Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.

Graham Jones
19th February 2018 - 5 mins read
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fter all, I might be saying this with a smile on my face, in a light-hearted way so you’d know that I was mucking about. On the other hand, I might have a stern look, wagging my finger at you and making you realise I was rather forthright about this topic.

The written word can only communicate part of the way. Without vocal tone, facial expressions and body language, it’s all too easy to get the wrong end of the stick when we read something.

These days we write and read more than ever before. Emails, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs—the list goes on. Nowadays, the typical office worker actually writes around 20,000 words a week. That means you are writing the equivalent of a novel every month.

The result is that every office worker will have developed a style of their own; a way of writing that is unique to them. And therein lies the problem for business communication.

It means that the way in which one member of the team writes on social media, for instance, can be vastly different to the style used by another staffer. That leads to inconsistency among the readership and the followers; they are confused about your company’s personality.

Many firms realise this and so they develop a corporate style guide or tone of voice document. And that can often lead to another problem; the company’s communication on social media in particular is no longer human. Corporate style allows things to be consistent but it turns most text into boring, business-speak.

Companies are often afraid that if they allow their style to be more human they’ll be in danger of trivialising themselves on social media. They get a sense of the more human approach devaluing their operation.

These firms worry that you might get maverick behaviour, with staff saying things in all kinds of negative ways on Twitter or Facebook. They don’t want to be like Channel 4, for instance, that Tweeted “BREAKING: It's definitely better to be nice to people and not be a dick. We'll update you as and when we have more on this story.” Or, perhaps, the Tweet from KFC in Australia which said “Something hot and spicy is coming soon” above a picture of a woman looking down at a man’s genital area.




Social media activity like this seems fun and human, but it is the kind of tone of voice that puts off the corporate style police. That, though, is a problem. It means that millions of social media messages are just plain boring. People skim straight past them, meaning they are a complete waste of time for the companies in the first place.

So, is there a way out of this conundrum? How can your company come across as human without people going bananas?

One way is to train people in writing skills. Given that the typical office worker is producing a novel’s worth of material each month, it’s worthwhile taking stock and thinking “are they trained for that?” People get trained in the technical skills of using email, for instance, but how much training do people get for writing? These days, writing is one of the most common activities for office workers and few are trained in this skill.

A key feature of learning to write well is understanding how your material sounds, so that even though the reader cannot see your facial expressions they can still get a jolly good idea of your meaning through the way you use phrases, sentences and punctuation.

Staff that are well-trained in writing are going to be much less likely to make the mistakes of businesses trying—and failing—to strike that human tone on social media. That’s because trained writers tend to stop and think more before they commit finger to keyboard.

It’s also about seeing the reader in your mind’s eye. Professional writers visualise the people for which they are writing, rather than just focusing on the words. Skills like this can be taught and learned and can create a significant advantage on social media. That’s because, with everyone trained, the personality of the company can shine through and the maverick behaviour can be diminished.

Essential to getting it right is understanding your audience very well indeed. Taco Bell, for instance, does this brilliantly. Its social media posts are light, fun and humorous, reflecting the fact that what the company offers is a fast snack that is usually eaten socially.

Similarly, the airline JetBlue manages to strike a good balance between fun and being serious. It doesn’t trivialise air travel but it does emphasise that travelling itself should be fun and enjoyable. Its Twitter feed is consistent in that it contains a sprinkling of humour among the more serious tweets.

Another good example is the bookstore Waterstones. It provides informative social media posts as well as humour and conversation with its followers. It has a consistent tone that is light when needed and serious when talking about something that demands it. In other words, it understands the connection between the topic and the reader very well.

Fundamentally, what these companies share is a solid understanding of their readership. They may well be using trained writers, but their social media posts reveal that they truly understand their audience. You can only write in the right tone if you understand who is going to read your material and their motivations.

For some companies this will mean you can be light, fun and entertaining. For others it will mean that you need to be conversational and witty. And for a few it will mean you need to strike a balance between serious and light. The only “right answer” about tone of voice on the internet is “it depends”. It depends on your product, your sector and your audience. Two things will help you get this working properly—trained writers and a solid, well- researched understanding of your target audience. 


At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

7 campaigns that went viral for all the wrong reasons

Aimee Hudson 2nd October 2017 — 8 mins read
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big budget helps, great ideas are critical, but as some of the below companies found out some elements are simply outside of your control and can sometimes cause campaigns to go viral for all the wrong reasons…

 

Walkers Wave

In this campaign, fans were asked to tweet their selfies so they could feature in a short video clip in which Gary Lineker held a picture of their selfie and said “Thanks for joining the Walkers Wave and celebrating the UEFA Champions League Final.”

However, this backfired and went viral in a way Walkers probably wished it hadn’t.

The crisp producer set up an automated tweet system meaning all images were automatically submitted to show in the picture frame.

But, there was seemingly no screening or filtration process.

This meant that when members of the public started to tweet in images of people who are famous for committing crimes, the campaign quickly started to go downhill.

 

 

The campaign’s failure soon spread like wildfire through the Twittersphere and other media platforms due to the ease of sharing posts.

You can tell Walkers had good intentions and hoped the campaign would be original, convey emotions, spark interest and be easy to share.

Like any great campaign it did do this, just not in the intended way.

 

Pepsi’s advert featuring Kendall Jenner

Pepsi faced huge backlash to an advert featuring Kendall Jenner where she was seen giving police a can of Pepsi on the front line of a protest.

The advert was meant to portray a message of peace, unity and understanding but instead was criticised for trivialising social justice demonstrations.

In the advert Kendall is seen giving a police officer a can of Pepsi, he then smiles at a fellow officer as protestors cheered. 

Backlash from the advert suggested that if protestors were kinder and gave police a drink, there would be no need for social justice demonstrations.

The public mocked the campaign with key influencers like Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter, tweeting a picture of her father with the caption:

 

 

Pepsi’s hope of creating a campaign relating to current political events obviously fell flat. It initially defended the advert saying it “reflects people from all walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony”.

However, the backlash continued to grow, and Jenner also faced criticisms with Eric Thomas, senior partner of Saga marketing posting on LinkedIn that “A Caucasian, blonde, classically beautiful, affluent, kid born into celebrity probably isn’t the person you need to represent struggle and civil unrest”.

Pepsi finally withdrew the advert and apologised with the following statement:

 

 

Southern Rail – Let’s Strike Back

It’s not just food and drink based campaigns that can go wrong as Southern Rail found out when its Twitter campaign was derailed.

The company’s campaign asked its customers to challenge a Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) strike on Twitter.

With the headline ‘Let’s Strike Back’, the company’s initial tweet asked customers to tell the union how the rail strikes make them feel with the hashtag #SouthernBackOnTrack

 

 

But perhaps not surprisingly given the operators reputation for late, cancelled and over-crowded trains, customers used the hashtag to lambast its service.

 

 

Quickly, Southern Rail lost control of the campaign with the public creating their own, more popular hashtags including #SouthernFail.

Soon, national media picked up on the Twitter storm generating more unfavourable headlines and comments for the company.

The company initially refused to apologise for the campaign or the poor services customers had received, saying its ‘aim was to get the debate going’.

However, a month later the deputy chief operating officer of Govia Thamesline Railway, the parent company of Southern Rail, said the tweets were a “mistake.”

It’s clear to see there was little debate around the topic but more a way of customers to vent their disappointment and even anger at the brand.

 

Amazon: The Man in the High Castle

Back in 2015, Amazon’s new show ‘The Man in the High Castle’ depicted a dystopian life in which Nazi Germany and Japan have control over the US after winning World War Two.

To promote the show, Amazon decided to advertise across New York City.

The company wrapped the subway seats, walls and ceilings of one train in a version of the American flag, replacing the stars with a German eagle and iron cross. They even created a stylised flag for the ‘new Japan’.

The campaign also involved having 260 posters across the subway station.

The advertisements were due to run for 2-3 weeks until early December but were pulled hours after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called Amazon to do so.

Bill de Blasio stated that the advertisements were “irresponsible and offensive to Word War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers”.

The lesson learnt: Historical events are still sensitive even in a dystopian world.

 

Coca-Cola – GIF the Feeling

When Coca-Cola changed its tagline from ‘Open Happiness’ to ‘Taste the Feeling’, it decided to celebrate the launch with the campaign ‘GIF the Feeling’.

The idea was that the public would be able to superimpose their sentiments on a pre-created GIF.

Coca-Cola was smart and had thousands of words filtered so they couldn’t be included in the campaign including hell, fat, homosexuality, diabetes, all swear words, business, sex, drugs and more.

However the public, as menacing as they are, decided to get creative and create GIFs with the words which had not been filtered, including diarrhoea, capitalism, Benghazi and more.

It was soon clear to see Coca-Cola had lost control and the public had hijacked the campaign.

In a statement, Coca-Cola said: “Our intention was to invite consumers to share their feelings in a positive and uplifting way as they discover our new campaign. It is unfortunate that some people have chosen to use our campaign materials to do just the opposite” … “Their comments do not reflect the views of The Coca-Cola Company”.

 

Protein World - Beach Body Ready

The supplement company’s weight loss advert featured a model in a bikini with the phrase ‘Are you beach body ready?’

It was displayed all over the UK and faced huge backlash for ‘body shaming’.

Watchdog reported the campaign received almost 400 complaints. Additionally, a protest was held in London’s Hyde Park and a Change.org petition gained more than 70,000 signatures.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated it had received a range of complaints on issues including the ‘very slim, toned’ model which suggested that all other body shapes are inferior.

Protein World remained defensive and unapologetic during the backlash. It even invited the public to consider if they were in the shape they wanted to be and claimed that the campaign doesn’t imply everyone should look like the model.

After much debate over the wording the ASA initially deemed the advert did not breach any UK advertising rules relating to harm and offence or responsible advertising.

Many of the public were upset with this result and continued to campaign against the ‘beach body’ image.

However, after some further consideration ASA decided to ban the advert and ordered it to be removed.

Protein World continued to advertise with similar campaigns like ‘Think Small’.

 

Bud Light – Up For Whatever

In an effort to get everyone together for a good time, Budweiser launched its campaign ‘Up For Whatever’.

The beer company produced bottles with the following line printed on them, “The perfect beer for removing ‘No’ from your vocabulary for the night’.

This led to heavy criticism on social media with critics claiming it undermined the anti-rape “no means no” campaign in an effort to stop sexual assault.

It upset many consumers who claimed the beer’s messaging didn’t recognise that alcohol frequently plays a part in rape cases.

The initial release of the new bottles was supposedly designed to ‘inspire spontaneous fun’.

Soon after, Budweiser admitted it had ‘missed the mark’. It said: “We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behaviour”.

However, a longer statement was issued by owner Alexander Lambrecht who said: “The Bud Up For Whatever campaign, now in its second year, has inspired millions of consumers to engage with our brand in a positive and light-hearted way. In the spirit, we created more than 140 different scroll messages intended to encourage spontaneous fun. It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it.”

 

 

While all these campaigns certainly succeeded in becoming part of the conversation, it came at the cost of damage to the reputation of the brands involved. And they show how a few simple errors, or a poorly thought out idea, can quickly turn something with good intentions into something hugely negative. Going viral is clearly not always a good thing.

At Thirty Seven, we offer content marketing services and ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures our content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement for all the right reasons.

Adam Fisher
29th January 2018 - 3 mins read