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When brands 'heart bae' on social media

Brands are becoming like that one friend all of us have who wants to be the first to hit social media with a pithy observation. Are they trying too hard?

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jun 25, 2015, 10.47 AM IST
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Brands are becoming like that one friend all of us have who wants to be the first to hit social media with a pithy observation. Are they trying too hard?
Brands are becoming like that one friend all of us have who wants to be the first to hit social media with a pithy observation. Are they trying too hard?
To truly understand 21st Century marketing, it's imperative first to familiarise oneself with two critical concepts. The first of which is newsjacking. A term coined by David Meerman Scott, it is the 'process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.' Birds do it, bees do it, even grand 'ol FMCGs do it. From the likes of P&G to foods giant Mondelez. The poster child of newsjacking is Oreo of course.

Although one would hope it weren't the case, the Mondelez owned brand's Super Bowl black-out tweet and 100-days long 'Daily Twist' campaign is the case-study our progeny's children probably will cite as the greatest specimen of real-time marketing. We're quite prepared to wager our last cookie on it. Following Oreo's example, at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Coca-Cola had set up a state-of-the art war-room that accommodated advertiser and all agency partners, just in case the lights went out at the Mineirão stadium. Which it did, seven times during the match between Brazil and Germany. But purely in the metaphorical sense.

However, decades before the triumphs of these real-time marketing masters there was Amul. In fact, the Indian food company has been newsjacking well before the term or Twitter came into being. Amul's put its buttered twist on everything from people and politics to advertising.

For instance, "It's My Choice. To use a butter knife or my finger" was released during the debates over actor and active feminist Deepika Padukone's monologue in a Vogue fempowertisement. Yes, that's a legitimate genre of advertising if marketing's attempt to latch onto the gender equality dialogue is anything to go by (also see Havells' 'Respect Women' and Ariel's #sharetheload, among others).

But newsjacking is a risky proposition. Says Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather, "When you leave the relatively calm waters of offline newsjacking and move into supersonic online culture hijacking, you can face major turbulence. There's no time for traditional checks and balances and a not so well thought out tweet might just backfire." Like when, in a glaring lapse of judgement, online eyewear retailer Lenskart sent this message to push its sale: "'shake it off like this Earthquake. Get any Vincent Chase sunglasses upto Rs 3000 for FLAT Rs 500." This flashed on phone screens in the immediate aftermath of the quake in Nepal which left over 8,000 people dead.

When brands 'heart bae' on social media
Protein World’s controversial ad and the retort

When brands 'heart bae' on social media

However, the alternative to diving into topical chatter or clamor, with neither rhyme nor reason, is platform-jacking. It needs marketers to be less random and calls for more strategic intent. Consider the furor over Protein World's body-shaming ad that featured a model Rodin couldn't have sculpted better, with the line "Are You Beach Body Ready?" It grabbed global press' attention after an outraged public called it sexist and objected to its prescribed standard of beauty. The ad was banned in the UK. This was ripe for newsjacking, especially in light of gender debates raging all over the world and online activists' zero-tolerance policy toward any corporate transgression.

So, several brands rolled out tactical ads in response, to inject their two-cents into the conversation and engage with their TGs. Beer brand Carlsberg asked "Are you beer body ready?" And in the name of the champion of real beauty, Dove, one satirist created an ad featuring women of different sizes with the line 'Yes. We are beach body ready.' Dove UK tweeted: "Though we think ALL bodies are beach-ready, this image was not created or sanctioned by Dove." Even if Dove had put its logo on it, the hijack wouldn't have been out of character. Because Dove's platform is self-esteem not moisturising soap. Says Suman Srivastava, founder - Marketing Unplugged and chief strategy officer, FCB Ulka, "Brands have moved from proposition to platform. But don't start by saying 'I'm going to newsjack'. Go beyond faux engagement." A deadly sin it ought to be in the marketer's handbook.

The superficial nature of most brands' excursions into public consciousness brings us to the other essential 21st century marketing term. A subset of jacking of the news kind is culturejacking. That is, for instance, when you populate online messages entirely with words from Urban Dictionary in a desperate attempt to be relevant to your brand's target audience. In other words, when you ride a pop-culture trend to make your brand seem cool.

Last year, Indian marketers were testing the limits of human tolerance when they rained selfie contests on us. Vodafone, Fastrack, Max Bupa Health Insurance, Philips and Dove, amongst countless others, invited people to share everything from the family to helfies (that's selfies focusing on the hair, if you must know) on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Twitter. However, the winning shot was #selfiewithmodi. Part of culturejacking is speaking as your target audience would. Marketers in the US moved from selfies to a hotter trend, using the slang term for endearment "bae" in conversations with people on various social media platforms which allow direct and instant communication between brands and users. The quickest way, marketers reckon, to a millennial's heart, mind and wallet is to talk Millennialese, right? Well, not always. Sometimes it leads to embarrassing results. Think Dad saying 'dude' and wearing his Levi's several inches below waist-line.

Last year, @BrandsSayingBae, a twitter feed amassed 10,000 followers in just two days. It provided a steady stream of worst brand offenders on social media. The charge: saying 'bae' and 'on fleek' (translation, on point) well over the permissible limit. If not bae, try banter. The likes of Flipkart, Amazon, Zomato, Ebay have been indulging in Twitter banter with each other to cultivate a personality and tone of voice. Says Zafar Rais, CEO of digital marketing agency MindShift Interactive, sometimes brands forget to adjust tonality when they flitter from offline to online. "Therefore understand the cultural context. In the urgency to be relevant and topical, people forget to exploit this opportunity to gain knowledge and insights into situations and how the audience reacts to it."

Too much to ask for, perhaps nowadays. Because the relentless pursuit of meaningful connections by making brands seem human has blinded marketers to its inherent limitation — brands are not people. This delusion has fostered a marketing culture where brands act like people by hurling themselves into news and pop-culture and mimicking human behavior like a mindless droid. And nary have a result beyond a 0.7 per cent median increase in Twitter followers (source: Unmetric). And god forbid a stray, mindless post or tweet on the topic du jour. That'll certainly get the brand onto the trending list. Now, as Sapient-Nitro's CCO, KV Sridhar puts it, brands can't afford not to have conversations with people. But the fact is not everyone wants to have a conversation with their beer. Or the bartender, for that matter.

When brands 'heart bae' on social media
Tweets from @BrandsSayingBae

When brands 'heart bae' on social media
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