Marketers and PRs know all too well that having consumers talk about your product or brand is the ideal – greater awareness will inevitably help to drive more sales. As Oscar Wilde once said: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Word of mouth, and coverage in the press and media, are both cost-effective channels to market your brand; both are ‘free’, but of course, a little work (and budget) is required to achieve them. Fortunately, even modest budgets can achieve results akin to big advertising spend.
The challenge for creatives, both in-house and agency-side, is to keep things fresh, innovative and original to get audiences talking (whilst always meeting the brief). However, in their quest for headline-grabbing news, brands can all too often overstep the mark and sometimes end up entangled in a PR crisis or see their sales plummet overnight.
Here, we take a look at some of the ‘quick wins’, where brands have dared to go a little off-piste in the name of creativity, with some mixed results and reactions from their audiences.
Exclusive offers that are too exclusive?
In 2018, US toy retailer, Build-A-Bear, left thousands of children on both sides of the pond upset after a one-day-only promotion allowing young customers to ‘pay-your-age' for a customisable teddy bear resulted in exceptional demand the company was unable to meet. After images of long queues and claims of waiting for hours made their way from social media and into the press, Build-A-Bear prematurely closed its stores for the day, choosing to honour the rest of the promotion with vouchers instead. The company’s president and CEO later appeared on US breakfast television to issue an apology to distressed customers.
Later in the year, commenting on financial results which were below expectations, Build-A-Bear's CEO stated the company made the decision to “strategically deemphasise” their successful annual National Teddy Bear Day promotion as a direct result of the disastrous Pay-Your-Age Day, in an attempt to avoid the same issues recurring.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing described the Pay-Your-Age event as an “unprofessional promotional execution and one that not only risks their own brand reputation, but has the potential to bring the wider marketing sector into disrepute." It would appear on this occasion, not only did the failed promotion upset customers, repercussions involving its other promotions hit the bottom line hard and did not impress industry professionals.
Controversy for controversy's sake?
Being controversial will always get you noticed. If the trait is intrinsic to your brand, then good for you (Piers Morgan, Donald Trump, we’re looking at you). If it isn’t part of your brand personality, then you’re sticking your head above the parapet – if you pull it off, you’re a hero; if not, clear your desk and close the door on your way out.
In what was, perhaps, a swipe at some of their fast-food rivals, Burger King’s ‘Mouldy Whopper’ campaign last year, depicted its signature burger decaying over 34 days to highlight the “beauty of no artificial preservatives” in the product.
The move achieved an abundance of consumer and trade coverage and impressive YouTube viewing figures, whilst generating a lot of conversation concerning the content of fast-food products. So far, so good. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a wider question: do fast-food consumers really care about the ingredients in their purchases? Perhaps the decision-making process in this category of restaurants is more to do with the convenience than eating healthily?
Some advertising professionals saw the creative as a vanity project, designed to win awards and felt that it didn’t really connect with consumers and simply presented mouldy food to millions of people. Others argued it did in fact help them to connect Burger King with fresh ingredients, making them look at the brand in a different way, thus meeting the brief.
An in-depth review of Burger King’s advertising and sales by The Drum concluded that there is no evidence the campaign harmed Burger King. Perhaps one of the most memorable adverts to come out of last year, one might describe their efforts as a success.
Negative feedback that’s not-so-negative?
A more modern trend for thinking outside of the box involves using negative customer testimonials to promote a brand. Notably, following some reviews from less-than-happy customers, beer and bar chain, BrewDog, decided to air said grievances on A-boards and staff t-shirts at their venues, including, “garbage, overpriced, cheeseboard is alright” and, popular with the press: “Just a s*** hipster Wetherspoons”, in reference to their established pub competitor.
The tongue-in-cheek ‘banter’ scored the brand national, regional and trade press coverage and healthy social media traction, with customers taking pictures and sharing content. An interesting move, which perhaps was based on the thinking that the review authors were a lost cause and rather than attempting to win them back, the business chose to use the content to make some noise with current customers and attempt to attract new ones.
What’s the verdict?
So, is there such a thing as bad publicity? After all, coverage is coverage – filling column inches and airtime will make more people, more aware of you and potentially introduce new people to your brand.
But, ‘people’, aren’t always prospective customers. That’s what good marketing and PR does: it targets the people most likely to buy and tells them why they should buy from you. It’s customers who will buy your product or service from you, not always those talking about you and if you can’t meet their needs, they’ll go elsewhere.
Ultimately, the sale isn’t made until the money is paid and so, whilst quick wins and PR stunts have their value and can get you noticed, they should only be used when appropriate for the brand and if you’re going to do it, execute it seamlessly. Otherwise, you may just be inviting a whole lot of chatter which might not bring in the extra sales you had hoped for and it could have a detrimental effect on your business – even if only in the short-term.