In The Age of the SWARM*, when every news outlet, blogger and tweeter jumps on the story of the moment, it’s no surprise that on November 16, we saw thousands of Benetton-related headlines telling us that the “Vatican threatens legal action,” and “Benetton pulls pope-kissing ad.” After all, that was the day that all hell broke loose over Benetton’s new ad campaign featuring global leaders kissing each other.
But if you looked beyond the echo chamber of RTs and redundant posts there wasn’t much in the way of real analysis. Sure the Pope was PO’d. But was the campaign any good? Is the cause it supports worthy? Was the controversy a surprise or the objective of the campaign in the first place?
It strikes me these are all questions worth considering for those of us interested in branding, advertising and social media. So I thought I’d weigh in.
The Cause: UNHATE fits perfectly with Benetton’s history of social advocacy
These days it’s common for marketers to jump on the social cause bandwagon in an attempt to generate good will. But taking a stand and supporting causes has been part of Benetton’s DNA for decades. The brand has a long history of social responsibility (or in some cases advertising disguised as such). It’s run campaigns and launched programs to subvert stereotypes, protest war, fight famine and challenge the death penalty. There was even a campaign to encourage entrepreneurialism in Africa.
If you haven’t checked out Benetton’s new initiative, you should. Benetton’s in-house agency Fabrica (working with outside agency 72andSunny) didn’t just launch an ad campaign for the sake of generating buzz, it created the UNHATE foundation and introduced a series of programs it hopes will contribute to a culture of tolerance. The effort appears to be much more than lip service. It includes educational programs and support for international NGOs that teach tolerance, a Global Tolerance Index, efforts to promote human rights and support for art programs that bear witness or contrast hatred.
UNHATE may or may not be its biggest or best effort to date – it’s too soon to tell, despite the fact that SWARM thinking wants instant conclusions – but perhaps we should credit the Italian apparel maker; it chose both to speak out and to put resources behind a worthy cause and message.
(I did come across one face worth noting in writing this post: while Benetton is a brand that prides itself in social responsibility, it ranks rather poorly in certain related behavioral traits you’d expect the company to do well in, including carbon emissions, environmental policy and labor conditions.)
The Creative: Not the best effort
If the main job of a creative execution is to get noticed, then this campaign works brilliantly. But if we want to apply higher standards – taste, cleverness, originality – then the kissing campaign does not rank among Benetton’s best. Take a look at some of the United Colors of Benetton ads of the past. The integrated family. The vials of leaders’ blood, all of it the same color. The white baby nursing from a black breast. The images were not only startling, but less expected. There’s something about the kissing joke that feels a little too easy and obvious.
Then again, it does give a nod to another great Benetton kissing ad featuring a priest and a nun, produced 20 years ago. I suppose that for the few of us familiar with Benetton’s history you could argue it’s an inside joke.
We all know it’s easier to be critical than to come up with a better idea yourself, but it doesn’t help that Oliviero Toscani, the photographer who created the most famous Benetton ad images slammed the campaign, calling it “pathetic and the product of a beginner’s art class.” Ouch.
On another note, the website is pretty good. It’s clean, well designed, easy to navigate and invites participation via the Kiss Wall. Perhaps what this effort and campaign really needs is just some time.
The Controversy: Intentional or accidental?
If you want your next ad campaign to generate millions of media impressions just add a picture of the Pope in a compromising position. Search “Benetton Pope” and you get pages and pages of coverage. It’s hard to imagine a better viral scenario. The cynical among us have already ventured that the entire campaign was created for no other reason to generate press coverage.
It’s unlikely that Benetton will admit whether or not they sought such a reaction, but it’s hard to imagine it didn’t cross their mind to expect comments like Father Federico Lombardi’s declaration that the doctored photo exhibited “a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offense against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation.”
Marketers often find themselves deluged by unexpected reaction, whether in response to a calculated risk or a innocent mistake. Just witness Qantas’s #qantasluxury fiasco yesterday. But in Benetton’s case the brand had to know from past experience. In response to Benetton’s Death Row ads in 2000 Sears removed all Benetton products from its stores and terminated its contract with the company.
Last year Benetton net income fell 33 percent, a fact Benetton attributed to the economy. Perhaps a little free publicity and controversy is just what the brand needs to jump start business and stay top of mind.
It may not be a strategy for all brands, but it seems to work over and over again for the Italian company.
- Is UNHATE a good cause? Or is it too generic? Would it be better to choose a cause that would generate customer participation more meaningful than posts to a kissing wall?
- Do you think the work rivals the Benetton campaigns of the past, particularly those photographed by Toscani Olivieri?
- Is generating controversy a smart marketing tactic? Is it too risky? Could more brands take advantage of it?
Please share your thoughts. If you are a teacher, consider using this as a topic and discussion guide.
The SWARM is my new term for the digital echo chamber we live in. It’s an acronym for the Social Wave Amplified by Repetitive Media. We see it all the time. A story breaks — maybe in the traditional press, maybe online, maybe on Twitter — and in order to be part of the story bloggers, tweeters, and every one with a presence in social media feels compelled to link, RT or somehow declare they’re in the know, creating The SWARM. If you like this acronym, feel free to use it as a hashtag. If you want to link back to its original explanation here, you can do that, too.
Thanks for stopping by.
I am adding this video after the fact. Creativity Magazine recap of the campaign in its five best of November 23. A good perspective on the comprehensiveness of the effort.
There is no shortage of facts, figures, stats and predictions on the proliferation of mobile and the market penetration of smart phones. Apparently you can make a pretty good living issuing research reports about how many people now have smartphones and what they’re using them for. (Hint: That would be everyone and everything.)
You can also fill up the web, or try, simply re-posting and regurgitating those facts in one form or another. Take a look at some of the coverage of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report from a week or so ago. Hundreds, if not thousands, of press and bloggers embedded her deck or linked to her talk.
The real question is what you’re supposed to do with all of this information, from Forrester, from Pew Research, from Mary Meeker. Sure you can put it all into a deck with your logo on the front and present it to clients. But I’m not sure that will get you very far. At least not in the long term.
It’s not about knowing that mobile is soon to be the dominant digital and social platform, it’s knowing what to do about it. I can’t claim to be an expert, but here’s what I’m thinking you should be doing.
Make mobile your new focus
You may have been late to the Internet revolution (hopefully you’re still around to take advantage of this one) and perhaps even slow to realize the potential of social. Don’t blow this one. It may be too late to be early, but it’s still early enough not to be late. What, you’re thinking mobile should be the domain of the media department? Or maybe the developers? Think again, everyone will need to be and do mobile before next year is out.
Get smart about behavior not technology
Since I’m not a developer I always start with the consumer rather than the technology. Think about social media. What was more important, the platforms or what consumers did with them? The same is likely to hold true for mobile. How and when will people search from their devices? Will they access a retailer’s site when they’re looking for directions, or when they’re in the store? How about a museum? Will a user want hours and exhibit dates before visiting the museum? Or is she interested in the backstory of an artwork when she’s standing in front of it? Understanding how and when someone uses their device leads to better mobile functionality.
Think utility over advertising
A few months ago, Jeremiah Owyang shared a mobile strategy deck. The mobile world changes pretty fast, but Jeremiah’s content remains relevant, demonstrating how to bring utility to every point on the purchase funnel, from pre-sale awareness generation to post sale loyalty building. He includes examples from North Face’s snow report to AAA’s roadside assistance, making this overview a good starting point to think about all the ways you can apply similar thinking to your clients.
Remember that mobile isn’t always about on the go
Heineken’s Star Player is one good reminder. It’s an accompaniment to a user’s TV set. The app makes a soccer fan a participant in a any televised soccer match. It does everything right: it understands the user and context, connects him to others in a community, and puts a branded experience in his hands for 90 straight minutes. It may make it harder to slurp down a beer, but presumably if you use the app for that much time you can do it with one hand. If you’re not familiar with it, check it out.
Don’t forget to think beyond apps
Yes we’re all programmed as users to download and use them. But as mobile search begins to rival that of desktop – it has a ways to go but is growing fast – you’ll want to be in the business of developing mobile optimized sites. And if you start developing them using responsive design, you’ll deliver a branded experience to the all of the plethora devices that make standardized apps a never-ending challenge. Furthermore your online advertising will be more effective. Most Google ad buys (full disclosure, they’re a client) include mobile, but if you’re delivering ads that link a user to a non-optimized site you’re wasting money, or at least diminishing effectiveness.
Take a look at this search I conducted to make the point. On a smartphone I searched men’s shoes. (In real life I’d just go to Zappos, but for the purpose of this exercise I used Google search.) Two paid results came up. Whose site would you use?
Remember to sell stuff and make paying easy
Apps and gaming are easily embraced, but the real future of mobile is commerce. Pay Pal will do $3.5 billion in transactions from mobile devices before the year is out. And that’s a conservative estimate. Heavy mobile users actually prefer to shop from their mobile devices versus a laptop. So make sure your commerce site is not only optimized for mobile but offers a fast and easy way to search product categories, find what you want and enter payment information. Oh, and let us not forget mobile payment. We may have taken a long time getting there compared to some other countries, but it’s here. Learn how to leverage it.
Include mobile thinking on every assignment
There’s a tendency whenever a new technology comes along to place it in a silo. Digital. Social. Mobile. But they’re not isolated media or experiences. These days everything is connected to everything else. And I’m not talking about QR codes on print ads. Take a look, for example, at this print ad optimized for mobile. The Zappos team at Mullen knows that people discover fashion in magazines. But you can’t really shop off a magazine. Unless, of course it interacts with your smartphone. In this case we developed an ad that lets you drag items of clothes into your phone, dress a digital shopper and then connect to Zappos to actually purchase your desired items.
Learn from the startups
One thing that ad agencies and clients have a tendency to do is to copy each other. I prefer to steal from more innovative companies, in this case startups who are inventing the stuff. We can learn a lot from Instagram – fun, sharing, user participation, community and the network effect. We can learn from Spotify – a perfect application of the freemium model and an experience made better by social sharing. We can learn from SCVNGR – gaming dynamics to influence.
Make it social
One interesting fact in Mary Meeker’s presentation is how much social media is now mobile. More people tweet from their smartphone than from any other kind of device. She also reminds us that the mega-trend of the 21st century is the “empowerment of people connected via mobile devices.” Hate to break the news, but in most cases, people want to connect to other like-minded or trusted friends via mobile more than they want to connect to your brand. So give them all the opportunity possible by creating a site experience and/or apps that not only allow but encourage people to connect with one another.
Do it to get it
Everyone who got into social media as a user got better at creating in the space. Ask Iain Tait, the brains behind Old Spice on Twitter. Or talk to the Brammo team at Crispin. Same is likely to hold true with mobile. So don’t leave it up to someone else. Play in the space. Get excited about responsive design. Think about all the ways a mobile site can be useful. Try all the new services. Check-in. Pay with Google. The more you use it the more you’ll get it.
Thoughts? Other things your agency is doing? Or your clients?
Related post: It’s time for web marketers to cater to mobile users.
I buy almost everything online. Books, clothes, light bulbs, earplugs, shirts, everything. More often than not the subsequent emails – when I forget to check whatever box is required to opt out of “valuable offers” – are too frequent and almost never of value.
But yesterday I ordered a Road ID, one of those useful bracelets that cyclists wear in anticipation of the inevitable crash that might leave you just a little too dizzy to tell those first responders who to call. It includes your name, address, contacts, etc. I do actually recommend you wear one if you cycle solo and especially if you commute in traffic.
Anyway, today I got the simplest email. Titled “Road ID – Tell a Friend Coupon,” it revealed in the subject line exactly what it was. The note thanked me, complimented me on my intelligence, and offered me 20 $1.00 discount coupons for any of my friends or followers, which I can distribute simply by giving them this code: ThanksEdward6560457. (Redeemable here.)
It went on to do the most obvious thing that any brand can do in an age of effortless digital sharing: the email asked me to spread the word. It even offered me a cut and paste tweet, complete with a link and the above code along with a gentle suggestion to talk to my kids if I were still among Twitter’s yet to be initiated.
Finally, and perhaps most impressive, instead of being sent by some robot whose address is No Reply, this note came from a real live person — company founder Edward Wimmer — to whom I could actually respond.
I’m not in the habit of promoting other people’s products without getting paid significant retainer fees, but I figured that in this case I’d make an exception in hopes that a little shout out for Road ID might encourage them to keep up their respectful and useful marketing efforts and perhaps get others to do the same.
Plus I think that cyclists should wear one. Along with a helmet.
What do you think? Do you see more bad examples of email marketing? Or can you share other great ones?
This is a lesson in social media, the danger of speaking without thinking, and the different ways in which content can get interpreted. (It might also be a lesson about good and bad advertising, but that’s secondary.) I share the story below in hopes that people might learn something. I know that I have.
Sunday afternoon, caught up in the brilliant performance of John Lackey who was pitching a shutout for the Boston Red Sox, I found myself annoyed by Eastern Bank’s frequent, half-second-long, transitional logo blasts. Without really thinking, I posted the following tweet: “ I am closing all accounts at Eastern Bank. Most annoying ad buy in history of sports on NESN Red Sox coverage.”
There are just two problems with this. One, I don’t have any accounts at Eastern Bank. And two, “in the history of sports,” is a pretty sweeping generalization. Hard, if not impossible, to back that one up. In my defense, I was attempting to make a point, throw in some drama, and see if anyone else out there felt the same way. I assumed that most people online aren’t totally literal — see this smart Tech Crunch piece — but I guess I could be found guilty of confusing hyperbole with irony.
Oh, and there’s one more little thing. Eastern Bank used to be a client of Mullen. I harbor no ill feelings of any kind regarding them or the relationship, but in retrospect that should have been disclosed.
Moments later I had second thoughts about my tweet, but as we all know seconds is a long time in an era of instant access and the web. I deleted it, but not before the cat was out of the bag and someone paying attention had sent it off to the marketing department at Eastern.
Yesterday, an executive from the bank sent me an email requesting we talk more about it. I have to give kudos to the bank for both paying attention and for reaching out. Shows they are tuned into the social conversation. I responded with a variation of the above, admitting my haste and arguable faux pas. But never one to hold back, I also suggested the following:
My personal advice would be to find a different way to present your logo and brand to viewers that is more inviting. In a fragmented media world and an era where attention is the new scarcity advertisers may have to take every opportunity to get their brand out there. However, in an age of social media when consumers have the power to opt into or out of a brand’s messages, advertisers also have a responsibility not to annoy. At times it’s a fine line, but if you err on the side of delight rather than harsh interruption you will win out in the long term.
These are trying times for advertisers. On one hand, the media landscape makes it essential that brands be present in as many different places as they possibly can. Compound that with an increasing scarcity of attention and advertisers have little choice but to find new ways to get those messages in front of us, if only for a second or two.
On the other hand, we live in an age of social media. It’s never been easier for consumers and viewers to pipe up, voice their opinion (positive or negative) and even take over the conversation. That means advertisers need both the good sense, if not the actual responsibility, to bring joy and delight to readers and watchers and not simply present self-serving messages that interrupt us.
However, this miniature case study also serves as a reminder that those of us taking advantage of our new-found powers and digital microphones should to use them more judiciously. I plan on trying to do a better of job of that in the future.
So what do you think? Are we entitled to shoot our mouths off? Should advertisers be held accountable for annoying work? Are we both in the wrong?
It’s the time of year when all sorts of packages show up at the office. Gourmet popcorns, fruit baskets, Godiva chocolates if you’re lucky. Unfortunately, more often than not the corrugated containers reveal some stupid tchotchke buried beneath environmentally offensive turds of foam core.
Not trying to be a Scrooge, but really, what are people thinking?
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when I opened a box from Facebook. It had been sitting on the floor of my office for a week, relegated to a to-be-recycled pile of magazines and stuff. I guess curiosity finally won out.
Here’s what I found. A double-walled porcelain cup, BPA free and microwave safe. True, that qualifies as a branded tchotchke. But at least it’s a useful one. There was also a pocket envelope with the single word “Please” printed on it. The card inside also displayed one word. “Share.” A request that was hard to ignore when you realize you’re also holding a $75.00 gift card redeemable at donorschoose.org.
Five minutes later I’d passed the money on to two different projects, one in need of books for a lower school’s girls’ reading group. Another for an inner city middle school class requesting funds for classroom technology.
Good idea, Facebook. Made me think better of you and did exactly what any marketer should be doing these days – marketing with, not to, its community. It let me participate, introduced me to a worthwhile organization, and inspired me to tell other people about it. I’ll even forgive you for the styrofoam popcorn kernels.
However, Google may have one-upped Facebook when it comes to giving. Between December 15 – 19, the search giant will donate money to a good cause for every tab you open in its Chrome browser, up to 250 tabs a day. You can buy vaccinations, books, clean water, shelter and trees. Open a tab and you’re “contributing” to The Nature Conservancy, Charity: Water, Doctors Without Borders, Un Techo para mi Pais, and Room to Read.
OK, in both these cases Facebook and Google have millions of dollars they can donate to charity. And obviously they were going to give the money away anyway. But as I’ve said here many times, why would any brand do that in the age of social media when you can allocate your money to your community, give them a say, allow them to be part of the experience and encourage them to feel good about themselves as well as your brand.
Congratulations to Facebook and Google, rivals in the market, but allies in the season of social giving.