In today’s increasingly anti-corporate, media-saturated, ad-fatigued environment, it’s difficult for many brands to get their messages out to their audience. Traditional channels don’t seem to be working – at least not as well as they used to. What’s more, public sensitivity to issues involving race, sex, etc are making many brand messages “problematic” for general consumption. Avoiding outrage seems impossible, but not trying can cost you sales, too. How do we navigate the new marketing environment? Well, we're not going to give you one all-encompassing answer here, but we will give you some case studies of brands that have pulled it off.
Dominos: We're Sorry
Some of us are old enough to remember when Domino's Pizza was synonymous with hot garbage. Their crust was bland, their sauce bitter, and their cheese cheap and lackluster. They competed mainly in the space with Little Caesar's for the "cheap and fast" market segment, but they were losing market share.
In a bold (and perhaps desperate) move, Domino's launched a campaign admitting what we all knew - their pizza tasted like "manila envelopes." They promised to do better with a new recipe and higher quality ingredients. To prove their sincerity, ads concluded with footage "fake-restaurant" taste tests, demonstrating that in a blind test, the new recipe was indistinguishable from gourmet pizza.
The first case study PR students learn in college is the colossal failure of the "new coke" campaign in the 1980's. Given the infamy of this case, it's amazing that Domino's green-lit the campaign. But contrary to conventional wisdom, they pulled it off! New Domino's took, and franchises in every metro area are doing better than ever.
Roast Me, Wendy's
No list of PR or social media management wins is complete without mentioning Wendy's Twitter account. Breaking with last-century conventions, the voice of this social media masterpiece is edgy - even insulting. It's dripping with a raw, rough-around-the-edges authenticity that resonates with younger audiences. It appears that in the 21st century, the worst thing you can be is corporate, inhuman, and overly polite. Perhaps this shift explains the otherwise inexplicable 2016 presidential election.
VidAngel Declares War
The monolithic Hollywood establishment has been throwing its weight around for decades when it comes to copyright law. They’re not just cracking down on bootleggers and thieves, but also YouTube personalities, parody-makers, and (in at least one case) small-town daycare centers. The powerful industry lobby has fought to pass increasingly more copyright restrictions, and their legal team has not been shy in leveraging the resulting protections against everyone from teachers to political cartoonists to small-town colleges.
Most recently, the target of these massive lawsuits has been the filtering company VidAngel. It’s probable that VidAngel’s business model does not comply with much of the expanded intellectual property law that has made it through the legislature in the past three decades. But that hasn’t stopped them from declaring total war on Disney via social media, portraying the media giant as a bully engaging in unfair trade practices. And given Disney’s track record, that’s a pretty sympathetic case to make.
Disney and the other media companies may well win the legal battle. According to Taskbritt, intellectual property law is strong in the United States, and a well-built copyright portfolio is pretty airtight. Still, Disney et al will not emerge from this fight with their reputations unscathed. It’s probably too much to hope that companies will take the high-road and only enforce copyright protections against legitimate thieves and pirates, but hopefully this PR skirmish will at least give them pause before their next round of lawsuits.
Anheuser-Busch was known in the 90’s as the edgy brand. Today, they continue this branding strategy, although a little more timidly in wake of some of the more recent controversies. Even so, it was a surprise to see the ad they ran documenting their efforts to provide emergency relief to some of the coastal areas affected by last year’s round of hurricanes. The beer manufacturer re-purposed some of their plants to provide fresh water to areas still suffering.
There are too many messages floating around marketing channels in 2018 for brands to rely on last-century methodology for advertising and branding. A comprehensive marketing strategy needs to incorporate a personal touch, content generation, and a rich understanding of your target audience. Give thought to each of these elements before you embark on any marketing campaign, or you will get lost in the noise.