National Cupcake Day, National Chocolate Mousse Day, National Fish & Chips Day… yes, these are all real things and the list goes on - there’s a ‘national day’ for anything and everything.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love any excuse for chowing down on a cupcake, but when it comes to using these to promote your brand, maybe we shouldn’t always be so keen to get stuck in.
No doubt you will have seen the flurry of social and media activity around International Women’s Day a couple of weeks ago – you may well have been getting involved yourself. Not to raise a whole other debate (you can read some further Firefly thoughts on the concept of the day here), there was also something else that jumped out at me. Namely, a journalist’s plea to stop bombarding them with irrelevant and rather shameless pitches. Certainly, there’s been quite a bit of backlash over the major commodification of International Women’s Day this year.
It made me take a big step back and think. Yes, being on top of the news agenda and the big issues of the day is important for staying current and in the public eye but in this increasingly saturated commercial landscape, just like the growing number of ‘national days’, are brands also starting to simply jump on anything and everything? Is the desperate bid to be relevant doing more damage to brands than good? It may just be the quick win you need to push your name back out there but like that quick, cheap burger, it may not keep you satisfied for long and you could end up feeling worse, not better.
Don’t always listen to your gut
You will (hopefully) know your business and marketing goals, company values and messaging inside out and should know where your sweet spots lie – the events that you should be participating in, the different channels you should be using and more importantly, the content you share, from your company blog to your media releases. While it can be good to push the boat out a little, don’t let the draw of something seemingly tantalising and tasty allow you to get carried away.
This is particularly important when it’s a sensitive subject, like gender equality. You know there could be some risks involved - don’t ignore that. Take a minute to reflect on the wider issue. How could that ad or that comment potentially be misconstrued, for example? Brewdog’s ‘pink’ IPA for International Women’s Day was meant to be ironic but many did not catch on. Remember, it’s hard to show sarcasm in an ad. And when it comes to hashtags, please, really do think them through. Is that trending hashtag you’re jumping on conveying the message you think it is? Even if it’s associated with an official event, members of the public can take it in a whole other direction. McDonalds found this out the hard way with #McDStories.
It's also a question of timing. When you decide to launch that campaign, promote that particular ad or share that article, don’t forget the importance of context. On the backdrop of current situations or events, could something seemingly harmful also be poor taste? Take Airbnb’s “floating world” marketing email. A great concept (and the floating house on the Thames was well received) but in the US, the email was sent in the wake of Hurricane Harvey – not so good. Of course, you can’t predict what will happen, but be ready to pull something if it does.
Be picky with your food
Even when you’ve assessed and decided that this is something you can get involved in, it still doesn’t mean that you should. It’s not only a matter of whether this aligns with your brand and what you wish your brand to be associated with. It is so painfully obvious when someone is piping up on an issue simply as a means of self-promotion whilst not adding any value.
Ask yourself: Can I actually contribute something valuable to this conversation? Am I just making some of my products pink for International Women’s Day or just repeating what others have already said?
You want to be taking the conversation to a new level, leading it in a new direction, not letting it continue around in a circle. It’s those brands that actually offer something new or say something different that will stand out in the crowd.
Put meat on the bones
Most importantly, if you do pipe up about an important issue, can you actually back up what you’re claiming? Social purpose is the new marketing buzzword and it’s now universally recognised by many brands that this is the way to differentiate oneself from others – showing that your brand not only has a function or looks great but is also helping the world to be a better place. As we’ve seen already this can also go very wrong. You do not want to be the next Pepsi.
If you’re getting involved in the debate over the gender pay gap, discrediting other companies for not addressing the issue and offering advice to tackle this problem, make sure you know where your own company stands first. Finding out that you’re no better will do irreparable damage.
Whilst best to have thought through your campaign, brands can be more easily forgiven if they are indeed staying true to your word and promises. Starbucks’ initiative for Race Together did not go down well, stopped just months after its launch, but Starbucks still followed through with promises to hire 10,000 disadvantaged young people. If you say you’re going to do something to help, do it!
Of course, don’t be put off entirely. Oreo and the Super Bowl blackout is a great example of a super quick, simple and effective issues hijack. Just next time when there’s a breaking news topic or a big national day, think before you tuck in. Bon appetit!