Tag: advertising

The subjective terror of humour in advertising

Humour is a tricky business when you work in marketing, not only is it very subjective but it is often easier to offend than it is to raise a smile. The challenge is that humour sells, but whether your particular preference is innuendo or something a little more subtle, you have to strike the right balance for your preferred target audience.

A recent example of a brand that I think have got it spot on is Maltesers with their ‘Look on the light side’ campaign. Not the obvious brand to push boundaries but what they have done is two-fold; use humour to encourage word of mouth and also champion disability, to celebrate inclusiveness and challenge perception.

Not something that you expect, but the way in which this series of TV adverts – and most recently the first ever braille only billboard – is nothing but superb. The subject of disability is handled sensitively and without the usual patronising undertones.

The TV adverts feature a series of people with a range of disabilities who share their unfortunate stories with friends. Everything from spasms to driving a wheelchair over the foot of a bride! What is really impressive is that rather than leaving you cringing, as you may have expected, they somehow bridge a gap and have you laughing out loud (I just can’t bring myself to write LOL).

What surprised me was that when the adverts were first launched – brilliantly timed to coincide with the Paralympics – people wanted to laugh but were unsure if it was ‘correct to do so’. The first advert shows a young woman explaining her most recent sexual experience with her new boyfriend and the fact that he benefits from her unfortunately timed spasm. Brilliant!

The way that the advert brings together human interest and humour makes for fantastic storytelling.

Hats off to Maltesers. I think the Paralympics this year really did showcase some exceptional talent and the Games were just as exciting as the Olympics. I also think The Last Leg is one of the most hilarious shows on TV and what these small steps continue to do is allow us all think differently and to celebrate each other for what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.

My final thoughts, #Isitok to use humour and disability as the foundations to a marketing campaign – yes, when it’s done well.

Editorial and advertising: perfect bedfellows or simply getting too close for comfort?

Pondering the world of PR and all that it encompasses.

Pondering the world of PR and all that it encompasses.

Obligatory start to all communications this week, Happy New Year to one and all! We hope that you had a well-deserved break and have come back refreshed, albeit a little on the plump side. I certainly have

So, as we embark on another year ahead what are the challenges that you will face? Have you even considered what is around the corner? Or are you still debating whether it’s appropriate to eat those left-over mince pies and to wash them down with sherry or a last glass of fizz?

Anyway, enough about my overindulgence, it’s irrelevant – we are back to it now and so my ponderings for 2017 begin.

Before Christmas, I noticed a shift in the way that an online regional title was reporting news.

Rather than simply sharing updates, as they had done for several years, they instead offered the chance for people to upload their own content for a fee. This is nothing new, it has been done before and as a PR agency we would consider it advertorial.

The reason for this is that those submitting news can write – within reason – whatever they like and share it on the platform as long as they pay to do so. So far, so good. However, what made this approach rather ‘unique’, and I believe added some intrigue, was that the platform made it clear that they would choose the best three articles to feature on their daily bulletin.

The reason I find this so fascinating is that it really does blur the lines between what constitutes advertising and editorial. In the first instance it is advertorial, as the person has paid for the piece to feature as they have written it, but in the second it becomes editorial, as a journalist has shared it with a wider audience alongside content that has not been paid for. Now to clarify, you can quite easily see the bylined author of each article so can still see which have been paid for but it’s a fine line.

I have conflicting thoughts about this; commercially I have to admit that it is a step forward and I also think there are many online titles that will follow, but what is unnerving is that people already find the relationship between advertising and editorial a challenge and I fear this will make it worse.

People will believe that to work in PR you write copy and upload it for a fee, which isn’t the case. What we do here at Open Communications is to draft good quality copy that is then sent to a journalist for them to decide whether to share it with their audience or otherwise.

I’ve been a follower of this particular news feed for a number of years now and am certainly keen to see if this approach evolves – or doesn’t, depending presumably on its popularity and ability to become an additional income stream.

I’m always interested to see how publications change the way that they work while maintaining the integrity of the editorial they share, so again, this will be one to watch.
Another shift in the wonderful world of PR and communications – there’s never a dull day.

Wishing you all the very best for 2017. We will be sharing our thoughts and opinions about subjects that are relevant to PR, marketing, communications and life in general. Remember to come back for updates and of course, feel free to add your own thoughts too.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s that time of year again, the countdown is now a daily update as opposed to a monthly or weekly ‘warning’, smug looks are exchanged by those who are organised and panic stricken wide eyes respond from those (like me) who are not. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

I’m not one for celebrating the countdown from August, or even thinking about anything festive until late October, early November. I don’t think it’s fair on people who have children to be making comments about Santa Claus or present lists, unless a naughty moment calls for the odd ‘seasonal warning’ here and there – you know the one’s, Santa Claus is watching and I’ll be putting a call in later if you don’t behave…

I am certainly no Scrooge, I love Christmas and coming from a large extended family, I enjoy meeting with people and taking the time to share in some festive cheer (or cheers as tends to be the case with my family and friends).

Getting excited about Christmas is fun and everyone I know seems to have their own sign that the countdown for them has truly begun; for me it’s the launch of the Christmas adverts. Perhaps it’s because of the industry that we work in but I always get a warm feeling inside when large retailers and household brands showcase their seasonal TV adverts.

What really interest’s me is the story boards that each brand, or more deservedly their agencies, comes up with and the creative concept behind the piece, along with the call to action. Last year ASDA hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons with their ‘Behind every great Christmas there’s Mum’ campaign, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it made a valid point, certainly in our household, and the messaging was clear. Still you can’t please everyone.

Last night, whilst catching some evening TV, I stumbled across the Marks and Spencer Christmas advert. My first thought was, phew, I bet that cost a pretty penny but then watching the creative and following the story I was drawn into a land of make believe, with subtle product placements throughout.

The concept was certainly well thought through; a digital collage of fairy-tale moments packaged with a great big festive bow, sprinkled with celebrity faces, topped off with a clear marketing message; ‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle’. The whole piece was beautifully executed.

It’s only fair that I admit to not liking last year’s festive advert from John Lewis, I didn’t ‘get it’ and was never entirely sure of what all the fuss was about, other than the fact that a major retailer had put significant budgets into above the line (no real shock there!).

However… the advert from John Lewis this year is really impressive. I won’t go as far as to say that it brought a tear to my eye, but I did think about it. I love the animation (as it reminds me of a cross between Watership Down and Guess How Much I Love You) and the soundtrack from Lily Allen is to be nothing short of applauded. The story is Christmassy, without being sickening, and the call to action is subtly dropped in at the end to complete the piece. A gift wrapped story that is fit for the whole family, no matter what your age.

I’m really looking forward to watching more of the Christmas adverts as they hit our screens and will also be interested to see how many of the brands have thought to extend their creative into print, in order to engage further with consumers at a time of such high spend and competition.

People seem to have their favourite adverts during the festive season and I’m really interested to hear what your preferred options are. I do have an all-time favourite, which still gives me butterflies years on and I don’t believe that any brand has quite mastered or captured the spirit that this particular creative is able to deliver…

I give you, ‘Holidays are coming…’

Not only do I feel that this advert is synonymous with Christmas because the brand has chosen to build on it each year, as opposed to come up with something completely different, but the team have also built on it with competitions, digital activity and charitable donations.

An integrated campaign that can deliver year on year deserves a real festive thumbs up so well done Coca Cola, you get my vote every time.

Don’t give up your day job

Recently I was supporting a client with a store launch in Reading. As the journey was around 4 hours it gave me chance to think – which isn’t always a good thing!

Although I don’t like jumping on band wagons I have to admit that the roads were in a pretty appalling state with pot holes on motorways and dual carriageways, as well as the smaller country lanes. Not only did I think it was dangerous to be swerving around these wheel crippling ditches but I also found the sheer number of them quite startling.

Now many of you will tell me to stick to the day job but as someone who thinks about brands, how they communicate and what opportunities are available to do so to a mass market I had a bit of a light bulb moment.

Hold on to your hats ladies and gentleman, here it comes…

As I was not-so merrily driving along I noticed the digital signs which say things like ‘Don’t drive when tired’ or ‘Check your speed’ and that kind of nonsense. I don’t think that many people read these signs and then act on the information – the call to action is to look up and then ignore them completely in my opinion.

So, here’s my idea. Why not offer brands the opportunity to sponsor a message? As an example Costa Coffee could sponsor a sign that reads ‘Take a break, don’t drive when tired’ with their branding across the bottom or perhaps they could be more commercial with seasonal messages such as ‘Don’t forget Mother’s Day, flower shop at the next services’.

Not only would this mean that the signs, which let’s be honest are enough to drive you to despair as they stand, would become more interesting they would also become a real communication tool and the money raised from sponsorship could be put back into the highways so that we could all enjoy and benefit – safer roads.

So, what do you think? Should I just stick to my day job or is there a real idea here that Councils up and down the country could benefit from? Let me know your thoughts.

Don’t reinvent your business

Since we launched Open Communications in 2008, we have learnt a lot – not least the difference between a P9, P11 and P45!  We have also done a great deal of networking and now have a number of suppliers who we regularly rely on to provide us with the products and services we need.

What has always worried me is that there are lots of people we meet who say that in order to ‘stay ahead of the game’ you have to constantly reinvent your business. I don’t agree with this at all. I often come across people who claim to do this and then that and then the other and the harsh reality is that they don’t do any one thing well.

We are a PR agency and we also provide clients with marketing communications – in simple terms we are all about the words. If you want to communicate with someone and you want to bring a campaign to life then we will support you to do it.

We work with businesses of all sizes and there have been times when I have to admit that I can understand why some agencies profess to be ‘full service’ when the truth is that they just outsource to freelancers.

There are two things that are wrong with this approach; you are not being honest with clients and it’s likely to come back and bit you on the backside and any company managing an account in this way is going to take on the hassle of justifying someone else’s work when / if it goes wrong, even worse the client will believe it’s down to you!

Rather than reinventing your business, why not add products or services which complement your current offering. As an example we launched Open for New Business, which allows us to work with smaller companies who cannot afford a retained agency.

The benefits are that a smaller business gets access to our knowledge and time, while we extend our offering to a wider customer base.  Since launching this service in 2010 we have had some excellent feedback and as we have been open and honest with clients about why we are doing this and what exactly we offer it works.

Open for New Business doesn’t mean that we can’t work with bigger business, it just means that we can also work with smaller companies who are in the position of wanting to know more without having the budgets to invest in a month on month service.

If we started to offer design, web development, sampling and event management then that would be a different thing entirely and I’m sure our clients first question would be to see examples of previous campaign and proven results – oops, we don’t have any doesn’t sound too good!

So next time you hear someone suggesting that you reinvent your business, think twice. What will your customers think if you suddenly start offering a host of new services – and be honest, would you have the time to do all of these things to the standards that your customers expect? If the answer is no, then it’s worth going back to the one thing you’re good at and building a reputation for doing it really well.

Confusing messaging leads to confused customers

I’ve never been a big fan of advertising which relies on fear, shock or scare tactics. I don’t think it works. I also wrote my dissertation about this very subject which determined that the only people who are in fear, shock or scared as a result of these adverts are those who are receptive to a brands message in the first place – not those you want to change the behaviour of.

Let me explain, if I was a smoker, the minute I saw an advert with a young girl crying because her Dad was dying of lung cancer I would turn the channel over or go and make a cup of tea. I would not sit and watch the advert, taking in the terrible statistics and details that the advert is trying to get across and then apply them to myself and as a result stop smoking.

Equally if I was a speeding driver, I wouldn’t watch an advert about a young child being killed in the road because a car was travelling at 40 miles an hour when they should have been doing 30. To be honest by the time I was back behind the wheel it would be the last thing I would be thinking about – but I can almost guarantee half of the Mum’s watching the advert would reiterate the statistics verbatim.

At least these two examples, although relying on fear and shock, have a point. They are charity adverts working hard to get a message across – even if, in my opinion, it may not quite hit the target. What frustrates me more than these adverts, which as I said at least serve a purpose to raise brand awareness to the masses, are brands which confuse their messaging.

I have never been a huge fan of Benetton. When they brought out their ‘unusual’ adverts in the 1990’s it put me off their clothing for life. I don’t think I have ever bought a Benetton piece of clothing and have no intention of doing so. I just didn’t get it and nor did I want to.

In fairness I wasn’t their core target consumer back then but I would think I’m pretty much there now. I’m no fashion guru but I’m about the right demographic give or take. To find out today that Benetton have now launched a new advert which focused on the thousands of unemployed young people in the country is just baffling.

I have no problem with brands raising topical and serious issues but it’s the way that they do it which strikes me as nothing short of odd. Benetton has seen a downward slide in sales and therefore needs to sell clothes, so it launches an advert about youth unemployment which will predominantly communicate with a market that couldn’t possibly afford their clothing anyway!

Call me naïve but I just don’t get it.

Another retailer, which I love and do buy from regularly, Lush, made what I consider to be a similar mistake recently when they created what I believe was the first ever live testing on a human. The purpose was to raise awareness of the horrors of animal testing.

This case is slightly different to that of Benetton because I can see an obvious link between the cause and the brand but still the messaging was distorted. Lush have excellent customer service and spend lots of time creating a bubbly and fun atmosphere in their stores – they are almost the Willy Wonka of the cosmetics world – to then start showing people being forced to have things put in their eyes and electrodes put on their heads just doesn’t sit quite right with me.

It was a great campaign and achieved some great exposure but the brands values and customer experience in my opinion were misaligned and although I agree in principle with their thoughts on animals testing I would be no more likely to buy their products as a result of this activity.

There has to have been another way that they could lobby for support against animal testing as opposed to making it a total feature of their marketing strategy.

As a PR and marketing communications agency here at Open Comms we work with our clients to develop creative campaigns which attract attention and hit the headlines. How I believe we differ from the examples shown above is that our objectives align with the strategy of the business, which often directly correlates with the bottom line.  We make sure that all activity is integrated and that no one message goes so off topic that it leaves our clients customers confused.

I personally think these brands need to take a step back and think about how their customers are interpreting their creative. They may find that they are spending a massive amount of money to raise a topical subject but the reality is that this approach is unlikely to sell products.

Social media, editorial or advertising – where’s the line?

Ok, I don’t mind saying that I am confused. There was a recent story in The Drum which reported that an Australian court had ruled that comments posted on a facebook advertisements should themselves be considered advertisements – are you keeping up? That means that the advertiser, in this case Smirnoff, would be held responsible for the comments of others.

So basically a person’s comment is no longer considered editorial, despite the fact that it is opinion led and is not necessarily promoted or endorsed by a given brand in any way. It is now, as per Australian law, advertising – although not paid for! Confused? Yes, me too.

This is where the lines with social media start to blur and real confusion creates misunderstanding and concern over whether brands should even consider using online tools for promotion. Many business owners I come across consider it to be too much like hard work and they literally close a door on it altogether.

We work with a number of brands who have active social media profiles from MAOAM who have more than 600,000 likes on their Facebook page and more than 1,000 followers on twitter to Pom-Bear who have 30,000 likes on Facebook. We monitor the pages and update with posts that are relevant to each brand and their audience.

Some people argue that the brand should manage this internally but as we work so closely with our clients it becomes almost irrelevant. We work with them to engage with consumers and to ensure that when questions are asked they are answered appropriately using the correct tone of voice and approach – every client is different so it is essential that we get this right.

Obviously we are unable to monitor a brand page all day, everyday and so on occasion (although very rarely) someone will put up a post which we would deem to be unreasonable. We always remove these posts – more to ensure that others are not offended than anything else but sometimes it may be a couple of hours before we get to them.

With this new ‘law’ the brands we work for would be held accountable for the comments of others and would be liable for any action that was taken as a result of them. Thankfully a further story was issued by the Drum to say that the ASA were not considering reviewing the policy in relation to brand social media comments in the UK but it does beg the question how long will it be before this is considered.

Personally I think this is balmy. The whole idea of social media is to encourage comments and opinion from a mass audience and admittedly some people abuse that but then some people aren’t particularly nice when you meet them in the street, it doesn’t mean they are doing something which will be liable.

What does everyone else think? Should a brand be held liable for the comments of others whether promotional or otherwise? And if this is the case then should social media become another advertising medium, which does not accept editorial, and be done with it.

 

Can you weather proof your marketing?

You can’t really say that we’ve had a summer time yet, despite it being mid-July, in fact it feels more like some balmy extended winter. The only glimpse of sun we have had in the UK has been a random day here and there or if we really push it maybe a week.

The problem isn’t just flooding to houses and roads, burst river banks and floating cars, it goes far beyond that.  We work with a range of clients who rely on us to put together PR strategies and plans which meet with their briefs and deliver results, while achieving objectives. Not always as simple as it sounds.

As a PR and marketing communications agency, we do not profess to be all things to all people but we are a creative team and we come up with a range of ideas that the client can then choose from. Sometimes these ideas go beyond PR and include sampling, experiential and even, on occasion, suggestions for advertising campaigns or retailer engagement.

Working in this way allows us to put recommendations forward that we feel will work for the client and better still deliver a return on investment. We know that one theme can create an integrated approach, which can then be used in a number of different ways to achieve results. We also know that the ideas we propose have longevity, which can build over time, and ultimately create retention of key messages throughout the campaign period.

It would be unfair of us to suggest that we always come up with the ideas, as we work with a range of agencies and benefit from their insight and experience.  In order to make this approach work as well as it can, we hold agency days where all agencies come together and share their thoughts in order to agree the best ideas and creative routes, which are able to translate across disciplines.

So what has all this got to do with the weather?

This ‘summer’ has proven that an integrated approach to marketing and PR is absolutely essential. We have heard about the number of events that have been cancelled or rescheduled, which has impacted on sampling opportunities, sponsorship and outdoor activities.

There is nothing you can do about the rain, so in order to weather proof your marketing, by having a multi discipline approach, when one recommendation cannot be implemented as expected another can come into play, meaning a brand can have a contingency in place that will still deliver a return and build on the campaign theme.

As an example, if an activity cannot go ahead, PR activity can continue with features and press releases distributed to the media, sampling activity can take place in doors and advertising on cinema screens can reach an audience that are trying their best to get away from the wet weather.

I’m sure we are all praying for some more sunshine – and I don’t want to be the one to dismiss the fact that we may just get a summer – but on the basis that we do get more wet weather, we would advise that brands consider how they can work smarter to ensure they have a contingency in place.

The first step is to choose an agency that doesn’t simply look at quirky ideas that hit the headlines one minute and are lost the next or those who feel that winning an industry award makes for best practice – but an agency that delivers consistent results with the brand and business objectives in mind, while taking into account their disciplines and those of others.

Nike – Just do it, unless the ASA says no!

For some time now there has been an on-going debate about who ‘owns’ social media; digital or PR agencies. The problem being that while one can be engaging visually, creating games, competitions and advertising which attract attention, the other provides consistent content, with an appropriate tone of voice to encourage two way communication and increase ‘organic’ engagement with consumers.

The line is blurred to say the least, but as a PR agency we find that sticking to the words means that we are able to offer clients the content, while we leave the digital aspects and design to other third parties that we work with.

We don’t find this to be problematic as when each digital campaign finishes we simply take control of the content and engage with consumers to provide a sustainable level of conversation. There’s nothing worse than brands that push out big campaigns and then have nothing in place to support the aftermath.  The outcome being you engage with thousands of people who become brand ambassadors, are willing to listen to the messages being pushed to them, only for the brand to turn their back on them once their budgets run dry – not good.

Another interesting dilemma to come out of social engagement has been the line between advertising and editorial. As social media is often positioned as a direct interpretation or opinion of a person or a brand it would be perceived to be editorial – however as platforms such as twitter have evolved is has become increasingly difficult to ascertain whether a comment or opinion has been influenced by a third party.

The problem has arisen from celebrities who have used their personal twitter accounts to ‘tweet’ about brands that either pay them or sponsor them to do so. The ASA have challenged two high profile cases; Snickers and Nike.

Now despite the fact that I work in editorial I’m not sure that I agree that the ASA should be in a position to demand that people delete the content that they choose to have on their personal twitter feeds – promotional or otherwise.

What’s even more baffling is that within the most recent case involving Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere the hashtag #makeitcount.gonike.me.makeitcount was clearly visible. Surely any idiot can recognise that this is a promotional tweet?

I expect that this situation will only get worse, with the ASA monitoring social media more closely than ever – but there has to be a balance. If I suddenly become a high profile multi-millionaire (unlikely but you never know!) and I decide to tweet that I love a particular brand then is that considered advertising?

Equally is it wrong for celebrities to thank brands for sending them free products? Isn’t it just polite? I am interested to see what others think about this. I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer but I do think we need to be careful to ensure that social media platforms are able to be used as a platform for people to engage, interact and use their rights to free speech, whether that be about a brand or not.