What are the holidays about if not family, food and fun – oh yes, and the ads. This year it seems the ads are a little more aggressive, vying for viewer attention in face of increased media distraction. Gone are the days of hoping viewers don’t flip the channel. Today, you’re hoping they’re watching your ad slot in the first place. If you’re particularly creative, you’ll know that your ad needs to be so engaging, controversial, and imaginative, that viewers are tuning in to see it much like they would any other buzz item. Nonetheless, sometimes even in spite of your best efforts and with a fully captive audience, you have someone asleep at the helm and an entire nation watching the ad in which you’ve shot your own brand in the foot. It is possible to recover from this. The trick is to reimagine the narrative.
There are some things you can’t get out of joking about, even accidentally. The Holocaust is one of them. So naturally when health spa in Germany by the name of Kristall Sauna-Wellnessspark decided to host a Kristallnacht offering a “long romantic Kristallnacht [Crystal Night],” it didn’t go over too well with a nation that’s still cringing from its own history courtesy of one Adolf Hitler. Of course the gaffe is purely accidental and unfortunately named after the spa, which wasn’t helped by their offering a long and romantic night at that. Still, someone there should have considered a still very touchy-feely history and basic human sentiment that would frown upon a favorable association.
Perhaps equally as ill-fated in its own way, Kellogs UK also put its foot in its mouth with an amateur digital media campaign. The sound bite came off exactly like this: “Kellogg’s promises vulnerable children breakfast in return for retweets.” Of course they weren’t expecting needy children to retweet, but they might as well have been considering someone there failed to consider how their social media campaign might read in a sound bite. In a digital world, all we have are sound bites, so if you’re asking people to communicate or engage you in king of condensed sound bites – like Twitter – you better make sure no one has the opportunity to misinterpret your message. Still there’s the issue of why anyone at Kellogg’s thought it would be a good idea to make it look like assistance for vulnerable children would only be given in the event of a retweet – a move that makes it look like Kellogg’s is withholding assistance unless you retweet. Ads are always open to interpretation. Social media ones even more so. It’s really crucial to check and double check an unintended or implied meanings before you signal a green light.
In both cases, the worst move forward would be to draw more attention and give the media more to cover. Apologize, move on, and do a bit of firing and hiring. The goal in any ad blunder is to reimagine the narrative. Though much like mudslinging in a political campaign, sometimes the other guy’s ad is all about painting you in a negative light. This is exactly what Pepsi did for Halloween this year, by pushing out an ad of a Pepsi can donning a “Coke” cape with the subtext “We wish you a scary Halloween.” The unofficial Coke response, but one that went viral nonetheless, used the same picture but changed the text to “Everybody wants to be a hero!” It was brilliant. Nothing was changed except for the meaning. The original ad also has me questioning why no one at Pepsi considered how heroic and Superman-like their ad seemed in the first place, making the unofficial Coke response a natural fit. This in light of the fact that Man of Steel just came out this year.
Coke reimagined the narrative perfectly, using exactly the same art and mudslinging it right back at its competitor. A similar and slightly more creative approach was taken just a couple weeks ago with Zappos after it was “trolled” by Kanye West. After Kanye publically labeled Zappos products as “shit” and selling “shit products.” Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh responded brilliantly but actually confirming the accusation. In what is probably the greatest PR/ad comeback, Hsieh went and posted a literal “shit” product – a plunger with equally base photos to match. End of story. Hsieh hit the nail on the head by responding appropriately in a counter strike that leveled Kanye’s complaint and got Zappos even more fans … and hits.
When it comes to advertising, remember that this medium is all about how consumers should feel about your brand. A winning ad strategy gets consumers to seek out your advert amidst a cacophony of holiday ad campaigns – and then gets them talking about it. If you can, capture the narrative. If you’re dragged into an unfavorable campaign, then rewrite it to your favor.
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