a product in which the influencer has had some engagement with the brand or its agency. Back in April, the FTC actually sent out letters to 90 celebrities they believe have been some of the “worst” offenders on social media. I think this move is starting to get attention now that the FTC is serious. The FTC has also taken action against a brand or two directly.

While I believe in truth-in-advertising principles, the FTC’s new rules, compared to the product placement rules in TV shows and movies, don’t seem fair to brands and agencies that rely heavily on brand ambassadors and influencers. Why? Mainly because the FTC wants influencers to “clearly disclose” a “material connection” in the first 3 lines of an Instagram post. Ugly, right? Have you ever seen a TV show put “#ProductPlacement” text directly on screen when a character or reality star is drinking a #paidplacement coffee or driving a #paidplacement car? No, you haven’t. But they want it to happen in social media.

The FTC has essentially given two options:

1. Use a hashtag like #Ad or #Sponsored in the beginning of your post, separate from the other hashtags at the end (and apparently #Partner is not good enough).

2. Use a disclosure like “Company X gave me this product to try…” or “Company X gave me [name of product], and I think it’s ______.” This is very similar to the FTC’s guidelines they developed for blogs, back in 2011.

I think option two is a fair enough solution by the FTC, especially for people like the Kardashians who literally speak like a brand’s paid actor on their social media channels. But what if an influencer didn’t plan on writing anything about the product in the post? Many influencers merely wear, or show, a product in their image and hashtag the brand (because it’s often harder to see logos on mobile’s small screens), which to me, is exactly the same as product placement in a TV show or movie. So what is the FTC’s position on product placement in TV or movies?

The FTC has expressed the opinion that under the FTC Act, product placement (merely showing products or brands in third-party entertainment content – as distinguished from sponsored content or disguised commercials) doesn’t require a disclosure that the advertiser paid for the placement.

Great. Let’s follow the stated FTC Act for social media then, right? Not so fast. Because this is how the FTC answers a make-believe influencer question on their official site:

Q: If I post a picture of myself to Instagram and tag the brand of dress I’m wearing, but don’t say anything about the brand in my description of the picture, is that an endorsement? And, even if it is an endorsement, wouldn’t my followers understand that I only tag the brands of my sponsors?

A: Tagging a brand you are wearing is an endorsement of the brand and, just like any other endorsement, could require a disclosure if you have a relationship with that brand.

Because the FTC uses the word “could”, I feel they have allowed an opening for interpretation and that everyone should follow the FTC Act on brands in third-party entertainment. After all, don’t we as consumers go to social media for entertainment and news? Why, in this respect, should social media be treated differently? And remember, these are the same social media platforms where political ads don’t have any disclosure mandatories. (But I’m no lawyer and my agency will defer to what our clients’ lawyers decide.)

No matter how you decide to treat social media influencers, it’s worth reading these two documents from the FTC. I would love to know your opinions on all of this.

FTC Endorsement Guides

FTC Brand Disclosure

Lastly, if you want a good laugh and you are not easily offended or mind the F-word, watch HBO’s John Oliver have a little fun mocking all of Starbuck’s paid placement this month:

FTC’s social media “Product Placement” rules vs. TV/Movie product placements

British Arrows Atlanta 2017

As an account person who has worked with a large range of creative folks who have varying degrees of passion, I have learned that the best work comes from a creative team that cares. And by care, I mean a team that is inspired to produce the best work for the client. Sure, everyone wants to make work that they personally love, but wanting that AND having a client centric focus is the key to long-term success for both the agency and client.

As a client, you should be asking your agency how the creative team seeks inspiration and what motivates them. We often focus on day-to-day deliverables, budgets, scopes and deadlines. But at the end of the day, what separates one agency from another is the level of passion that the creative team has for your brand. An inspired team will create work that gets attention, gets talked about and gets remembered. An inspired agency team will lead to a stronger return on your investment. After all, you’re not investing all your time and budget for the sake of making your brand more wallpaper in the attention-deficit-disorder consumer’s mind.

Of course, inspiration can come from many places, and often times from some of the amazing work our peers do. Seed Factory recently hosted the British Arrows for the first time in Atlanta. After watching 75 minutes of the award winning, best of British TV commercials, I’m proud we brought this “short film festival of brands” to Atlanta. Hopefully it has helped spark creativity for agencies and brands alike.

Before this year, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis had been the only U.S. city showing these “brand film shorts”. In fact, this has been a Minneapolis tradition for over 30-years and has amassed an annual attendance of over 25,000. If you know your Advertising and Communications cities, you’ll also know Minneapolis is/was a hotbed of creativity for decades. British commercials are often strong on storylines and character development just like short films, making it pretty hard to leave the theater anything but inspired and excited to put that energy to good use (for our clients, of course).

We were happy to host the inaugural Atlanta British Arrows 2017 to inspire marketing directors, creative teams, strategists and agency account managers in our home of Atlanta. We also look forward to bringing it to Atlanta every year to come – to connect, laugh and be motivated by thoughtful and timeless story telling.

In the meantime, does your brand want to work with us and one of these fantastic British production companies? We have experience concepting award-winning work and collaborating with some of the best directors nationally and internationally.

Check out some of our favorite spots.

Cancer Research UK: Cancer is Happening Right Now: Adyan Sings

John Lewis, Interactive Christmas VR Experience: Buster The Boxer 

Sport England, This Girl Can: Phenomenal Women

Seeking Creative Inspiration

If you Google “content strategy”, you’ll find more than 23,000 page results. It’s undoubtedly been a hot topic over the past few years and if you have a marketing role, you are probably asked continuously about the best content strategy and approach. For PR professionals, content strategy isn’t new, but instead another term for planning and executing a brand’s narrative.

There’s a lot of research and compelling reasons why content marketing is essential to the success of your marketing efforts. These benefits should help you understand the importance of a strong content marketing strategy, especially as you plan for 2018.

  1. Build Once, Use Multiple Times: As internal teams get stretched and budgets tighten, marketing departments are constantly being asked to do more with less resources. With a strong content marketing strategy, you can build content that will not only live on your main point of communications (your website as an example), but can also be cross-promoted through other key marketing channels. For example, our kayak manufacturing client recently introduced a product that was cross-promoted using multiple touch points, utilizing consistent visuals and messaging: PR to secure editorial coverage, digital advertising, search, social, print and email marketing.Vibe Kayak Yellowfin 130T Content
  2. Ensures Consistency: By simply going through the motions of content planning, you’ll begin to ensure consistency in your communications. What I’ve found helpful is when my agency develops a master calendar that highlights the content strategy, social calendar, product introductions, and initiatives all in one central location. For this master document, we also highlight the overarching message and proof points that ensure consistency in these marketing activations.
  3. Helps with SEO: A strong content marketing strategy goes hand in hand with improving SEO. After a company has developed positioning that defines what the brand stands for, what its unique differentiator is, what it wants to be known for and what its key messages are, a similar process can be taken with SEO. Identify the language (keywords, or more appropriately key phrases) that people use to research your company’s category, industry, products, services or competitors and then write content relevant to these. The more often you use these keywords on your site, the higher it’ll rank for SEO purposes. Google ranks sites with consistent keywords and fresh keyword content as more relevant sites for their users. Start mapping out your content strategy for the year and drive people to your site, based on these keywords.
  4. Keeps the Discussion Going: Similar to the monthly approach we take to build content calendars for our brands’ social channels, we also broadly map times of year for specific topics to develop content around. If you manage a consumer brand, you can use seasonal moments in time to connect with audiences in relevant ways. If your company is B2B focused, map out the industry and customer events you’ll be participating in and drive the narrative to time with these key events. Remember, the content should be relevant and timely to engage consumers in a way that is appropriate to their current interests or needs.
  5. Helps Target your Audience: In any given week, your team may be talking to a host of different stakeholders and influencers for your organization or brand. From customers to partners to media influencers and brand ambassadors, it’s important to tailor the message and tone to the appropriate person. A targeted content marketing strategy will help that approach and ensure you aren’t leaving anyone out of the conversations.
  6. Builds Credibility and Influence: This may seem like the most obvious reason but it’s worth stating. When a company and/or brand shares their POV on applicable and timely topics, the larger following and credibility they will build. For B2B, focusing on quality, educationally driven content will help position your company as a thought leader or expert in the respective category. For example, we work with the largest ladder manufacturer in the world and we partner with them to consistently build a narrative around our agreed upon key message. From contributed articles to in-person training sessions to national initiatives, this key message is at the beginning, middle and end of every discussion. What makes us successful is the credibility this company has built in their industry and how they keep the conversation going. It’s become an ownable platform they want to be known for and that key attribute comes through in the messaging for the majority of their news coverage.


Six Benefits of a Content Marketing Strategy

You’ve probably heard that YouTube and Facebook are selling six second ads with FOX, the first TV network to experiment with the format. So how should marketers think about this new format that will gain steam in 2018? For one, don’t think of it as new. Anyone remember print advertising? Anybody remember Vine? Yep, the platform that Twitter bought and shortly thereafter closed, is now the “new” format for advertisers to embrace. How long do brands have to catch the average consumer’s attention in print? Two seconds. Most of the media buys on YouTube allow users to skip your ad after five seconds of watching. And have you looked at your data analytics on those ads? Not many people continue to watch your commercial in its entirety unless it’s very relevant to the viewer. Maybe YouTube is actually giving advertisers an additional second with this format. Now you get six seconds instead of five! Hopefully the format will force advertisers to again be disciplined about messaging, ideas and storytelling.

Here are some ideas to help marketers think about the new six-second format:

  1. Focus on a moment, not an entire story. There’s no time for a traditional set up, arc and resolution in six seconds. Show how your brand helps or relates to a situation, leaving viewers with a strong connection to a relatable moment.
  2. Think of this new format as you would a great print ad. With only six seconds it can almost be thought of as print with motion. Of course, like with print, more value will need to be put on the simple, pure IDEA for it to get etched into consumers’ minds. If you think about some of the best visual-solution print ads or strong headlines coupled with amazing visuals, it tells a story quickly, succinctly and memorably. On average, consumers spend 2-3 seconds with print ads and decide if the ad is relevant to them within 0.3 seconds. Maybe smaller, independent agencies that were traditionally great at print ads, will shine with the new format.
  3. Create a Brief specifically for this format. Or at least give it clear definition within a campaign brief. It’s not a :30 that’s cut down to a :15, that is now cut down to a :06. That won’t work here. The Creative Brief needs to clearly state the goal and mandatories of a six-second commercial. It needs to have real expectations on what can be communicated. It needs to be signed off on by all internal decision makers, otherwise you will do yourself, the brand and the agency a disservice.
  4. Cut the clutter. The six-second commercial will be great for pure branding and for marketing messages related to a certain event or day of the year. Again like all great advertising, it will need to have one simple message and can’t be cluttered with too many mandatories, explanations or lengthy CTAs.
  5. Contrary to what I say in point one, if you want to tell an entire story in six seconds you should consider using time lapse, hyper-lapse, stop-motion, jump-cuts and fast/slow speed video techniques to tell your story. Many brands are already successfully using these techniques in social media and these formats may not be that different from your social content efforts if you already take these storytelling approaches.
  6. Of course, this format will be best used as part of a larger campaign. It will have definite messaging limitations and it should probably have budgets more on par with social content or print ad creation. In fact, as agencies and marketers begin to experiment with the format, you may realize it aligns more with your social media or print concept efforts but that doesn’t mean the brief and approval process should be handed of to an in-house social media coordinator.
  7. If it doesn’t “give away” the idea, quickly show your logo at the opening of the video. Sony was brilliant with this on all of their Playstation commercials in the past. You can also consider as an option, watermarking your logo on a bottom corner of the video (like a station identifier), although we prefer the opening blip instead of a continued “distraction”. We also believe the blip creates better brand recall with viewers.

Have fun, think differently and be disciplined in your approach. It will take the expertise of creative agencies and disciplined marketers to do it well, but it’s exciting to think about and get ahead of the curve as it may become a part of your media plan in the near future.

Tips for creating six-second commercials

Interbike Badge

The ever entertaining and fun crew at Vintage thought it would be good for me to walk around as an “Athlete” for an electric bike co. Funny.


I’m back in Atlanta from Interbike and recovered by doing a real road ride and also a fun ride on Sunday. It was one of Atlanta’s “Streets Alive” days so I went out with the urban masses to celebrate human powered transportation in the ATL–biking and walking.

But back to Interbike.

Even though we used to have Wahoo Fitness as a client and designed some of their trade show graphics, along with packaging and advertising, I had never been to the greatest trade show on earth before this year! Turns out that some of the biggest brands decided not to attend this year. Specialized, Trek and Giant were no shows. It’s probably hard to justify the hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses when they already have direct access to all of their dealers.

I don’t think I did a very good job at the show for the one day I was there. I didn’t get to half the booths I wanted to and I didn’t have a game plan. You need a game plan at this thing–it’s huge! The amount of companies there is overwhelming. The amount of amazing products is overwhelming too. Unfortunately, I also didn’t think Interbike did a good job with the map. The numbers on the map were absolutely tiny and to cross-reference the booth numbers to the companies in the long list below the map could have taken me 3 hours to create my own walking map. Maybe they’ll get to the point that they offer an interactive, customizable map online. Or maybe they did and I missed it.

Anyway, we picked up a bicycle client shortly before Interbike so I was glad to have already booked my trip there. It was nice meeting the clients in person and help with some of the media briefings. I think things went really well for them at the show.  They have an amazing electric bike company and the team was so nice. They seam to be very hard workers, sweat the details and have a vision for the growth of the electric bike market. Check out their amazing bikes here – Vintage Electric Bikes.

Vintage Electric at Interbike

Thomson is a local GA bike parts manufacturer who Seed Factory needs to reach out to. Honestly, I haven’t seen a more boring and visually underwhelming booth than theirs. I’m wondering if it’s part of their brand persona to be completely anti-flashy, but it seems a bit extreme and counter-productive to selling more of their beautiful bits. I’ve always believed that if you’ve created something beautiful, then you should present it beautifully to help create an aura and emotional connection to it.

Moving on, there were so many other booths to see. I literally got lost at one point when I was trying to get back to Vintage Electric’s booth. I loved Pivot’s bike line up, the Alchemy bikes, Industry Nine’s trick bits, the Bell helmets booth and tons of others. Renovo Hardwood Bicycles caught my eye as one of the most beautiful frames out there, but then again, I’m a sucker for anything well crafted from hardwoods.


Seed Factory would love to work with more of these companies in the bicycle industry. Of course we’re super stoked to be working with Vintage Electric Bikes as they’re poised to grow into a huge company. Others such as Kuat racks are beautiful and smartly designed.  Being in MO, it’s close enough to our time zone to work together easily. Phil Wood has such trick bits and they supply the hubs for Vintage. Litespeed is just up the road from us in Chattanooga. 6D Helmets are really onto something with the shock-absorption layer. G-form’s protective equipment looks great. Crank Brothers, Stan’s NoTubes and the list goes on.


Bell Helmets - Interbike 2017

Jimbo Phillips one-off painted helmet for Bell.


Interbike 2016


Helping build a brand based on a powerful insight is our favorite type of work we do here at the agency. We had the opportunity to partner with Navicent Health to build a new, simple, understandable brand. Developing a branding campaign around a central truth is a tactic that all marketers can leverage within their health care organization. To read more about this campaign, please see the AMA article here.

Branding Emotion

NYT_Werner Ladder

We’ve had the opportunity to work with Werner Co. for more than three years now and today received news that a recent campaign won the FIRST place prize in Ragan’s 2015 PR Daily Awards for best Product Launch. Exciting news!

As background, Werner introduced an entirely new type of ladder to the market and through a collaboration with their team, ours and other partners, we kicked off an endeavor to introduce this new product through a multi-channel marketing approach. We were tasked with creating brand awareness and product preference with consumer home enthusiasts/DIYers. We also needed to demonstrate a clear product benefit in a simple, memorable way that provides an entertaining connection.

The huge success of this product launch has led to a product line expansion and the creation of a new ladder category. If you missed the link above that summarizes the elements of the campaign, click here.

Werner Co. Wins PR Daily Award!

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 1.14.44 PM

As the warm summer weather is upon us in Atlanta, we are getting outdoors a lot more. The miles are being put on the staff’s bicycles while the hiking boots and trail running shoes are being laced up much more often. We’re hoping to put in some epic trips this summer before making it to Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, come August.

Are you preparing for Outdoor Retailer already? It’s only 3 months away and we’d love to help your brand get ready for a great few days of setting orders with all the outdoor store buyers that will be there. It’s also a great time to work on your company’s publicity and set as many appointments with journalists and bloggers as possible. We can help make sure you get time with influencers that can give your brand crucial visibility.

Is your brand’s visual identity as sharp as it can be? Is your photography, typography and brand personality ready to stand out from all the other manufacturers at Outdoor Retailer? Have you found a brand, and product positioning from which you can win by uniquely owning it and honestly upholding in an authentic voice? We work with many outdoor brands to help fine-tune the brand’s position, or help develop it from the ground up.

Speaking of mileage being put on the bicycles, we just wrapped a bicycle video for our Wahoo Fitness client. The video is to help promote the RFLKT and RFLKT+ smart bike computers in their line of ever growing smart phone enabled fitness technology. We spent an amazing day in the north Georgia mountains a couple weeks ago, shooting footage for the video that we just finished editing and color correcting. They’ll post it to their YouTube account soon and then we can add a link to it for you to view. For now though, this blog’s image is a frame from the video. At the same time, we just finished the 4th photo shoot for the RFLKT magazine print ad campaign. We worked with a young outdoor photographer based in Santa Barbara, California and the images turned out fantastic. Two of the ads have already run in Bicycling magazine and we’ll get them posted here soon. If any outdoor industry or bicycle industry companies have advertising, PR, content development or design needs, we can help with amazing creative concepts and strong execution.

Outdoor Industry Ad Agency—Ready for Summer and You.

The past 48 hours have been very telling for the Germanwings Flight 9525 crisis. While horrified by the tragedy, I would like to compliment the speed and transparency of which the information is being delivered to families and the public. With loss of life, especially of this magnitude, there is nothing more critical than to identify the facts and deliver what is appropriate in a timely and transparent fashion. At Seed Factory, we applaud Brice Robin, the Marseille Public Prosecutor for the delivery of the latest information—which is the co-pilots deliberate attempt to destroy aircraft—in a direct, honest and transparent approach out of respect for the families. He comes across as very sincere and credible about the latest findings. When you compare this to airplane tragedies in recent years—namely Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 —it is a stark contrast to what the public is accustomed to.

While we don’t believe Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr is doing as good of a job, there are many learnings for corporations and executives on how to respond, when to respond and the information that should be shared. While no one wants to be in this particular situation and communicating this unfathomable level of detail, it’s imperative to be prepared. We take our lessons from leading Microsoft’s Y2K initiative and other crisis communications programs as we’ve prepared our clients and teams for a variety of unique scenarios. The following actions will help prepare a communications team and other key stakeholders if a crisis scenario hits.

  1. Define Your Crisis Team & Infrastructure: Along with the corporate communications team, identify the key leads from each of the business units and operations team to prepare for every possible crisis. Meet on a monthly or quarterly basis to review processes, protocols and actions.
  2. Build Your Crisis Plan and Be Prepared for a Variety of Scenarios: Don’t wait for a crisis to happen to begin thinking of a plan. You should have a variety of scenarios developed, based on the industry, and specifically the process of how to respond for each. Examples of scenarios, in order of importance, may include: loss of life, employee injury, manufacturer recall, corporate layoffs, quarterly losses or major corporate announcements. Develop a crisis plan and checklist, while aligning the actions to every particular scenario, role of each team member, messaging architecture and both internal and external responses.
  3. Identify & Prep Your Spokesperson: This is one of the most important steps any organization can take. Who will be the face and voice of the crisis communications that will be delivered? This spokesperson is ideally the most senior level executive at the organization that is authoritative, confident, articulate and accessible during the crisis. He or she will also take responsibility and accountability when needed. This needs to come across as sincere and not defensive.
  4. Prepare Your Content: Because possible scenarios have been identified, the company should be prepared from a messaging structure on how this critical information will be delivered. Questions and answers should have already been developed from the corporate and legal teams and reviewed by corporate executives. Only use confirmed facts and don’t speculate until you are 100% confident in the information that is being released. You don’t want to create a crisis around your corporate crisis.
  5. Be Accessible: This is critical and we’ve seen this part of the equation fall apart too many times. When a crisis happens, the spokesperson immediately needs to go to the location, share information as it’s uncovered, showcase transparency and be available to customers and media at any time they are needed. Set up a command center, have an 800-number established and staffed for the particular crisis, communicate these details through media alerts, host a press conference, respond to questions on social media, etc. It’s critical that the company has a presence at all times, is accessible and transparent.


At Seed Factory, we believe your company can be prepared and ready for any type of scenario, no matter how large or small it may be. Starting the discussions early leads to a prepared team that can confidently navigate a crisis and ensure the company’s reputation stays in tact. If you are interested in learning more about our crisis communications work and how we may help, please contact us at 404-996-4041 or










Transparency in a Crisis is Crucial

That headline gets your attention doesn’t it? It’s actually not far from the truth. While we’re not offering our services for free, we do want to point out one very simple marketing solution that, if your company sells a product and isn’t doing this, you’re missing out on free branding. Any company that is in a category like sports, outdoor, bicycle, music or any other type of performance, competitive or passion category absolutely needs to include a sticker in every product package that gets shipped to any distributor, retailer or consumer.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a high-interest category like sports or outdoors, your consumers will happily be brand advocates if they are just given some simple tools. Like a sticker. If your sticker makes it on the back of their car, do you know how many people see that? It’s free branding. And what if they have some other great brands’ stickers on the back of their car? Instant borrowed equity and synergy with other like-minded brands.

Consider it social media for the real world. And it stays on your consumer’s “wall” for a lot longer than a “Like”.

The only catch? You’ll have to shell out 12¢ for the sticker. 

Here’s one place you can buy stickers.



Free Marketing for the Sports and Outdoor Industry