Contrary to popular opinion PR practitioners are not always spawn of the devil spin masters or air-headed bimbos, a la Siobhan Sharpe from Twenty Twelve. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it’s refreshing to see a brand doing ‘the right thing’ and getting the communications right. I’m referring, of course, to M&S’s decision to invite Seb White, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, to be a model.

Rather than being a horribly manipulative exercise by M&S to tap into the post-Paralympics zeitgeist, it happened organically. Seb’s mum Caroline posted on M&S’s Facebook page asking why the company’s adverts didn’t have a bit more diversity. After getting tons of Likes and messages of support, Seb was invited to model for M&S’s Christmas magazine.

Seb White M&S model

“Say hello to Seb White” – Source: M&S

M&S has rightly been praised for the move. Retailers should sit up and take notice. In a week, where Waitrose’s Twitter campaign “#Waitrosereasons” back-fired, it highlights the importance of authenticity and likeability in modern marketing communications.

Yes, the important word there is ‘likeable’. I’m currently reading Rohit Bhargava’s excellent book, Likeonomics (plug: review on my personal blog coming soon) and the M&S really strikes home as being an excellent example of why a brand’s likability is so important today.

The main point that Likeonomics makes is that more likeable people and companies are more successful. OK, risk of sarcastic award for stating the obvious there, but Likeonomics explores the reasons why likability matters.

Likeonomics Book Cover - Version 3

One of Bhargava’s arguments is that Marketing is now the bad guy. Essentially, there’s a believability crisis caused by decades of corporate speak and consumer protection, which has back-fired to such an extent that people are intrinsically wary of what they’re told. Combine this with the advent of social media and brands are now constantly on the back-foot.

Bhargarva argues that to become believable – brands need to earn trust and part of this is genuine engagement with customers. M&S has done this here in spades and overcome anti-corporate sentiment. Yes, the timing was fortuitous, but M&S can be praised for responding via social media in the right way, following up properly and not making a hash of communicating it.

I’ll be writing more about Likeonomics and why it’s relevant to the PR industry in future blog-posts, but if you want to get ahead of me, why not buy the book!

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