MindFire Communications, Inc.
Heed the dangers of tone-deaf marketing
July 24, 2016 | Inga Rundquist

The world of social media has led to some pretty amazing interactive campaigns. (See here, here and here for some examples.) But as marketers we know that “the internet” can also tear poorly-judged campaigns to shreds … and they can do so very quickly and VERY publicly. Ironically, the worst campaign can get just as much attention as the best – it’s just not the type of attention most would wish for.

When digital campaigns work they can light your brand on fire. But when they fail, they can take your brand down in a blaze of glory.

This high risk/high reward landscape can lead some to shy away from fun interactive marketing campaigns, choosing instead to stick with more of the traditional tactics. But the statistics of the modern media marketplace make this a chancy attitude that could lead to the alienation of huge segments of your audience.

Let’s take a look at some recent digital campaign fails to see what we can learn from them.

“Stoner Sloth” PSA campaign

These campaigns for the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Premier and Cabinet in Australia depicts stoned teens as actual sloths in a variety of everyday situations and is designed to illustrate how weed can be detrimental to them both academically and socially. The spots end with the tagline “You’re Worse on Weed.”

According to one online article about the campaign, “the cartoonish scare tactics are so over-the-top that not only are they ineffective, they may even encourage teens to spark up.”

It didn’t take long for the internet to tear this campaign apart. There are parody videos, jokes on social media platforms and even a “Pass the salt” t-shirt.

Asked about the campaign, a NSW official reportedly said:

“The ‘Stoner Sloth’ public awareness campaign has been designed to encourage positive behaviors in young people before bad habits start, and motivate discontinued use of cannabis before they become dependent. The campaign is designed to appeal to, and be ‘shareable’ among, teenagers, who are some of the most vulnerable to cannabis use. We know that younger audiences respond more to campaigns highlighting the short-term consequences of their actions.”

Key takeaway

The big lesson from this debacle is this: Don’t be tone deaf when it comes to your campaign after it has launched.

Monitor how things are going (on a regular basis) and take swift action if things seem to go off track. You don’t want to make your brand look (even more) insensitive or unaware of things by supporting a campaign that has failed. Keep your finger on the pulse and be prepared to pull your work if it’s not creating the desired reaction.

Visit Rhode Island campaign

A $5 million campaign promoting Rhode Island as a tourist destination grabbed headlines and social media attention in April for all the wrong reasons. People noticed the campaign – but instead of wowing potential visitors to the taste, the ads were torn to shreds.

The audience discovered that part of the highly produced “We are Rhode Island” promotional video passed off footage of a concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland as the Ocean State. And instead of promoting in-state business, the campaign website featured restaurants in neighboring Massachusetts. Finally, the tagline for the campaign “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer” was met with met with luke-warm response, at best. In fact – #CoolerandWarmer has become a bit of an inside joke for Rhode Island residents and is being used quite frequently on Twitter.

The entire campaign was met with such scorn that it eventually led to the resignation of the state’s marketing officer. Yikes!

Key takeaway

Trying to fool your audience is a classic example of a tone-deaf marketing move.

In a world where you can find anything online, you cannot assume you’ll be able to pull the wool over your audience’s eyes. It’s critical that you fully grasp the nuances of the given situation. Plus, as a marketer, remember that when presented with honesty, consumers become loyal enthusiasts. Supply the opposite, and be prepared to be scorned! Be authentic. Be honest.

Post a Comment:

Newsletter signup - flames Newsletter signup - envelope