14. How Storytelling Helped Save the 2002 Olympics
Meet Mark Morris
Mark Morris has had a storied business consulting career. In this episode, Mark will share how captivating storytelling helped save the 2002 Olympic games, along with his insider story of helping create Burger King’s viral Subservient Chicken campaign, which some believe is one of the top-10 marketing campaigns of all time.
Mark Morris has a Harvard MBA, is a University professor of business management, worked as a consultant for Bain and Company and Deloitte, and has consulted for more than 100 companies.
He was also in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attacks with a CEO client. The day before that, the Olympic committee had been in New York looking for a place for the Olympic flame to rest during the Christmas holidays.
Scandal Surrounding the 2002 Olympics
Mark had the opportunity to assist with the marketing and communications for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Games. It was projected to be the worst Olympic games because of a bribery scandal. This scandal was having a huge effect on the credibility and monetization of the games, and sponsors were not wanting to be associated with the scandal.
Mark feels that the Olympics is one of the most passion-filled events. It is filled with people who have dedicated their lives to being elite athletes.
As Mark met with the team trying to move the focus away from the scandal, they decided to focus on telling the stories of the Olympic athletes and what they had overcome to arrive at this event. They felt that the focus should be on helping people connect with the athletes and their stories. Instead of trying to focus on defending the scandal, they moved on and focused on creating connections with the athletes. As the team behind the 2002 Olympics was able to successfully focus on telling these athlete stories, the focus did shift away from the scandal and sponsorships did come back.
These Olympic games had been projected to lose a huge sum of money greatly due to the scandal. However, in great part because of this storytelling strategy and the connections with the athletes, the games became profitable. Some even said the 2002 Salt Lake City Games were the best-run Olympic games ever.
Mark worked with Burger King to launch a new chicken sandwich. Before that, Burger King had a “chewed and glued” chicken sandwich that wasn’t whole-breast chicken. Mark was helping them launch a higher-quality chicken sandwich that could be customized.
With this launch, they rolled out the “Have it your way” campaign. To do this, they hired a person to dress up in a chicken suit and recorded him doing about 400 different actions. Then, they put it online so people could type in commands to have the chicken do things “your way.” This became the “Subservient Chicken” phenomenon, and it went viral. Many of the people thought that the chicken was doing their commands live and didn’t realize it was all pre-recorded.
Here’s a quote about the Subservient Chicken campaign from Adweek:
“The ‘Subservient Chicken’ instantly struck a nerve with bloggers, in part because the site’s technology allowed users to type in nearly anything and get a response from the chicken. He could do jumping jacks, dance, do push-ups and even watch television. He seemed impossible to stump. Within a day after being released, the site had a million hits. Within a week, it had received 20 million hits. Who was behind this strange Web phenomenon? Many visitors to the site were surprised to see it was Burger King.”
Mark remembers taking the Subservient Chicken to Fox News in New York so that the newscasters could “have it their way.” Later that night, Mark took the Subservient Chicken clubbing in a stretch SUV.
Some people rank the Subservient Chicken as one of the top 10 marketing campaigns of all time.
Hard Times are an Opportunity to Create Connections
Hard times are sometimes the best times to connect with people. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the worst terrorist attacks in history, but they created a more unified “tribe” of Americans. Another example is when a group of students go through the challenge of business school together and become very bonded.
Mark believes that when we focus on the hard times it can cause us to feel crushed, defeated, and hopeless. But as we work to get through the hard times together, it can become binding to an amazing degree.
Mark went into business because of a hard time he experienced. Mark’s dad was an entrepreneur who went through an economic downturn. He went from having lots of business and opportunity to having very little.
Mark tells the story of sitting in a college economics class and the teacher being able to predict the past and the future because he understood the laws or tectonic shifts of economics. Mark felt like he was observing magic tricks. He wanted to go into business because of what he learned, and because of his desire to help others learn these things.
The power of being there for our customers during hard times and the opportunity this provides to build long-term loyal relationships isn’t about being opportunistic. It’s about valuing our customers beyond the dollar, especially during hard times. For example, Mark was with two executives in New York during 9/11, one from California and the other from Utah. Both executives rented cars and drove home, and the car companies waived all the charges.
The New York Times was able to use its credibility to build one of the most profitable, if not the most profitable, paywall/subscription recurring revenue stream of any news organization. Mark thinks recurring revenue is similar to utilities. Many businesses today have reconsidered how they can add recurring revenue streams to their business models. Mark explains that the software industry has done a great job of shifting from one-time sales of software to software as a service with a recurring revenue stream.
Connect with Mark
To connect with Mark and learn more about his consulting services, visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-morris-1b711b161/.
Thank you so much Mark for sharing your stories and secrets with us. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. When we face a scandal or other crises, using great storytelling to build connections can be a powerful tool to shift the focus away from the scandal to something much more positive.
2. When we are in the midst of something negative, it is often difficult to just remove the negative. That leaves a void and something has to fill the void. Often it is much easier to make the negativity go away by focusing on replacing the negativity with something positive.
3. When we can create marketing campaigns that our target audience feel are personalized (like the Subservient Chicken), it can greatly increase our ability to connect with that target audience.
4. We should look at hard times as an opportunity to build deeper connections. When we are there for others through their dark times, it can build loyalty that lasts forever.
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