Share this experience with Jenny Nicholson

Jenny Nicholson, Executive Director, Brand Experience at McKinney began her career as a copywriter. But before landing in advertising, she earned a Master’s degree in Social Work. She’s always been in touch with how people think and make decisions. Despite working on beautiful and compelling creative, she wondered traditional advertising channels were the most impactful tool which led to the creation of Spent, a game that puts the player in the position of having to make the hard choices necessary to stretch a small household budget over the course of a pretty typical month. Ten years later, this game is used to help teach principles of social work in universities and Jenny has created a unit at McKinney devoted to meaningful experiences.

Play Spent here:
Find Jenny at and

The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think  for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back  on something you hear in this episode, go to and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most  interesting messages will be added to future episodes. And I can’t wait  to hear from you. Music for The Strategy Inside Everything is by  Sawsquarenoise. Host Adam Pierno is an author, speaker and strategy  consultant. Learn more at

Listen here:

Transcript below:

Adam Pierno 0:03
This is a strategy inside everything. I’m Adam here now.

All right, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything. This is a good one, we’ve already started talking, which frequently happens. And I had to remember to press record, and actually had to stop our guest today, because we were getting about two thirds of the way in our conversation, Jenny Nicholson, welcome.

Jenny Nicholson 0:32
Thank you for having me.

Adam Pierno 0:33
I’m so excited. We’ve been trying to set this up for a while. Yes, Jenny Nicholson, for those who may not know, is the Executive Director of Brand experience at McKinney. And we were talking about our career paths. They’re interesting to me, because there’s some parallels in my own experience. But Jenny, would you give people a sense of who you are and what you’ve done before you got to this role in this brand experience role? And that’s really a core part of the conversation I’d like to have today.

Jenny Nicholson 1:05
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I actually have a master’s in social work. And the year I graduated with my master’s, it was a very tough time in North Carolina to find work. And so I applied one week for two jobs. One was to be a substitute teacher. The other one was to be a proofreader in an advertising agency. The substitute teacher job never called me back. So I got hired as a proofreader at McKinney. Just over 17 years ago, I walked in the door, and I didn’t know anything about advertising. I was the first person in my family to go to college. So this was just a world I didn’t know existed. And I walked in, and I was like, Wait a second. This is a place where people work, you will get to have fun and be weird at work. And so I just found it a really natural fit for my energy. So I was a proofreader for a couple of years moved into the creative department started as a copywriter worked my way up until the end of 2020. I was working as a group creative director, I still lead creative on our Sherwin Williams and pampers accounts. But you know, I’ve always had a passion for non traditional ideas that actually build business that the idea that got me the most excited about advertising way back in the day was actually the Domino’s Pizza tracker. Because what I loved was it was a a brand action. Yes, that solved a very real problem in your life, because people probably don’t remember, but it used to be that you would order a pizza. And for the next hour, every time a car drove by, you were like is that my pizza? Is that my pizza? And so as a black hole of information, exactly. And so the brand gave me something to solve a problem that I didn’t even realize was one that could be solved. And I just always love that type of thinking. So at the beginning of 2021, I launched a new team, the brand experience team, which is comprised of social and digital strategists, creative and creative technologists, that’s really focused on the long answer is helping brands actively do things that prove out their purpose, instead of making ads for the short answer is less less saying we’re doing?

Adam Pierno 3:13
That’s awesome. How did those did the creative people on that team participate in other teams? Or are they dedicated to the brand experience,

Jenny Nicholson 3:22
it’s sort of a borrowing back and forth, I think one of the things that’s really fun about working with our team is that we have a really different approach, we don’t, we don’t have a waterfall process. It’s not like the strategist makes the brief. And then it goes to the creatives. And then it goes down to the creative technologist, we all sort of come together as a group at the beginning to sort of figure out what we’re going to do bring in different perspectives. And then once we’ve sort of as a team settled on what’s really exciting, then we’ll all lean into our different specialties to bring it to life

Adam Pierno 3:53
is once you at the start of the process, you bring everybody together, is there, does it go into a more traditional model from there? I mean, is there a brief created? Or is it Have you developed a totally different process? Or is it still being figured out as you as you grow the team,

Jenny Nicholson 4:10
kind of a little bit of both? It sort of depends on the progress of the process and the project. But I mean, we really usually start by all of us just kicking around what’s possible, because you know, insights are the most important thing. And they can come from anywhere. And somebody will be like, Oh, I saw this thing there. Or that reminds me this thing, or I saw this subreddit. So it’s really fun to have sort of everyone around the table at that very first part of the process when we’re sort of defining the challenge. And then from there, it can kind of take a bunch of different forms.

Adam Pierno 4:42
And so in some cases, you may need a brief but in some cases, you might just move forward with whatever document you’ve been creating during the conversation. Exactly. That’s that’s really cool approach and I think you can see it in some of the outcome of the work that we’re people Have, you could see input from people thinking more experientially than traditional art director, copywriter. Here’s a beautiful visual, especially my knowledge of McKinney back to the McKinney silver days is, you know, beautiful print. So I know that there’s a legacy there of thinking in those clear communication and beautiful ads.

Jenny Nicholson 5:25
Yeah, I think one of the biggest gifts that I got in this business was I didn’t go to Ad School. And I started right around like in the creative department, right around like 2006 2007, when a lot of things were getting shaken up about how people thought about advertising. So I say nobody actually taught me what advertising was supposed to look like. So I’ve never had any rules to follow, which has been fun.

Adam Pierno 5:48
Yeah, it gives you a certain amount of freedom. Yeah, that’s. I’ve ever heard anybody verbalize it that way?

Jenny Nicholson 5:56
Yeah. Not to mention, I didn’t have to pay for grad school. So that was great to

Adam Pierno 6:00
be coming from under that. Yeah. So in the first couple years, where salary doesn’t quite line up with the bills that you have the budget, but I want to talk about the work you did. Leading creative, because the Sherwin Williams work is work that I mean, the first time I ever saw that on real TV, that’s not some spec thing that won awards, and was this mysterious thing you have to go to add to the world to watch? Those are on broadcast all the time, and they are breathtaking. And I’ve never seen a bad one. Every time I see a new one. I still I’m like, Oh, good, a new one. There’s a you know, there’s that they figured out another way to tell this story. Tell me tell me more about that work. And, you know, for a lot of creatives that would be for me, as a former art director, I would be really excited and energized by that. How did that lead you into bridge thinking about, you know, experience? Or what’s the thread there that might connect to the experience work you’re doing?

Jenny Nicholson 6:58
Yeah, I love that. Because when people think about brand experience, they often go to like CX things or digital things. But really for for us, when I think about brand experience, the main thing is to go from this position of looking through the brand’s eyes and being like, what do we want people to know about us? To looking through the customers eyes and asking yourself, How can we add value to their lives. Because you know, even if you look at the language that we use, in our industry, we call customers the audience, which suggests that we’re standing up giving a performance and they’re just sitting there waiting to hear what we have to say they’re receiving Yeah, or we call them the target, which suggests that they’re just these sorts of things milling around, that we’re going to shoot our messages at. You know, and we live in a world now where people don’t have to listen to what we say. And they often don’t, you know, I don’t have cable. Even when I’m not watching a big high profile, live event, like the Super Bowl. Even when I’m watching something on live TV, like I find the commercials sort of a kind of a novelty, because I’m not used to seeing them. Most of us are used to seeing the five seconds before we hit the skip button on YouTube. And so I think the thing that brings a lot of the work that we do together, that’s true, even of the television is there’s a spirit of generosity. So when I’m watching television, as a customer, what’s going to be valuable to me, you know, it’s not the time that you want to go talking about all of our paints and finishes and machines and wash ability. I want to be entertained, I want to be transported, I want to see something beautiful. Yeah. Or on the other side on Pampers. We made a big pivot with them. You know, they have been in the business for 60 years, they’re, you know, known as the premier, you know, baby diaper brand. But you know, parents don’t need pampers to tell them all about their baby, and all about how important it is to take care of their baby. Parents do nothing, but stress over how to take care of their baby and making sure their baby has the best, right. So it was a really big pivot for Pampers to actually start talking to parents, with honesty, with empathy with respect about the experience of being a parent and take a lot of their voice and reach and give something to parents who really needed it.

Adam Pierno 9:31
So you start so the creative kind of already was moving you were already thinking about it as experience in both of those cases versus let me give you a list of benefits and attributes that you can file away for your decision making funnel that we’ve just put you in.

Jenny Nicholson 9:46
Yeah, I always say it’s like going to a party. If you want to go to a party and be a welcome guest you don’t show up and spend the whole time talking about yourself. You have to come bearing gifts or else you’re not going to be invited back

Adam Pierno 10:00
That’s a good analogy. So I read this article from campaign which came, came out somehow in November. And what I think part of my question for you is, why did this just come in November of this of 2021. But it was talking about some work that you had done for the Urban Ministries of Durham. And the article was very positive about this digital experience that I want you to walk people through, which is just a mind blowing idea. But it, but there’s a kind of a sentence in there. That’s a throwaway, which I think buried lead, which is one, I’m not going to quite quote you. But you say we had done traditional broadcast, but I didn’t quite feel like it moved the needle. It didn’t it didn’t lead people to take the action that does your Urban Ministries of of Durham needed people to take to participate to solve this problem.

Jenny Nicholson 10:56
Yeah, so the reason that the article came out last November is it was actually the 10 year anniversary spent. So we launched spent in 2011. And I think one of the things that I love about it is this thing that we made 10 years ago, with no media support, no paid budget behind it gets more daily active users today than it did the month that we launched.

Adam Pierno 11:20
How is it? Are people sharing it? Like? Are they sending it around individuals, I mean, not not the organization.

Jenny Nicholson 11:28
It’s I mean, the organization doesn’t have to share it anymore. It’s actually become a really integrated part of educational curriculums all over the country from middle school all the way through post, undergrad. So I actually found out I have some friends from my old social work life, who are now professors at schools of social work, and all over the country. schools of social work use it to onboard their new MSW students to help them understand what it’s like to live on the edge of poverty, I guess I should go back and be like, here’s what this game is.

Adam Pierno 12:02
No, yeah, that’s such a gratifying feeling to know that it’s getting practical uses and is not just an entertainment or a kind of a marketing tool. But yes, let’s let’s tell people what, what spent is you’ve given a kind of a quick overview. But yeah.

Jenny Nicholson 12:18
So spend is a game that basically challenges you to make it 30 days on unlimited minimum wage income. You know, one of the things that we learned is that if you look at a lot of campaigns around poverty, they often appeal to pity. There’s this sort of underlying tone of you have so much they have so little you should share. Which a doesn’t do much, because that’s not anything we already know. don’t already know. Right? You’re like, Oh, thank you for telling me something I already know. I can’t wait to change my behavior, right?

Adam Pierno 12:50
Yeah, no, okay. Oh, yeah, I will just fix everything I’m doing.

Jenny Nicholson 12:54
Yeah, exactly. And so what it did differently was when you first open the game, it says Urban Ministries of Durham, sort of 6000 people every year, but you’d never need help, right. And there’s a big red button that says, Prove it. So what I love is by taking it from an appeal to pity and making it a challenge, it taps into this little belief that nobody wants to admit that we all have, which is that we would never be in that situation, right? It’s easy. And you’ve heard people say that they’re like, I do whatever it takes, I work in McDonald’s, I mow lawns. So okay, what happens if you do have to work at McDonald’s? Or

Adam Pierno 13:34
you take the consequences, like, you

Jenny Nicholson 13:37
think that you’d never get to a place where you’d have to ask a place like Urban Ministries for help, like, here’s your chance to prove it. And I think coming from that perspective, and sort of tapping into this deep belief we all have about ourselves is what made him really successful.

Adam Pierno 13:52
Where did that insight come from?

Jenny Nicholson 13:59
It’s kind of funny, but so we had done a campaign for Urban Ministries of Durham before it was a TV campaign that had that takeaway of like, It’s not nice to ignore people asking for money on the street didn’t really move the needle, like I said, because it wasn’t really telling people anything new. And the Urban Ministries had come back to us saying like, we want to do another campaign. Our theme for the year is about experience the journey, what they had meant was experienced the journey of somebody, like from when they walk in the door at Urban Ministries to getting back on their feet. And I was in the shower one day, my dad, at the time was super into Farmville, like super into Farmville. As I remember these days, yeah. And I was getting a lot of annoying notifications. That was like Mark, Mark needs some nails for that.

Adam Pierno 14:52
And what was the other one Mafia Wars?

Jenny Nicholson 14:54
Yeah, Mark needs help weeding his sweet potatoes. And one day I was in the shower and I was like, QA what it would, what would it be like if I got a notification that said, Mark can’t pay his rent this month and needs to borrow $200? Yeah. And that sort of was like the very first spark of what ended up becoming spent.

Adam Pierno 15:16
How tough of that is since the since you had done broadcast. And since the the client came with this journey that they had in mind, and now you’re essentially saying, no, let’s do the opposite journey. You know, let’s, let’s plumb that and figure out what’s there? How tough was it for them to get on board? Or did they get it immediately.

Jenny Nicholson 15:38
They didn’t get it immediately. But they had a lot of trust, like going to a client and saying, Hey, so we’re going to make a game that sort of like the Oregon Trail, but around poverty is definitely kind of a scary conversation to have.

Adam Pierno 15:53
I think that’s true. That’s why I’m asking you it’s a pretty, it’s a brave idea. I mean, it’s to put it on a on a slide and saying, here’s, here’s what we’re thinking it sounds like the opposite of what most marketers would want to talk about.

Jenny Nicholson 16:10
So we first of all, that’s one of the beauties of working on pro bono things, right is they have a little more motivation to take a big swing, because they’re not putting their own money on the line. And then also, as we were selling it in, we kind of found some ways to contextualize it in a context that they would understand. So for example, as we were talking about it and introducing the idea, we lead with this very famous book by a woman named Barbara Ehrenreich called nickel and dimed. Which is where this woman who is a comfortable college professor actually goes and tries to live as a maid or as a waitress. And so we use that sort of as a as a reference point, because they had all read that and they love that. And were said, Imagine this where like, anybody can actually be put in that circumstance, just the way that she is in the book. And that was a really helpful thing. And, you know, but in full transparency, they weren’t sure they were like, Oh, okay. And it wasn’t until we gave them a first playthrough of the initial prototype that you watch their eyes light up and realize that, that it was going to be something really special.

Adam Pierno 17:22
Tell me about the effect, because I’m looking at some numbers here. I mean, what’s what’s more of interest to you that it’s raised? Nearly a quarter million dollars, which is amazing. But is it more of interest to you that that is that effect, or the sheer? Take away that the response that people who run through spend have or that it’s, you know, we used to help social workers contextualize the work they’re doing?

Jenny Nicholson 17:56
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s pretty amazing that this game that we made for a Durham homeless shelter and emergency services organization has now been played like by over 14 million people all over the world. And I think what’s neat is, it’s being used in classrooms, all over the all over the world, to help young people have more empathy for people in poverty. So it’s not just in social work schools, it’s being used in high schools in personal finance classes. Around the time that it came out a couple of months later, we found that a really big credit card company had actually started using spent with its collections team,

Adam Pierno 18:37
the bill build to build empathy,

Jenny Nicholson 18:39
because there’s actually there’s actually a step in the game where one of the things that you can get is a credit card company calls about a Past Due bill. So it’s kind of giving the the agents some empathy for the people on the other end of the phone and understanding why like maybe somebody is not going to be as kind in response to a call from you as you would like them to be.

Adam Pierno 19:02
Oh, man, what’s the average duration of the game? I mean, is it it’s about 12 minutes. Yeah. So you can run through it. It’s not like an experience that you’re that you’re signing up for. And you have dropped off. People generally make it through?

Jenny Nicholson 19:17
Well, and what I love is people almost uniformly placement twice, they play it the first time, the way they want to the way they want to think of themselves. Yeah, right. You want to be able to make the decisions that you as like a good moral kind human being make. And then they and then they lose the game. They don’t make it 30 days because they run out of money. And it’s really funny because there are some really challenging questions. There’s a there’s one where you have to decide whether or not you’re gonna lend your mom $100 for medicine, or whether you pay for your electric bill or your heat bill. But then the one challenge that makes people will fail the game more than any other one is there’s one where it’s like your pet is sick. And it’s won’t get better without treatment. So you can pay $400 To give it treatment, you can pay $50, to have it put to sleep, or you can just let it be sick. And that is the that is the number one most common fail point when people play the game, they pay the $400, or they pay it and then they lose the game. And so what’s really interesting is they play through once kind of making the choices that that sort of reflect the kind of person they want to think they are and then they lose. And then they play it again. And they make different choices. Because the second time they’re focused on surviving,

Adam Pierno 20:44
yeah, yeah, they come back humble the second

Jenny Nicholson 20:47
time. Yeah. And they realized that the only way to get through the month is to maybe make decisions that you wouldn’t want to make or face realities that you’ve never had to face. And so I think that’s the thing that I’m the most proud of is I think it really helps people understand this sort of damned if you do damned if you don’t reality of living in poverty. And you know, the whole point of it was, yeah, if somebody playing it could just have one moment where they’re like, damn, this is really hard. That was really, that was really the whole point and takeaway of the game.

Adam Pierno 21:24
Yeah, I am working so hard. And it’s not having any impact on my success in this game. Every day is just another disaster. Or another not a disaster. But another challenge that I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t have the means to solve this. Like, how do you? Yeah, it’s eye opening.

Jenny Nicholson 21:41
Yeah, it’s funny, because spent actually wasn’t the first game that I made. And

Adam Pierno 21:47
I was going to ask you, I was going to ask if this was, you know, this is an amazing success. So it was this right off the bat, you got this lucky or were you this good? Or was there something else that you had done first that you learned from?

Jenny Nicholson 21:59
We’ve done several games since then. But we did one before that, that really helped me see the power of games in a new way. So it was an assignment for Shan board the core? I don’t know if you know, it’s like the you know, it’s the core that comes in the little like, globe.

Adam Pierno 22:18
I do. Like that bottle shape. But still, yeah, it’s

Jenny Nicholson 22:21
very cool. Yeah. So it was a it was a the Ask was a module to train. The people who go around to bars and restaurants and grocery stores, like the distributors, basically, who get it into the, into those placements. And I think they just wanted a PowerPoint thing. And we were sitting in there, and we’re like, Man, that is a hard job. It’s like, you’re just driving around alone in your car, going to all these different places, trying to get people to buy a like, Globe shaped bottle of like raspberry liqueur. Like,

Adam Pierno 22:59
even getting people that understand what is in that bottle is probably really hard.

Jenny Nicholson 23:04
Exactly. And it’s mostly dudes, like who are doing this job. So it’s like, yeah, it’s like they’re going around selling this purple raspberry drink. So what we ended up suggesting was a game. And so we made a, we made a game that was a sort of training in disguise that was called Operation sham board. And you’ve gotten tried to bro it up. We did, it was really fun. So you got to play almost as this like double Oh, seven style agent that goes on all these different missions, you get a car that you drive could change the radio station on the car, you go into a bar, and like a lady brings you a bottle of shampoo board, but it’s a secret. There’s like a secret video camera in it that teaches you about the background of like shampoo board and where it’s made and stuff like that. And there’s another thing where you have to figure out where to place the shelf talkers in the grocery store. But before you do that, you have to fight ninjas. And it was awesome, because it was hugely successful. It had, you know, like 100% completion rate one guy and I don’t know how I feel about what this is about his life, but he was like, that’s like the most fun 20 minutes I’ve ever spent my life I was like, Okay,

Adam Pierno 24:15
I don’t know about that. But he’s what I think he’s not an Xbox owner. I

Jenny Nicholson 24:19
don’t know. But what it taught me and this was back in like, I think 2006 2007 Maybe. But it was really my first time realizing that if we had just come from the perspective of what do these people need to know, we probably would have just done a boring training module. Yeah. Separate looked at

Adam Pierno 24:41
here’s the bullet points. Here’s a short video. Here’s a script. Yeah, exact stuff that you do in those those assignments, which is always very dry.

Jenny Nicholson 24:49
Yeah, exactly. But instead we’re like, Okay, what’s this person’s life like? And how do we actually make them feel like the hero of the job instead of just talking? Knock them about, like all the recipes you can make with this liquor. So,

Adam Pierno 25:04
yeah, the creative that you did for Urban Ministries of Durham prior to did TV spots, and I’ve seen them they’re they’re heart wrenching. Those were those had the intended effect of creating an emotional response. I mean, ultimately the the the effect you wanted His people to participate, donate give time, whatever it is, but they did wrenched the emotion. So I think when I had originally reached out to you, the question I had was, is it I guess the wrong way to say it is it’s the separation of the screen, because the TV is is, you know, is fit to TV spot, or you’re watching it on YouTube or wherever. But the game is also on a screen. You know, I’m also at arm’s length from the real problem. How do you how do you think about what a game or an something more interactive does differently then it’s not easy to create a, you know, a short film that makes people tear up? So how do you think about that?

Jenny Nicholson 26:08
Yeah, I always say that spent isn’t necessarily successful, because it’s a game, right? There are a lot of things that are games that suck. I think the thing that makes Spence successful is that it was a challenge, that it was a surprising way to tackle something that people hadn’t done before. And I think, you know, and I love the spots that we made first, I think they’re beautiful. They give me big feelings, like people cried when they saw them. But I think I go back to that spirit of generosity. Like, if I look and I’m being really honest, at the first work we did, it was sort of about like, oh, let’s make people feel bad, so that they will give us money. Where spent was like, let’s give somebody an experience that they’ve never had before.

Adam Pierno 27:00
So they internalize it, and they register a feeling related with being in those shoes are being in that place. Yeah, has that because you are still a creative director or on some business and you still create what I’m assuming you get brace her for traditional ads or, or more traditional things. You’ve had 10 years has the work that you did on spent impacted the way you attack a brief for, you know, a TVC or any other ad.

Jenny Nicholson 27:34
Yeah, I mean, I think like I said, it always goes back to everything that we do. My main goal is to make something that somebody would want to see that somebody would want to engage with, that somebody would want to share with somebody else. Like, you know, there’s a lot of, I think, you know, negative association with ads. And I think a lot of us in this industry just want to make powerful things that connect with people. And so I think that’s always, always the filter that I try to use is how can we make something that doesn’t feel like a waste of somebody’s time, even if it’s 30 seconds? You know, that doesn’t feel like we’re just forcing them to listen to something or see something that they don’t care

Adam Pierno 28:24
about? Yeah, I mean, including your own time creating it.

Jenny Nicholson 28:28
Right, exactly. I’m gonna spend my time working on something that doesn’t feel meaningful or doesn’t feel like it connects with people on some on some level. And I think it’s always, you know, for me, it’s, I think it all starts with really pushing, pushing that insight. You know, like when we worked on Pampers, one of the insights that we learned was that, you know, nine out of 10 moms think they’re not doing a good job. It’s like, they work so hard, and they give everything to their babies. And then they’re over here on the other side, like beating the crap out of themselves.

Adam Pierno 29:01
That’s actually a heartbreaking data point. I mean, yeah, but anybody who has kids is nodding right now and thinking like questioning, you know, the response to that. It’s not as like, Oh, good. I must be doing okay. Then the response is like, yeah, me either. Yeah,

Jenny Nicholson 29:14
exactly. We found some statistic that said, like, pretty much every woman especially has had at least one negative thought about herself before nine o’clock in the morning. And so that was a way where, you know, the first the, the video we made out of that the film was really about helping helping moms see themselves through the eyes of their babies. Because Oh, yeah, you don’t think you’re doing enough but to your baby, you’re the most powerful, beautiful, strong, wonderful creature in the world.

Adam Pierno 29:47
Yeah, until they get their first like, kindergarten teacher. Exactly. Then your second fiddle and they’re out

Jenny Nicholson 29:53
of diapers by then. So

Adam Pierno 29:59
how do you Who? How so you’ve started this team when?

Jenny Nicholson 30:03
January of last year? Okay, how long? Is it a timeline?

Adam Pierno 30:07
How has it been received in both inside the agency and by, you know, brands that you that you work with? And kind of what anything unexpected happened in the course of the year of building it so far?

Jenny Nicholson 30:20
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s different. It’s a challenge, because it’s a different way of thinking, you know, if you think about like most advertising agencies, maybe this wasn’t true of the one that you worked at, or maybe this isn’t true of listeners, but most advertising agencies I’ve seen, when they bring in a creative campaign, and they do a creative presentation, it’s sort of like, here’s your manifesto, here’s your television, here’s your pieces. And then like, here’s a lot of stuff. Yeah. And like, a lot of times what’s going on in that lot of stuff is actually where some of the most interesting thinking is.

Adam Pierno 30:52
Yeah, it’s how it’s how the thing actually legs out and touches the other interesting parts of the person’s life that you’re trying to communicate with.

Jenny Nicholson 31:00
Exactly. But when it’s just treated as sort of a deliverable that comes after the television, that comes after the video. It’s just very easy to just be like, okay, great love all of this. Let’s just not do any of this stuff and focus just on the television. So one of the things that I think we’ve learned is that you can’t just bring in BX as an after the fact deliverable. One of the things that we talk a lot about at McKinney is that it’s not a deliverable. It’s a mindset shift, because it’s a shift that starts at the very beginning, with with problem definition, right? Because a client will come in, they’ll say, Oh, I really want an ad campaign. And I really love to get down below that and say, Okay, that sounds great. What, what business problem are you trying to solve with? It’s

Adam Pierno 31:48
the real thing we’re trying to solve here? Besides delivering you an ad? Yeah,

Jenny Nicholson 31:52
exactly. Because maybe an ad isn’t the right, the right place to go. Or maybe like, you do an ad, but it’s about something that maybe you didn’t even know you should be talking about. So one of the things that we’ve been building is what we call the it’s called an experience versus expectations map, right? And so what it does is sort of the expectations part of it is sort of your standard customer journey, right? Like, at different points in the process. What am I actually expecting from the brand? What do I need, what’s going on in my life? And then we actually map against that the current brand experience, right? So at different touchpoints at all these places where I’m a person, and this is what I need in my life, this is what’s going on with me, we actually map and say, Okay, how is your brand actually showing up. And what’s really nice is you get to see where the deltas are like, and they’re often with a lot of brands are moments where what they’re actually providing in terms of the experience, is exceeding customer expectations. And so our perspective is always like, that’s what you should be talking about. Yeah. Because if their expectations are lower in what you’re giving them is actually better than more people need to know about that. But then what’s really nice too, is it it, it makes it very clear and obvious where the biggest gaps are. And so it’s sort of a really fun way to help brands recognize that, like you can say everything in the world that you want to. But if you have this very real delta between what people need and what they’re expecting, and where you’re showing up, and how you’re showing up, like all the great ads in the world aren’t going to help you.

Adam Pierno 33:27
And you can decide from there what’s best either to build on current strength, or to build on that fix the biggest delta and start shoveling to fill that with with something more meaningful

Jenny Nicholson 33:36
exactly are sometimes you know, the really big deltas or big operational lift things. And so those can be hard. And so often, we look and say, Look, this is actually a pretty small delta, that if you did, like this very simple thing, would actually close that gap quickly and have a pretty big impact and so that you can start building momentum and start changing the way you show up while you tackle some of these bigger issues.

Adam Pierno 34:03
Is it satisfying for you to be able to get into those kinds of operational recommendations and impacting their, or at least attempting to impact their core business versus being the copywriter or the creative director where they’re saying like, Oh, that’s nice. Just bring us the ads.

Jenny Nicholson 34:20
Yeah. I mean, that’s, I mean, I’m not in the business of making an ad, I’m in the business of exponentially impacting clients, businesses, I want to make their businesses better. I want to make them more valuable to the people they’re trying to reach. Because that feels good to everyone. And if you know, I think that’s one thing that’s interesting is that, you know, agencies often see themselves as communication partners, when really we should be seeing ourselves as business partners, because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do is to drive the business. So I think that’s, you know, one of the things that’s sort of an interesting challenge is As brands don’t really expect this kind of thinking to come from their advertising agencies.

Adam Pierno 35:06
Where do they expect to get it from?

Jenny Nicholson 35:08
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I mean, I think that’s sometimes where some of the consultants, the big consulting companies have a little bit of a head start because they’re, they’re tapped in a little bit more upstream, and people are coming to them with business transformation challenges. Yeah. And so that’s sort of been one of the things that’s really interesting is how you sort of come in with something different that has an impact, but isn’t so big, and so unwieldy that it’s like that’s and you know, I’m sure anybody in an advertising agency has heard the phrase, that’s an operations thing.

Adam Pierno 35:41
Yeah. Oh, for sure. And you work with those consultancies, and they also have their own set of products that they deliver, that you can expect, when you call the consultants, here’s what I’m gonna get. It’s not an ad, but it’s like, oh, let’s do let’s look at a reorg. And let’s look at your, your, you know, your cost structures, and it’s like, okay, I know what they, if I hire them, I know also know what I’m gonna get to a certain degree. And so there’s a middle ground. Yeah, and Accenture, trying to reach into and figure out how to get into that middle ground? Well, and that’s

Jenny Nicholson 36:11
what I think is really exciting. It’s like you have these extremely creative people who work in advertising. Why not harness that creativity and use it to attack business problems, and really unexpected ways? So I think it’s I think it’s an interesting and fun, exciting time. I think it’s just, you know, I guess I also believe that if agencies don’t start playing at that level, don’t start actually impacting the business don’t start showing up as obsessed with sort of the business as their clients are, then I think we’re gonna see our impact, as an industry, kind of continuing to become smaller and smaller.

Adam Pierno 36:57
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s right. What is the what is the response been inside the agency or people, when you when you introduce this idea more, either more or less formally, but when you started working on it, was it hard to get people to participate? Or were they were? Was it the right group of like minded people that were like, raise their hand and say, I want to work on these things?

Jenny Nicholson 37:18
Yeah, I mean, I think part of it is, you know, similar to what I said earlier, it’s like, understanding when and how to bring us in, you know, that was one of the things that we learned pretty quickly, it’s like, bringing us in after the creative brief has already been determined, probably too late, because a lot of the questions that we ask, would inform a brief would inform a brief. So that’s something that we learned and that, you know, we’ve had a lot of success with sort of coming in, from an educational perspective. So in some clients, we’ve had these sort of introduction to brand experience, sessions, where we talk a little bit about the brand experience mindset talk about how we, how we use social listening. So that social doesn’t become just a communications channel. But you actually can use social listening for insight generation in a way that I don’t think clients often do. And then kind of show them what can be possible. If you take some of the pain points and needs that you see come up in social listening. They’re not telling you, they’re already telling you. But I would say that the most powerful insights come when you’re paying attention to what they’re saying, when they don’t think that anybody’s listening. Yeah. And then showing how you can actually do something active based on those insights, and create something that you already have a pretty good bet that people are going to be responsive to. Yeah,

Adam Pierno 38:41
but also the filter that for social listening or for other research, there’s a filter that you go in, looking for, oh, let’s do social listening to see how our campaign did. And so then you rule out things. Oh, that’s not related to the campaign or you don’t you don’t have your eyes open to see or hear what? No, they’re, they’re all saying this thing, you know?

Jenny Nicholson 39:03
Yeah. Yeah. I the way I do social listening is I think, pretty opposite the way most people who do it for a living do is like, I’m actually not interested in sort of the macro trends are what most people are saying the most. I love to go like, dig around and find edge cases and then say, Oh, that’s interesting. This person said this. I wonder if other people are saying this. So I think it was last year, we were getting ready to launch a campaign for Samsung’s new folding phones, the Z fold Z flip. Yeah. And I was I spent hours hours on Reddit, like people would post on Reddit and they’re like, hey, what do you guys think of this phone? And people would own earlier generations of them. And I remember, there was a subreddit like eight pages deep into the results and then like 100 Answers deep into that. There was one person who said, This is the worst postpone I’ve ever had, because everywhere I go, people won’t leave me alone. They want to see it, they want to ask about it. They want to know if I like it, I want to see how it works. And we pulled that out. And that actually became our teaser campaign for the product. And then on the other side for the flip, we went to tick tock and just search, I searched flip, we searched flip phone as the hashtag on tick tock, and found all these people talking about how when you have a smartphone hanging up on people is not nearly as satisfying. Because you can’t, you can’t slack it, you can’t slack it shut it down. You can’t clap, you just have to push a button. And so that ended up leading to what the creative team did. And that was an art team that was sort of in the creative department. They ended up doing this amazing campaign with Todrick who was on drag race and stuff like that with a whole a whole song all about like

Adam Pierno 41:04
clacking, that satisfaction of being able to really clack someone

Jenny Nicholson 41:08
I don’t click clack. Yeah, so being able to sort of introduce that kind of thinking to clients has been pretty fun. And it’s it’s been an interesting way to sort of get connected to other clients on the client side who maybe aren’t the day to day comms team. And then sort of on the other end of the spectrum, we’re having a lot of luck coming in helping clients understand what to do with emerging technology. So we’ve done several presentations with clients on NF TS helping them understand what an NF t is, but also how I think our 101 for NF T’s is called How to Make a branded NF T. That doesn’t suck. Yeah. So and the same thing in the same thing for the metaverse, so kind of sort of coming in with this. It’s funny because it all goes back to the spirit of generosity, right? It’s like we don’t come in necessarily trying to sell something we come in, try to educate them about a different way of thinking, help them see the potential for it. If you want to keep playing let us know.

Adam Pierno 42:09
Right. But here’s here’s some things that are happening that we think are good that are giving people something useful or something entertaining that’s meaningful to them that is worth investing in because they remember exactly, versus putting a Chipotle in Roblox.

Jenny Nicholson 42:25
I mean, that was I mean, they gave away a million bucks in free burritos.

Adam Pierno 42:29
I know. But did they have to do that in Roblox could they have done that? I don’t know. It just seems like if you have a million dollars to give away, you could there’s a trillion ways you could do that. Without that didn’t feel it didn’t feel Roblox was not important to it.

Jenny Nicholson 42:48
Yeah, I mean, they did make some choices around that made that in some ways. I think one of the better non fashion because fashion and beauty. The translation from that into the metaverse I think is pretty easy. Yeah, right. Because we have avatars, they got to wear clothes, their faces got to have makeup on them. I think it is with some of the other brands that don’t have as nice of a connection or as tidy of a connection where the interesting thing is, and I think there are a couple of things that Chipotle did that made it actually one that I like more than some other ones. First of all, they did it as a limited time thing. They didn’t try to launch an ongoing presence. They just ran out. They did around Halloween. So you got to go to like a house like a haunted Chipotle. You got to play with your friends, you can put up little costumes and stuff like that. So I thought that was sort of, I prefer them doing that when it was around a specific time. You could do something that maybe you can’t do in your regular Chipotle, and then they did you know, I think it’s always easy. Back to the spirit of generosity. Giving away your product is always a very easy way to be generous. Yeah, to be to be generous. Exactly.

Adam Pierno 43:54
That’s a good point. And the there’s hardly any actual haunted Chipotle, so I’ve researched it and right to find one so

Jenny Nicholson 44:01
I much prefer that than if they tried to go in and build their own Roblox server that was like the world of back to the start where you got to farm the tomatoes and watch them grow and feed the pigs where it’s just like it’s all just a giant ad for how great their products are that then you sort of get to play so

Adam Pierno 44:22
yeah, I think people would be bored of that pretty quick. Yeah. Unless the pigs are adorable, then maybe. I mean, they gotta be cute. You got a price of entry for sure. Well, Jenny, thank you so much for joining me where can people find you online?

Jenny Nicholson 44:40
You can find me on Twitter at Miss Jenny. And you can also find me online at

Adam Pierno 44:46
Perfect I’ll I’ll clean that up in the air. I will also include links to spent so people can try the game for themselves and see how many times they have to go through it before they start making really tough some are the really tough choices in the game?

Jenny Nicholson 45:02
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you for having me. This has been super fun.

Adam Pierno 45:05
Thanks for making time for me. I really appreciate it and great conversation.

Jenny Nicholson 45:09
All right, awesome bye

Adam Pierno 45:27
strategy inside everything is produced by me, Adam pure. If you liked what you heard, please leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts really helps. For more information about me Adam pure note you can go to Adam pure There’s information about my books, my speaking and my strategy work. Have an idea for a guest send it my way. Just go to Adam pure And you’ll find a forum there that will help you connect. Thanks for listening

Transcribed by

Support this podcast: