Brand Own Goal or Brand-as-Troll?

The fallout for a brand can be huge when its intentions are unclear, according to Bravo Romeo’s Communications Manager, Katie Rose. 

As I’m sure most of you have seen by now, the Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek stirred controversy last week with the release of their (rather excruciating) new marketing campaign #LaraIs30.

Where to start? The awkward script that doesn’t flow? The stilted way the actors read their lines? The awkward tone of voice and forced Radisson Blu mentions? It’s like they were playing a game of “how many people can we offend and how fast?”. Let’s take a look at a few of the most cringe-worthy moments:

“You’re well fit and you’re Lebanese, which means you can cook.”

Would you like a dash of misogyny with your xenophobic starter, sir? A slice of objectification on the side? Certainly, we will arrange that here for you, at the Radisson Blu.

The  idea that women should be married by 30.

This nurtures this unhealthy idea that women who are not married have somehow failed. Believe it or not guys, we’re not all waiting around for our Prince Charming so we can stop what we’re doing and focus on becoming “wifey”.

The male actor’s verbal violence.

If a man acted that verbally aggressively toward me in a restaurant, I would leave immediately – wouldn’t you, ladies? I would also hope that the staff might step in and check on what’s up at our table. That the Radisson scripts the girl sitting there just taking that abuse hardly sets a positive example.

“Let’s close this deal” and “jog on”.

Do people actually speak like this in real life?! OK maybe some “geezers” do… But nevertheless the script is forced and jarring.

“Have you ever had Emirati food before”, “yeah, I’ve had a donner kebab”. 

The stereotype that the English don’t speak any other languages, and are generally quite ignorant of other cultures when they travel is already alive and well. Again, it’s just another iteration of a xenophobic stereotype.

I could go on. And on. And on.

Radison Blu - Lara
Image Credit: Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek Facebook Page

 

It got me thinking though. How can a brand get it so spectacularly wrong in 2017? Is this an outstanding example of content marketing gone wrong…

….Or, is this an example of “brand-as-troll”?

Are we playing directly into the Radisson’s hands? This content is so bad, it surely cannot be sincere. Is the Radisson trolling us all and have we given them the exact reaction they were looking for? We at Bravo Romeo think so, however there are some important lessons here:

  1. If you’re going to troll your audience; go hard or go home. You need to come out of the traps hard and not leave your audience in any doubt over your intentions. Radisson’s intentions remain opaque.
  2. See it through and strike while the iron is hot. Radisson promised us the next installment two days ago. We are still waiting. Therefore the Radisson looks like it buckled under pressure, admitted defeat. It makes us think that the other episodes must have unfit to be shared publicly. I would love some insight into the creative process here. Did the creative team back down? If so, here’s that message again – stand behind your work, see it through, be brave, be prepared to cause a stir and run with it. (For a refresher, see point two in our post on how to create and destroy a masterpiece.
  3. From a scripting and direction POV it should have either been “so bad it’s funny”; or a humorous in-joke which the audience gets; or something so absurdly ridiculous, the audience is shocked, then gets it. Radisson, however, failed to coherently execute across any of these approaches.
  4. What may have started out as a decent concept, drowned in the execution. The narrative falls to bits by trying to do too much. Are we focussing on the fact she’s 30, are we focusing on the stereotypes? Are we focusing on the aggressive male loser? Are we focusing on the dishes being awkwardly presented? Are we focussing on the fact that it’s a trusted hotel for young ladies? The narrative is all over the place, there are too many messages and at times mixed messages at that.

 

trolling image
Image Credit: Quickmeme

 

So, should brands troll?

With all these potential pitfalls, brands have to ask themselves “is it worth the risk?” This is explored further in this great piece by Campaign that weighs up the benefits to the cost of such initiatives. As with all disruptive marketing – our answer is yes but only if it’s genius both in terms of concept and execution.

As wonderful as it is that brands have the bravery to try out alternative marketing communications, ultimately this is a rather unfortunate example of a) how important it is to have your intention and narrative straight from the beginning and b) to stick to your guns. I would be fascinated to know what the initial concept and treatment was, to see whether this was a face palm from the get-go, or whether it was a case of creative compromise gone wrong.

Featured Image Credit: Alex Proimos

The Cannes Lions Direct Jury ‘Elected A Trump’ by Awarding Burger King

Call it a stunt, call it a cheap thrill, call it what you will – just don’t call it good work.

I got into this industry because, even as a kid, bad adverts *really* annoy me. I therefore made it my business to create work that respects its audience. It’s a personal vendetta.

When I saw Burger King’s ‘Google Home Hack’ my stomach turned. It’s a gimmick, a 15-second video with a smarmy kid saying “OK Google, what is a Whopper?” which then triggers users’ Google Home devices to read aloud the Whopper’s Wikipedia page.

Honest to god, this work makes me see red. Essentially it’s malware dressed as an advert – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sure, on the surface of things it may appear “clever” but how commercially smart was it? Here we have a brand that thinks it’s worthwhile to invade your home technology, trigger it to blurt product info – literally a list of ingredients – at you whilst enabling the tech to listen to private conversations without your active consent. 

And it’s, well, boring. The brand could have at least created something worth hearing, a funny joke, an interesting story. But no. What a missed opportunity. Voice recognition technology is just coming of age – the creative opportunity was simply squandered!

You can imagine therefore my shock and dismay at seeing this work be awarded a Direct Grand Prix at Cannes. According to the website, “the Direct Lions celebrate response-driven and relationship-building creativity. Entries will need to demonstrate the pursuit and application of customer relationships, directly targeting a specific audience with a call-to-action which produces measurable and meaningful results.” 

Relationship-building creativity? No. Pursuit and application of customer relationships? No. It it was abusive and opens the door to create mistrust. The brand placed its own desires at the expense of its audience – it’s clear the brand saw more value in creating a media stunt and garnering buzz than providing content of value. And sure, there were results in terms of media value and buzz – but not meaningful results. Nothing in terms of actual bottom line customer action – you know, direct response – the category it was entered into. 

It’s rare that I get mad but when I do…  I hunted that jury down. I was taking names and I was taking numbers. I wanted the lowdown on what that jury was smoking. Lo and behold, we have one amongst us in Dubai! I reached out to Ogilvy’s Sascha Kuntze. He was on the jury that short-listed the work. I explained my issue with the work and I asked him to defend it. Here’s what he had to say:

“Your point about it being a wolf in sheep’s clothing is rather a compliment to the idea than a negative. Advertising is intrusive in its nature. It’s accessing your inner thoughts and changes them to make you want to buy stuff. Whether that’s morally good or not is to be discussed elsewhere. Being cheeky like the idea was fits the brand well. A brand that has discontinued their flagship product once to create outrage and a consumer reaction. A brand that sold a proud whopper in an environment that wasn’t necessarily open to it. A brand that made giant chicken talk. Essentially it’s an (effectively) intrusive way that’s fun rather than boring. Imagine an ad getting your dumb phone to do something because it thinks it’s you. It’s almost a satire of the mobile dependent times we live in. And (though I think not intended) a charming warning that maybe we should look at how much technology we allow into our lives and how much we should focus on the simpler things in life instead. Like a chargrilled burger for example.”

I appreciate and respect Sascha’s point of view. However if you ever wanted to know the difference between an advertising agency and a content marketing firm, it’s summed up by our respective philosophies here. What are your thoughts on the piece, dear reader?

Work like this is exactly the opposite of what we do at Bravo Romeo. We believe that to build brand equity in today’s market, brands need to focus on more audience-centric strategies, fusing the audience’s interests with the business’s goals and finding common ground from which to tell cool stories. Like Calvin Klein did just last week and like Mercedes did here in Dubai earlier this year. As Red Bull and GE have been doing for years. Check out that work. Nice huh? Cool, exciting, creative, effective. 

On a  final and funny note, the campaign did have one accidental highlight. The audience hacked back, corrupting the Whopper’s Wikipedia page, and altered the list of ingredients to say that the Whopper was made with “100% medium sized child”. Ha ha ha, BK, it’s true, you flame-grilled your audience – great to see they burnt you back.

How to create and destroy a masterpiece. A case study of Twin Peaks’ content marketing and creative compromise.

“I don’t think it has a chance of succeeding. It is not commercial, it is radically different from what we as viewers are accustomed to seeing, there’s no one in the show to root for.” – Paul Schulman, Senior Media Analyst

This radically different show was Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; a series that would go on to be listed as one of the greatest ever made; described by Time magazine as “the most hauntingly original work ever done for American TV.” Without giving too much away, its success lay in taking a typical TV drama format and turning that format inside out in the most strange and oftentimes hilarious way. Creative insight in the form of relate-ability was also a critical factor: Lynch held a mirror up to society… and then completely messed with everyones’ heads.

Now, after 25 years, Twin Peaks is coming back for one last season. And there’s a reason for this, which we’ll get to later.

But first, Twin Peaks is a compelling case study in excellence as well as pitiful failure. And on the eve of its return on May 21, 2017, I’d like to share a number of lessons I’ve taken from it, as it’s influenced my approach to content marketing strategy over the years.

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to do things differently… so long as it’s impactful and relevant

From the get-go, Twin Peaks refused to give the game away; and the launch marketing campaign reflected that. Rather than tell the public what was coming, the campaign teased and aroused curiosity, in order to drive WOM. It did so using unconventional marketing mediums for TV, such as pole posters. It gave people a personal motivation to watch, rather than simply saying “watch this”. With a curious audience psychologically primed ahead of its very first broadcast, Twin Peaks scored ABC’s highest ratings in four years for the time slot. 

Twin Peaks credit Twin Peaks Archive
Tactics include poles posters with hotline numbers. Credit@TwinPeaksArchive 

This time around it’s no different – only digital and social media are here. There are hotline numbers with bizarre recorded messages, podcast readings of Laura Palmer’s diary, clues and challenges in snippets of video. The show’s marketing tactics alone are generating media attention. 

Their strategy is interesting and effective. Twin Peaks takes a very grassroots, granular approach to its marketing, rather than applying a blanket, mass media approach. On one hand, it’s less expensive from a media buy perspective; on the other, it takes more resources to apply. The show’s marketers respect the intelligence of its audience, by providing content that gets fans to think, work and discuss together. It was a brilliant strategy in 1991 and it remains so in its digitally updated form, today. 

Lesson 2. BE BRAVE.

There’s no doubt that the second series of Twin Peaks was a massive failure. Despite international critical and public acclaim, despite the ratings, television executives remained determined that they knew better than the show’s creators. They forced Frost and Lynch to reveal the biggest plot mystery. And Frost and Lynch agreed to. 

Big mistake.

Twin Peaks’ ratings plummeted, the plot unravelled and the public – other than the die-hard super-fans – walked away. As did David Lynch. The entire production disintegrated until the last few episodes where Lynch returned to try and salvage what was left.

You see it all too often – clients or senior stakeholders watering down a big idea or brave strategy and creators allowing it to happen. I have a plea for both parties on this point:

Senior stakeholders – we are all in this together. Our success is fundamentally tethered to yours. So stick your neck out a little. Stop trying to be so controlling. Trust your experts and be brave.

Content strategists and creatives – hold your nerve. Draw on insights and be prepared to defend your case with a proper rationale – with relevant supporting data/info where possible. Don’t back down unless you really have to. Be prepared to walk away. Be brave.

This time around, Frost and Lynch took no prisoners. When Lynch didn’t get the funding he needed from Showtime, he simply cancelled the deal, walked away and apologized to fans. A few weeks later, the deal was back on, Showtime found the additional budget to meet Lynch’s creative requirements. Clearly everyone had learned the lessons from 25 years ago. Brave move on both parts.

Lesson 3. Persevere in the face of failure and play the long game

Who on earth would have thought that when Laura Palmer creepily told Special Agent Dale Cooper, “I will see you again in 25 years,”  that it would actually happen! That it has, is a masterstroke in storytelling, coupled with a strong audience relationship.

In our previous post on the United Airlines’ crisis (mis)management scenario we talk about how brands can develop authentic relationships with their audiences that endure, how to create advocacy and how it sees brands through good times and bad. In the case of Twin Peaks, the hard work that was put into developing authentic relationships with viewers has endured a disastrous second season and a 25 year hiatus.

Through the years, a slow but fascinating stream of content continued, trickling down through books, music, art, film and even a Festival of Disruption. Influential appearances were made by unusual and high-profile people, such as Trent Reznor and David Bowie in unusual but high profile settings, such as NY Fashion Week, with Julee Cruise. It’s a very interesting long play, when you look at it through a content marketing lens. 

Bowie, McLachlan and Lynch in the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me.

Ultimately, in playing the long game, the creators of Twin Peaks are looking to win the war, rather than the battle. For marketers this means thinking in terms of a long term marketing calendar/ program rather than on a campaign-only basis, by being brave and giving deep thought to the content distribution strategy.

Crisis management and tone-deaf CEOs: How brands are creating untold losses through introverted communications

While it could be Game Over for United Airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz, it’s Game On for Emirates Airline and others.

Upon winning the accolade of PR Week’s Communicator Of The Year last month Oscar Munoz, United Airlines’ CEO, said “Communication and communication strategy is not just part of the game, it IS the game.” In our industry, never are truer words spoken. After Oscar Munoz’s response to a crisis this week, one can only imagine his giant facepalm.

April, it seems, is the season for kicking corporate own goals. In just a matter of weeks we’ve seen all manner of corporate and senior spokesperson public mishaps, from Sean Spicer to United Airlines. Crises that are mismanaged and subsequently  inflamed by internal stakeholders are sending stocks plummeting, drastically impacting both revenue and business continuity, giving rise to popular boycotts and creating media feeding frenzies.

The United Airlines Crisis

Just a few days ago, a Chinese doctor on an overbooked United Airlines flight was violently removed – on the airline’s command – and was left bleeding from the head, on a stretcher. His crime? He was a paying customer declining to leave on the basis that he had patients to see at the destination. The reason for his removal? United needed his seat – any seat – for their own employees. You can read the sordid story here. As you can imagine, passengers and public were shocked; the incident, recorded by other passengers, quickly became viral.

Rather than taking a humble step back, apologizing and demonstrating action and compassion for the victim, Oscar Munoz, the company’s CEO went on the offensive, describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent” and stating that the airline had simply followed company procedures. This, from the CEO named “Communicator of the Year”….

Cue: a 6% stock nosedive – roughly equating to $US1bn.

Cue: social media outcry and savage trolling. Like the fake image you see as the header on this post.

Cue: the media frenzy.

Cue: claims of racial profiling.

Cue: an international boycott, particularly in China, which is a key market.

Cue: a scathingly witty and on-point response by their nemesis, Emirates, which not only delivered a brilliant attack but also hijacked United’s tagline of “Fly The Friendly Skies” (with Emirates).

…And didn’t everyone have fun with the memes!

United Airlines satire

…Not to mention that wickedly funny parody ad from Jimmy Kimmel.

For United, this won’t just go away. What we are witnessing is just the beginning of  what is likely to be sustained financial and reputation damage and exposure. We are yet to see just how this impacts the airline over the longer term (it’s further compounded by the public outcry to the airline’s “leggings ban” just two weeks ago).

While the situation on-board was ghastly, the CEO’s response made matters worse; his was selfish, cold and astonishingly tone deaf to the situation and public sentiment. The fact that he backtracked with a softer statement – after the stocks had taken a tumble mind you – was not interesting to the media or public and at any rate, it appeared commercially motivated and insincere. 

There’s also a bigger play here. It’s in the context of the Open Skies dispute – a ‘Dynasty’-like saga between the Gulf airlines and US airlines. United has handed this disaster to Emirates on a golden platter. Emirates, with their relatable and ongoing campaign featuring “America’s Sweetheart” Jennifer Aniston are winning the battle for American hearts and minds. And this is a point so many senior executives fail to remember; ultimately, we are in the business of winning hearts and minds.

It doesn’t matter how many lobbyists and lawyers and politicians the US airline consortium throw at the Open Skies scenario, travelers are going to vote with their feet. If the public believe that they are going to get better, kinder, more attentive service from the Gulf airlines, then attempts at hurting them will just create a bigger backlash toward the US carriers – and we’ve seen signs of this with the recent laptop ban.

Certain other brands must be breathing a sigh of relief. Finally the attention has turned a little from them. But that’s another story entirely… or is it?

Brand Extroversion vs. Brand Introversion

Looking at the recent spate of crises, from brands such as United to public figures such as Sean Spicer, there is a common thread worth noting. At Bravo Romeo, we talk about introversion and extroversion in communications. By definition, introversion is the act of directing one’s attention toward or getting gratification from one’s own interests, thoughts, and feelings. In an age of economic uncertainty and hard revenue targets, it’s seemingly too easy for executives to get caught up in the day to day and lose sight of the bigger picture. Placing this in the context of United’s response, you can see an introverted communications mentality at work. They’re blinkered, they can’t see the woods for the trees, they are simply caught up in their own world instead of listening to the perspectives, needs and wants of others.

This is not best practice for a modern day business. A business operating in the technological world of new media must be responsive and proactive. They must be Brand Extroverts.

Why Your Brand Should Be an Extrovert

For brands, extroversion is all about forming positive, authentic relationships with customers and stakeholders. Relationships that endure. It’s about having a public that love you when times are good and still stand by and defend your brand when times are bad…. because the public know you have a proven history of caring for them and that you demonstrate interest in them.

Being a Brand Extrovert is a process that is incremental; and it takes hard work. It requires a long term communications program, not a “hit-and-run”, on/off campaign-based approach. Think of your communications activities as milestones in a long marathon, rather than individual sprints and having more granular, more two way conversations with the public.

Being a Brand Extrovert means having a communications and a content marketing strategy that gives equal priority to both the needs of the audience and the business. It involves listening to the customer, reaching out proactively and developing products, services and communications around their needs.

This is a business strategy we’re talking about here – not “just” a communications strategy – and subsequently it must have buy-in at the highest level with the communications lead given a permanent seat at the boardroom table.

The mentality of brand extroversion needs to run through the company, from the CEO to the Receptionist; as an internal and external communications culture. See it as part of your corporate DNA – because the minute a company looks to serve itself ahead of its customers, it is setting itself up to kick an own goal.