Your online video ad will not be seen

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It is starting to dawn on marketers that the online video ad system has a few booby traps Read More

Yes, John Oliver, We Are Stupid Fucking Idiots

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To the highly valued employees of NORTH and our cherished creative and strategic partners:

As you probably know, one of the tv spots we created as part of last year’s campaign to drive enrollment in Oregon’s new ACA exchange was brutally parodied by John Oliver on the debut of his new HBO show this past Sunday. Images from our campaign have also recently accompanied scathing reports by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, and pretty much every conservative blog in the known universe.

Cover Oregon: Live Your Life

Now, you may think none of this is fair, given that we have had nothing whatsoever to do with the $200m+ dollars spent to build Cover Oregon’s online application portal.

You may also think it’s unfair to single out that particular tv spot from the many different ads we created, this one made specifically to connect with mothers, the primary drivers of health care decisions in the family, and always meant to be but one part of a much bigger whole that would reach all Oregonians, regardless of income, ethnicity or geography.

You may think it’s especially unjust because our work helped delivered the numbers: awareness of Cover Oregon through advertising increased nearly 70% in only four months prior to the first enrollment window in 2013. And on that first day of enrollment, a third of a million people came to the website to sign up. Had it been working, it’s a safe estimate we would have been more than half-way to enrollment goals within the first week. Relative to the marketing budget, along with the many efforts of the Cover Oregon marketing team, we created real return on taxpayer money.

Cover Oregon: Live Long in Oregon

It’s also never mentioned that as portal delays and bad press persisted, we hunkered down, responded with ads that were transparent, honest and informative. We worked especially hard with the Cover Oregon team to move people toward paper applications through agents and sign-up fairs.

Most importantly they fail to mention that, despite the broken portal, more than 250,000 Oregonians who previously had no access to health insurance were still able to shop for, apply for, and obtain coverage. Even with no online portal, Oregon is in the middle ranking for state enrollments. Remarkable, given the circumstances, and also a tribute to the tireless efforts of Cover Oregon’s communications and marketing staff.

Cover Oregon: Healthcare for All

So, is it fair?

Well, Mr. Oliver and others are quite right to expose and even parody the costs associated with the portal’s dysfunction. They’re also right to be angry at the damage potentially done to the ACA’s national momentum and to supportive politicians in the upcoming mid-terms. Unfortunately for us, our passionate, hard, honest work will forever be associated with a broken website. So no, that’s not necessarily fair, but it is how the world works.

More importantly, are we, as Mr. Oliver suggests, stupid fucking idiots?


Given the world today, you have to be a stupid fucking idiot to want to help activate a legislation so controversial.

You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to suggest a strategy that unites people around a common good before selling them on something as complicated as health insurance.

You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to think advertising can actually help improve the quality of people’s lives.

But at North, we welcome stupid fucking idiots. And I’d do it all again just the same, proudly.

Although, next time I’d probably leave the website out of the ads.

Mark Ray
principal, chief creative officer

A Marketer’s Guide to Social on the Second Screen

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The new Golden Age of TV programming combined with the social TV trend has presented a marketing windfall for some brands, like Oreo and Old Spice. For others, like McDonald’s, it’s been at times an embarrassing failure. If you watch the premiere of the final season of AMC’s “Mad Men” on April 13, you’ll probably see a little of both.

You do watch TV with your smartphone or tablet at hand, don’t you? A recent Pew study found that 88% of the American population is on their smartphone or tablet while watching TV. Tablet usage actually peaks during prime time TV hours. People are using these devices to connect: to communicate, share, and generally distract themselves on social platforms. According to Facebook, between 88 and 100 million users log in between 8 and 11 pm.

So what does this mean for marketers? First, there’s a sizable audience all doing the same thing at the same time. On one evening in April, ABC’s “Scandal” and “Grey’s” were the Top 2 most social TV shows of the night, with 339,727 and 40,768 tweets, respectively.

Second, that audience hangs out on platforms that have highly developed, super-efficient targeting capabilities (Facebook and Twitter) or will soon have those capabilities (Instagram and Pinterest). That adds up to opportunity.

It’s easy to see why marketers have taken note. But before you stage a branded second screen takeover of the next big TV premiere, here are a few simple principles that will keep you from turning your great brand opportunity into a great brand fail.

You might be thinking: This is a big opportunity to get people talking about my brand.
The truth: People don’t need your brand in social media to have a good time. In fact, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up getting in the way of their good time. Your goal should not be to get people talking about your brand. It should be to gain acceptance as part of the conversation by becoming a meaningful contributor.

Highlight reel: @POLERSTUFF. Poler is a Pacific Northwest outdoor brand that understands its audience. The highlight is their Instagram account – consistently beautiful imagery that mirrors what their indie outdoor enthusiast audience wants to talk about.


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Blooper reel: #McDStories. Are you sure you want people telling tales of their “restaurant” experience? McDonald’s promoted the trending topic #McDStories in hopes of getting some good promotion, but instead, people used the hashtag to tell horror stories about the food.


You might be thinking: Let’s link to the commercial in social; people might want to see it again.

The truth: Nobody wants to see your commercial again, and if they do, they can just Google it. In fact, they probably didn’t even see your commercial the first time. As many as 38% of cell phone users use their phones to keep them occupied during commercial breaks. Instead of pushing first-screen content on the second screen, provide access to new content that naturally aligns with what your consumers are already talking to each other about.

Highlight reel: HoneyMaid got a lot of attention with their “This is Wholesome” spot featuring a two-dad household. They responded with a new online video that responded to critics and celebrated love—winning even more attention for the original ad and its heartwarming theme.

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Blooper reel: SodaStream tried to drive viewers to an “uncensored” version of its SuperBowl ad starring Scarlett Johansson, but the online version of the ad didn’t offer much of a payoff. This manufactured faux-scandal was drowned out by the real scandal about the location of the company’s factories.

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You might be thinking: I need to plan all my content in advance and get it approved through typical internal channels.
The truth: For second-screen content to succeed it needs to be as relevant as possible to the content on the first screen. Establish basic content ideas and creative guardrails in advance, and then watch the show like your consumer. Listen to what your consumer is saying, and use that as a guide for how to engage.

Highlight reel: “You can still dunk in the dark.” Need we say more? Another recent favorite came from Arby’s in reaction to the hat Pharrell wore to the Grammy’s: “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs







Blooper reel: The social media world moves so quickly that planning too far in advance can actually backfire. A number of brands have learned the hard way not to write and schedule their tweets in advance. For example, LiveNation once sent out a prewritten tweet encouraging people to tweet about a Radiohead show—after the stage had collapsed, killing one person, injuring several more, and forcing the cancellation of the show.

You might be thinking: Hashtags get people to engage.
The truth: A hashtag is no different than a call to action in a print ad or a link in a banner. It’s just an invitation to engage, not a reason. You have to work as hard strategically and creatively on your social content as you would on your commercial. It all starts with the idea.

Highlight reel: Our agency, NORTH, just launched a social campaign for Aladdin, a great company that makes food and beverage containers. It’s built around a character named Jeanie who tweets about taking the stress out of throwing a party and generally stopping the pinsanity from her handle, @Jeanieality. We do use the hashtag #HeyJeanie, but we also focus on associating with hashtags people are already interested in, where Jeanie can add something relevant and entertaining to the conversation – like #MarchMadness, #Oscars, or #TheMindyProject.


Blooper reel: #ILoveWalgreens. This was a promoted trend, paid for by Walgreens. There’s no concept. They’re just asking people to be shills for their brand without offering anything in return.



People don’t want to shill for your brand. They’re not going to just do your work for you. But if you find a creative way to become part of the conversations they’re already having, you’ll be able to connect with your audience in the same places and in the same ways as they connect with their family and friends. And you’ll create a much more authentic bond with them while you’re at it.

Ezra Klein on Vox Media

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