Jumping in on a socially relevant conversation can get your brand in a world of trouble, but so can keeping quiet. Here’s some expert advice for brands navigating this tricky dynamic.
It seems almost every day there’s a new casualty on the brand communications battlefield, with consumers waiting to troll misguided entities that put a foot out of line.
Consumerism is a scary space for brand owners to navigate. You can’t afford to be silent when it comes to important issues that matter to your customers, but at the same time, the last thing you want is to find yourself caught on the wrong end of a very sensitive conversation.
Just recently Castle Lager attracted a significant amount of negativity on social media as a result of its label-free beer campaign, which was in many ways, a sidebar to a certain on-air SuperSport conflict. Though the campaign was intended to communicate solidarity with those who are unfairly labelled, it was seen by some as ‘opportunistic’, and still by others as a brand taking sides on a very grey and indeed sensitive issue.
But, social commentary can work well when handled correctly. KFC’s Dirty Louisiana campaign, for example, got more than 350 000 people talking in response to its ridicule of the clean eating trend. The creative social media campaign saw the invention of a fake ‘Cleaneating Burger’, launched by a fake food blogger called Figgy Poppleton-Rice.
The question is: How do brands know when to participate in socially relevant conversations?
Your brand is not bullet-proof
The most important thing to discern is the difference between issues that are simply relevant and those that also happen to be highly sensitive. Jumping in on a super sensitive subject, simply because you can, is like running head-first into open gunfire, somehow believing you’ll dodge those bullets. It’s not going to end well.
Consumers can smell the inauthentic
Getting involved for the sake of it is another good way to get in trouble. You have to make sure your brand can make a positive contribution to the issue at hand. And similarly, if your customers perceive your attempt at social responsibility as a ploy to sell product, they will take you to task. Today’s consumers are savvy – they can sniff falsity from a mile away.
Don’t draw attention to your own shortcomings
At the same time, a brand shouldn’t get caught out commenting on an issue that doesn’t line up with its values or the way it presents itself to its consumers and beyond. To use an extreme example, if a particular food chain wanted to comment on environmental issues, it best make sure its products aren’t all wrapped in plastic.
Do your homework!
It might sound obvious, but don’t comment on a topic if you aren’t really well-informed. Understanding the issue at hand is the only way to ensure your contribution is well-received. The Dirty Louisiana campaign, for instance, was developed based on particular data-driven insights around the relevant target market and the clean eating trend. Because it discovered that clean eating was increasingly seen as joyless, it was able to spark a conversation around not being afraid of food.
Finally, you need to question the message you want to put out again and again. Even if you have the best intentions, your narrative can easily be misconstrued.
There’s no doubt brand communications is more brutal than ever before.
As brand custodians we can’t afford to make mistakes.
Sarah Gooding Kobus is deputy GM of WE South Africa. She has a degree in journalism through Rhodes University and a postgraduate in brand management through AAA School of Advertising and has worked in the communications industry for 15 years.
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