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Mad Men-era advertising wiz, Herbert Krugman (Ted Bates, Inc., GE, and Raymond Loewy), took a special interest in consumer behavior. In order to plan efficient TV media buys, he did research in the late 1960s, on how many times consumers needed to see an ad for the same product or brand, before taking an action (i.e., buying). This is how he came up with his famous Theory of Effective Frequency for advertising.
Intuitively we know that repetition (frequency) is the basis of any learning process, and it's no different for consumers learning about a product. However, since cost optimization is an important consideration in media planning, the issue for advertisers is to limit the frequency to the point where diminishing returns occur.
After some research, Krugman initially concluded that the magic number was three. In other words, after seeing or hearing about a product or brand three times, consumers would take an action. As he explained it,

  • "The first time someone is exposed to your ad, you attract their attention, but nothing is really taken in, thus "What is it?".
  • The second time is when the consumer begins to engage with the relevance of the ad, and asks "So what?"
  • And the third exposure to the ad is when the viewer decides whether "This is for me", or whether they will choose to forget it."

Of course, a number of factors impact this ad frequency theory, for example: how well known the product or brand is already, the audience category, the complexity of the product or message, the cost structure of the product, the saturation level of the market, and more.
brain, advertising, theory of effective frequencyLater research (including some done by Krugman) suggested the number was more than 3 . For example, Canadian Grant Hicks decided it was five touches, based on his research on financial advisors and their clients. Nielsen media guru Erwin Ephron's work lead him to conclude it was three to five touches. More recently, a Nielsen study claims ten social media touches are needed to effect a behavior change.
Whether the number is 3 or 5 or more, the point here is that you've got to get your product in front of your customers multiple times in order for them to take the action you want.
Surprisingly, this isn't always obvious to all businesses – I worked with a CEO once who wondered why the ONE direct mail campaign he approved didn't bring in the results he wanted. And his product was fairly complex and new to the market – it would have benefitted from multiple advertising touches. Instead, he concluded that marketing wasn't working for his product.
The great thing about digital marketing today is that there are many cost-effective ways to achieve your multiple marketing touches: email, social media, display advertising, websites, microsites, sponsorships, content marketing, etc. And you can test each channel in order to find the right combination for your customers and brand, with much less cost and effort than Herb Krugman could back in 1969 when TV, radio, and print were the primary advertising channels.

Sources for more information:
Herbert E. Krugman. "The Impact of Television Advertising: Learning Without Involvement" Public Opinion Quarterly, volume 29, page 349, 1965.
Herbert E. Krugman. "Why Three Exposures May Be Enough." Journal of Advertising Research 12, 6 (1972): 11-14
Batra, Rajeev, Donald R. Lehmann, Joanne Burke, and Jae Pae. "When Advertising Have An Impact? A Study of Tracking Data." Journal of Advertising Research 35, 5 (1995): 19-32
Image Attribution:
1952 Burma-Shave streetcar sign, now at the Minnesota Historical Society
"Thinking", designed by Timothy Dilich, Evanston, Illinois
This entry was posted in Content Marketing, Life Hacks, Sales 2.0, Social Media, Work Hacks and tagged in advertising, effective advertising, Herbert Krugman, Mad Men era, Marketing, theory of effective frequency.

Published in Marketing Strategy
Saturday, 05 September 2015 16:03

How to make a low cost activation go viral

Activations that go viral need not cost a fortune. A well thought out strategy can be used to deliver the message to your immediate audience and go viral at the same time. Samsung's recent activation promoting wireless charging is a classic example of a low cost high impact campaign activation that has all the ingredients to go viral.

The new Samsung Galaxy S6 offers wireless charging. To promote this new feature Samsung asked the Belgian ‘upcycling artist’ Evy Puelinckx to turn unused cable spaghetti into new design objects. She collected 3km of wire to create a series of very cool hammocks and seats in which visitors of the Meise Botanic Gardens could recharge themselves. Source:

There are a few principles to keep in mind when setting up and activation that has viral attraction


Extract from Harvard Business Review

How Any Business Can Create Successful Viral Content Marketing Campaigns

Lesson 1:  Create a Viral Coefficient > 1

Breaking through the noise and going viral is the direct result having a viral coefficient above 1. For the sake of simplicity, viral coefficient can be thought of as the total number of new viewers generated by one existing viewer. A viral coefficient above 1 means the content has viral growth and is growing, and a coefficient below 1 means that sharing growth is diminishing.

So how do you create content that people will share?

Step 1: Write a compelling title

Your title is what attracts new viewers. The more people you can get to consume your content, the more chances you have for getting people to share it. If you can’t get the initial click, your content is dead in the water.

Step 2: Use strong emotional drivers to make people care and share

As Thales Texeira noted, it is important to create maximal emotional excitement quickly. Hit them hard and fast with strong emotions, but remember to keep the branding to a minimum. Heavy use of branding can cause many viewers to disregard the content as spammy or salesy, resulting in loss of interest, abandonment, or even backlash.

When your content is in video form, be sure to give people an emotional roller coaster. This should be done by “pulsing” the emotionally heavy hitting points in your content with breaks or gaps. It is helpful to think of it as “cleansing of the emotional palate.”  By creating contrast between the high levels of emotionality and areas of less emotional activation, the audience won’t find themselves becoming bored, satiated, or overwhelmed with too much of the same.

Step 3: Create content the strikes the correct emotional chords

While there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that strong emotions are key to viral sharing, there are a scarce few that indicate which emotions work best.

To this end, one of the best ways we’ve found to understand the emotional drivers of viral content is to map the emotions activated by some of the Internet’s most viralcontent.

In order to understand the best emotional drivers to use in the content we create, we looked at 30 of the top 100 images of the year from as voted on (one of the top sharing sites in the world). We then surveyed 60 viewers to find out which emotions each image activated for them. We used Robert Plutchik’s comprehensive Wheel of Emotion as our categorization. What we found was compelling:

1. Negative emotions were less commonly found in highly viral content than positive emotions, but viral success was still possible when negative emotion also evoked anticipation and surprise.

2. Certain specific emotions were extremely common in highly viral content, while others were extremely uncommon. Emotions that fit into the surprise and anticipationsegments of Plutchik’s wheel were overwhelmingly represented. Specifically:

  • Curiosity
  • Amazement
  • Interest
  • Astonishment
  • Uncertainty

3. The emotion of admiration was very commonly found in highly shared content, an unexpected result.

Here are a few sample images from the survey (And here are the full results of our research in heatmap form along with their corresponding images.)

Image-1 Image1heatmap


Image-13 Image-13heatmap


Image25 Image25-heatmap


Below is a heatmap of the aggregate emotional data, representing the totals compiled.



Lesson 2: Tie Your Brand to an Emotional Message

If strong emotional activation is the key to viral success, how can brands best craft highly emotional messages with their content?

First, think carefully about how your company, product or service is related to a topic or topics that taps into deep-seated human emotions within your target demographic.

The goal is to find the link to an issue that plagues your consumers and relates directly or even tangentially to your brand or product. At the same time, you must make sure that the topic you choose also positively reflects the position of your brand. Using the example of the

campaign mentioned above, it is clear that its viral success was the result of its ability to tap into a deep emotional reaction to commonly felt feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem. Dove created a positive emotional reaction by creating solidarity through their campaign. Their content delivered the message “Many women don’t see themselves for how pretty they really are — let’s change that.” Dove’s content engaged strong emotions – even difficult emotions – but managed to win by presenting a more important overarching idea.


Lesson 3: Consider the Public Good

Consider that one of the best ways to create an emotionally compelling piece of viral content that also works well with your brand is to tie your brand to a message for the public good. Brainstorm how your brand might be able to create content that does a public good or that creates awareness, but at the same time activates strong emotional drivers. One excellent recent example was a highly emotionally

from AT&T created to drive awareness for the dangers of texting and driving. AT&T hired famed filmmaker Werner Herzog. The short film has been viewed more than two million times.

Another example comes from a viral ad made for the Metro Trains rail service in Australia. The campaign, titled


To be sure, we are entering an era of marketing that is much more ambiguous, subtle, and not nearly as heavy-handed as it has been in the past. The good news is that there is ample opportunity for those who understand that engaging with audience means touching their hearts and contributing tangibly to their world.

Marketers are no longer in charge of what people see. If you want to get people’s attention, contribute something worthy of consumers’ time and emotional investment.

Published in Activations Strategy