Graham Jones
12th November 2018 - 5 mins read
A

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

5 marketing and advertising campaigns that imploded in 2018

Emily Stonham 5th November 2018 — 10 mins read
W

hat better way to mark Bonfire Night than to ‘remember, remember’ some digital marketing and advertising stories which went up in smoke this year?

We’ve picked five of the most spectacularly misjudged efforts from 2018.

Some of them are simply ridiculous, others are just offensively tone-deaf.

 

Mastercard Football Tweets

Starting off with a social media campaign that it’s hard to believe ever got approved, cast your minds back to May. Mastercard announced a two-year campaign on its Twitter feed that offered to donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to the World Food Program.

It sounded nice in principle, until the next part of the paragraph which stated that the meals would only be donated if footballers Messi or Naymar scored a goal.

Understandably, people were outraged online. Why should the starvation and malnourishment of children be left down to a glorified game of fetch? (Sorry football fans - Ed)

There were surely good intentions behind this campaign, but the stunt did nothing but wind up social media users and paint Mastercard in a bad light.

If an organisation has the ability to donate such large amounts of money, it seems like a better idea would be to donate the money rather than publicly flaunt it online for the sake of a football match and a bit of misplaced PR.

 

IHOP/IHOb Name Switch

In June, the American brand IHOP (International House of Pancakes) announced to its distraught followers that they were changing their name to ‘IHOb’ and invited everyone to guess what the ‘b’ stood for.

It caused a lot of dismay with its audience, and earned them a lot of sassiness from other brands.

This stunt seems to have been a lot more trouble than it was worth. After a month or so of IHOb drama and many ‘b’ related tweets, the company announced that the ‘b’ stood for burgers.

I think Mashable put it best when they called the stunt ‘thoroughly underwhelming’. A brand’s name is a huge part of its identity, and the month long change doesn’t seem to have had the desired results for IHOP.

H&M Sweater

Moving on to a social media crisis that should really have been anticipated, H&M found itself in hot water due to one of its clothing adverts. The image depicted a black child wearing a sweater that said ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’.

 

Social media users were immediately enraged - citing the fact that the other white models were wearing different sweaters, and questioning how this photo got approved by an entire team.

This particular controversy caused a lot of debate. Some people immediately declared this a racist act, with celebrities such as The Weeknd publicly breaking any ties that they had with the company. Consumers boycotted the brand, and stores were even faced with vandalism in response to the advert.

 

Here's a video of the protesters destroying a store, via EuroNews on YouTube.

 

However, some determined that this was not at all a racist act, including the boys own family, who said that it did ‘not ring alarm bells’ and they didn’t deem it offensive. Other social media users defended the company’s actions, questioning whether a large company would have deliberately tried to offend people in this manner.

 

Heineken Light Beer

Continuing the theme of unintentional offensive advertising campaigns, this particular one had critics wondering whether Heineken had deliberately created a racist advert in order to attract more attention.

The advert in question is for their light beer, and features a bartender sliding a beer bottle down the bar. It passes several black people, and ends up being picked up by a light skinned woman - with the tagline ‘sometimes, lighter is better.’

People were fuming. The ad suggests a preference for light skin, and the tagline comes across in a horribly offensive way.

Chance the Rapper, a popular musician, branded the advert as ‘terribly racist’ on social media. He also opened up an interesting discussion about whether brands were deliberately using racist imagery or offensive slogans to gain more media coverage.

Shortly after, the advert was pulled, and Heineken issued an apology, announcing that they ‘missed the mark’ with this advert.

 

Snapchat Rihanna Advert

The final example we have today is an advert that caused a lot of distress and outrage online.

For those who may not know, the singer Rihanna was a domestic abuse victim at the hands of her ex-partner Chris Brown. The case is understandably something that Rihanna has tried to distance herself from.

It’s therefore a shock that Snapchat would allow a game to promote this advert on its ‘story’ feature.

The advert was for a ‘would you rather’ styled game, and presented the option to slap Rihanna or punch Chris. Social media users called it ‘tone deaf’ and ‘awful’.

As one user pointed out on Twitter, adverts on social media have to go through an approval process. This means that multiple people looked at this advert, thought about it and said to themselves ‘yes, this is fine.

Rihanna herself condemned this advert, wiping over £700m off of Snapchat’s parent company's value in the process. She discussed the ad on an Instagram story, saying it was ‘intentionally shaming domestic abuse victims’.

 

Snapchat immediately pulled the advert and issued an apology, saying it had been put up in error, but it seems the harm had already been done. Countless people were upset by the fact this advert had ever been created in the first place, regardless of Snapchat’s insistence that it was a mistake.

 

Overall

Overall, there’s been some pretty poor advertising and marketing mistakes this year. From the ‘simply underwhelming’ to the ‘disgustingly offensive’, there hasn’t been a shortage of questionable campaigns to learn from.

So, what can your business learn from these examples in particular?

Firstly, and I know it sounds obvious, but consider carefully how people will react to your campaign. This is especially important if it features something sensitive, e.g. poverty, discrimination or politics.

For example, there were undoubtedly good intentions somewhere in the Mastercard football campaign, but the delivery and perception of it online led to it being seen as something twisted and ugly.

Using crowd feedback to gauge responses on topics like charity can be a great way to prevent things like this happening. Try tools like Instagram or Twitter polls, or encourage users to submit questions or statements - perhaps which charity they’d like your business to support.

Another important consideration is how social media will impact your campaign. I’m sure that the H&M photo didn’t seem like a huge issue at the time to the photographers and creatives, but once social media users got hold of it, the story took on a different turn.

Consider how your campaign will look out of context. Does it still make sense? One of Dove’s ads from 2017 shows the importance of considering context more carefully. A sequence of 4 photos were taken out of the whole advert, and they spread like wildfire.

Here’s the sequence of 4 photos.

 

And here’s the full advert, from Business Insider's channel on YouTube.

The set of four photos looks to be implying that dark skin is dirty and that white skin is pure. It’s crucial to make sure that your advert can’t be taken out of context and be given a whole new meaning.

The final thing to consider is using humour. It might be hilarious to you and your team, but jokes in marketing and advertising can often be lost in translation, especially if it’s dark/offensive humour. If you’re not sure, it’s best to leave it alone.

What’s the worst example of marketing or advertising that you’ve seen this year? Feel free to let us know on our Twitter at @37agency.

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, informative and shareable so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Adam Fisher
2nd February 2018 - 5 mins read

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.