Let’s Break the Rules

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 5.53.09 PMI like breaking the rules. If done right, it can get you valuable attention, make you stand out and even give you a huge competitive edge. It can, of course, also get you into trouble.

With that in mind, I’ve always been drawn to that age-old edict “You must know the rules before you can break them.” I first heard this pearl of wisdom as it relates to music theory. The rule says you must play “X” but you can break the rule and play “Y” instead… if you understand how and why it works.

Famous broken rules (and I will tie this to marketing, I promise):

  • That long intro scene in the 1953 Brando movie, The Wild One.” The rule said that a movie director shouldn’t hold a camera in one static position for more than 6 seconds. But in the now famous opening scene, Laslo Benedek focuses the camera on a long stretch of open road for more than a minute. Great tension building.
  • Beat It. The rule said that pop/soul music and heavy metal don’t mix. But when Michael Jackson teamed up with Eddie Van Halen on Beat It, the results were incredible.
  • The rule was that a second is a second is a second. Albert Einstein declared that a second to someone traveling in a rocket at the speed of light could be a lifetime to someone stationary on the ground. His theory of special relativity changed everything.

Public relations and advertising is steeped in rules. The shelves at Barnes and Nobel are lined with such books as “The Fifty Golden Rules For Guerrilla Marketing,” “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” and now, The New Rules of Marketing & PR.” And to be sure, these best sellers are chocked full of great information.

But let’s not forget about the value of breaking the rules as well. I cut my teeth working for a couple of the largest PR agencies in the world and learned the rules from some of the most successful pros in the business. Unfortunately, however, I’ve found that many of these old pros are teaching and abiding by the same rules that governed their strategies twenty years ago. But if you understand the rules, you will know when and how to break them.

In the 1960’s Avis broke the rule that you never position yourself as anything but the marketing leader. The company’s “We’re #2 – We Try Harder” campaign was responsible for tripling their market share from 11% to 33%.

More recently Google broke the branding rule that says company logos iare sacred and something to be left alone. By continuing to create new versions of their logo, Google has helped create a fun, friendly persona for a company that others (say…Microsoft or Yahoo perhaps?) would kill for.

Carl’s Jr. just launched a new advertising campaign that breaks the rule governing the use of competitive product comparisons. They make no bones about their “Big Carl” burger is a direct rip off of the Big Mac…and it works.

So it’s disconcerting when experts tell me that I shouldn’t break the rules and that a news release is simply a tool for reporters – sorry, but those are old rules (see previous post), or that marketing video production must be slick and expensive (welcome to the age of YouTube fellas) or that you must keep customer-oriented promotional material out of press documents.

Earlier this year, Brenner Associates created a viral video for a client looking to reach 20-30 year old men. They had previously paid another marketing firm over $20K to create a product video for use on their web site and across the Internet but gut zip in return.

A quick look at the results told me why. Their $20K was well spent on sharp graphics, high quality camera shots and beautiful spokespersons – and they wound up with an advertisement that might have worked twenty years ago but was of no interest to their target audience today.

I promised them I could deliver a more effective video for less than $900. We came up with a creative video that was fun to watch AND reinforced their brand image. We used a hand held camcorder and real people and unscripted dialogue. Posted on their website and on select social network sites, the video has been seen by more than 390,000 potential customers and has been responsible for increasing the company’s web sales by close to 20 percent.

There is another old edict, “Rules were meant to be broken.” And when it comes to public relations and marketing – especially in today’s evolving digital age – strategic rule breaking can be the key to unimaginable success.

 

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