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November 30, 2010 / tommoradpour

Does Your Brand Have Conversation Starters?

My first post got a lot of attention for its controversial title: “Full Disclosure: I Think Social Media Marketing is BS“. It was not a bashing of Social Media in general, or Social Media for Marketing… rather, a point of view that Marketing is always Marketing, and Social Media is one of many ways brands can get messages across. Either through Broadcast (talking the talk), Brand Experiences (walking the talk) or Sharing (leveraging trusted peers).

And the one I believe has the most powerful potential…  is PEER-TO-PEER SHARING.

Fact – globally, trust in advertising and professional reviews declines, and the importance of word of mouth and peer recommendations rises. So, creating stories worth sharing and enabling advocates to spread them will be one of the marketer’s most critical jobs going forward.

As November comes to an end, I am compelled to write today about what I believe is one of the most powerful example of Peer-to-Peer marketing in recent history. Of course, I’m talking about MOVEMBER, the global fundraiser for research on “men’s” cancers. In the unlikely event you’ve been living under a rock these past four weeks, or were so focused on pumpkins and turkeys you did not notice the unusual growth of facial hair, here’s the story, straight from MOVEMBER website

Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st  clean-shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month.  The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men.  Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days.
The idea for Movember was sparked in 2003 over a few beers in Melbourne, Australia.  The plan was simple – to bring the moustache back as a bit of a joke and do something for men’s health. No money was raised in 2003, but the guys behind the Mo realized the potential a moustache had in generating conversations about men’s health.  Inspired by the women around them and all they had done for breast cancer, the Mo Bros set themselves on a course to create a global men’s health movement.
In 2004 the campaign evolved and focused on raising awareness and funds for the number one cancer affecting men – prostate cancer. 432 Mo Bros joined the movement that year, raising $55,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia – representing the single largest donation they had ever received. The Movember moustache has continued to grow year after year, expanding to the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands and Finland.  In 2009, global participation of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas climbed to 255,755, with over one million donors raising $42 Million US equivalent dollars for Movember’s global beneficiary partners.

As of today, Movember has raised over $50 million in its 2010 run. Not bad!

So, why does it work and what’s the lesson for marketers? Does Movember work because moustaches are really cool so you feel compelled to donate? No. Does Movember work because you get a free moustache as proof of donation and support (a la Livestrong)? No. Does Movember work because all the cool people wear a moustache and therefore you want to be like them and donate? Again, No. Quite the contrary in fact.

I think Movember works because it’s a CONVERSATION STARTER.

Think  about what normally needs to happen for your advocate to spread the word. Either he has to push the message out as loudly or often as possible, becoming a smaller (painful?) version of the original advertiser… or he needs to ring on every door like girls scout selling cookies (nothing wrong with that, I buy them every year. But it’s a lot of work)… or  he must wait for the “right moment” to fit the message into a conversation. And wait. And wait. (and forget.)

Not with Movember: people will ask to be told the message. Grow a MO and go about your normal life in November… curiosity will be too strong, people will have to ask “what’s with the moustache”?  Boulevard to explain Movember and ask for a donation. They asked, right?

Conversation starter.

This should get us thinking about what makes a good conversation starter and how we can equip our advocates with the equivalent of the November MO.

  • It works because it’s quite literally “in your face”. It’s visible, unusual and a change people can’t miss.
  • It works because it’s a statement. You’re exposing yourself and it’s not cool at first glance  (it’s starting to be now, as awareness grows, so let’s see if this is sustainable)
  • It works because it’s fun. It’s not hard charity work, it’s playful and simple to do.
  • It also works because you can reverse it at will (notice they did not ask you to shave your eyebrows)

I can’t think of many examples as powerful as Movember. I have to go back to the “statement” made by early iPod adopters with the now-iconic white earbuds to think of something vaguely similar.

But here’s a few other conversation starters, from personal experience:

In the first few months after buying the iPad, countless strangers stopped me in the street to ask me about it;

The smart little messages printed on the back of Molson beer labels got a few conversations started at the bar with my mates;

More recently, I’ve had my fair share of Twitter followers asking what this #usguys hashtag was, that I kept using all day;

And while doing exactly 5 minutes of research for this post, I found a great idea on the financial brand’s blog: inviting employees to reveal a little about themselves through placards in their workspace… not unlike what a lot of smart tweeps do with unusual bios.

All conversation starters.

I’d love to hear about more examples from readers of this post! Because I can’t think of a more powerful way to make advocates feel proud of embracing a brand, product or a cause, than giving them an excuse to be asked to talk about it.

So… what’s the MO on your brand? What’s your conversation starter?



Leave a Comment
  1. Michael Corley / Nov 30 2010 10:39

    Hey Tom,

    I think the post is brilliant (and nothing less expected from an #UsGuys tribe member)

    Personally, I think you’ve hit spot on what my blog and business marketing has been lacking for a while and that’s giving the consumer something to talk about in my market.

    Developing a conversation starter appears to be the best way to create word of mouth, peer to peer sharing.

    I’d love to see you develop this post further with a HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN MO?

    • tommoradpour / Nov 30 2010 11:17

      Thanks for the feedback… Trust me, I will, and I’m quite sure I won’t be the only one!

  2. Cristian Gonzales / Nov 30 2010 10:39

    Nice post Tom.

    Another example of P2P that came to mind: the Lance Armstrong wristband.

    I remember seeing it on just a few people in the beginning and asking what it stood for. Before I knew it, it was on everyone…within the span of a month.

    • tommoradpour / Nov 30 2010 11:20

      Thanks Cristian.
      Yes, Livestrong is also a good example, although I think the mechanic is a bit different – it got a lot of push too by Armstrong and Nike, and the wrist band was the core fundraising device. But It did also get conversation started. Now? Nothing remarkable about it any more as everybody has it and it has been copied in the hundreds. Goes to show conversation starters have a short shelf life?

      • Cristian Gonzales / Nov 30 2010 12:11

        Good point.

        Funny thing is, I had no idea it had been pushed so strongly by Nike or Armstrong. I don’t really follow either, and somehow the media talk/mentions of it must’ve slipped by me (I didn’t begin to heavily follow media until Nov/Dec of 2009 anyway). So for me, it was definitely a situation where I discovered it through a P2P type dynamic.

        But yes, at this point (unfortunately) it’s been watered down and copy-cat-ed to the point where it’s no longer special.

  3. Dan Dashnaw / Nov 30 2010 11:18

    Great post, Tom.

    I’m actually most interested in the tie-in between the SM activity surrounding the campaign and the physical P2P aspects, as this is the point of intersection which contains the true magic as far as I’m concerned. I’m also curious as to the amount of donations that came directly from SM-based relationships versus ‘real world’ interactions, as this too would be extremely telling.

    Bridging the gap between online and offline is a key point of focus these days for obvious reasons, and the better we can connect the two, the more successful future efforts will be. Imagine if those MO participants could be elegantly linked to QR codes, and if everyone meeting them in the wild had a smartphone in their pocket. That would fuel offline donations significantly, making for one-step transactions that would give responses in the physical world the same sort of convenience that online efforts can deliver.

    The walls between physical and digital are crumbling, for certain.


    • tommoradpour / Nov 30 2010 11:23

      Thanks Dan.
      I like the question and the idea.
      The question because Movember is a great idea that spreads through sharing… but it’s not a “social media” idea. SM is part of it, but the idea has its biggest impact offline, on your real face.
      The idea, because integration of online and offline is a must to take it to a greater level!

  4. Patrick Prothe / Nov 30 2010 12:52

    First, love your writing style. Crisp. Snappy. Provocative. I think we don’t see a lot of examples like Movember, the Apple ear buds because most companies are inward focused. They don’t tap into the emotional needs of their customers as much as they could. It’s a tough thing to do because you never know what will resonate until you try.

    And there’s the key I believe: you have to be human. Get out of marketing speak. Much like the financial services example, Blue Sky Factory has a similar approach – and they deliver when you engage with them.

    Much like your iPad example, we struck up a conversation on a flight to Maui in June with a woman using an iPad. Our daughter and hers became fast friends and spent the next two hours with it.

    And on Twitter, we strike up a conversation with people with similar interests – and it’s easier than IRL because we know those interests upfront. Gives us a reason to connect. Thanks!

    • DJ Waldow / Dec 1 2010 15:09

      Patrick: Thanks so much for including Blue Sky Factory in the “being human” category. As you know, we recently revamped our entire website to do just that – remove marketing-speak and talk like humans.

      Tom: Wonderful post. As the #Movember #TeamSLC captain, I salute you: My Mo Space – Amazing cause. I love the concept of “conversation starter.” I’ve had plenty of folks donate with a note asking me to shave it off! A buddy of mine from college actually offered to donate $500 if I cut it off after week 2.

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

  5. Nick Kellet / Dec 3 2010 10:14


    Great post.

    Not much hope for undertakers, toilet brush makers, but I could stand corrected.

    Vuvezela’s popped into my mind. Annoying s it was, they managed to insert themselves through so much media at the World Cup. That began so many conversations.

    Apple & Flash is another great example. Pick a fight. Take a postion.

    I wonder if we’ll ever become jaded to this. Think ‘Conversation Starter Burn Out Syndrome”. Somehow I suspect not. It’s simply human.

    I think people’s storytelling “spin filters” have started to go up, making it harder for future marketers. And you’re right – these stories don’t carry value or too long. Per Seth Godin – Ideas flood into a vaccum.

    Charitable stories are easier by far. Movember being the poster child.

  6. Easwar Hariharan / Dec 30 2010 23:24

    I came across your post while going through Josef’s #usguys bundled links. Reading through gave me the confirmation I needed to change my Twitter bio to provide a conversation starter which @girlmeetsgeek and @HeartofHR called being “memorable”

    Thanks again.


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