Pralex: The New Model of Emerging Brands

In honor of the Ad Week happenings in NYC this week and all the discussions happening around the new advertising, what it means to be a brand, and how to create unique experience, I want to share some recent lessons I learned from an emerging brand.


The scene is a Flatland competition. Tires squeaking on cement floors in jerky patterns, metal tumbling over itself and bodies in (more often than not) gracefully executed falls, random circles of cheers, and electronic music feeding the energy over the loudspeakers. Telling the competitors from the crowd is impossible until they are in the 40×40 square, everyone blending together in a mix of favorite t-shirts and jeans. And then you spot a Canadian flag floating by carried by three guys in skinny jeans and v-neck shirts, Pralex has arrived…


Pralex, the brand, was born of the crowd. Prasheel Gopal and Alex Poirier began traveling to Flatland competitions together about 5 years ago and initially were known as The Canadians on the circuit, so named because of the Canadian flag they always brought with them. The Canadians started to get a reputation for their antics, the excitement they brought to the series, and soon they were christened with their celebrity moniker of Pralex. They were joined in more recent years by Mark Kuhlmann and Team Pralex was born.


Although on the Flatland scene for years, 2012 marked a breakout for them and launched their brand to the next level. Wanting to generate excitement before Voodoo Jam this June, Pralex took to Twitter. Posting daily countdowns and jokes, they unofficially renamed it the Pralex Invitational and got their followers to spread the word. T-shirts with the Pralex Invitational logo were spotted on riders (Dominik Nekolny, the winner of the pro division wore one during qualifying rounds) and in winners bags during the event. The funny thing was, Pralex had no clue about the shirts until they saw them walking around.  The t-shirts were all made and distributed by a fan of the trio, who even found a sponsor.


Seeing how the Pralex Invitation had taken hold, the team took to Twitter again. Fat Tony, a legendary BMX photographer, was going to be shooting for a Flatland calendar at Voodoo Jam and Pralex wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by. Rather than send a tweet to Tony and hope for a response, Pralex concocted a fake re-tweet where Tony threw out an invitation for a photo shoot to the team and Pralex agreed. Immediately followers started re-tweeting the fake re-tweet and passing along congratulations. Tony, seeing the tweets in his stream, replied back with a real offer of a photo shoot. Team Pralex had scored a coveted spot in the calendar.



Fake re-tweets, doctored photos, mildly to extremely exaggerated stories, and a few urban legends, are all part of the Pralex approach and their fans are willing participants in the “real or not” mystery that accompanies each posting and comment.  Prasheel recently took first place at a UK event, King of Southsea, and when he posted a picture of him and his medal, most people thought it was a joke.  Followers did their own investigations, even after Prasheel offered legitimate proof, before congratulations came flowing in.


What is Team Pralex selling?  Themselves and the sport of Flatland.  While they may be hoping to attract sponsors with their unique group persona, they are more focused on bringing energy to Flatland.  Not the traditional product pushing brand, but one that has a higher purpose.  It’s reminiscent of other brands that are focused on doing good first: Zappos, Toms Shoes, Two Degrees.


In speaking with Prasheel and hearing stories like the ones above and others, it struck me that they have built a solid brand by doing nothing more than utilizing social media and creating unique experiences at events.  They didn’t set out with defined steps and measureable goals, crafted from focus groups and a structured needs assessment.  They went into a scene wanting to enhance it, to add an extra element of fun, to make it fun for themselves.  In the process, they built an active following that help them continue the Pralex experience, online and offline.  What can other emerging brands learn from them?


  • Authenticity is key
  • Stir up excitement about what you are doing and invite fans to participate
  • Play engages people
  • Know where you want to go, but let the path unfold


Prasheel, Alex and Mark would love to hear from you – connect with them on Twitter – @PralexGorier, @acpoirier, @Theory4130




One Small Step for Research, One Giant Leap for Mobile Advertising

Mobile advertising has been hampered by misperceptions for a while. First, that it’s too small to work (see why this is wrong, here). Second that it doesn’t reach a wide enough or attractive audience (see who is clicking on ads, here). And finally, that metrics are not comparable to other media.


Today, with the release of InsightExpress’ Ignite Mobile solution, the industry finally has an answer to allowing mobile to be compared to other media.


(Full disclosure, I used to run InsightExpress’ mobile division and still think they are the most fabulous people.)


You can check out their press release for more details but the gist is that by using a massive network of research panels, InsightExpress able to passively identify mobile users who have been exposed to an ad (and who are in the network of panels) and then send them an invitation via email to take a survey.  The survey captures brand metrics (e.g., awareness, consideration, purchase intent) to demonstrate the effectiveness of the mobile advertisement. Simple in explanation, massively complex in backend execution.


Let me tell you why I think this new approach to measuring mobile ad effectiveness is so important…it brings a high level of rigor to mobile metrics that have been missing in years past. When agencies and brands can directly compare the effectiveness of both their online and mobile campaigns, mobile’s star will start to shine brighter. Additionally, the industry will be able to see larger trends around the impact of frequency, impact decay, and more.


Kudos to the folks at InsightExpress for launching mobile ad effectiveness into the next evolution!


Screw the Purchase Pretzel, It’s a Personal Tapestry

Over the years marketers and researchers have tried to summarize the steps that consumers go through in deciding to and then making a purchase.  The history of who came up with the first ‘stage-based’ perspective is fraught with people claiming to have been the first one (link) but it all began with an advertising approach that was based on four steps: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action (AIDA).  It wasn’t until the 1920’s that this advertising process was referred to as a funnel and applied to consumer purchase decisions.


The AIDA categorization was logical, clean, and easy to manipulate (it being based on an advertising approach after all).  It gave businesses a sense of control and a foundation with which to build advertising and marketing strategy.


Enter the Internet, social networking, and a consumer that was bombarded with a bazillion marketing messages on a daily basis.  The purchase funnel didn’t seem to fit as well and in 2009, McKinsey released the Consumer Decision Journey (link).  This wasn’t a circle, wasn’t quite linear, and once again tried to overly simplify the entire experience.  However, it did get industries to start thinking about purchase decisions in more depth.



From what I can find, Forrester offered the first ‘pretzel’ looking model in 2010 (link).  This was finally starting to really approximate what elements were involved in consumers’ decisions about making a purchase.  This model still relied on a path foundation, even if it was convoluted.



Last month, while at the MMA Forum in New York, I heard a presenter mention the Purchase Pretzel.  The whole concept was a take off on Forrester’s model but baked in (pun slightly intended) the whole immediacy of mobile element.   Always a huge fan of someone trying to push the industry to think differently, I nonetheless was not happy with this analogy.


Consumers are not going through a purchase funnel, purchase path, purchase maze.  Consumers are weaving together a creation of their beliefs, perceptions, and influences – sometimes without their conscious knowledge.  Hence, it’s a Personal Tapestry.


It starts with the foundation – setting up the loom, if you will.  Consumers may not even be aware that they are doing it, but the combination of media, advertising, social influences, and need states provides them with the foundation to start weaving their tapestry of purchase decisions.


Once the loom is prepped, the consumer starts weaving together everything they hear or see.  As with anything handmade, each consumer will have a different weaving based on the yarns (aka, different influences) they allow to influence their design.  At some point in the weaving, a conscious awareness of what is being created comes into play.  Here is where consideration is either pursued or abandoned, but the weaving process does not stop.


Eventually the tapestry gets to a point where consumers are actively looking at it, considering the design.  They are not looking at the individual yarn colors but how they come together to make a design – the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.


Purchase may happen now, may happen later, may never happen.  The point is that consumers never stop weaving together their tapestry.  They may walk away from it for a bit, may work on another design, but their tapestries are never completely finished.  This is the critical concept we need to remember – consumers will always weave together their experiences and influences, long before and long after they make a purchase.


I’ll leave you with this…think of Coke’s marketing and advertising strategy.  They have built one of the most well known brands on the foundation of this theory (even if they may not have articulated it as I have).


What Dubstep Tells Us About the New Consumer

Let me start with a story…


Last year I went to Lollapalooza, in celebration of having experienced it 20 years ago for the first time. Luckily, I was not the oldest person there, nor as you would expect, the only one reminiscing about the first tour. In between listening to the performances and trying to convince my body that I could still hang like I did when I was mumblemumble years old, I wandered around and watched the crowd.


I was specifically watching the younger crew, what stages they were interested in and their general migratory patterns. What struck me was that kids were running, and I am not exaggerating this point, to Perry’s Tent. What was in Perry’s Tent? DJs, including the ever popular Skrillex, among others. During the headliners in the evening, the crowd was almost equally split between the two main stages and the tent. Deadmau5, (pronounced Dead Mouse), even scored a headline spot on a main stage. Check out a couple of YouTube videos to see what I’m talking about


Having long been a fan of dance music, it always struck me as being a more underground scene than something that was in the popular culture. But then Lolla happened, Skrillex was collaborating with every known artist, and dance was getting played on the pop channels. Why was this form of music getting so popular now?


It took me a while, but after attending the Mobile Marketing Forum in NYC this week, the pieces fell together. This musical style is perfectly capturing the mentally of the generation coming of age and marketers need to tune in.


Dance, dubstep, DJs – they are all about surprising the audience. Whether it’s combining two completely different styles, switching the beat, or changing the tempo, the audience doesn’t know what is coming next. In a single song, there are multiple experiences; everything from slow hypnotic to frenetic energy and bass thumps. Everything flows together, yet nothing is following a set pattern.


For the upcoming generation, this has been their life. It’s not short attention spans, it’s about weaving together multiple experiences into a ride that takes them all over the map. They are bored by predictable paths, things that don’t offer them any mystery or suspense as to what will happen next. Now that they are coming into their own money, their ability to make their own decisions, marketers have to start adapting their approach to connect with this audience.


How do marketers build their campaigns to mimic the music? First of all, it’s not a single execution. Marketers will need to create multiple versions, some that will be widely seen and others that are more elusive so that whoever experiences it, feels a sense of specialness. For the elements of the campaign, keep these audience wants at the forefront…
- Surprise me
- Keep me guessing
- Change things up
- Weave multiple experiences in one


I’ll be sitting out this year’s Lollapalooza but you can bet that I’ll be trying to quantify this new consumer while the bass drops.


How People Are Staying One Step Ahead of Brands

I am a cat person.  Pass judgment if you will, but I find I’m better suited to a cat’s temperament than a dog’s.  I’ve had my current cat, B, for 13 years so it’s safe to say that we’re very used to each other by now.


The other day, I was doing some chores around the house.  I had piled up some towels by the stairs so I could take them down to the laundry.  B, ever the helpful cat, decided to make herself comfortable on them.  Since they were headed for a hot wash, I let it go and continued with my chores, walking by her numerous times and occasionally stopping to give her a pet.  When I was ready to go downstairs, I headed her way and without saying a word or moving my hands, she jumped up off the towels and started down the stairs in front of me.


I’m sure this has happened countless times over the years but this time it stopped me.  What did I do that made her think I was ready to take the towels from her?  To my perception, I hadn’t given her any outward sign that something was different from all the other times I passed by her.  To B though, she knew what I was going to do.


Then I started thinking a bit more.  We all have those people we’re close enough to that with just a look, we know what they are going to do or say.  If we all have those experiences, then it’s not an isolated behavior and may manifest itself in other places.  Like advertising…


After doing a bit of digging, I came across some research that points to the fact that as we get more familiar with a brand, we rely on our previous knowledge when we look at advertising.

-       When consumers are faced with familiar brand ads, they utilize their prior experiences and preexisting knowledge in processing the new information. Thus, it seems clear that people could readily associate the new information in the familiar brand ads with the information they have already acquired.

-       Results show that the effectiveness of consistency among messages depends on brand familiarity. For familiar brands moderately consistent messages improve their awareness (recall), enrich their network of associations, and generate more favorable responses and brand attitudes. However, for unfamiliar brands, no significant differences are found between high and moderate levels of consistency, except for brand recall, being higher when highly consistent messages are used.

-       Humorous ads worked better for the unfamiliar brands. For the familiar brands, the effects were mediated by the subjects’ brand familiarity and prior brand attitude.


As we encounter brands in different settings, in different advertising mediums, and through different campaigns, we are developing a set of heuristics about that brand and their products.  For folks who are familiar with advertising theory, this is nothing new.  But are people influenced by these heuristics even before a brand has taken a specific action?


To some degree, research around brand permission for new product lines addresses this behavior.  However, it doesn’t get at how consumers anticipate familiar brands’ moves and remain one step ahead of them.  Since I haven’t been able to uncover any research around this, it leads me to believe that it’s an area ripe for investigation.  Stay tuned…






“It soon became apparent that the public was smarter than we were.”

This quote, from Bob Crandall, a past American Airline’s chairman and chief executive, is priceless.  It’s in an article discussing the unlimited lifetime AAirpass that was introduced back in the early 1980′s and has since cost American millions of lost revenue.  American thought it was something that businesses would buy, but individual people (66 of them, I believe) took advantage of the deal and worked it in ways that American could never have anticipated.  Their reaction, once they discovered it, was to ban these customers from flying and revoke their passes.  Could it have been handled better?  Absolutely.  What’s the morale of the story?  Your products and services are tools for people.  Go beyond just looking at the absolute numbers and dive into how they are really using things.  Like American Airlines, the insights may be surprising.


Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything

I love Ted Talks and came across one today that is particularly relevant.  Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group, discusses how changes in perspective can produce huge differences in understanding behavior motivations.  Examples range from how rational, spreadsheet driven ideas can be more expensive than ones that are based on maximizing psychological enjoyment to how traffic light countdowns can work for/against accident reduction depending on if they are shown with red or green lights.  Enjoy!


Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything


“When you can’t smoke, if you stand and stare out of the window on your own, you’re an antisocial, friendless idiot. If you stand and stare out of the window on your own with a cigarette, you’re a philosopher.” — Rory Sutherland



Perspectives on the Mobile Shopper

In this edition of the People Chronicle, Wave Collapse’s quarterly look into mobile behaviors and trends, we’re diving into mobile shopping.  We explore in-store app users and what makes them tick, what is being purchased on device and what is driving those purchases, and finally, we have our bonus feature looking at smartphone users and social networking.


You can find the presentation deck and a video presentation (about 30 minutes) on SlideShare here -


Let us know if you have any questions or comments!


Teaching Big Data

Gizmodo had an article this morning that spoke to me, The Problem With Big Data Is That Nobody Understands It


Having my first experience with Big Data over 13 years ago when I was a research analyst for a large plumbing and building supplier and was relying on a combination of Excel, Access, and crudely developed macros to analyze the data, I can appreciate what the article is saying.  It’s frighteningly easy to go chasing down rabbit holes and treating all data as important.  It’s also frighteningly easy to forget that the data needs to explain something, to answer a question that will produce a measurable result.


Big Data is a slight misnomer because it relies to a great extent on intuition, making it more of an art than a science.  As the article points out, it’s not enough to have the modeling and mathematical background on the team, companies need people who have the skills to direct the investigations and craft the big picture stories from the mass of numbers.  To completely steal from Einstein, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”


Rather than relying on the ‘learn to swim’ approach that most of us go through, it would be incredible to see universities teaching courses on Big Data.  Developing curriculums that pull in from all disciplines (science, math, creative writing, public speaking, etc.) and building students with thinking skills that go beyond one perspective.  It would be a dream degree.


Death to the Clickthrough Pile On

Some research came out by Pretarget and Comscore (article here) that shows clickthrough has the weakest correlation to conversion of any of the metrics that one could look at.  In my tweet about the article, I inserted the word “duh” to show my superiority against anyone who thought differently.  I tweet early in the morning usually and am not always at my nicest.


In the research world, the debate about the various ways to kill the clickthrough as a metric has raged on for years.  The problem is, we created this monster when Internet advertising buyers were demanding to see how their campaign performed and we went with the easiest, sexiest, and highest metric at the time (remember, CTR used to be in the double digits).  We educated our buyers, we built businesses around optimizing this metric, we went so far as to say it made the Internet the most measurable media ever.


Then clickthrough rates started to go down and all of a sudden, we were at a risk of having our clients think their campaigns weren’t performing as well.  We started looking for an alternative – advertising effectiveness studies, engagement metrics, and anything else that would show the power of Internet advertising.  We couldn’t agree on the best metric, but we knew that CTR wasn’t it anymore.  In the vacuum of a definitive statement about metrics, the CTR continued to dominate.


Over the years, many researchers have come out with studies that show CTRs are not related to conversions.  The latest study throws in some fancy-sounding statistical terms (but it’s pretty basic technique) and some impressive correlation rates but they are still missing the point.


The variable they are using to show success is conversion.  I get it, because Pretarget is providing ‘intent targeting’ services and that is what is important to them.  It’s even great for those campaigns that are focused on driving conversion.  What about the rest of the campaigns running amok out there?  The ones that are more concerned with raising awareness, education, and all the other elements related to building a brand rather than running a glorified direct mail campaign?


I’d like to see this same approach used with brand metrics as the variable.  Yes, the variables may be a bit squishier, less definitively ‘we win’, but we need to move away from pinning ourselves to single definitions of success criteria.  Otherwise we’ll continue to find ourselves having to fight an uphill battle of client resistance.