Lovin’ It: McDonald’s Myth-Busting Campaign

•November 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Think of a restaurant brand with a reputation for “bad food.”

Did McDonald’s cross your mind? I wouldn’t be surprised, if so.

Food served at McDonald’s has long had a shady reputation, despite the company possessing a brand value of $42.254 billion and a serviced customer base upwards of 27 million people per day. Whether the negative reputation of McDonald’s food is merited is certainly up for debate, but it’s not of greatest interest to me. What I do find intriguing, however, is the new approach McDonald’s is taking in dealing with skepticism about its food quality… Addressing it head-on.

You may have seen AKHIA President Ben Brugler’s recent post about McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign. As he pointed out, McDonald’s has recently changed its approach to messaging about its food quality, deciding to no longer ignore the questions of critics, but to address them directly.

“The work we’ve done in the past has been one-way,” explained Kevin Newell, chief brand and strategy officer for McDonald’s USA in a recent interview. “We’ve made nutrition information about our food available for a number of years. But people had to go find it. Now we’re inviting consumers to go on a journey with us to get those questions answered.”

McDonald’s isn’t addressing people’s questions in secret. They’ve created a website dedicated to the “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign, and they’re promoting it through television ads and across the Web. They even have Grant Imahara, former “MythBusters” host as a prominent contributor to their series of campaign-based webisodes.

Addressing unflattering rumors head-on in a marketing campaign is an interesting approach that few brands take, and many are likely watching to see how it shakes out. Some surely think it’s a mistake to draw attention to the fast food giant’s negative press. I, however, am not one of those people.

The Refutational Approach to Argumentation

If you have read my other posts, you likely know I’m a theory guy. So, what does the academic literature on rhetoric have to say about the messaging approach McDonald’s is embracing with its latest marketing campaign?

That it’s a great idea, basically. Researcher John A. Williams may have summed the cumulative research up best, writing, “The most effective argument for any case will incorporate and give full consideration to the best available counterevidence against the case.”

In other words, do exactly what McDonald’s is doing.

There really isn’t much dissension on the matter, either. Taking a “two-sided refutational” approach that both acknowledges and addresses the challenges to one’s argument or interests is almost always the most effective means of persuading an audience. Consider, for instance these findings:

  • By refuting counterclaims, refutational appeals make negative messaging about a brand seem less credible, reducing cognitive dissonance for audience members (Ray et. al., 1973)
  • Refutational messages are more stimulating than supportive messages, underlining conflict and motivating audience members to develop interest in messaging (Ray et. al., 1973)
  • Two-sided messages are almost always more persuasive, except when message receivers already agree with the message, are easily confused, are uninformed on the issue or will never be exposed to an opposing viewpoint (Allen et al, 1999)
  • Two-sided, refutational messages are 20 percent more effective overall than one-sided messages (Allen, 1991)

The academic findings are clear: If you want to build resistance to attitude change or defend against competitive/negative reputational attacks, giving your perspective on the points raised against you is a solid strategy. If this is the case, though, why aren’t more brands trying this sort of approach?

My best guess? They’re scared to do it. It often seems easier to pretend counterclaims have no merit by ignoring them outright, focusing only on supportive messaging. McDonald’s certainly could have done that… with more than $42 billion in assets, the company is clearly not hurting too badly. What McDonald’s likely realized, however, is what any crisis communications expert will tell you: The best way to overcome negative publicity is to get out in front of the problem by telling your side of the story in a controlled, respectful manner. Don’t hide anything, and while you’re at it, you may just build rapport with stakeholders who appreciate your honest approach.

The overall success of McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign has yet to be determined. If it is as successful as I suspect, however, I look forward to seeing what other brands might follow suit in the near future.

*This blog post originally appeared on the AKHIA Brew on 11/12/2014*


Digital Clues and Social Cues

•October 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Are changing norms of interaction altering how we perceive one another?

A little over five years ago I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in psychology. I fancied myself fairly savvy regarding the ways in which people communicate. Now, as my five-year reunion weekend just wound to a close, I realize how far from static human communication truly is.

In 2009, Twitter was still relatively undiscovered. It hadn’t been all that long since Facebook was opened to non-college students. Instagram wasn’t a thing. The term “social media” wasn’t widely used.

In 2014, social media has completely reshaped the way average people, companies and governments communicate. It is a part of everyday life for many of us, and if you’re like me, you never saw it coming.

It is easy to think we have modern communication all figured out. We probably don’t.

As I’ve matured, I’ve realized the folly of thinking I (or we as a society, for that matter) have human communication wholly understood. Rather, we must comprehend that the way in which we interact is fluid, and it will forever be a product of our environments, technological tools and individual personalities.

Acceptance of fluidity does not preclude us from paying careful attention to trends and taking the time to read the metaphorical tea leaves, such as they are, however. We can deduce based on simple observation, for instance, that our communication on a macro level is becoming increasingly digital in nature. The number of face-to-face conversations we engage in by choice is dwindling in favor of typed “talking”. If the birthday/Halloween party comprised of 30 selfie-snapping eighth graders I chaperoned this past weekend (which you should never do, by the way) is any indication, we can expect more Facetime than face time from the coming generation, too.

Observing trends is a start; analyzing them is the necessary next step. So, what does increasingly digitalized communication mean for us?

A lot of things, probably. But one hypothesis I would posit is that it is changing the way we form opinions of one another and gauge each other’s emotions. Nonverbal cues, whether body language (kinesics), touch (haptics), distance during conversation (proxemics), or vocal traits such as pitch, tone and rhythm of speech are key indicators that humans use when judging the emotions of others. When in-person conversations continually give way to more digital discussions, however, we may turn to different cues to determine how acquaintances on the other end of increasingly distant relationships are feeling.

Take, for example, this recent text message conversation I had:

B: “Hey man, how you doin?”

L: “Doing alright; you?”

B: “I’m fine. Just wanted to make sure you were ok.”

L: “Yeah, I am. Why do you ask?”

B: “Just saw the music you been listening to on Spotify recently. Seems like you’ve been a bit down.”

Hmm. Until my friend messaged me a few weeks ago, it had never occurred to me that the songs I listen to may be taking form as socialized emotional cues. To me, listening to a “Rainy Day Tunes” playlist on Spotify when there is writing to be done on a gloomy day is calming. To someone else seeing my Spotify feed, it may send a totally different message. If I don’t encounter that person very often in the real world, that information could be all they have with which to form a current perception of me.

It makes me wonder what other unintentional messages we may all be sending to one another in the digital age. It also makes me wonder what sort of subconscious judgments I might be making about others based on the proliferated data we use as proxies for natural human interaction.

Sure, I know enough as a professional to be careful what I write on the Internet. I’m also careful not to post photos or videos that might cause trouble. But what else am I posting that influences how others see me? Songs on Spotify, apparently. What about locations statuses on Swarm? Beer check-ins on Untappd? Gaming information on Steam?

The answer is likely “Much more than I realize.” And the same likely applies to you.

If there’s one thing we know about human psychology, it’s that our behaviors and cognition are influenced far more by subconscious factors than we might think—check out “You Are Not So Smart” for some great examples. It’s something worth keeping in mind as you continue to make your way in our increasingly connected world.

You may be surprised what you find.

*A Reblog from the AKHIA Brew, 10/29/2014*

Recapping Your Conference Experience? Double-Check Your Facts

•September 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

*I originally wrote this post for LinkedIn, given the fact that many conference recaps are being posted there and due to the business-oriented nature of the post… but given that I like to muse about theory, ethics and the like on Twilight Whimsy, I thought I’d share it here, too.*

As you may know if you follow me on other channels, I recently had a wonderful opportunity to attend Content Marketing World on behalf of my company, AKHIA. The conference was full of great insights, smart content professionals and orange-colored foods. It was a blast.
As we all come down from our conference high a week later, we are starting to see many people recap what they learned in order to educate colleagues, drive new business or simply showcase their exposure to new thinking. It’s a smart course of action, and as I mentioned, I’ve been doing it myself (and plan to continue to do so in the coming month in collaboration with Kate Eidam and Amanda Vasil, my fellow AKHIA attendees… stay tuned). As we all report back to the masses on what we learned, however, there is something we need to keep in mind… The ethics of reporting.

We are not be journalists… We are marketers. But as marketers, we are sometimes in the course of our duties going to be exposed to research that goes into topics beyond our ability to wholly grasp. This is not our fault, necessarily; we all have areas of expertise and some topics simply will not fall into that category. We have an obligation when exposed to these highly intellectual topics, however, to pay extra close attention so as not to misinterpret the message conveyed.

As we grew up, most of us were probably instilled with an understanding that one should “not talk if they don’t know what they are talking about”. I would posit that this manta should be applied not only in conversation, but in the case of event recaps, as well.

Let me give an example. Today I did a quick Google search for JoAnn Sciarrino, a University of North Carolina professor who gave a very interesting talk on the measurement of storytelling at Content Marketing World. She gave a fascinating account of her research (and the research of other academics) that showed that we form attachments to brands much in the same way that we form attachments to other humans. This may not seem like much of a stretch to imagine, but the real twist lies in the realm of physiological psychology… The research shows that we form brand attachments as emotional responses, something that takes place in the limbic system deep within the brain, NOT in the pre-frontal cortex, where rational thought/cognition takes place.
What this means, essentially, is that content creators, marketers, advertisers and others have long been taking an arguably misguided approach to attempting to win over customers by appealing to their rational decision making, not their emotions. Fascinating stuff, at least in my mind, and something I look forward to exploring further in another post.
As I was searching Google, I found a Content Marketing recap post from someone who mentioned JoAnn’s session, and I took a look out of curiosity. What I found was disappointing… A reference to how “emotions sit in the same part of the brain as decision-making – the limbic system” and thus “it makes sense that this is what we, as content marketers, should strive for.”
This statement is unfortunately false scientifically, which a bit of Google research would quickly have shown. This is a shame, because the work JoAnn and others have done in this area has real weight as far as how we should be marketing going forward, and is important to convey. We must ensure, however, that we’re conveying our messages accurately in situations such as this. As marketers, we may not be held to account by journalistic ethics boards, but I believe we do have an obligation to check our facts and ask questions when we are not completely sure of something before educating others.

I write all this not to rag on the person who wrote the example above… I think we are all likely guilty of making these mistakes from time to time. For example, I worry about this sometimes when I am live tweeting at an event. As I am half listening to the speaker as I try to remember exactly what they said AND how I’m going to condense that insightful gem into 140 characters (minus hashtags, photos and so forth), there is huge risk of conveying the message incorrectly. Most of the time I am tagging the speaker in the post, and I fear the day that I receive a response to me tweet saying, “Thanks for sharing, but that isn’t exactly what I said.” With the speed at which we report, it’s bound to happen eventually.

All of this said, as many of us think through and schedule the rest of our recap posts on Content Marketing World and other exciting events, let’s all take a moment to ensure that what we’re saying no only make sense, but has all of the facts straight. Whether we are pursuing tweets, blog posts, articles or otherwise, we all have a responsibility, as secondary educators, to verify the truth of our statements. We’re bound to mess things up here and there… after all, we’re human and sometimes we just miss something or make mistakes. The more diligent we can be in double-checking ourselves, however, the better off the industry will be as a whole.

Taking It Easy (Or Not) In The Age of Information – AKHIA

•August 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I wrote a post that went live today on the AKHIA blog that I had originally intended to publish first here… But it didn’t quite work out that way.


The idea is this: I have been thinking lately about the effect of technology on my life, and about the fact that in popular media it always seemed that technology would make out lives easier as we adopted more and more of it. But the more I think about it, automation of processes not only brings efficiency, but new expectations of getting more accomplished in your new-found “free” time. So the question is this: Is technology really making our lives simpler… Or not?

Taking It Easy (Or Not) In The Age of Information – AKHIA.

Is Ghostwriting for You? Ask Yourself These Five Questions

•August 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment


In today’s digitally connected, information-rich world, it seems as though everyone (and every company) is an author—or at least they want to be. For those who call writing a profession, this is both good news and bad. On the one hand, there’s never been more opportunity to get your work in front of people, but at the same time there is a lot of competition for attention, and it is easy to get lost in the ocean of content floating around the Internet.

The answer to this quandary, as espoused by many a content marketing expert, is simple: Create great content that is tough to ignore. While notably light on detail as to how one creates great content, this advice to “focus on quality” has led many writers to rise above their peers in the content revolution.

So say you’re one of those writers… You’re talented, you’ve nailed down the practice of crafting compelling content, and you’re a prolific purveyor of prose. People love your style, your pieces are published widely in print and digital form, and you never miss the mark with a story. Your name should be widely known and it should be easy for admirers and potential employers to look you up, right?




Unfortunately, the answer to this question may not be as cut and dried as you’d think. Excellent authors, even those whose pieces are regularly published, sometimes go widely undiscovered because of how authorship is attributed in certain situations.

It is not as if an effort isn’t being made to ensure people are credited for their work these days. In fact, as more content is published in more places by more people, an increasing amount of attention is being paid to authorship. For traditional publishing channels, such as news media, books and magazines, who to credit with writing a piece isn’t too difficult to decipher—journalists, columnists and authors generally benefit from clear attribution. For this group, and for prolific bloggers/web publication contributors, tools such as Google Authorship and Contently make it easier for authors to curate and showcase their work.

When it comes to brand publishers, however, authorship becomes a bit hazier.

Think about all of the branded content you have seen. Who is typically credited for crafting that piece? Is there an author name, or merely a company name on it? To a large extent, it may depend on the piece. A white paper, brochure, web copy or other piece of marketing collateral likely only bears a logo as a clue to authorship. Alternatively, some thought leadership pieces, like a bylined trade publication article or a blog post, might list a subject matter expert as the author. These pieces are useful for building brand loyalty as they showcase that certain companies house the expertise needed to guide customers or clients to smart solutions. There’s only one problem from an authorship perspective… The experts credited with writing these pieces often didn’t exactly write them.



Enter the ghostwriter.

When you think of the word “ghostwriter”, you may picture a polished wordsmith helping a celebrity write an autobiography. Or perhaps you envision an ingenious, but widely unknown aide drafting a politician’s speech. I wouldn’t even blame you for picturing that weird 90’s TV detective show. But what may less readily come to mind is someone who may look just like you, sitting at an office desk or their kitchen table typing away on a laptop. For the most part, however, that is what the modern ghostwriter looks like—and they spend their days drafting insightful and wonderfully worded content that, as far as anyone knows, was written by someone else.

Like their invisible namesakes, ghostwriters may not be easy to pick out at a glance given that they aren’t usually called ghostwriters today… they may be “senior writers”, “content specialists”, “freelancers” or one of a hundred other titles. While their identities may be hidden, however, their content is not—chances are that you read it every day.

Especially in the case of trade-specific magazines, executive blogs and marketing collateral, knowing who really wrote something is much more complicated than reading a byline. An article might be published in a magazine, credited to a certain subject matter expert from an upstanding company in the industry, and have been written by someone entirely different who works at a communications agency or on a freelance basis.

That “someone” that ghostwrote the article may be more widely published than the most famous journalist you can imagine… but you’d never know it. The work a ghostwriter produces is practically always attributed to someone else. They may have amazing experience, but they likely have a “ghost portfolio” as well, populated with documents that don’t bear their name. Many people within the publishing and marketing communications industry understand how ghostwriting works, meaning that having a ghost portfolio may not always be the biggest deal, but when dealing with the uninitiated, it can be tough to point to content bearing someone else’s name and say, “Well, actually, I wrote that.”



Inherent in ghostwriting is a dilemma. Especially if you’ve grown up in an individualistic society founded on the idea that a person should be capable of advancing based on their actions and accomplishments, seeing someone else credited for work you produced may be agonizing. Besides the fact that it’s tough to build your own portfolio when you’re writing on behalf of someone else, it may just seem wrong. We all learn in school about the decadence of plagiarism, and we may even know someone who was disciplined for failing to cite their sources. Work by Senator John Walsh of Montana is currently being reviewed by the Army War College because of suspected plagiarism, in fact: Something they do not take lightly, as the tend to strike people’s names off honorary plaques for this sort of thing. For a ghostwriter, implicit plagiarism is your bread and butter, though. So why would anyone want to do it?

There are several reasons. First of all, embracing ghostwriting can lead to amazing opportunities. A ghostwriter has never been in higher demand—brand publishers are clamoring to find people qualified to tell their stories and promote their expertise without feeling a need to take credit for everything they write. There’s good pay, recognition and opportunity for advancement to be had. And despite the fact that a ghost portfolio sounds sinister, ghostwriting is actually a common and accepted practice in the writing industry, so it isn’t as difficult as it sounds to showcase your work—even when done under someone else’s name.

So is ghostwriting for you? You’re the only one who can decide. It isn’t necessarily the “deal with the Devil” it may sound like. It certainly isn’t for everyone, either, regardless of level of talent. Determining whether or not to ghostwrite takes careful consideration. If it is something you are pondering, be sure you address the following five questions before you decide:

  1. How comfortable am I allowing someone else to take credit for my writing?
  2. What opportunities might be opened to me through experience gained by ghostwriting?
  3. What incentives or parameters need to be in place for me to feel at ease ghostwriting?
  4. Am I likely to ever write in a capacity where I’ll find it difficult to explain my “ghost portfolio” to a potential employer?
  5. If I find myself in situation where my portfolio doesn’t speak for itself, will someone else vouch for my work?

If you’re a great writer who excels at distilling the pertinent points of a story, making the technical digestible and turning something boring into something enduring, now is your chance to succeed. But no matter what you do in life, you also have to be able to look yourself in the mirror; if inaccurate authorship attribution is going to be a deal breaker for you, don’t be haunted by making the wrong choice.

No matter your position on ghostwriting, know this: There’s never been greater opportunity to get your words in front of thousands of eyes.

You may just have to accept that they won’t know those are your words… for now.


Meet Lukas – Tweeter of the Week for Week of June 16

•June 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment



Lukas Treu is Content Architect at AKHIA, where he works to devise and implement content strategy for clients. He also serves as the Vice President of Communications for the American Marketing Association – Cleveland Chapter and fields freelance writing projects via his side business The Mad Dash: Writing Wordsmithing and Semantic Service. A lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio, Lukas is passionate about finding and sharing the many gems that make Cleveland shine.

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Cleveland That I Love: Do You Have A Cleveland Bucket List? (Reblog)

•May 15, 2014 • 2 Comments

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post about the exciting rise of Cleveland and the idea of a Cleveland Bucket List. While I know that only some of you readers are familiar with the Northeast Ohio area, I wanted to carry over the discussion here to A) introduce you to a few ideas in case you aren’t from Cleveland and may visit the area, or B) are like me and simply want to take advantage of some of the great opportunities offered by the region related to culture, food, nature and more.

Below is the full text of my original post on the AKHIA blog, as well as a few suggestions I have already received (in the first comment) that should be added. What do you think? Any more suggestions?




It was cold. Miserably cold. The kind of cold that manifests only in places inhabited by tall, dark, looming buildings that funnel the wind down gusty corridors to chill the very bones of intrepid urban explorers who may well be questioning why they ventured out in the first place. But then again, what did you expect? It’s winter in Cleveland.

A heck of a winter, too.

We were trekking to an arguably meaningless Cavs game, given that the team had little chance of actually making the playoffs at this point. My wife glanced at me from the corner of her eye as she held a scarf over her mouth, shuffling down the chipped sidewalk. She muttered the muffled words, “Why are we doing this, again?”

I began to deliver my reply, which likely would not have been overly convincing, when something else caught my attention… Two people standing on the sidewalk before us looking what can only be described as “lost.”

“Excuse me,” the male half of the duo said as we approached. “Could you help us find the Cavs game?”

For a split second, I was confused. “Who doesn’t know how to find the arena? It’s not exactly hidden… This guy must be from Akron or something,” I thought to myself.

“Sure,” I replied. “We’re actually headed there now. Follow us.”

“Thank you!” his female companion replied. “We’re from Buffalo visiting the city and haven’t completely got our bearings yet.”

Erin looked puzzled. “Are you here visiting family? Or on a work trip?”

“Oh no,” the woman replied. “We wanted to see the Knicks play, but New York is too pricey… We’ve always wanted to see Cleveland, so tonight’s game seemed like a great reason to visit. We love the city so far and can’t wait to keep exploring tomorrow!”

If Erin looked puzzled before, now she looked like she’d seen a phantom. Which she may as well have… She’d just found something she had no idea existed.

Cleveland tourists. And thrilled ones, at that. We all but forgot about the cold.

Cleveland in winter

For the two of us, that moment was a wake-up call. After a few minutes of conversation with the visitors, we were as thrilled as they were, enticed by the notion that Cleveland has fans outside the region that were seeing our city with fresh eyes… And they were loving what they saw.

Our city has been making incredible strides these past few years… and it’s something worthy of good old-fashioned civic pride. Days ago, 20,000 people gathered in the streets to see the world’s largest chandelier lit outside the nation’s second largest theater district as part of a block party that will go down in Cleveland history. The past year or so has seen the opening of a trendy new hotel/restaurant/business area on the East Bank of the Flats and a major convention center that is bringing in expositions from around the country. Millennials are flocking to the inner city in numbers that would make most any urban planner envious. Tired old buildings are coming down or being renovated along Euclid Avenue and E. 9th Street, blockbuster movies are regularly being filmed along our boulevards and a well-respected grocery chain is opening a new location in the dead-center of the city.

Much of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s rise can be attributed to good planning and community engagement. Some can be attributed to good marketing, as well.

“We’ve never been flashy, trendy or perfect. And for that, you’re welcome,” states the newly unveiled Cleveland marketing campaign by Positively Cleveland—one of many great groups (like the Cleveland Plus Regional Marketing Alliance) that have done their part in building excitement about Cleveland recently. If you haven’t seen Positively Cleveland’s “Cleveland Anthem” video, check it out. Really, they’ve got it right. No, we’ll never be the shiniest, most famous city in the world. But we’ve got our charm, and we’re worth checking out.

Recently, I was talking with a couple of co-workers about “staycations” and threw out the idea of taking a couple of days sometime to embody the role of that progressively less-rare breed we encountered on the frigid streets a few months back—the Cleveland tourist. Where would we go? What haven’t we experienced that we should have as Northeast Ohio residents? If we’re going to be proud ambassadors of the region, what do we need to do? It’s one thing to know a stat; it’s another to be a part of it.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

So I throw it out to you. What is on your Northeast Ohio Bucket List?

• Visit the West Side Market on a Saturday morning and grab lunch on W. 25th street?
• Stay at one of the new hotels, have dinner at a foodie-friendly restaurant and grab drinks at Society Lounge or Velvet Tango Room?
• Take a ride on the Goodtime III and get to know Cleveland’s waterways?
• Bike (or hike) the region’s towpath trail or Cleveland Metroparks on a sunny weekend?
• Get your culture on at a local festival, whether the Annual Polish Festival in Slavic Village or the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy?
• Hit up IngenuityFest or the Tremont ArtWalk to experience the local art scene, or head to one of University Circle’s great museums?
• Immerse yourself in music and community by going beyond the Rock Hall, attending Burning River Fest in the summer or Brite Winter in the colder months?

We know that we truly have an amazing region. And, gradually, the rest of the world is coming to know it, too. What else is on your Northeast Ohio Bucket List? Share, explore and experience. Most importantly, let us know how it goes!