Baileys on Face

Ah, snorkellers mine. D’you know what day it is? It is Sad Day.

You know that ( to my mind) rather charming and evocative painting by the clearly quite stable Mr Munch – The Scream? That, dear trotters all, is a bit like how I feel today, on Sad Day, only the painting doesn’t quite capture the same sense of lonely, existential despair.

(Incidentally, do you think that Edvard had a brother, Monster? Or, as it would be in the original Norwegian, Munster?)

So, I hear you breathlessly cry (or, technically, ‘cry breathlessly’ – let’s try and keep our infinitives unsplit), what is the cause of my misery on this, Sad Day? Well , I’ll tell you, it’s this piece from the FT – as is your wont – point your wands, swish and flick – avada kedavra!

Yes – it is a tale of woe. As you’ll know, blog rollers all, I am not a big fan of social media – the ‘book and the twats, mainly – and one of the reasons that I am not a fan lies in the belief by many (otherwise and seemingly quite sensible and likeable) corporates that social media can somehow deliver revenue to the bottom line. Social media, I have maintained, until now, on Sad Day, are not sales, marketing or communications tools – they are at best reputational tools, with a part to play in scenarios of crisis.

So imagine my dismay and horror and feeling of universal wrong-ness when I read that Diageo – a purveyor of pleasant beverages to functioning alcoholics, youths-on-a-bender and stressed-out citizenry – has been using Facebook for marketing activity and has found (through Nielsen basket-scanning research) that certain campaigns for brands like Smirnoff and Baileys boosted  purchases by as much as 20 per cent in the US.

And how am I tempted to be cynical and note the terminology ‘certain campaigns’, and question how, exactly Messrs Nielsen conducted their basket-scanning  research, but I will not give in. As much as 20%. That’s revenue enhancing, whatever way you look at it.

It also adds some extra detail to my own version of The Scream. It’s called The Face (just a working title, most revered rollers) and it is a mental picture (no, not as in ‘mental, mental, chicken oriental’, mental as in ‘all in the mind’) of the tipische Facebooketeer. Hunched over a computer in the darkened third bedroom of his parents’ semi, oblivious to sunlight and the outside world and surrounded by empty pizza boxes and tins of energy drink.

And now with a bottle of Baileys and a liqueur glass by his side.

I think the Munchster would be proud of me.

Corporate Communications – Power Of The People, Not Power Of The Media

Recently I posted about Starbucks and its amazing transformation – a 200% rise in profits over a three-month period – and how it appeared to be driven by a) the return of Howard Schultz (undoubtedly) and b) an emphasis on great, best-in-class, employee and customer relations. True, S-Bux has more than five million Facebook fans and 700k Twitter followers, but the reality is that the ‘conversations’ that are taking place there – while no doubt translating into some level of sales – are in no way responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Big Coffee’s fortunes.

No, they are not. But it didn’t take very long before some socmed evangelista leaps on the bandwagon and attempts to imply that they are and – more – that Howard Schultz prefers social media over other marketing channels. I was alerted to this frightening opportunism by this post on Steve Virgin’s blog, which directs you to the piece in question – here – at BrandRepublic.

The argument, which is used to engender and foment one of my least favourite discussions (‘Why do some people get it, and others don’t?’ – more of it later), is based on an interview that Schultz gave to Marketing Magazine – which you can read here.

(Sorry, dearest blog snorkellers mine, I know this is a lot to be dumping on you, late on a Wednesday afternoon, but it is important in our crusade against the spurious lionisation of social media as a tool for business benefit.)

In the interview, Mr Schultz was asked ‘Which one (marketing) channel will take precedence?” – a leading question, of ever there was one – and his answer was really quite clever. He said “I think social media is a natural exten­sion of our brand because we want to do things that are unexpected, and to speak to all sorts of people who are engaged in social media. It’s tough to measure but there is an incremental benefit to sales.”

And he’s right, there is an incremental benefit to sales – but notice he’s careful not to go overboard in terms of what that incremental benefit is. He also, tellingly, qualifies his answer by saying that social media ‘is a natural extension of (the Starbucks) brand’ – ie it is suited to the Starbucks brand, but not necessarily suited to other brands. He also, even more tellingly, doesn’t actually answer the question – he doesn’t say that social media is the channel that ‘will take precedence’. To put those words in his mouth is careless misinterpretation.

And, as promised – here’s a thought on that ‘getting it’ question. (Apparently, according to an Internet Advertising Bureau study, only a fifth of marketers see social as core to their marketing strategy.) Some brands, businesses or corporations don’t seem to ‘get it’ because they don’t need to. It is not right for their brand or business. It is not – in Mr Schultz’s words – ‘a natural extension.’ It really is as simple as that.

Corporate Communications – Trends for 2010

Following on from the piece in PR Week (issue dated January 29, probably still on sale, this week’s cover price – oooooo – £12.34, or nearest offer – or just click here) about the latest Edelman Trust Barometer (well done the Week – a genuinely useful news piece – I have high hopes of you for the future), I came across this, an article from Entrepreneur magazine.

(Before I go on, I should also say that the author of the article, one Susan Gunelius, also features regularly in Communicate Magazine’s ‘Who’s Blogging What’ section. So do I, actually, so it’s no guarantee of quality.)

Anyhoo – yesterday, btw, was Groundhog Day and the wee critter duly came out of his quarters, saw his shadow and condemned us to six more weeks’ winter. Or maybe it’s just the States. Small creature’s vermin, in any case. The article in Entrepreneur magazine provides – for discussion, obviously – 10 marketing trends for 2010. I have to say that my initial instinct was to discard it as hippy nonsense (and some of it I still do) but in the light of what Messrs Edelman had to say, I can’t help but thinking it needs a further examination, especially in terms of how some of the 10 might affect the corporate communicator.

Thinking caps on, then, chaps – eyes down, here are the trends that we should be pondering:

  • Transparency and trust are paramount (Edelman go as far as to propose that trust and transparency rank higher than product quality – I’m summarising – and that financial return is one of the least important factors in driving corporate reputation)
  • Less interruption, more enhancement and value-add – don’t go disturbing people with your messages (unless you’re Mr T and Snickers) – give them something they can use
  • People want value – sometimes as simply as making their disposable incomes go further with discounts and free stuff – give them that and they’ll love you
  • Show, don’t tell – actions speak louder than words, so demonstrate what the benefit of your stuff is – what will the audience actually get if they give you their hard-earned
  • Peace of mind is the new black – your audiences want reassurance, because they’re hurting right now, and they want to hear it in your marketing and communications messages

OK – I’ve paraphrased it, and I’ve not included all of the 10 Marketing Trends for 2010 – because I still don’t believe in the ‘global conversation’ voodoo, and I do think that there is still an outside chance that social media as marketing, comms and sales tools may still be exposed for the valueless charades that they are. (Oooops – did I say that out loud?)

(Back to Edelman briefly – their study shows that traditional media are still more highly trusted that social media, blogs or websites – so there, social media evangelists and gurus! Eh?)

Finally, and it’s not new, but maybe we can make it work this time round – ‘integrated marketing trumps standalone tactics’. This means a new era of co-operation between sales, marketing and comms, if we are to get it right.

(Less sniggering at the back, please.)

Public Relations – Products You Cannot Spin?

Following on from yesterday’s commentary on things you wouldn’t spin, I came across something to day that made me think about things that you cannot spin, not matter how hard you try, and that, eventually you simply have to give up on and view as a lesson learned.

There is, I believe, a temptation for every communications practitioner to believe that everything can be promoted – that there must be a defining something somewhere, that there is a story hidden behind the hopeless exterior and (because we are all horribly insecure) that if we can’t spin it, then someone else will.

This prevents us from taking the obvious path, the one that would save us time, effort and sometimes cash, the one that involves us telling the prospective client that their lovely whateveritis simply isn’t going to fly. That it is, in fact, a horrible turkey, and that they should pack up now and go home. As I’ve said before, I can’t help but thinking that our industry would be in a better state if we weren’t so eager to say yes to everything (I’m generalising, obviously) and if there weren’t quite so many snake-oil salesmen around (and there are, there are) who have little in the way of pride and will counsel anyone on anything if it means they can submit an invoice at the end of the month.

(And before anyone has a pop – I am not making this up – I have seen it happen. I have worked in places where it was obvious that the prospective client was a hopeless basket case, and that the day we achieved significant results for their product or service would be the day that Satan puts on his gloves and scarf and skates to work – there’s a photo opp – yet we still took the brief, still took the cash and accepted the horrible, embarrasing sacking when, inevitably, it was a disaster.)

Recently, on a social network, I came across a bloke looking for help in devising a PR strategy for a new wine product. Now the wine marketplace is a crowded one. It’s price sensitive. It’s difficult to get traction. It’s even more difficult if your wine is made from pomegranates.

Luckily, I think I got to bloke first – I explained to him what he could do to publicise his product and I also explained to him why he’d be wasting his time – that it was unlikely ever to be more than a niche product which might, if he was lucky, become a fashion accessory or a fad for a very, very brief period. I also warned him about the snake oil salesmen and – hey presto – no sooner had I posted the advice, than there were two further posts, offering to help him make his product the new Jacob’s Creek. (I’m exaggerating slightly.)

My second example comes from many moons ago, when I was but a stripling PR person. One of my clients was the generic food promotion agency of a particular European country – while working for them we were not supposed to give one particular brand prominence over any other, however we were entitled to approach the brands that came under this organisation’s umbrella about their specific needs. And they were free to approach us. To cut a long story short, one day I took a call which turned out to be a request for assistance in the promotion of lard.

I didn’t say ‘no’ immediately – mainly because my director was one of those who simply saw the fee opportunity and not the world of pain that would have to be endured to get to the fee, or the inevitable loss of the fee opportunity as we failed to satisfy the client’s expectations. Lard, you see, is lovely – it is – but unfortunately it’s got a bad image, it’s got lots of calories, it contributes to raised blood cholesterol levels and it doesn’t look very nice. OK, I knew my food then, and there’s not doubt that I could have leveraged some coverage for it. But achieving the brief to increase levels of lard consumption across the board? Sorry. I’m good – but no-one’s that good.

Finally I manage to prise my director’s twisted little fingers away from the prospect of the fee, and we said no. And, because I haven’t noticed lard becoming a staple feature of my, or anyone else’s, diet, I can only presume that no-one was able to do a better job of it than the one we didn’t, in the end, decide to do. 

And so to today – and well done, my blog snorkellers, if you are still with me. Today I was alerted to this fantastic and immensely disturbing product. Ladies and gents – if you haven’t had it already, I give you – Meatwater!

This has a genuinely repellent fascination about it, and I for one will not be trying it any time soon. And yet, and yet, I can still see why someone thought it would be a good idea. Anyway, in brief, here’s one that makes you think about the whole ‘would you, wouldn’t you’ deal. For what it’s worth, and on balance, I wouldn’t. I’ll go further and nail my colours to the mast and say it will, sooner, rather than later, disappear without a trace.

If they’re listening, however – the blog’s not been updated, the Twitter feed’s not updated and, as far as I can see, one of the most important things about Meatwater – what actually goes into it – isn’t featured on the site. This says to me that the actual manufacturers don’t really care that much about it, which makes me think that longevity is something this product hasn’t got.

Let’s face it – Innocent Drinks it ain’t. But thinking laterally – as Innocent have recently launched their veg pots (in a break from fruit-only tradition), maybe there’s something they might consider doing in this arena.

And as I’m not a snake-oil salesman, I’ll let Meatwater and Innocent have this counsel for free.

The Philosophy of Public Relations

“The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who — with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth — dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.

Yet there is something more to be said about this. However studiously and conscientiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something. There is surely in his work, as in the work of the slovenly craftsman, some kind of laxity which resists or eludes the demands of a disinterested and austere discipline.”

This  is by (as you probably know) Harry Gordon Frankfurt (born May 29, 1929), professor emeritus of philosophy, Princeton University and is taken from his 1986 essay ‘On Bullshit’.

Something everyone should read.

Social Media – I’ll Tell You What They Want

So. There I was, sprawled on the couch (the grey one that used to be cream in a time Before Children) in what passes for a living room (which is, incidentally, supposed to be a Child-Free Zone, but has recently, I’ve noticed, been threatened by a slow-moving but inexorable tsunami of plastic cars, aircraft and soldiery) pondering life, t’universe and everything and waiting for the second episode of Flash Forward. 

(For those who haven’t been exposed to this meisterwerk of the television producer’s art, Flash Forward, and its cast of thousands, deals with the premise that everyone on earth suffered a two minute and 17 second blackout – at exactly the same time – during which they all experienced some sort of glimpse of their individual futures. The rest of the series, I’m presuming, will be spent finding out why, who, how and – most importantly – how to stop the future happening.)

Now, Flash Forward isn’t a bad programme, but I’m getting the feeling that Channel Five are absolutely desperate for it to achieve cult status. It’s the irritating voiceover you see. Just when you think it’s safe to sit on your sofa and watch your programme of choice, you get some voiceover lovely (on behalf of the station) telling you just how marvellous the programme is going to be. And, by implication, what a wonderful human being, a paragon of taste and style, you are for watching it. Indeed for discovering it in the first place. You are well and truly sat in one of the very frontest seats in the tip of the pointy end of the vanguard. And then Irritating Voiceover Woman starts asking rhetorical questions! As if you hadn’t noticed the f***ing kangaroo hopping down the street and the strange person in black who should have blacked out but didn’t!

Thing is, this is a blatant sales technique. It’s not adding anything to my enjoyment. It’s simply hyping something that I’ve already bought into. It is uneccesary puffery – preaching to the converted – a waste of resources. It does not bring the consumer in – in fact, speaking personally, it alienates them (me). Worst of all, it’s pitched at a very low level – I recognise it for what it is and find it mildly insulting. And if I do, then, speaking as no Einstein here, so do thousands of others. (And finally, in this instance, unforgiveably, Flash Forward ain’t no Twin Peaks – don’t even think about drawing a parallel. )

Briefly – very briefly, because I didn’t want to miss any programme (I’m terribly respectful of my audience, but I’m afraid, dear blog snorkellers, you’re not as important as Flash Forward) – I was minded of stuff I’ve read and conversations I’ve had about the nature of content. Specifically, obviously, content posted to social media by brands (companies or organisations) as part of a social media strategy.

It’s one of the main tenets of the big US argument for letting employees post to social media, without going through the PR department. As I understand it, the (US) feeling is that anything coming out of the PR department is like the Irritating Voiceover – full of needless promotional puffery, recognised for what it is, and – truth be told – slightly insulting  to the consumer. This, obviously, is not what the social media consumer wants.

Unfortunately, in their mad rush to get away from what the social media consumer doesn’t want, the social media gurus seem to have lost track of what it is that the consumer ALWAYS wants – always has done and always will do.

There’s this belief that the consumer wants a say, wants a conversation, wants to be asked questions. Well some of them probably do – and they’re the ones who are tweeting Starbucks or Facebooking Domino’s Pizza. (Is it just me or is there something rather sad and depressing about Facebooking a global pizza company?) But I’d be willing to bet that most of them don’t. From my experience, there’s one thing that consumers want from a brand (once they’re vaguely satisfied that the brand doesn’t kill babies or manufacture its products from toxic waste).

Consumers want Free Stuff. They don’t want an Irritating Voiceover – although they’ll put up with it, if there’s some Free Stuff at the end of it. They want Free Stuff, given to them in a non-threatening, non-patronising, non-strings-attached manner. They don’t want to be told they’re brilliant, they (mostly) don’t want to be asked their opinions, they don’t really want to have a say.

They want Free Stuff. And if it’s good Free Stuff, they’ll probably come back and buy it next time. The moral of the story, therefore, is:

  • PR people – stop doing irritating voiceover – be genuine, be honest and, occasionally, tell people how to get Free Stuff.
  • Social Media Gurus – stop asking for opinions, stop trying to start conversations and keep them going – acknowledge those who want to say something and tell people how to get Free Stuff.

Tell me I’m wrong.

It’s The Brand, Stupid

It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks.

Patrick Swayze passes away, the wife goes into mourning and, if I interpreted the brief glimpse I got of the TV last night correctly, sitting through Dirty Dancing (again) looms large in my future. (Which begs the obvious question – why does everyone consider Dirty Dancing a better film than Point Break?)

Then the world-stopping news that gastronaut Keith Floyd’s clogs have gone pop (rather delightfully, after a large meal, with wine), I’m in mourning, and no matter how much I may wish it, I cannot see Auntie Beeb treating me to an evening of back-to-back Floyds on Whatever. Anyway, back to me, Clive.

So I’m feeling a little bruised inside, and – is there no let up? – the breaking news that Keisha has left (ousted, more like) the Sugababes, to be replaced by the less-than-successful and (in my opinion) pulchritudinally-challenged Eurovision entry, Jade Ewen.

Which means that there are no members of the original line-up left in the band. Cue frenzied debate around whether the name should be changed, whether, indeed, Sugababes should continue, whether the fans are being cynically exploited.

The answer to all of this – if I can be tiresomely arch (and I can, oooo, I can) – is in the letter ‘r’. There are now no members of the original line-up left in the brand. But the brand itself continues. What’s fascinating about this is that, in a world of manufactured pop music and fake bands, the Sugababes have always seemed to have the edge – there was something almost credible about them (maybe it was – is – the constant rumours of in-fighting, bullying and general nastinesses) – and yet, with the constant changes in line-up, they are the most manufactured outfit of the lot.

So manufactured, in fact, that it no longer matters who works for it. The Sugababes is a brand, like Special K – those who work for it are its guardians and that’s all they will ever be. (Pity poor Jade, who may think that she’ll leave some impression on the brand, but obviously won’t – like the brand manager who thought up Frosted Shreddies – who remembers him? Or her, obviously).

And like any brand, its loyal consumers will still continue to purchase it, whether the packaging changes, whether it now has 20% less fat (and this is not a veiled reference to Ms Buchanan, she was my favourite, after Mutya, clearly), whether it now has a chocolate coating or added boysenberries.

And it’s a timely lesson to all communicators – something for us to remember when dealing with our customers, external and internal. We (they) are not the story. The brand is the story. No-one person is bigger than the brand.

And the show must go on.