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In 1970, astronauts John Swigert, Jr. and James Lovell along with Fred Haise Jr. made up the crew of Apollo 13. During their moon flight, they reported a problem back to Houston. Forever ingrained in American folklore, the actual phase uttered by astronaut Jack Swigert was “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

Apollo 13 B

The crew of the Apollo 13 moon flight reported a major technical fault in the electrical system of one of the Service Module’s oxygen tanks. It was a genuine report of a life-threatening fault. Since then, this misquoted statement is often used humorously to report any kind of problem.

But, what if that wasn’t the case? What if the PC police told us that we couldn’t use “problem” because it was a negative term? That if they told us the appropriate phase is “Houston, we have a challenge.”

Just imagine the dire concern, sense of urgency and need for rapid response, after hearing astronaut Swigert exclaim, “Houston we’ve had a challenge here.”

It really isn’t that farfetched or hard to imagine. Many businesses and organizations have instituted a ban of negative statements and terms. In their marketing plans, the word “problem” has been replaced by the word “challenge.”

In their advertising, you can’t use “can’t” and other “not” words, or sell the solution by expressing or illustrating the problem first. Any and all negative statements must be flopped and presented in positive and friendlier terms. Often meaning the real meaning and power is lost. And while it’s not a life and death situation like Apollo 13, it can mean the difference between someone reacting and responding to your ad message and doing business with your competitor.

It definitely makes the competitive space harder to navigate and control. And makes it harder for us to successfully launch and guide brands and deliver the payload – share of mind and share of wallet.

So it’s fair to say, “Houston, we have a problem!”

The digital landscape is shifting. The use of ad-blocking software has risen 48 percent within a year so brands have begun to move resources to social media, native advertising and influencer campaigns. We are rethinking the role of digital display ads and their place in the purchase process.


Still, the larger challenge remains. How do we find authentic ways to fit brands into one-to-one messaging platforms without annoying your audiences? The explosive growth of messaging platforms continues to accelerate a warp speed and is expected to expand from 2.5 billion to 3.6 billion global users by 2018 – 25 percent greater than the audience for social media. While one-to-one messaging soars, Facebook has noted that its users are posting less and less ­– in fact, only 20 percent of millennials use broadcast social networks to post photos and videos at all.

However, diminishing returns are showing that using Snapchat as an organic social channel isn’t cost-effective. Nor should we think of it as the next Facebook or Instagram. We need to think of it as new TV. Think appointment-watching, awareness and buying eyeballs ­– not growing communities, editorial calendars and real-time marketing. Think of it as a newfangled TV spot, not regularly scheduled organic snaps to grow your audience.

The digital video space has become more complicated and has to be rethought. You can’t just post your brand’s video to YouTube and syndicate it across other social networks. Your video needs to be optimized for every platform it’s posted on. That is, if you want to bolster its chances of success. Post it on YouTube, but then it needs to be reshaped as a Facebook video, a Twitter video, an Instagram video and potentially a Vine or Tumblr video. That’s for starters. Video needs to be tailored for each platform, optimized for the audience and cultural norms of each. And with live-streaming gaining even more momentum, pushing out that branded content continues to get exponentially more difficult.