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A common mistake most social marketing efforts make. And how to fix it.

Stanford Social Innovation Review took a closer look at diagnosing why so many social marketing campaigns are ineffective and a framework for making them more successful.

This was especially of interest to our team, as Sukle’s work for Denver Water was highlighted in the report as an example of a successful approach to social marketing. After a decade long run, our Denver Water conservation campaign enjoyed unparalleled success dealing with an issue that dozens of entities had previously tried to take on unsuccessfully.

So what are the key considerations for marketers and organizations trying to tackle a social issue and create real change?

social marketing, denver water

There’s a tendency for organizations creating a social marketing effort to focus on building up awareness of the issue or cause, believing that will address the problem. This goes a long way to explaining why we have Co-dependency Awareness Month, Glaucoma Awareness Month, National Mentoring Month, Radon Action Month, Stalking Awareness Month and a dozen others in January alone that we’ll spare you from reading.

The assumption made here is that if people just understood what was happening, they would change their behavior. This comes from a communication theory introduced in the 1980s called the Information Deficit Model which was built on the notion that the key issue at hand is a lack of knowledge. And once your audience becomes aware, they adjust their behavior accordingly.

Unfortunately, there’s abundant research that shows that people who are only given more information are unlikely to change attitudes, beliefs and behavior. And as marketers for non-profits and for-profits alike, that’s not acceptable.

So how do brands and organizations go beyond awareness to an effort that creates change?

Four important aspects to consider:

  • define the audience to target as specifically as possible
  • create a compelling message with clear calls to action
  • develop a theory of change
  • use the right messenger


Defining the Audience

Audience segmentation is about making tough decisions. By selecting the group of people who can make the most dramatic impact on achieving your goal, you put yourself in the best position to create real change. It’s also critical that you really understand the mindset and attitudes your audience has and what the greater context around those might be. Without that understanding, it’s difficult to convey the right idea to them in a way that they’ll respond to.

In the case of Denver Water, we started by targeting a mindset: very eco-conscious people. Although small in number, we knew they would be very receptive to the message and would help us by creating initial momentum behind the idea, and then carrying and amplifying the message within their social circles.

social marketing, denver water

Create a Compelling Message with Clear Calls to Action

By truly understanding the audience including their attitudes, beliefs and the context that’s behind it, you can determine how best to craft a messaging strategy that will resonate with them. As important is to create clear calls to action that tie into the attitude or behavior change you’re seeking to make.

For example, because we spent a great deal of time understanding our audience for Denver Water, we uncovered their sensitivity to the concept of waste. That helped inform the campaign message: Use Only What You Need. It didn’t feel like a sacrifice. A message that spoke to conserving or saving would not have had nearly the same impact.

Our overarching goal was to change the culture of water conservation in Denver, but to do that, we needed to chip away at specific behaviors that contributed to waste. Incorrect sprinkler settings. Unaddressed leaks. Outdoor watering during the heat of the day. So, we focused each campaign on targeting one specific behavior which we educated our audience on while we promoted the desired behavior, like “water two minutes less”.

social marketing, denver water

Develop a Theory of Change

So how do all these pieces come together? Is it blind luck? Hardly.

Creating an effective social marketing campaign requires developing a theory of change, which is a road map for how we can get from today’s status quo to the desired goals that we’ve sought to achieve. That entails creating a plan that maps objectives, strategies, tactics and evaluation. If something in the plan doesn’t tie back to influence a change in attitudes or behaviors, it doesn’t have a place in your effort.

Use the Right Messenger

Even if you’ve identified the right audience, message and a theory of change, there’s still a great deal of importance when it comes to identifying the right messenger to deliver that message.

Persuading people to adopt a new way of thinking or behaving isn’t easy, especially if it runs counter to their current beliefs. That influence has to come from the right source, messengers they’ll trust and listen to.

That’s why tonality and the execution for Denver Water was so critical. Utilities are not exactly everyone’s favorite entities and people are very reactive to being preached to. So we wanted to make Denver Water come across like the anti-utility, like your neighbor instead. We wanted every interaction someone had with the campaign to be fun and unexpected. That approach, combined with our eco-conscious audience serving as ambassadors for the campaign helped embed it within the culture of Denver rapidly. We used non-traditional marketing and provided tactics like yard signs, t-shirts and other schwag to give people an opportunity to participate and show their visible support, which helped transform it into a groundswell of passionate supporters.

social marketing, denver water

This approach helped to amplify and accelerate success for Denver Water, touted as one of the most successful social marketing campaigns. At the start of the campaign, we were tasked with a ten-year goal of reducing water consumption by 22%. The campaign delivered a 21% reduction in the first year. 

What brands should know: Standing out in social and attention spans

Some commonly held beliefs about audience attention spans and social media optimization might be hindering your digital marketing effectiveness.

These were among the learnings from Brandwatch’s Now You Know 2017 Conference. Brandwatch is a UK-based social media intelligence company that has helped to pioneer the space of social listening. One of the discussions we found most interesting was from Matt Locke’s presentation, a former BBC and Channel 4 editor and Head of Multiplatform, now at Storythings Ltd.

Matt’s talk focused on how technology and audiences have helped to change and shape culture. And from that discussion, there were some important points for brands, marketers and creative agencies to consider.

As creative agencies get better at optimizing content for algorithms, one of the unintended consequences is that content begins to look increasingly similar because more marketers are shaping it in similar ways. This means it’s tougher for brands to stand out and be more distinctive.

To give you an example, think about some of the best practices for social: the need for them to be understandable without sound, to use copy supers. Scroll down your feed and you can see it yourself. The adherence to gaming the algorithm has flatted how we tell stories. What does that mean for marketers? To stand out in this environment, we have to find ways of making content seem distinctive and stand out. Merely adhering to best practices puts us in a position where we blend in with the rest of the content around us.

The other misconception we should reconsider is attention spans of our audiences. The tendency for marketers is to believe that shorter is better. That attention spans have shrank to the point where people will only spend a few precious seconds listening. That no one will ever pay attention to longer form messages.

The truth is, attention hasn’t completed eroded. Rather, attention patterns have become more complex. In decades prior, all stories were told in 30-minute to 2-hour increments. Think TV programming, movies and magazines. Now there’s opportunity for content on both ends of the spectrum – content that holds our attention for seconds (tweets, Facebook videos, Snapchats) and content that people can consume for hours at a time (console gaming, Netflix/on-demand binge watching, podcasts). It just has to be worth paying attention to.



With the big expansion in attention patterns comes big opportunity if you focus on three things:

  • Understanding what your audience truly cares about
  • Making content that’s compelling enough that they find it interesting
  • Selecting the right platforms to deliver that story and tailoring that content to the platform

Bedazzled, gold leggings & angel wings

Cue the “thank you to our sponsors” part of the presentation.

Cue Bette Midler’s, “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Cue men dressed in bedazzled, gold leggings with angels wings as back up dancers to the co-founder dressed as an angel doing a ballet number.

Welcome to MergeLane Demo Day – a truly, one-of-kind presentation.

So who’s MergeLane? 

They’re a group of three women in Boulder who, in three short years, have built a community that’s focused on providing a platform of resources to advance innovators and startups where there’s at least one women in leadership. Their goal is to change the ratio and give more women-led companies a path to success. They went after it and they’re only getting started.

What’s Demo Day?

MergeLane runs a 12-week accelerator program for startups who have raised less than $5 million in capital. They provide a flexible curriculum with resources and tools that focus on helping companies advance their business or product and leadership. Demo Day, rather than a pitch contest, is a celebration of the startup’s success and traction thus far and where they’re going based on the identified market need. It’s a day to be inspired by creativity and new ideas and supportive of others and the community MergeLane has fostered.

Here are some noteworthy companies to keep an eye on.

tinyhood logo
Parenting for the 21st century. Your 24/7 answer to any and all parenting questions. Experts at your fingertips with tailored responses and feedback for your child.

Tousled logo
Drybar meets Lyft – they come to you for blowouts and beauty services. Doesn’t get easier than that.

spaceishare logo
Airbnb meets Craigslist. Whether you need to store golf clubs, skis, motorcycles or mountain bikes – it’s storage that’s convenient, less expensive and close to home.

Eat my bike shorts

We’re loving this partnership between The Simpsons and State Bicycle Company. The minimalist bike frame is especially cool. Check out more here:


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Meet Ricky Lambert (again)

Once an intern here many years ago, Ricky Lambert has returned as our newest Senior Copywriter. This time with fewer puns floating around his brain, smelling less like ramen noodles, and sporting a wrinkle or two more on his face. Old and improved. Welcome back, Ricky.


How Brands Grow is must reading for every marketing professional. But we’ll give you the executive summary anyway.


Okay, maybe How Brands Grow doesn’t have the catchiest title. But considering the topic, it should have your undivided attention. Its findings certainly caught the interest of top marketing people at P&G and Mars.

These companies have embraced the results of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute study featured in Professor Sharp’s book. Instead of conjecture and theory, it used decades worth of data and science to learn how brands really grow. And the results completely shatter marketing’s sacred belief in the 80/20 Rule that says 80 percent of your sales come from just 20 percent of your customers.

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute found that concentrating most of your media dollars on your best customers only reinforces their behavior. And because there’s only so much of your product they can buy, there’s little room for growth. No, real growth comes from attracting buyers of all types, mostly those considered light customers who only buy your brand occasionally. At P&G, this meant a shift from the narrow targeting of Facebook ads to the greater reach of mass marketing.

Over at Mars, they made the conscious decision to use impactful creative to go after their often indifferent light buyers.

And for clients closer to home, it’s a note of caution to the dangers of over-segmenting. You should really read Professor Sharp’s book. Or invite Dan, our account planner, over for a few drinks and he’ll pretty much recite the thing.

We Rule.

We’re honored to have some of our work featured in Communication Arts. A nice way to end the year for sure. And congrats to our partners at Gates as well.

Communication Arts Exhibit




At Sukle, we love Santa.

See for yourself.


CryingSanta-Pedro CryingSanta-Mike CryingSanta-Heather CryingSanta-Dan CryingSanta-Cindy CryingSanta-Brittany CryingSanta-Greg CryingSanta-MattJeff CryingSanta-Devin

Starfleet grandma


Um. In trying to show a little Christmas spirit, this woman unintentionally took part in some pretty amazing Star Trek cosplay.  Well done ma’am. Well done indeed. And from all of us at Sukle, happy holidays.


Robots rising

The good news is we’re all gonna get paid tons of money for doing absolutely nothing at all. The bad news is the robot revolt can’t be too far off.

Watch out for the robots!