Cory DavisCopywriter



How Bad Can Be So Good in Advertising

Flipping the script on negatives is common practice in marketing and advertising. You may have even seen the examples coming up later on. 

Still, it’s a topic worth talking about. Which is exactly the point—it gets attention and it’s memorable.

This tactic is used by copywriters, creative directors, and even comedians. Hell, rappers and other lyricists use it. (B-Rabbit in 8 Mile, anyone?) It involves taking a flaw and turning it into an unexpected positive.

“… it gets all of the reasons why [consumers] wouldn’t buy your product out of the way and challenges them to consider why they would.”

Dan Nelken, A Self-Help Guide for Copywriters

You can’t hide faults forever, and you can’t control what people say, think, and feel. But you can use their opinions to your advantage. Plus, modern consumers demand more accountability from brands, often supporting those that are human-first.

Well, what’s more human than accepting your imperfections? 

Transparency shows leadership

Taking ownership, being honest and transparent about your shortcomings is considered leadership. Done right it can capture attention, differentiate your brand, and earn loyalty in a market crammed with competitors.

In part, this is what it means to be an integrated brand. Being empathic, understanding the pain points of your target audience, and being open to its criticism. Then responding head-on.

This takes bravery. It’s not easy to face the negative truths and perceptions of your brand. Nor is accepting real defects in your products and services—or listening to customer and member complaints and seeing things from their perspective. 

On top of it all, you have to sell the idea of how highlighting the bad will be good for the brand. From your boss to your client, risky advertising can be hard to get buy-in. Sometimes, it’s too bold. 

But it can be effective. Let’s explore a few examples of brands doing it right.

Disarm bad first impressions

Full disclosure: this tactic is not suitable for every brand. And unless this type of language or messaging is at the core of your identity, it’s not something to rely on for every campaign. 

But advertising is everywhere and your audience is bombarded with brands shouting “better, faster, stronger!” Do the same and you’re guaranteed to blend in. Do the opposite and people take notice.

Consider Volkswagen when it committed itself to the U.S. market in the 1950s and 60s. American vehicles were big, fast, and flashy. The Beetle wasn’t. It was small, slow, and bug-like in appearance.

What did VW do? 

It addressed the elephant in the room and leaned into what some American car buyers considered to be disadvantages. It framed negatives into positives by leaning into what made the Beetle different 

  • Small became easy to park and made your house look bigger
  • Slow became safe, reliable, and better fuel economy
  • Ugly became a story about quality control 

Two steps to owning your dirt

Shock value can stop the scroll, stop the reader from flipping the page, and stop the audience from tuning out. But the real benefit of this tactic is it takes the wind out of your critics’ sails. Putting your brand on full display and owning your dirt gives you the upper hand. 

It’s refreshing to see a business call themselves out. Like KFC admitting its fries suck and apologizing for running out of chicken in the United Kingdom. Or one of the most well-known examples: Buckley’s “It takes awful. And it works.” 

This approach is also a way of weeding out those who aren’t in your audience. More importantly, it’s a way of attracting those who vibe most with your brand. 

Author and copywriter, Dan Nelken, calls it owning your dirt. Here’s how it’s done.

Step 1:

  • Search through customer reviews online, do surveys, and talk to your employees; 
  • list all the negatives associated with your brand, products, and services; and 
  • note the trends and common frustrations. 

Even the most outlandish, trollish comments can prove useful. Take beverage company Liquid Death, it turned a nasty tweet into a viral ad and earned praise from fans—despite grossing them out at the same time.

Step 2: 

  • Brainstorm a list of benefits for each of the negatives; 
  • rationalize them however you can; and 
  • don’t judge your ideas at this point (quantity leads to quality)

How do you know when you’ve struck gold? By understanding the target audience and having research to back the strategy. 

The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam, for instance, knows its guests aren’t after a five-star stay. Most are young tourists backpacking across Europe. They’re more concerned about money than comfort—let’s be honest, they’re there for a good time, not a long time.

Resonate with authenticity

Consumers appreciate the real, the imperfect, and the genuinely human. They crave authenticity, especially in a digital world saturated with glossy perfection and the onslaught of AI generated content. 

If you want to leave a lasting impression, you have to do something different. Like using a negative as a positive to capture attention. Get in touch when you’re ready to be bad. Alphabet® is here to show you how it can be oh so good.

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter



What AI won’t ever replace in marketing and advertising

A boy dreams of being a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

He aspires to be a famous rockstar, even considers becoming a luthier. (A professional guitar builder is more realistic, right?)

He feels aimless after high school—which included one expulsion, one victory lap, and a lot of house parties. So he applies to college.

He’s torn between Acting for Television and Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications. He doubts he’ll be the next Dr. Drake Ramoray, so he chooses the latter.

  • He graduates and starts selling ad space for a media company
  • He works as a marketing manager for a family business
  • He becomes a full-time copywriter at an integrated branding consultancy

And he experiences countless ups and downs throughout it all. From big wins and tragic losses to outright failures and lucky breaks. He experiences love and heartbreak, pleasure and pain. 

He experiences Life

That’s what makes him human. That’s what makes you human. Which is exactly what AI won’t ever replace in marketing and advertising.

You, the human 

Sure, AI can sift through data faster. Pump out content quicker and create imaginative graphics with a single prompt and the click of a button. But artificial intelligence doesn’t have your life experience. 

In fact, AI doesn’t experience anything at all. Nor does it think for itself, really, because it’s trained on historical data. It’s missing your emotional intelligence; your intuition, opinions, and shower thoughts—AI lacks individual creative inspiration. 

The messy, unpredictable human condition, all the nuance, is beyond AI’s current abilities. 

Marketing is tied to building relationships and making connections. Just as advertising is linked to capturing attention and persuading action. Which all boils down to trust

And humans trust humans above all else. 

So the real question is how can marketers use AI to leverage their human advantage and establish trust with their audiences?

Your personal AI assistant

All marketers share one common trait: our passion for creativity. 

We love to make, show, and tell. We’re solvers of problems, big and small. We’re writers and designers and coders. We’re strategic thinkers and presenters and we love to nerd out about human behaviour. 

We are creatives.

And we’re all busy. Like, REEEALLY busy. According to HubSpot’s State of Marketing 2023 Report, the average marketer works on five campaigns simultaneously. Safe to say, we’re all keen to be more efficient.

And that’s the real advantage of AI. It saves time by performing low-impact tasks, freeing you to do high-impact tasks.

Examples of low-impact tasks

  • Data entry and mining
  • Basic research and ideation
  • Pattern recognition and trend spotting
  • Summarizing articles, reports, and transcriptions
  • Surface-level competitive, market, and consumer sentiment analyses

Examples of high-impact tasks

  • Strategic planning and complex problem solving
  • Ethical content creation and decision making 
  • Customer relationship management
  • Storytelling and creative expression
  • Brand strategy and identity

Ultimately, AI gives you more time to focus on meaningful creative work that resonates with your target audience.

“AI tools are great for enabling, assisting, and augmenting human work. But creativity and judgment are where humans distinctly shine.”

Nataly Kelly, Globalization Expert

If AI can do it faster, let it do it faster. But don’t remove yourself from the process, especially if you use generative tools like ChatGPT, Jasper, or Midjourney. From plagiarism to outdated stats to flatout false claims, you can’t trust content written exclusively by AI. (And what’s with its inability to draw human hands and spell text in images?) 

Truth is, 96% of the time, AI produces results that are incomplete without human intervention, per 2023 AI Trends for Marketers. Put bluntly: AI is a new tool, not a replacement part. 

The output is only as good as the input

AI will continue to evolve and disrupt marketing. Transformation is inevitable. 

More jobs are being automated, while some are becoming obsolete. Yet new positions are filling the gaps, from AI prompt engineers to developers to consultants. Some roles are even expanding, like Chief Technology Officers being asked how to integrate AI into processes, what tools to use, and how to navigate legalities.

Marketing has always been a dynamic field. AI is just another layer of the onion.

In the end, AI is bound by the past. It’s not forward-thinking and is incapable of original thought. It creates iterations of what it was trained on as a result—work that feels like it’s “already been done.” 

Bringing us full circle to what AI won’t ever replace in marketing and advertising: the depth and complexity of the human experience and our creative expression

AI can optimize, but it can’t innovate or create impactful work without you. Because the output is only as good as the input—your prompts, your fact-checks, your insight into what moves people. 

Artificial intelligence is set to become synonymous with our industry (as if it isn’t already). Let it handle the mundane and routine, while you focus on the human touch, injecting authenticity, creativity, and trust into your marketing and advertising. 

Ready to craft meaningful connections and create trust with your audiences? Contact Alphabet® today and start telling your story in a way that positively impacts your business, communities, customers, and industry.

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter



The Creative Process: A Love Affair Between Copy and Design

The truth is out. Everybody knows copy and design are in bed together. That they’re equal parts of a whole. That neither is more important than the other.

But who makes the first move when it comes to getting creative?

That’s the juicy bit: how content and design teams work together. Specifically, the creative process between copywriters and designers. To shed light on this dynamic affair, let’s dive into the working relationships within the creative team at Alphabet®.

Tying the knot between copy and design

Copy and design are a power couple. An unbeatable duo with the ability to capture hearts, captivate minds, and convert observers into fans. 

And their secret to a long-lasting, passionate relationship? Collaboration. 

At its core, collaboration is about mutual respect. It’s about writers and designers enhancing each others’ work. A bold headline may evoke emotions, but design brings them to life. A beautiful landing page may seize attention, but persuasive copy inspires action.

Great creative is when copy and design create synergy. Supporting and enhancing each other, not taking away from each other.

Yang Li, Senior Art Director

Throughout the creative process, copywriters and designers at Alphabet® work hand-in-hand, from ideation to concept development to creating final deliverables. Doing so creates autonomy among the team and reduces obstacles down the road. 

Digital Media Designer Chris Chai uses the promotional video for our new online advocacy tool, Zembaly, as an example: “Expectations and ideas changed from the initial storyboard. Scripts needed to be rewritten and animations redone. But the entire team was involved, making it easier to get buy-in and shift directions quickly.”

Communication and teamwork are key to any relationship. This means being open, letting go of ego, and working towards a shared goal – producing the most impactful work possible for your clients. 

“It’s the difference between good creative and great creative. Great creative doesn’t happen when teams work in silos.”

Chris Campeau, Senior Writer

When design leads copy

Sometimes design drives the creative process. 

  1. When things like heading lengths, character counts, and sentence structure are determined by the deliverable
  2. When client requirements (e.g., partner logos, photography) and artwork space dictate copy 

“It’s about finding balance,” according to Senior Production Artist Cindy LaGarde. “Finding where the designer and writer can compromise.” 

She points out a recent campaign for the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) and the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF). The campaign included print and digital ads in various sizes. Content Strategist Meagan Kelly wrote copy based on the constraints of each medium, expanding and trimming where necessary without losing the client’s key message.

A similar approach guided Meagan when working on the My Raison D’Être campaign with Canadian Parents for French (CPF). Design led the way, but team members worked closely to reduce miscommunication and the number of iterations. The result was a smoother process with fewer changes to the assets – and, ultimately, two successful campaigns for our clients.

From a holistic approach to work and creating a 360° brand to leading an effective brainstorm, Meagan shares her expertise on the Alphabet® blog. 

If in doubt, wire it out

Another instance of a design-driven approach is wireframing a landing page. Landing pages are less restrictive to copywriters, but a rough outline of the design is a great place to start. 

Wireframes break the page into sections, outlining images, graphics, whitespace, and text blocks. Placeholder text (lorem ipsum) isn’t always necessary, though it’s helpful to visualize content density. At a glance, the writer knows:

  • where headings and subheadings are needed and how long they can be; 
  • where body copy can be long form and where it needs to be tight;
  • where calls-to-action (CTAs) are placed and how the page flows
  • where copy is needed to support imagery and video; and
  • where whitespace and design support the copy.

Wireframes often change as the project progresses. Senior Art Director Yang Li coined the term ‘slop-ups’ (sloppy mock-ups) to describe this internal process: “We share rough drafts early in the creative process to unify our approach and clarify direction from the onset.”

When copy leads design

Sometimes a copy-driven approach is best – say, for instance, when long-form messaging is required. Here, instead of the ad size dictating the copy, the copy dictates the advertising channel, format, and size. 

This steers design by providing parameters to work within. Let’s explore three more ways copy influences design:

1. Message hierarchy

Effective copy establishes a clear hierarchy of information, guiding the designer to prioritize and structure messaging accordingly. 

In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, direct response copywriting great Joseph Sugarman writes, “All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of your copy.” 

Sugarman believes the main goal of design is to move the audience to and through your copy. That it sets the stage for copy to communicate your offer and persuades people to act. 

“Your ad layout and the first few paragraphs of your ad must create the buying environment most conducive to the sale of your product or service.”

Joseph Sugarman, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook

2. CTAs and visual enhancements

Language can inspire visual elements that complement copy and influence the design of calls-to-action.

For example, CTAs like “BUY NOW” and subheads like “Only 5 spots remain!” are used to create urgency and scarcity. So, their design should follow suit. Colours like red, yellow, and orange can be used to trigger energy and excitement, while bold and italicized fonts are ways to emphasize important copy

Creating cognitive dissonance between copy and design is another way to draw attention. An example of this comes from working with the Canadian Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) during the 2020 federal election. 

Senior Writer Chris Campeau explains the approach to messaging was straightforward out of the gate: “…to communicate, quickly, the value of CPAC’s unbiased coverage in helping Canadians make an informed decision on election day.”

The copy needed to be clear and concise. The creative needed to be impactful. This led the team to use unexpected graphical elements to communicate CPAC’s value in a more compelling way, instead of relying solely on election-related visuals.

3. Tone and voice

High-level brand messaging and positioning play a key role in design choices – when establishing a cohesive brand identity and when developing marketing assets and campaign deliverables. 

Whether you’re working on an ad or a website, messaging frameworks impact the overall design aesthetic, from colour palette and typography to imagery and whitespace. Is the brand playful and casual? Is it innovative, caring, or serious? 

The goal is to create a holistic experience for the audience by aligning look and feel with tone and voice in each piece of creative. 

Tone sets the mood and atmosphere while voice adds personality. Together, they guide design to help you craft a resonant narrative, with each elementing working harmoniously to engage the audience and influence behaviour.

Working together with Alphabet®

Collaboration is baked into our creative process. But it doesn’t stop at copy and design. When you partner with Alphabet®, you’re involved each step of the way. Get in touch to see how it all comes together to positively impact your business, communities, customers, and industry.

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter


social media

Five social media user habits brands can’t ignore

It’s 2023. Safe to say most of us are glued to our cell phones. You’re probably looking at yours right now—eyes down, pinky finger hooked beneath the device. And I’m willing to bet you open a social media app after reading this. 

Social media dominates our attention. We use it to connect with friends and family, for news and entertainment, to build our brands and promote our businesses. 

Or just out of habit. (Often just out of habit.)

Daily usage is rising year-over-over, according to sources like the Global Web Index (GWI), Pew Research Center, and OfCom. Plus, the digital landscape keeps changing, from new apps and features to never-ending algorithm updates. 

Fortunately, our habits using social media are easier to keep pace with, and still offer key insight to maximize your brand’s impact, presence, and reach. So let’s dive into five user habits you need to know about, with recommendations for each. 

1. Two-hours-and-thirty-one minutes a day

That’s the global average time spent on social media in 2023. In Canada, it’s two-hours-and-five minutes a day (per Statista), an increase from one-hour-and-fifty-three minutes a day in 2022. But daily usage isn’t the only thing on the rise. Despite pandemic-fueled growth cooling, social media adoption rolls on—gaining more users quarter by quarter, year by year. 

You don’t have to be in all the places, just the right places. 

Users engage with up to seven different social platforms a month, according to GWI. Each is used for certain reasons by certain audiences. For instance, Gen Z is the largest demographic on TikTok, and the primary use is finding funny or entertaining content. 

Here’s what’s worth noting: the short, snackable videos make TikTok the popular choice for Gen Zs. But when something really captures their attention, they often seek out longer-form videos on YouTube to learn more.

Is your YouTube video getting lost in the mix? Make it more discoverable with our guide to YouTube SEO.

Or how about this. Facebook is still the world’s most-used social media platform. As of January 2023, the app had more than 2.9B active users, doubling TikTok at 1.05B and crushing Twitter with its measly 559M. However, despite Facebook being considered ‘social media for Boomers,’ the bulk of users are aged 18 to 44. 


Learn as much as you can about the people you’re trying to reach, and connect with them on an individual level. 

Social media usage continues to increase and it’s become ingrained in our daily lives. If it’s not already a part of your promotional tactics, it’s time to reevaluate and see where it fits within your marketing strategy. 


2. A source of news, connection, and entertainment

You and I may have different reasons for using social media. But there are similarities. 

  • We both want to be entertained (throwback to sharing funny cat videos) and to connect with our friends and family;
  • we use it to unlock opportunities, to form bonds with strangers on the internet and create global networks; and 
  • we often use social media to connect with our favourite brands — and voice our displeasure with those that let us down. 

That’s the true purpose of social media, really. Entertainment and connection. 
It’s also become a popular source for news and education, per the Pew Research Centre, with younger demographics trusting what they see on social media more than television or newspapers. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are more leery, but they still trust what their friends and family share online more than traditional media — whether the information is accurate or not. 


Users engage with specific social media platforms for a variety of reasons. And they’re there because they want to be. It’s hard enough to capture your followers’ attention, moving them off platform is an even greater challenge. Instead, try this:

  • Create mobile-friendly content tailored to each platform; 
  • invest in high-quality visual content and film and edit video; and
  • over deliver on value with zero-click content — give your followers all the benefits without having to leave the platform.

Lastly, never stop testing. Slideshows on LinkedIn and threads on Twitter might perform well one day and flop the next. Video is King right now, but who’s to say it won’t be dethroned by audio? 

3. Privacy, trust, and mental health

Privacy is an ongoing concern on the internet — and social media by extension — more so in recent years, with many platforms under fire for turning user data into paychecks.  

Not to mention, social media is the Wild West of the internet. Misinformation is a big concern, as platforms lack regulation compared to traditional media, while owners and developers are ultimately gatekeepers. 

Only one in ten users are highly confident in Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter, according to the 2023 Survey of Online Harms in Canada conducted by Toronto Metropolitan University’s Leadership Lab. 

Social media also affects our mental health. We’re overly stimulated, with notifications dinging and flashing and chirping for attention. It leaves us restless, reduces the quality of our sleep, and is linked to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Cyberbullying and hate speech remain an issue, and social media gives us a rose-coloured view of others ‘living their best lives.’ Teenagers struggle with low self-esteem (or worse) as a result.


Users are more aware of what’s behind the curtain, from data collection to the impact on our mental health. It’s led to an erosion of trust and made us more conscious of how and how much we use social media. This builds the case for:

  • Being transparent with how you collect, use, and protect personal data; 
  • partnering with influencers to gain credibility with your followers;
  • funnelling your audience to owned channels, like an email list;
  • addressing the negative impacts of the technology; and
  • posting honest and valuable content consistently.

4. The next generation, raised on social media

Today’s youth grow up online. Global research by OfCom reports 44% of kids aged eight to 11 use social media, which nearly doubles to 87% for 12 to 15 year olds. They access it from their own devices, along with messaging and video apps, live streaming services, and on-demand content. 

What are some other habits of young users?

  • According to Hootsuite’s 2023 Social Media Trends report, Instagram is Gen Z’s favourite social media platform — despite being TikTok’s largest user base;
  • Later found YouTube to be the most used platform by those aged 13 to 25, while Facebook and Twitter are less favourable; and
  • younger users are spending up to four hours a day on social media, and as many as 10 hours a day on their phones.  


The future generation’s influence increases as time goes by — and they’re poised to be the most digitally savvy demographic. One of the most socially and environmentally conscious, as well. 

They’re the next batch of leaders, innovators, and decision-makers. Keep this in mind when it comes to connecting with Gen Z on social media:

  • They’re digital first, preferring to engage with brands virtually;
  • UX and UI are key to building relationships with a Gen Z audience — they expect a seamless experience, from social to website, online to offline; and
  • they aren’t fooled by bait-and-switch tactics, greenwashing, and dishonest business practices — brands are under the microscope and held accountable at all times

Maybe Gen Z isn’t your audience just yet. When it’s time to start building relationships, meet them where they’re most comfortable: the digital world.


5. A launch pad for the creator economy

Finally, the latest trend in social media is building your personal brand. Content creators, freelancers, and solopreneurs use it to form a community of loyal followers. Once the audience is large enough, each platform is leveraged to earn revenue, generate funding, and increase worth.

Digital entrepreneurs also use social media like a pitch podium. Where each platform is considered a door to the funnel, similar to any other business, association, or destination.

The pandemic forced remote work on many of us, and it’s here to stay. Social media serves as a place to build networks, form partnerships, and level up. It’s how individuals become businesses and earn a living from the comfort of their homes.


Social media is viewed as a conduit, connecting entrepreneurs around the world and creating unique opportunities. The value isn’t lost on platform developers — more large personal brand accounts means more app downloads and more users. Why’s that matter?

  • Social media is a source for talent—from full-time employees and experienced freelancers to influencers, interns, and leaders;  
  • it’s a source for support, where you can find sponsors and donors, investors and business partners; and
  • the creator economy is a 100+ billion-dollar industry offering a wealth of opportunity and inspiration for developing your own social content.

Let’s get social

Ready to take your social media game to the next level? 

Let’s tell your story together — from conducting in-depth audience research and developing strategic content programs, to producing scroll-stopping creative for your social platforms. 

Get in touch with Alphabet® today.

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter



Risky Advertising: The Good, The Bad, and The Stinky

Advertising is a risky business these days. Nudity on billboards, super bowel movements, and that “Dry January” tweet are a few examples of brands sticking their necks out to capture attention. 

Sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes, it creates controversy. And sometimes, it blows up in your face.

So why take the risk when you can play it safe and still get positive results? All signs point towards an overcrowded media environment – and self-aware audiences that are more intentional with their time. 

Being bold is a way to cut through the clutter and get noticed – for better or worse. You know what they say: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. 

Or is there?

Have we become desensitized? 

Why are we seeing more risky advertising from brands? What’s changed? 

For starters, the competitive landscape is fierce. Technology has propelled us to a point where basement businesses and storeless start-ups have the potential to go toe-to-toe with market share leaders. And people love an underdog trying to take down a faceless corporation. 

Today, even the largest brands can be overtaken with surprising swiftness. According to Gigasavvy, 52% of the Fortune 500 since 2000 are now obsolete. Meaning, for some, taking risks and constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable is the only option left. 

Playing it safe is no longer a strategy. It’s a surrender. 

But that doesn’t mean wearing a blindfold and going boldly where no brand has gone before. Be risky, but be wise about it. Canadian advertising and marketing laws are as strict as ever, with censorship and gatekeepers remaining a relevant force in traditional media. Not to mention, industries such as healthcare, finance, and government are highly regulated. 

That said, the advent of social media has blurred the lines between what brands can and cannot get away with. As privately owned companies, the likes of Twitter and Reddit have the final say on what’s acceptable. And let’s be honest, some of these platforms are like the Wild West of the internet. 

Social media also puts your finger on the pulse of what’s offensive and what’s not, while offering a testing ground for new ideas and timely content. It allows brands to track trends and hijack topics of discussion among their audiences. A great example is Snickers’ recent “THE VEINS REMAIN” tweet. The brand was quick to respond to rumours of certain features being removed from its chocolate bar, and its saucy retort went viral rapidly.

We can also assume a shift in demographics is responsible for more daring ideas. Baby Boomers are aging into retirement, Gen Xers are preparing to pass the torch, too, and Millenials are moving into high-level positions within brands, boards, and agencies. 

Younger generations are putting aside the traditional ways of their predecessors, challenging the status quo and trying new things. 

And don’t forget about the rise of Gen Z consumers. This segment is value-conscious, individualistic, bold, and creative. They’re drawn to personality-driven brands with strong morals and ethical practices. Remember, risky advertising isn’t always doing something shocking. Sometimes, it’s drawing a line in the sand and taking a side regardless of the backlash.

The popularity of entrepreneurship is also playing a role. Bootstrapping your own business or convincing venture capitalists to invest in your start-up is a risk in itself; it requires being bold and getting comfortable with taking chances. It seems logical these individuals are more willing to cross the line and step outside the box to gain a foothold in the marketplace. 

Are you struggling to come up with new ideas? When you hit a creative wall, try thinking inside the box, instead. 

Whatever the reason, risky advertising is becoming more and more common from brands in a variety of industries. Let’s dissect a few examples.

adidas’ #SupportIsEverything (2022) 

To launch its extensive new line of sports bras, adidas went topless (literally) in its #SupportIsEverything campaign. It’s possibly one of the most disruptive pieces in the sports gear industry. The brand showcased a variety of uncensored breasts on social media and on a billboard outside its headquarters – the billboard contained the message, “The reasons we didn’t make just one new sports bra.” 

According to adidas, 90% of women are wearing the wrong sports bra. So it developed a new line of products that includes 43 different styles and 72 sizes. The larger part of the story is female athletes – or women who simply want to be comfortable when they exercise – come in all different shapes and sizes. The brand wanted to tell that story in an impactful way. 

Mission accomplished. The campaign stirred up consumers, with some praising adidas for supporting body positivity, while others criticized the brand for creating a shocking ad designed to generate revenue using women’s bodies. At this point, the campaign has only been in market for a couple of months, so its overall success is yet to be determined.

Nike’s Dream Crazy (2018) 

Nike has never been shy about creating controversy, and its 2018 Dream Crazy campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick did just that. The former NFL quarterback, infamous for kneeling during the American national anthem, was the spokesperson for the campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It.” 

The campaign included an evocative video with Kaepernick encouraging people to dream crazy. It showcased athletes, individuals living with disabilities, and minority groups overcoming adversity in a variety of sports. The underlying message was to be bigger than yourself and to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” 

The backlash was instantaneous. Business shares dropped the day the campaign launched, the hashtags #BoycottNike and #JustBurnIt spread across social media, and consumers posted videos of themselves burning their Nike apparel. 

On the other hand, the brand received overwhelming support across the country, and following the U.S. Labour Day Weekend, sales of Nike products increased 31%. When the dust settled, the campaign earned Nike and Kaepernick millions in revenue. And despite the controversy, the brand remains the market leader in the sports gear industry.

Burger King’s Moldy Whopper (2020)   

In 2020, Burger King launched an unappetizing campaign showcasing its popular Whopper covered in mold. The purpose was to announce the removal of artificial preservatives, colours, and flavours from its signature sandwich. 

The campaign was admired by fellow marketing and advertising professionals, earning a whopping 18 awards at the Clio Awards. But seeing a glory shot of a 34-day-old rotting burger left many consumers feeling squeamish. 

But Burger King is familiar with taking risks. In 2017, it created a series of ads with real photos of its restaurants on fire to promote its burgers always being flame-grilled. And let’s not forget the brand’s epic fail on Twitter during International Women’s Day in 2021.

TUSHY’s Super Bowel Monday (2022)

The Super Bowl is marketing madness, with advertisers spending big bucks for airtime during the event. Rather than flushing wads of cash down the toilet, TUSHY, a bidet brand known for its cheeky creative, took to social media to piggyback off the popularity of the big game. 

The brand launched its Super Bowel Contest, asking people to send photos of their post-game poop. They were also asked to publish the photos on their timeline using the hashtag #TUSHYSuperBowel. Doing so entered the participant into the contest, giving them a chance to win $10,000 and a TUSHY Classic bidet. 

The contest created quite a stink online and grossed out plenty of people (myself included). But it generated a crapload of engagement and produced more than 2,000 submissions. 

Did it result in sales? That remains to be seen. But from a brand awareness standpoint, it was a cost-effective campaign with minimal risk involved.

Who else is being bold?

The above are only a handful of brands being bold with their advertising. But a quick Google search reveals plenty more. Here’s a list of a few other examples of brands making waves:

Calculate the risk vs. the reward

Is risky advertising a bottom-of-the-barrel approach for shock value alone, or is it a viable tactic to achieve long-term success? 

The short answer: it depends.

That said, when your brand’s reputation, your revenue, and your job are at stake, it’s best to weigh the risk versus reward before firing off that hot take into the Twitterverse. At times, it’s best to leave an idea in the drafts and defer to something safer. However, some brands have made a name for themselves by living dangerously.

Will you be one of them? 

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter


digital marketing - social media

The Art of the Hashtag

A pound sign here, a number sign there, and you’re good to go, right? 

Not quite (#SorryNotSorry). There’s more to expanding your reach on social media than dropping a few hashtags in a post and hoping for the best. In this article, you’ll learn the art of using hashtags, including: 

  • The benefits of hashtags 
  • How to determine and target relevant terms
  • Best practices for each platform and accessibility considerations

Let’s discuss the basics of hashtags before we dive in. 

First, make sure your accounts are set to public – if they’re private, only your followers can see your posts, which severely limits organic reach. 

Next, hashtags always begin with the pound sign, but they can’t include any other symbols, punctuation, or spaces. 

Finally, it’s recommended to keep your hashtags clear and concise. Obscure terms or multiple words strung together are difficult to remember and unlikely to be embraced by users. 

The benefits of using hashtags

Think of hashtags like social media’s version of search engine optimization (SEO). They organize content and make it easier for users to find what they’re interested in. 

Hashtags are a great way to capitalize on trends, helping brands join online conversations in a less invasive way. Using a popular hashtag relevant to your industry or target audience can enhance engagement, which helps boost your visibility to the platform’s algorithm.

Brand awareness is another benefit to using hashtags. Consider #WeTheNorth for the Toronto Raptors: as of October 2021, the term has nearly two-million associated posts on Instagram. 

Hashtags also allow brands to show their support for a social issue. Bell Canada’s #BellLetsTalk raises awareness for mental health, and it provides a way to increase their fundraising efforts surrounding the cause. 

What other benefits do hashtags offer?

1. Help users stay updated with topics of interest

Not only are hashtags searchable, but they can be followed as well. For example, someone interested in travelling might follow #travel or #TravelLife as a way of curating their feed to inspire future trips. 

If you operate in tourism, using those specific hashtags can increase the likelihood of your posts being seen by the right audience. 

2. Promote contests and giveaways

Just like branded hashtags help increase brand awareness, creating a hashtag for a contest or giveaway achieves a similar result. These types of hashtags can also help drive user-generated content (UGC). 

The popular Do Us a Flavor contest by Lays is a great example. #DoUsAFlavor was a viral success with extraordinary engagement, and it helped create thousands of user-generated posts for the brand.

3. Build an online community

Hashtags are a great way to rally like-minded individuals. #MarketingTwitter and #WritingCommunity allow marketing professionals and creative writers to connect on Twitter, where they share ideas, advice, and promote one another’s work.

For brands, identifying communities using hashtags relevant to your industry, products, or services does two things: 

  1. It helps you pinpoint a viable audience to target with your marketing 
  2. It helps you narrow down which terms to use as hashtags in your posts

How to determine relevant hashtags

Knowing which hashtags to use is key to finding organic success on social media. But it requires research.

Luckily, there are a number of tools to help: Hashtagify, Ritetag, Sprout Social, and more. For an in depth list, check out the Top 15 Hashtag Analytics Tools in 2021 from Keyhole. 

Another tactic is to monitor posts from your competition and social media influencers in your marketplace. Conduct a competitive analysis and catalogue the following: 

  • The posts receiving the most views and engagement
  • The number of hashtags used in each post  
  • The specific hashtags used

Note: Using a trending hashtag may get your post seen in a timely manner, but targeting popular terms isn’t always the best approach. The more people use a hashtag, the more competition it creates.

And with most algorithms favouring recent posts, this makes it harder to be featured at the top of a user’s feed for an extended period of time. Using the same hashtags as large brands with thousands (or millions) of followers presents a similar challenge. 

What’s the solution?

Get specific with your hashtags – instead of using something generic like #travel, narrow your focus to #TravelOntario, #TravelKingston, or #RuralTravel.

Another solution is to target related hashtags. Instagram and LinkedIn, for instance, provide alternatives to the term you initially searched. 

Lastly, don’t forget to track and measure the success of your posts. 

Hashtag best practices

Before we discuss how to use hashtags on different social media platforms, let’s talk about accessibility – or readability. 

Some people use screen readers to consume content online. So it’s important to capitalize the first letter of each word in hashtags with more than one word. Doing so makes it easier for a screen reader to vocalize long hashtags, and it makes your content more legible overall.  

Using hashtags on Twitter

There are no hard and fast rules for using hashtags on Twitter, but with only 280 characters per tweet, keeping them short is recommended. 

You can use hashtags at the beginning of a post to capture attention. Or you can put them at the end to give context without a lengthy description. Inputting them in the middle of your post is another way to save space or highlight a keyword. 

Here are a few other considerations: 

  • Commenting, replying, or retweeting with hashtags can boost the visibility of a previous post
  • Using hashtags in your bio is a great way to get your account found by users searching popular terms
  • Twitter suggests using no more than two hashtags per tweet

Using hashtags on Instagram

While hashtags originated on Twitter, they’re extremely popular on Instagram. They can be followed just like an account, they provide context to your stories, and they increase the reach of your posts and Reels. 

Note: Instagram stories are no longer shown in the feed for searched or followed hashtags.

You can use up to 30 hashtags in a post and 10 in a story, but there are varying opinions on the ideal number for each. Some claim using the maximum produces the best results, while others suggest half is the happy medium.

We suggest testing to find what number works best for you. 

The most important factor to consider when determining how many hashtags to use is their relevance to each post, your industry, and your audience.

Where’s the best place to insert your hashtags on Instagram? 

Below your caption or as the first comment. 

Unlike Twitter, using a hashtag in the middle of a sentence or at the beginning of your caption takes the focus away from your copy and your call to action. It can also reduce readability, especially for those using screen readers. 

Here are a few other considerations: 

  • Using hashtags in your account bio can increase the organic reach of your profile 
  • The algorithm limits the visibility of your posts if you use too many irrelevant hashtags
  • If you have a business account, Instagram’s insights tool gives you access to useful analytics, including how many impressions your account received via hashtags 

For in-depth instruction on using hashtags on Instagram, read Hootsuite’s 2021 Instagram Hashtag Guide.  

Using hashtags on Facebook

Using hashtags on Facebook isn’t as common as Instagram or Twitter, but they are especially helpful for private pages and groups. 

Brands have recently found success by creating private accounts and offering audience members exclusive content within. Hashtags are then used to group information by topic or theme to help users find what interests them most. 

That’s not to say hashtags don’t serve a purpose for public posts. 

As with other platforms, hashtags are searchable on Facebook. Again, relevance is key, especially since the algorithm is known to penalize those who spam their content with irrelevant terms.   

Here are a few other considerations:

  • When you begin typing a hashtag, Facebook will automatically start suggesting relevant terms 
  • Posts set to private, or as only viewable by your followers, won’t be found organically
  • By using the URL “facebook/hashtag/[the term you want to search],” you’re able to view public profiles and posts targeting a specific hashtag

Using hashtags on LinkedIn

Using hashtags on LinkedIn is more common than Facebook, but a similar approach is suggested. 

That said, users can curate their feeds by following hashtags, or include hashtags in content they publish with LinkedIn’s article tool. 

Here are a few other considerations:

  • It’s recommended to use 1–3 relevant hashtags on LinkedIn
  • LinkedIn is considered a network for professionals, so it’s important your hashtags follow suit 
  • Your posts and articles can be set to private, only viewable by those you give access to, or they can be public 

For a complete guide to using hashtags on LinkedIn, Hootsuite delivers another great resource with this article.

Using hashtags on Pinterest

Think of Pinterest as a search engine, with hashtags being the keywords you optimize your content around.

Do your research to uncover the terms used by your audience – a great place to start is Pinterest’s search bar. As you start typing a keyword, a list of relevant terms and phrases is automatically populated, giving you an idea of what users are commonly searching. 

Here are a few other considerations: 

  • Hashtags can be used in a pin description, the description for repinning a post, and in the comments section of a pin
  • You can add up to 20 hashtags per pin, and it’s suggested to insert them at the bottom of your description
  • Hashtags aren’t clickable in your bio, board descriptions and names, or your profile name

For more on using hashtags on Pinterest, check out the Definitive Guide to Pinterest Hashtags on Blogging Wizard. 

4 key takeaways for using hashtags on social media

  1. Relevancy is one of the most important elements to increasing your organic reach using hashtags. Be strategic about which terms you use.
  2. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; each platform is a little different. Develop a unique approach based on the network.
  3. Track, measure, and adapt. Using hashtags is an extension of your social media marketing plan. Your ability to improve results relies on gathering insights and refining your tactics accordingly.
  4. Back your plan with research. Whether you sift through data on your own or use a piece of software, take the guesswork out of the equation. 

Did you know hashtags can now be used on YouTube? Learn how to increase the discoverability of your videos in our guide to YouTube SEO. 

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter



Meet the Alphabeteers Part One: Client Services

Welcome to Alphabet®, where great brands are built on big ideas and strong partnerships.

I’m Cory, a copywriter on the team, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing you to the creative minds who help elevate our clients’ brands and transform their businesses – this edition features the client services department (accounts team).  

Alphabet® is fortunate to have some of the most talented, organized, and professional project managers and account directors in the industry. And to put it simply, they are responsible for making ABC look as easy as 123.

So, let’s dive in and learn more about the Alphabeteers who make up the accounts team.

Yasmin Khan

Studio Manager

Yasmin brings an impressive resume to the accounts team with over 30 years’ experience in a variety of communications fields. She’s goal-oriented, quality-focused, and is one of the cornerstones of the client services department. In her own way, Yasmin is Alphabet®’s parental figure, with her caring nature and dedication to helping fellow colleagues manage their work-life balance and improve their skills. 

Here’s what she had to say during our Q&A:

How long have you worked at Alphabet®? 
I started at Alphabet in the fall of 2015, so just over five years now.

What do you love most about your job? 
With each passing year, I get the chance to observe the awesome, creative, and talented people I work with grow into their best selves.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Traveling to Kenya to work in the field with an international group of geophysicists.

Yasmin served as an expedition science photographer for the Kenya Rift International Seismic Project.

I had never camped before, so sleeping in a cold tent and being with strangers 24/7 for a month was challenging – the wildlife, scenery, and tribal peoples made up for any discomfort.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
On clear nights, I like to wake up and go outside in the middle of the night to look at the night sky — identifying planets, stars and constellations.

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®? 
Every moment I have ever spent at a social event.

Emily Thorne

Senior Account Director

Emily joined Alphabet® in the spring of 2020 – just as lockdown measures were put in place due to the global pandemic. Her adaptability and professionalism come in spades with proven experience in the health, defence, and government industries. Emily’s wealth of knowledge and natural leadership abilities bring a veteran presence to the client services department. And she is the envy of the team with her flawless Zoom appearances.

How long have you worked at Alphabet®?
Seven months.

What do you love most about your job? 
Mine is a two-part answer:

  1. The opportunity to deep-dive into clients’ industries, audiences, and strategic challenges and opportunities at a really intricate and fundamental level.
  2. Getting to collaborate with a team of incredibly creative and dynamic thinkers to find exciting, boundary-pushing solutions to those client challenges and opportunities. 

The chance to straddle these two fascinating worlds is a real privilege. 

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
My career peaked when I had the opportunity to meet then-President Obama and, separately, then-VP / now President-elect, Biden. 

Now, I’m just coasting (KIDDING!). 

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
Many moons ago, I was a two-time Canadian champion competitive Irish dancer. 

I also have super double-jointed elbows – it’s weird.

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®?
Hard toss-up between sending an all-staff email with a glaring typo on my very first day and, more recently, coming to the stark and semi-public realization that I’ve misunderstood the concepts of “gross” versus “net” my entire life.

I swear I’m smart!

Favourite moment at Alphabet®? 
Literally any time there are dogs in the office, which is basically always.

Marley Kirkpatrick

Account Manager

Don’t let Marley’s easy-going attitude fool you; she’s a fast-paced, strategic thinker and a multi-dimensional account manager with an incredible amount of creative talent – and the word in the office is she knows how to play just as hard as she works. Marley’s passion for travel and culture, along with a desire for lifelong learning, give her an international perspective on media and communications, keeping her on the cutting edge for our clients.

How long have you worked at Alphabet®? 
Just over 5 years…if you count my first year here as a content developer, working part-time while I was finishing university. 

I quickly realized that was not for me, and then I was introduced to the wonderful world of the accounts team.

What do you love most about your job? 
I honestly can’t pick one. But I think one of the coolest things is opening a magazine, scrolling Facebook, or driving down the highway and seeing work that I had a part in creating out in the real world – seeing the projects you’ve worked on come to life never gets old. 

I also love that literally no two days are the same. I never have a ‘boring’ day; there’s always a problem to be solved or something amazing to create. 

And, it’s so cliche, but the people…I really love working with this team (except for when people haven’t had their coffee yet).

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Definitely getting to attend AdWeek in New York City in 2018. Incredible to be among some of the most notable people in the industry from all around the world (and some celebs too) – I learned so much. 

I also really loved going to the 2019 TIAO Summit in Blue Mountain – the highlight was our big win with Tourism Kingston for two marketing awards. 

Basically, I just really enjoy getting out and meeting other people in the industry. It’s inspiring to chat with them, hear their stories, and share the work that we do.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
I’m a pretty open book, so I don’t think there’s much that people don’t know about me. 

That said, one of my favourite things to do outside of work is tending to my indoor jungle – I’ve lost count of how many houseplants I have. 

But somehow I can still kill a succulent…

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®? 
I have so many that I would never allow on the internet. 

I’ll just say: Christmas Party 2015, Christmas Party 2016, Christmas Party 2017, Christmas Party 2018, and Christmas Party 2019.

Samantha Watters

Account Coordinator

Sam is a recently recruited Alphabeteer with a friendly, inviting personality. She’s high-spirited and detail-oriented, and her background in marketing, brand management, and event planning make her a valuable member of the client services department. Sam coordinates client projects at various stages and is quickly becoming the go-to team member for anything related to Minto Communities Ottawa. Her coordination with the creative studio is especially valued – something I can attest to.

How long have you worked at Alphabet®? 
Just under two months. 

What do you love most about your job? 
I love the culture at Alphabet®. 

We know how to have a good laugh, but we also know when to get to work.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Attending Google training during my time with Nissan Canada. 

Being taught by a Google expert about the ins and outs of Google AdWords was fascinating, as nerdy as that might sound. 

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
I lived in Alaska for just under a year. My dad got a job in Anchorage, Alaska, so the family packed up and went to live there just after I graduated grade 12. 

It’s a beautiful state: the mountains, the moose on your front lawn (in the middle of the night, too, so amazing!), and just the views in general. I would go back and visit in a heartbeat – take the Seward Highway past Beluga Point Lookout, drink my BB’s coffee, and have lunch at Alyeska Resort.

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®? 
I didn’t know Tony and Cathy were married, so when they each brought in Betsy (their dog) separately, I was a bit confused. 

I asked Hannah, but I didn’t know how to word it since I thought I found out saucy news. Turns out, no saucy news – they are married!

Part two coming soon

Well, that’s the client services department in a nutshell; thanks for taking the time to get to know our team. Stay tuned for next week’s edition of Meet the Alphabeteers, where I’ll introduce you to our tech-savvy team members in the digital and development department. 

If you’d like to know more about Alphabet® and the solutions we provide for our clients, visit our services page and contact us with your questions – our accounts team is happy to chat and learn about your needs.

Cory DavisCopywriter