Social Marketing: Anti-Idling

Idling is a huge issue in Vermont. No, scratch, that, it’s an issue everywhere. It’s understated how impactful fumes really are.

I remember when I got my first car. I was in the process of getting my license, so the old Accord was sitting in the garage throughout the winter. Every day, I had to go outside, crack open the garage door, and let the thing run so it didn’t freeze up. One morning, I forgot to crack the garage door. I was sitting in the car, enjoying some tunes, and everything got awfully fuzzy. My head hurt, my thoughts were slurred, and everything just felt weird. That’s when I realized my mistake.

I survived, of course, since I’m here writing this, but that carbon monoxide poisoning got me thinking. What is the world, if not one big garage? There’s a key difference, though: the Earth doesn’t have a garage door to prop open.

Social marketing to combat idling in Vermont.
Tasty, tasty fumes.

I’ve spoken with a number of professionals from the American Lung Association, who have all said their bits about idling. The issues it causes are innumerable, ranging from diabetes, asthma, chronic heart issues, etc. But why don’t we think it’s a big deal?

As I’ve stated in my professional values statement, marketing is, to me, about consumer empowerment. But where does ignorance end and apathy begin? You can educate consumers all day, but what do you do when they have all of the information, and still do not wish to change their behavior?

Social marketing is a tricky beast. Changing behaviors is a massive undertaking, as it has been with anti-smoking campaigns. And sometimes, you don’t even see change.

I’ve been toying with this notion while working on an anti-idling campaign for my Integrated Marketing Communications class, and you can see some of the work on my portfolio page.

As you can see, we’ve been playing with scare tactics a bit. It’s imperative to have people understand that a personal decision has societal impacts. Children are a major concern for parents and community alike, and with schools being a high-risk area for idling, we’ve used this as a jumping block of sorts.

Normalization is a great approach, as social stigma is a powerful force in making people change their ways. We’ve proposed tickets to be placed on cars found idling, calling them out and urging them to stop. This isn’t about education, it’s about publicizing their negative behaviors and making them worry about the ramifications.

All of these are small stepping blocks, and a major frustration I have with social marketing is that there are no big steps. Legislation, even, is a long and arduous process, and idling laws that are actually in place in Vermont are lax, to say the least.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about approaching this matter. The cost inefficiency, car damage, health risks, environmental risks, and social stigmas are all valid approaches, but to know which one is the most effective takes a lot of time and resources, things that I do not have at this current time. In the future, I do anticipate reviving this as a pet project, but the world of a college student is so woefully small.


The Artistic Takeover of Marco’s Pizza

It was April 21st, 2016. A beautiful Thursday afternoon. The sun was setting over a little local pizzeria, where four college students, myself included, were undertaking their first major fundraising event.

We called it the Artistic Takeover of Marco’s Pizza. Art from local students and young adults adorned the walls, depicting flowing rivers, glorious mountains, and a businessman with a sheep’s head. The proceeds were going to the South End Art and Business Association, or SEABA. After a project process filled with stress and strife, it was finally coming together.

Marco's Pizza

Now, Murphy’s Law is a powerful, driving force in the universe. For those unfamiliar, it is a simple concept:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

I was tingling with anticipation. A group member had sealed a musician to perform and kick off the event. A beardy man began setting up his amps and guitars. I approached him and asked how he’d like to be introduced.

“Well, the name’s John, but my project name is Callous.”

My heart sank. It didn’t take a lot of insight to know that he was obviously a heavy metal performer. At a family pizza shop. With children. And a baby.

My life flashed before my eyes as he began screaming, “I am the power,” into the microphone (note: I believe this is what he said. I am still unsure.) There is a time and a place for everything, and Callous was an incredibly talented performer. But as people began to get up and leave, and the staff started yelling into their phones to communicate with customers, I realized we had made a mistake.

But the art was great!

Our group was wrought with turbulence. We had argued over trivial things and our communication was weak. Not a single one of us had known about the performer, and the group member who invited him hadn’t really researched his musical methodology.

Eventually, we opened up the microphone for an open mic session, which was much more appropriate for the venue. And while it came to be a success, with a raffle that included tickets to the Spirit of Ethan Allen, I learned an important lesson.

You may not always like the people you work with, but at the end of the day, you have to actually work together. Otherwise, you end up with a heavy metal artists screaming in a baby’s ear. And that’s just horrible.


Marketing as Art: A Reflection on Ken Millman

This week, I got to meet Ken Millman, owner and sole employee of Burlington’s Spike Advertising. Ken, who has taught marketing at the college level, returned to Champlain College for a nice meet-and-greet.

“Be different or don’t bother.”

This is Ken’s motto, and one that embraces the reality of modern advertising. With the abundance of branding we see in everyday life, it takes something truly exceptional, something truly insightful, to grab our attention. Even the widely-lampooned launch of the first iPhone had a magical spark. Whether it was the now-dated Coldplay track, the personal face that Steve Jobs brought to the presentation, or the feeling of tingling excitement as he build up the features until unveiling the product, there is a striking originality to the charade.


This is Ken, taken from

Ken defines the exceptionality that Spike Advertising offers by saying that “the difference between a horse and a unicorn is the spike.” But this passion, this spark, is not something that is manufactured.

Ken shared that he had once reached a point where he was tired of his work. At the time, Spike had a handful of employees, and numerous local projects in the works. Ken owned and operated the whole company, trying to balance logistical management with the creative whimsy. Still, he found himself exhausted emotionally. Where had the passion gone? What happened to the dream?

Questions like this take a lot of introspection, and come with no easy answers. After tracking his work schedule, he found out that the operations of a business were taking away all of the time for his projects. Even the ones that he had time to work on weren’t those he was interested in; they were a means to keep the business going. After all the work to establish a functioning marketing firm, he had forgotten the key component: inspiration. And with that, Spike had become a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.

Following this revelation, Ken overhauled the business. He turned it back into a one-man-show, scaling it down so that he could be in charge of the clients he took and take point on their cases. Spike Advertising is now more successful than ever, and the work shows the passion that Ken pours into it. He takes what interests him, and makes it his own while listening to the clients. A big part of his company policy, actually, is listening. This is very much in line with Inbound marketing, and most modern schools of thought. It’s about asking what the client needs and providing the tools, not about telling the client what they need.

In many respects, it’s clear that Ken is an artist moreso than a businessperson. I put myself in the same boat. Marketing is a passion, a passion for understanding people and expressing a brand’s personality. A lack of this passion is apparent in a marketer’s work; this is why it is an industry not well suited for those who are only in it for the money.

I’ve been struggling with how to proceed myself. I enjoy earning money, yes, but only to be able to do the things that matter to me. I want to create art, both for a company, and for myself. I want to make music, images, ideas, and friendships. I was never keen on entering the rat race, and I had wondered, after seeing my classmates go off to big cities for impressive companies, if I had a place in marketing.

Talking with Ken assured me that there is a place for me. In many regards, passion for marketing itself, and not the perceived success it can bring, is the key. After all, advertising is an art.

I’ve decided to pursue these thoughts further, and will be getting to talk with Ken one-on-one later this week. I feel like he may have some guidance to offer me on my journey.

“It’s Toasted”

The world of marketing is ever-changing. I know that sounds cliché, so, to be more specific, it is changing exponentially. As technology advances, we are finding more and more ways to reach out to customers, and the platforms we use to do so are expanding rapidly.

With this in mind, there is a particular way of thinking that I am seeing quite often in professional environments, and it is troubling. I will refer to this as the “Mad Men Mindset”.


The “Mad Men Mindset” is the idea that creativity and charisma is all that is necessary to succeed in the marketing world. People who subscribe to the school of thought believe that money can be gained with the utterance of a simple phrase in a moment of inspiration, as Don Draper did when he said “It’s Toasted”.

It’s a romantic idea, one that, unfortunately, doesn’t work in the real world. I mentioned above the idea that marketing is undergoing exponential change. As it integrates more and more into the digital landscape, a greater amount of technical skill is necessary to reach out to a target market. SEO and analytical tools may be relatively new, but it’s imperative for the new generation of marketers to understand them in order to be successful given the digitalization of the industry.

I understand the desire to be a “Mad Man”. It’s sleek, sexy, and dramatic, but it is no longer representative of what it means to be an advertiser. Sure, charisma and creativity are still useful, but with such a competitive job pool, specialization is necessary.

There are a handful of SEO tools I can vouch for. These are great introductory programs to understand your website’s performance, and the competition you face:

  • Moz
  • SEMrush
  • Google Analytics

In addition, Adwords are critical to understand if you want to be involved in the digital marketing plan. If digital marketing isn’t your thing, find a focus. Maybe you want to conduct market research and integrate your findings. Maybe you can coordinate events with venues and planners. Maybe you’ll participate in negotiations and conduct the sales of ad-space.

No matter what you do, GET HARD SKILLS. That is what makes you valuable.