February 05, 2015 13:44 ET

CBX Expert: Brands Can and Should 'Grab the Mic' on Social Issues

Taking a Stand on Trending Cultural Moments Can Be a Savvy Move -- So Long as Those Trenchant Tweets Actually Match Your Brand, Writes CBX's Gregg S. Lipman in Column for The Huffington Post

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - Feb 5, 2015) - Chiming in about trending cultural moments is the new Holy Grail of marketing. The trick, however, is to make sure your brand's social commentary doesn't turn into the functional equivalent of a drunken groomsman's awkward wedding toast, writes Gregg S. Lipman, Managing Partner at brand agency CBX, in a Jan. 30 column for The Huffington Post.

"Nobody doubts Drunk Guy at Wedding means well with his impromptu speech," writes the veteran brand consultant. "What he's lacking is execution."

In the column ("Responding to a Cultural Moment? Don't Use Deflated Creative"), Lipman cites powerful examples of on-brand responses to various social issues and cultural moments, such as Oreo's real-time response to the third-quarter power outage at the Superdome during the 2013 Super Bowl ("Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark"). "To this day, Oreo's infamous blackout tweet is considered the epitome of a social media win," he writes. "It garnered 525 million earned media impressions, which is five times the number of people who actually watched the game."

Likewise, Ben & Jerry's delighted its fans last year with a tweet about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado ("BREAKING NEWS: We're hearing reports of stores selling out of Ben & Jerry's in Colorado. What's up with that?"). And the sheer cleverness of Krispy Kreme's "deflategate" tweet -- a picture of a football-shaped, cream-filled donut with the words "Ours are fully filled" -- blew up on Twitter. It was in response, of course, to the scandal about the New England Patriots' alleged use of improperly deflated balls during the NFL playoffs.

But other attempts to "grab the mic" on social issues have come across as inauthentic. Lipman cites the Seattle Seahawks' awkward Martin Luther King, Jr., tweet. One day after their comeback over the Green Bay Packers, which earned them a Super Bowl berth, the Seahawks posted a tweet that read, "We shall overcome #MLKDay." By comparing their unlikely comeback to the humanistic victories of the civil rights movement, the team was guilty of borderline-offensive speech.

"Adding insult to injury," Lipman writes, "it included a photo of quarterback Russell Wilson, crying tears of post-game joy, captioned with this MLK quote: 'Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.'"

Proper execution, he explains, is about knowing what your brand means to consumers. For example, voicing support for causes such as Occupy Wall Street or the legalization of marijuana is perfectly consonant with Ben & Jerry's famously progressive brand and values. "Ben & Jerry's purpose is to bring joy to the belly and the soul, which they accomplish, not only through a product mission, but also a larger social mission to positively impact society and the environment," Lipman writes. "After all, it's not enough to say it internally. You need to prove it publically."

Given the risks of falling flat, some companies might want to play it safe by staying out of the cultural fray. But they risk their relevancy by doing so, Lipman writes. "Branding is all about creating value beyond product benefits," he notes. "We live in an era where people use brands, not only to express their personal style, but who they are and what they believe in ... Staying on the sidelines isn't going to cut it."

In addition to on-brand content, execution is also about creativity and skill. Lipman cites Starbucks' recent ad saluting Martin Luther King, Jr. "The real power of the ad is in the creative execution, which was done in-house," he writes. "The ad features the alphabet spelled out in simple white type against a black background, only the letters are in reverse order, revealing the sequence M, L, K, which is highlighted in red. The copy reads: 'It's time to look at things differently. Again.'"

Printed in The New York Times and posted on social media, the Starbucks ad garnered glowing responses from the public and in the media. "It works because it tells a straight-from-the-heart story through simple visuals and impactful copy, a story that reinforces Starbucks' brand purpose and brand image (warm sincerity with a double shot of social activism and community)," Lipman writes.

The full column is available at

About CBX 
CBX specializes in creative marketing services including: branding, retail design, packaging and promotional programming. The company, with its current staff of more than 160 employees, was founded in 2003 and has a client base that includes: Dr Pepper Snapple Group, General Mills, Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, A&P, Pathmark, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Shinsegae, Walgreens and Wawa. In addition to its New York City Headquarters, CBX has offices in Minneapolis and San Francisco. CBX was named a "Design Firm of the Year" in Display & Design Ideas magazine's 2013 Portfolio Awards.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Gregg Lipman is available as a resource for commentary on a wide range of issues related to consumer product and corporate branding. See contact info at end of release.