Why I’ve come to hate Spence Diamonds

Spence Diamonds. Fabulous product. Horrific advertising. I went from loving Spence Diamonds for their great products to absolutely abhorring them, courtesy of their awful advertising. If I didn’t find it so infuriatingly terrible, I would feel sad for them. But there is simply no excuse for advertising execution this bad.

I used to think of Spence Diamonds very fondly. Even when that nails-on-chalkboard equivalent voice took over their radio advertising, my love for the company stayed strong. Then things went from bad to worse. Spence Diamonds has forever alienated me as a customer and supporter with the rollout of their most recent advertising campaign on bus stops. What makes it worse is that it’s completely inescapable – it’s everywhere. I give them kudos for thorough coverage and deep penetration, but hate them on a personal level. Every time I see one of these ads, my blood literally boils.

Spence Diamonds has four (that I’m aware of) different ads within this campaign. On that note, I should probably clarify: I adore the concept of this campaign. I think it’s cute, relatable, witty, and relevant. Maybe that’s why I feel so frustrated about it – it has so much potential to be great, and they absolutely blew it on the execution! To be fair, I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback from others on the concept of this campaign. Specifically, a number of people were offended by the “It sucks to be alone” ad; I thought it was funny, if a little bit harsh. Also, not a smart move – it successfully alienates potential future customers.


So how do I hate thee? Let me list the ways …

The offensively terrible typeface: Did they let a four-year-old child choose this typeface? I mean really Spence Diamonds? It looks like the BOLD key threw up all over your ad, in the least romantic, modern, or appealing font ever. It’s not even consistent with what their brand image seems to be – though I’m no longer sure what their brand image is …. And it would appear they don’t either.

The awful ring image: Really? That’s the best you can do? Look, Spence Diamonds, it’s about time someone told you: you are not Tiffany & Co. What makes your image even worse is that Tiffany & Co. rolled out an ad campaign of their own at the same time as Spence Diamonds, using an identical style of ring. The diamond in the ring featured in the Spence Diamonds ads looks like it’s of poor quality. It’s just not good. Newsflash, Spence: Tiffany’s ring makes your ring look like it came from the dentist. 

The blatant disregard for appealing layout: The image of the ring is disproportionately large. The font seems crammed together. The logo seems like it was placed on as an afterthought. Just not good. 

Spence Diamonds – FIRE YOUR AGENCY.


Icebreaker: From lust to love

It’s not very often that I fall in love with a company based solely on their advertising campaign; in fact, it’s only happened twice. Icebreaker is one of these companies – a relative “dark horse” in the sense that they aren’t a company that would have likely ever been on my radar. (Read as an admission that I’m not the most outdoorsy person). I first learned about Icebreaker in a sustainability marketing class from group members. A quick Google search of the company and I was in love.

Their ads are racy. Their ads are provocative. Their ads are unique. Their ads toe the line of offensive. Their ads are unbelievable. Their ads are polarizing.

First, let me give you a bit of a background on Icebreaker, because once I show you images of their ads, I guarantee my words will no longer register. Icebreaker is a sustainable New Zealand-based merino wool outdoor garment manufacturer. Leveraging the renewable resource of wool, Icebreaker internalizes a sustainability-orientation in all aspects of their business. Emphasizing transparency throughout their process, Icebreaker’s products are all traceable using a BAACODE. This enables consumers to go online and trace the location of the herd from which the wool in their product came, as well as where it was processed and manufactured.

The business model is amazing, with sustainability at it’s core. Icebreaker states that “It’s about our relationship with nature, and to each other.” Admirable. Understanding their business model simply reiterated my shallow love for the brand. I don’t actually believe in love at first sight; you can’t love somebody based upon appearance – that’s called lust, folks. So, I guess my feelings for Icebreaker were really “lust at first sight” rather than “love at first sight.” Now you’re about to see why.

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Had enough??? Well, lucky for you I’ll give you the option of whether or not you can handle a little more. If you think you’re up to it, watch this video!

Polling the Readers: Are Icebreakers ads inappropriate and offensive, or simply good marketing?

Recycling at UBC: Making it as easy as 1-2-3

I go to UBC, which is on its way to becoming one of the most sustainable universities in North America. UBC states: SUSTAINABILITY defines UBC as a university. Through our collective efforts in education, research, partnerships and operations, we advance sustainability on our campus and beyond.” With the UBC Sustainability Initiative leading the charge, UBC is committed to focusing on the campus as a living laboratory and the university as an agent of change. In fact, UBC is home to the greenest building in North America.

Opened in 2011, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is a “living laboratory” that is currently the most sustainable building in North America.

I am proud of what UBC has accomplished. I am proud of what UBC has committed to. I am proud of what UBC is working on. I am not proud of UBC’s current recycling practices, or the unsustainable recycling behaviour of UBC students. Some might argue that students have the tools to recycle. Our containers in the Student Union Building are biodegradable. We have recycling bins. We’re discussing a move to ban the sale of bottled water on campus. So why do I see photocopies and soda cans in the trash? Our student body is educated; we know better than to engage in this sloppy and lazy behaviour. So why don’t we?

We know that to influence behaviours, we must engage in (some of) the following activities:

  1. Remove barriers
  2. Provide incentives
  3. Impose penalties for alternate behaviours
  4. Give feedback
  5. Capitalize on commitment
  6. Use prompts
  7. Develop social norms
  8. Communicate congruently

With respect to norms, we are all socially aware of the injunctive norm that we need to recycle. However, all across campus we are surrounded by descriptive norms of those who throw everything in the trash rather than take the time to recycle. I have done some observation as well as questioned my peers, and I believe the main barriers to recycling on campus are:

  1. Poor recycling facilities / bins
  2. Unclear labeling of which items go in which bin
  3. Lack of prompts

In the Sauder School of Business’s home building, Henry Angus, we have minimal availability of recycling facilities / bins. I  believe that students want to recycle, we just aren’t given easy access to the necessary tools. Personally, despite my knowledge or recycling, I find it de-motivating that when I leave my classrooms, I have to first find a place to recycle. There are perhaps two disposal bins per floor for recycling, but garbage bins aplenty, and I have only ever found paper recycling bins – we do not have any recycling bins for cans or aluminum or organic waste that I am aware of (at least nearby classrooms). Furthermore, the bins we have are the massive bins that belong in the storage room. Well-organized bins, such as the ones below, would clearly illustrate where waste should be placed and would ultimately increase the frequency of recycling.

I propose we develop an organized waste management system that incorporates four to five clearly labelled bins, using visuals and colour to engage students and make the system simple. There should be a bin for (landfill) waste, food waste, paper products, organic products, and glass / aluminum products. Other schools have achieved great success with similar systems. They do not need to be large, and can actually be quite visually appealing. Placing these waste management systems in classrooms and hallways will inevitably increase the frequency of proper waste disposal by UBC students, furthering UBC’s commitment to a macro sustainable behaviour change.

Sample Organized Waste Management System

Additionally, I think UBC can do more to provide feedback to students. Our campus in well enroute to being sustainable; communicate this to students! Too many students are unaware of the initiatives, which I find sad because it is such a great source of pride for the UBC community. I mean, come one – which UBC student doesn’t want another bragging point when we illustrate our superiority over UVic?

“Sustainable Walmart” = Oxymoron Defined

In its very essence, Walmart is the epitome of an unsustainable organization.  Like any big box store, Walmart’s are traditionally located off the beaten track where they are built on cheaper real estate, thus the very act of consumers driving to a Walmart to shop is one of many illustrations of unsustainability. It’s like the “Outlet Mall Fallacy” – by the time consumers factor in their time, gas, wear and tear on their vehicle, and so on, is it really worth it to go all the way to Walmart to shop?

Plagued by critics condemning them for poor employee practices, perpetuating labour violations among suppliers, and similarly negative sentiments, Walmart is a company used to controversy. When they rebranded, changing the company name from Wal-Mart to Walmart and developing a refreshed colour scheme and logo design, Walmart introduced a new sustainability commitment.

Sustainable Walmart – Am I the only person who finds this oxymoronic?

As a large corporation, Walmart has a significant sphere of influence. Consequently, I believe they have a correspondingly large responsibility to demonstrate sustainable and positive behaviours. Walmart seems to be addressing this from a triple bottom line perspective: the economy, the environment, and the society. But what implications will these measures have for Walmart stakeholders, particularly consumers and suppliers?

Consumers don’t shop at Walmart because it’s sustainable; in fact, in a survey I conducted two years ago, respondents overwhelming agreed they didn’t actually care if Walmart was sustainable. This leads me to question why Walmart bothered introducing these sustainability measures, particularly as Sam Walton’s original approach was solely on a low-price focus: “Always low prices. Always.” The most logical conclusion I can draw is that it has to do with proactively making changes so that regulatory changes have a reduced negative impact on the corporation and their image. That, and it’s a great way for Walmart to improve their image.

Walmart’s “Responsible Growth” Advertisement

By introducing measures such as the Supplier Sustainability Index, Walmart is putting top-down pressure on suppliers to enhance practices to incorporate greater efficiency and sustainability. On the flip side, the very nature of Walmart’s supply structure demands quick turnover and response time by suppliers; in order to meet Walmart’s steep demands, suppliers have often cut corners in areas like employee well-being and health standards. Nonetheless, this increased pressure on suppliers is likely to result in changes throughout the entire commodities sector.

Historically, Walmart’s activities and efforts have had a domino effect on the economy and business practices; the same will likely be true as Walmart continues to reinforce their commitment to triple bottom line sustainability. One thing is clear: Walmart’s current strategy transcends founder Walton’s initial strategy of focusing almost solely on low prices; the company is demonstrating a greater commitment to the “how” rather than just the end product. Despite the significant discourse faced by Walmart, they are becoming progressively harder to hate as they address many of the areas and business practices long condemned by supporters and critics. As writer Lloyd Alter aptly stated, “The Wal-Mart Effect may yet do for the environment what it did for the American economy, which was to affect us all, whether we shopped there or not.”

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Superbowl 45 Ads

Sex sells. Or so we’ve seen in ads for as long as I can remember. This year, however, we learned something new. Humour sells better, at least in this context for this demographic. Pepsi and Elton John got Superbowl 45 off to a bang with a drag, Lady Gaga-esque version of Game of Thrones. The parody had us all laughing and excited to see what else would be thrown our way during the Superbowl; we were disappointed.

The Mind-blowing

Imported from Detroit. Since Eminem’s spin at the wheel of last years Imported from Detroit ad, I’ve been a big fan. This year, Clint Eastwood assumed the lead in Chrysler’s Its Halftime America ad. His gruff demeanour and distinct voice fit the bill perfectly. It was the only ad that leveraged a somewhat emotional appeal that I found hard to look away from.

The Good

The Chevy Sonic Stunt Anthem ad, depicting the new Sonic model in a multitude of “first time experiences” from bungee jumping to sky diving was an undeniable hit among my Superbowl crew. Witty. Intriguing. Jaw dropping. Brilliantly done. Chevy actually produced a number of our favourite ads during this years Superbowl, including the

Adrianna Lima. Is there a human being alive who doesn’t acknowledge this lingerie model as being one of the world’s most beautiful women? Her role in the Kia A Dream Car – For Real Life ad wasn’t actually what made it click; the overall concept and parody on the stereotypical “Once upon a time” fairy tale was refreshing and well executed.

Other honourable mentions include the consumer-generated Doritos chip-stealing baby ad,  E-Trade’s Fatherhood talking baby ad (careful ETrade, you weren’t the only ones using babies this year), and the Skechers racing dog ad.

The Meh

I enjoy a topless David Beckham as much as the next person, but the H&M David Beckham underwear ad was actually kind of boring. I know, I know – sacrilegious to ever refer to a barely-dressed Beckham, but it’s true. If they’re going to feature someone this delightful, at least make it intriguing! I definitely expected something more inspired from H&M.

Coca Cola’s Polar Bears are officially played out. Although I appreciate the clear link to football, the ads just didn’t click for me. They were borderline boring, and there were just too many of them. “Catch” was my favourite of the Coca Cola Polar Bear ads this year. Pepsi took the trophy in this year’s Superbowl Coke Battle.

Vampires. Really? We aren’t past this yet? The Twilight fad is arguably ebbing, but apparently Audi didn’t get the memo. Although the concept of the Audi Vampire Party ad itself was pretty funny and a witty way to demonstrate their product differentiation (great headlights), as soon as we saw vampire teeth popping out my whole crew gave one unanimous groan.

The Cringe-Worthy

GoDaddy.com produced truly cringe-worthy ads this year …. again. Sexist. Played out. Uninspired. GoDaddy.com succeeded in being borderline offensive this year. Congrats! Blatant sexuality doesn’t seem to have resonated even with the men in my Superbowl crew; it simply succeeded in being crude. I’m embarrassed to have purchased my domain from and host my website, www.briannablaney.com, with GoDaddy.com. Clearly, I’m not a customer they want – not with ads like this.

Adrianna Lima was part of a hit and a miss. Her ad for Teleflora just didn’t make sense. The ad relied too much on sex appeal and didn’t have a clear or coherent message. I was intrigued at the beginning, but by the end I was just confused – and I know I wasn’t the only one.

By the end of the evening, even the most optimistic of us were questioning whether the era of mind-blowing Superbowl ads had finally come to an end. I found the majority of ads lukewarm with few hitting the mark, qualifying for the Hot Pepper factor. What was your favourite ad this year?

#BeBold & #McDStories: hashtag campaign #FAIL

Hashtag: (noun) The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

RIM and McDonald’s have both recently learned the hard way in the past couple of weeks that hashtags are meant to be created bottom-up by Twitter users, not fed top-down by corporations. Tweeters have been having a field day hijacking McDonald’s promoted #MeetTheFarmers paid Twitter campaign. McDonald’s switched mid-stride from #MeetTheFarmers to #McDStories when the initial hashtag failed to trend – bad move!

Expecting stories about families visiting their restaurants and other similarly positive stories, McDonald’s never foresaw the backlash of their newest hashtag campaign. Hijacking Tweeters used the hashtag to rant about McDonald’s, linking the hashtag to stories about employee mistreatment, animal cruelty, and health issues. A company as polarizing as McDonald’s has its share of supporters and critics; as one Tweeter succinctly summarized the situation: “The only surprising thing about the #McDStories #fail was that they didn’t see it coming.”

What shocks me even more is that one week after the #McDStories hashtag fail, RIM introduced the #BeBold hashtag: insert hashtag #fail number two! Despite RIM reporting 35,000 appropriate interactions with the hashtag, hijackers once again took over, dominating the Twitterverse with messages linked to technology frustrations and corporate weakening. The #BeBold campaign was coupled with a highly criticized brand faux pas involving a quartet of costumed superheroes as mascots; one more demonstration by RIM that they are terribly out of touch with their consumers.

What can we learn from RIM and McDonald’s respective hashtag #fail stories? Social media is ruthless. Relinguishing control of your message, involving consumers in the discussion, is risky business. Constrained framing, distinct direction, and proactive management are vital to success. When McDonald’s hashtag went negatively viral, the company attempted to backtrack and reverse the issue rather than proactively dealing with the fallout, interacting with the hijackers. Listening to consumers, responding to their concerns, and engaging in discussion could have leant nicely to a pseudo-recovery for McDonald’s and RIM.

Social media can be a sustainable marketers best friend or worst enemy. It’s a finicky beast. Enter Kenneth Cole and their #epicfail hashtag hijacking the #Cairo hashtag during the Egypt uprisings against the government. Capitalizing on a trending hashtag, Kenneth Cole effectively alienated thousands with one of the most controversial hashtag campaigns to date. Ethically wrong. Morally corrupt. This attempt reflected terribly on the fashion house.

Overall lesson learned: tread carefully when developing promoted hashtag campaigns or they will quickly turn into out-of-control bashtag campaigns. Social media is an animal that few can predict and none can control.

Bashtag: (noun) Tweeter hijacking of a promoted hashtag, manipulating the hashtag in ways harmful to the hashtag promoter.

Proactivity: The Key to Responsible Leadership

Corporate Social Responsibility. We hear about it every day, whether in school, in the media, in life, or some other outlet. I believe CSR is relevant to discuss in the context of sustainability because it guides a corporations entire approach to the triple bottom line: the society, the economy, and the environment. It is intended that a corporations actions are in-line with the CSR strategy. There is considerable debate regarding the motivations for different CSR strategies, arguing about whether they’re done as spinning, green harvesting, or green washing or something else altogether. And there is yet another argument surrounding whether or not the reason even matters so long as the actions are being taken. However, I would personally argue that regardless of the motivations, true CSR that demonstrates leadership and responsibility must be proactive.

The case of the BP oil spill presents an ideal platform upon which to build my argument that proactivity is fundamental to true responsible leadership.

In 2010, BP was responsible for one of the worst man-made environmental disasters of the century: an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. After the incident, internal documents revealed that BP was aware of serious safety issues on the Deepwater Horizon rig earlier in the year. Evidently, BP chose not to heed the warnings of their engineers and specialists, instead proceeding with operations. We are all aware of the severe resulting negative impacts on the environment, the economy, and the society.

BP’s crisis management of the event was undeniably problematic. Among these issues, BP’s CEO Tony Howard complained publicly that he “wanted his life back.” This was understandably poorly received by society, who was now dealing a negative externality that was arguably the result of negligence and greed.

If we instead compare this to Tylenol’s 1982 cyanide poisoning crisis, I am better able to illustrate the comparative value of proactivity. While many predicted Tylenol would never regain market share; through a crisis management approach involving proactivity, transparency, and communication – all things we learned in the simulation to be highly relevant in CSR – the brand did indeed regain market share. Tylenol immediately removed their product from shelves, accepting public responsibility for the tampering, and communicating with the public and press proactively.

Conversely, in the case of BP not only did they fail to truly accept responsibility – attempting to blame the workers, the engineers, and the equipment manufacturers – but they also neglected to proactively prevent the crisis in the first place. I would argue that even if BP had leveraged a similarly strong crisis management strategy, they still could not be classified as responsible leaders.

A true demonstration of BP as responsible leaders would have involved proactively halting function of the Deepwater Horizon rig until safety had been improved. What are you opinions of proactive responsible leadership? Is it enough to proactively respond to a crisis to be considered responsible leaders?