When brands want to stand apart from the competition, they often turn to edgy advertising to push the boundaries. This can work well, and the benefits can outweigh the risks.
But when the message behind the campaign is shared without context, no amount of marketing or brand explanations can overcome the negativity.
In this week’s episode of Marketing on Tap, we look at how recent examples of edgy messaging gone astray cost the brands involved the goodwill of consumers, and highlighted the dangers of this risky type of marketing.
Settle back and enjoy this week’s topic, brought to you in the usual unscripted manner that you’ve come to expect when Sam and Danny take the mic.
If you prefer to listen on the go, the audio version of this week’s episode can be listened to below.
Intro: Welcome to Marketing on Tap, a weekly podcast in which marketing pros and authors Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown serve up the latest marketing hot topics, campaigns and trends, all washed down with a great craft beer. Join in for the fun as they debate the pros and cons of the topic of week while featuring popular or up and coming microbreweries. Topics include influence marketing, brand campaign successes and misses, customer advocacy programs, and marketing challenges facing businesses and agencies. It’s the marketing podcast to listen to for CMOs, senior sales executives and key decision makers at mid to enterprise level organizations. And with their good natured bashing of each other, each episode promises to entertain and educate in equal measure. Welcome to Marketing on Tap.
Sam Fiorella: Welcome back everybody to another episode of Marketing on Tap podcast and vlog, this is my mate Danny Brown. I am Sam Fiorella. Today we’re calling out some other horrible marketing campaigns, because apparently that’s a thing we like to do. Danny sent me a link early this morning on a campaign for Pussy Juice Beer. So that in itself should probably tell you what’s gonna happen or what’s going wrong with that.
Danny Brown: And that’s just the tame one.
Sam Fiorella: And you know what, that is the tame one of the three that we’ve seen. So there’s a series of UK based campaigns that went off the rails. Best of intentions as they say, you know sometimes, what is it, what’s the saying?
Danny Brown: Best intentions gone awry or something? It’s a Scottish saying and I should really know it.
Sam Fiorella: You really should, you are Scottish aren’t you?
Danny Brown: Allegedly.
Sam Fiorella: So anyway, the path to hell is paved with best intentions. So that’s I think the case here. We’ve got three marketing examples of really well intentioned campaigns but when they hit the market they just went awry. So we want to break those down and talk about how you could potentially avoid them but first we want to have a little bit of laugh at their expense. And then we’ll talk about maybe if you’re gonna be considering something like this you want to get a little bit edgy, where you should and where you shouldn’t. However, before we start that?
Danny Brown: Yeah, so this is gonna be an interesting one today. You may have noticed I poured I third glass because we realized that our producer Robert was never getting any beer except maybe just the end taste that we left over. So we thought, you know he works hard so we’d better start feeding him some beer as well. But this is an IPA, a proper IPA as opposed to the one that we had the other week which was a session IPA. And it’s by Railway City Brewing, it’s Dead Elephant IPA. This is actually a really solid IPA from Railway City Brewing. And it’s a 6.5%, it’s a nice percentage there.
Sam Fiorella: Prime beer.
Danny Brown: I’m not really sure what the IBU is, because it’s not actually on the can. Some brewers don’t count the IBUs, they don’t really go with that route. But anywho, it’s a typical IPA, there’s a lot of citrus there, you can smell the hops right away when you smell it because I’m interested what these guys think about it [crosstalk 00:03:10].
Sam Fiorella: I wanna see the look on Robert’s face too I mean.
Danny Brown: Cheers guys. Robert’s not a fan. That’s not a slight on Railway City Brewing, but Robert’s not a fan of the IPA.
Sam Fiorella: Well I’m not a fan of IPA in general, any IPA. So this one is, this is a traditional IPA. The Dead Elephant is kind of funny because given how the IPA came about in the first place, right?
Danny Brown: Right, exactly yeah. So if you like IPAs, Railway City Brewing, Dead Elephant IPA is a really good example of the style.
Sam Fiorella: You know what? I don’t know that I would drink this over and over and over again, I certainly wouldn’t have cans of this in my beer fridge, but to sit and enjoy one I think I could do it.
Danny Brown: Yep. Anyhoo…
Sam Fiorella: So let’s talk about the first case study. Do we want to start with the tame one? No, let’s go –
Danny Brown: Let’s go to this one.
Sam Fiorella: Alright, so. Revolve. UK brand, fashion brand. And they, again with the best of intentions, they had a charity collaboration against cyber bullying.
Danny Brown: Which is awesome.
Sam Fiorella: From what I understand. Yeah. So they took celebrities like Lena Dunham, Suki Waterhouse, and they were asked to submit comments that they’ve received from online trolls about their body, yeah their body shape. You know these are models and actresses, some of them are really really skinny, some of them are average builds, what we would consider a normal build. But the one thing that was I guess in common was that they all received some pretty hateful comments about their body, no matter how skinny or big they were they all got pretty nasty comments. And so what this fashion designer says, we are gonna photograph you in a sweatshirt with that saying on it to raise awareness of cyberbullying, right? To say that even so in this one case, we have a model with a sweatshirt that says, “Being fat is not beautiful. Being fat is an excuse.” With the person that gave her that comment. And they posted this on their website with a whole series of these and needless to say, the backlash was terrible.
Danny Brown: Well yeah and I think the problem was they released it early without prepping the campaign. The celebrities that took part in the campaign weren’t even aware that it had been released, it wasn’t scheduled to be released at that time. So the backlash because there was no context there, it was as you can imagine immediate when you look at some of the other examples of the comments, but yeah it was immediate, and especially because the one you used about being fat is an excuse it’s of a probably a size zero model.
Sam Fiorella: Well that’s the other thing.
Danny Brown: It’s weird, isn’t it.
Sam Fiorella: And I liked the idea that they were saying this is what people are saying, highlighting the amount of negativity that’s happening online. So again, best of intentions, I’m not calling this brand out and the ads and the articles that we’re reading are not calling the company out, in fact they’re giving the company a lot of praise.
Danny Brown: Yeah, it’s the execution, right?
Sam Fiorella: It’s just you know the execution. So in this particular one they had Influence or Felicity Howard, who like you said is like a size zero wearing this sweatshirt. So without context which I guess is really the theme of this podcast, the context in your marketing, you have to make sure that the audience is prepped for it and in this case they certainly weren’t. So now the comments that came back were pretty funny. One of them was, ah, cool, even retailers are trolling us now and yet our thin allies will stop shopping there. You know what I mean, so, there was some pretty funny comments.
Danny Brown: I often think that the brands that come out with the campaigns like that should hire some of the people that are commenting for future campaigns, because they’re really smart. The comebacks and that would be like if you want to get an edgy campaign that would be the edge to take. And I’m curious why they never used the actual celebs.
Sam Fiorella: That had those comments made against.
Danny Brown: Right exactly.
Sam Fiorella: I’m not sure. The response that they put out on social media was the sweatshirts went up early. This is a collaboration with five women with the worst troll quotes on social media. The point was to shine a light on horrible trolling is and the proceeds benefit charity. So basically it’s the opposite of what it seems. Well I mean if you’re going to be tongue in cheek you have to make sure again that your audience is gonna understand that, so whatever that is. So one example I’m thinking of where maybe this has worked, if you watch any of the late night shows, like David Letterman.
Danny Brown: Colbert and people.
Sam Fiorella: [crosstalk 00:07:57] or Conan. Yeah, I’m old so I’m still like a David Letterman guy. But you see that sometimes they get celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves.
Danny Brown: Ah, mean tweets, right.
Sam Fiorella: So the context is there. It’s set up that we’re having the person who the mean tweets are being posted to is reading those things about themselves, right? So it’s almost like they’re saying it to themselves and so they’re calling it out and just making the point that this doesn’t bother me. You can say whatever you want, this doesn’t bother me, I’ll even make it public. I’ll read it out, I’ll make you a celebrity by reading out your comments on national television. So that’s an example of how it can be done right.
Danny Brown: Yeah, exactly.
Sam Fiorella: It’s maybe not even just the context and prepping the audience, it’s also the medium that you’re using where people are going to be engaging in this.
Danny Brown: Right.
Sam Fiorella: So that’s obviously one thing but talking about that context, how would they have set up the context if this was to have been done right, if we were working with them, what would we have recommended?
Danny Brown: Well I think you’ve gotta do, I mean something like this especially, it’s almost like a guerilla marketing campaign. And the next example is definitely kind of like a guerilla marketing camp with Brewdog. But start prepping your audience, you mentioned prepping the audience. So you know, put little teaser out about cyber bullying and why it’s such a big issue and why it’s impacting people of all ages, of all sizes or all races, et cetera. And put little sort of dark messages out if you like on social, places like that that highlight what’s happening and highlight celebrities are now getting picked on regardless of size et cetera, so you’re certainly putting out a subconscious image already in the mind of your audience and then you’re ready to come out with the campaign because they understand where it’s coming from.
Sam Fiorella: And that makes, that’s a good point and one of the things that I know we’ve done in the past is the pre campaign, right? So whenever we’re proposing something, especially when it comes to influence marketing campaigns, there’s always the pre campaign, the campaign, and the post campaign. The pre campaign is part of laying that foundation. As an example of an influence marketing campaign that we’re currently working on has a number of cities that we’re going to be visiting, it’s a national tour that we’re doing with a client of ours where we’re gonna have five or six influencers in each one of these cities recording some work with us, I can’t get into the details at this point.
But one of the things that we’re doing, instead of just getting the influencers, negotiating with them, and then just showing up at the city, recording it and posting it, we’re actually having almost a call, a casting call for influencers in advance in a public way that’s going to highlight what’s coming. So that people will know that this is going to be happening, we’re looking for influencers, we’re looking for people with brand affinity, with certain type of skills, this is why we want them, this is what we’re doing and so there’s a community built up in advance, right? Even when it comes to those cities we’re gonna be recording and filming, or actually broadcasting the events live, so we’re going to be putting out an invitation for people to register to watch it live.
So again, everybody knows what’s coming, the context is set up, and it just makes that campaign a little better.
Danny Brown: It should be smoother, right? Exactly.
Sam Fiorella: Exactly. So why don’t we talk about he Brewdog one?
Danny Brown: Yeah.
Sam Fiorella: This one is actually kind of, it’s one of those, you know.
Danny Brown: Well yeah you just wonder, what were they, well you know what they were thinking again it goes back to the intentions was awesome. So Brewdog earlier this year I think it was for International Women’s Day.
Sam Fiorella: Let’s give some context. Brewdog is a craft brewery in the UK, in Scotland, right?
Danny Brown: Yeah, they originated in Glasgow, and they’ve got –
Sam Fiorella: Nicest people in the world by the way.
Danny Brown: So they’ve got a bunch and they’re kind of like a punk version of the beer industry, but so yeah. So in recognition of International Women’s Day they wanted to highlight gender inequality when it comes to wages and pay amongst other things. So they decided the average, and the UK especially, the average gender gap when it comes to pay is 20% which is a huge amount.
Sam Fiorella: It’s huge. It’s even bigger than it is here.
Danny Brown: Exactly. And it’s one of the biggest in Europe I believe. So it made sense for them to highlight it and they wanted to show about that. So they decided to resale a version of their Punk IPA called Pink IPA, beer for girls. And they marketed to women to say okay, now women can drink IPA too, that kind of message and of course, they called it Pink IPA, they’ve got a pink label, and it was just so stereotypical, well that’s girl’s color, that’s a girl’s favorite beer because it’s a pink beer, et cetera and you just thought. And they were also gonna give 20% of the sales to charities and –
Sam Fiorella: That fight gender inequality.
Danny Brown: Exactly, yeah. So the whole idea behind it was awesome. But again the execution, the context was all out and they just got hammered on social and to a degree they didn’t care because they’re Brewdog so they can pretty much do what they want.
Sam Fiorella: They’re punks.
Danny Brown: Yeah, exactly. But at the end of the day I mean, they did realize –
Sam Fiorella: Well they do care because they took the ad down and the stopped selling that bottle.
Danny Brown: Right, exactly. And it was, so I just think again, you have to be really careful when it comes to what you’re trying to say and who you’re trying to reach and what the message is when you’re actually starting a campaign because I mean, Brew dogs, they’re, I don’t know what their sales are, they’re huge. I mean they’re almost as corporate as you can get for –
Sam Fiorella: Yeah. For a craft beer.
Danny Brown: Exactly. But the whole campaign was just skewed.
Sam Fiorella: But here’s an example of sarcasm gone awry, because they knew what they were doing. This is not unlike the previous case where they had the best examples and they just didn’t realize that this was not a good idea. If you take a look at what they posted on Twitter when they announced their Pink IPA, they actually wrote with a photo of the three bottles of Pink IPA. We created a beer for girls. And it’s pink. Because women only like pink, and glitter, right? #sarcasm. So they knew that this was a direct contrast with the message, that they were highlighting the stereotype, and so they did that on purpose, that was their intention but it went wrong anyway. Right? So while they hashtagged it sarcasm and then wrote let’s show that enough is enough with the stereotypes.
So like let’s use a stereotype to fight the stereotype, let’s call it out. They provided the context. So this is, but it still went wrong, you know what I mean? So where is, the first case we talked about they didn’t provide context. Here they did provide context and it still went wrong. So we’re leading people astray.
Danny Brown: Well I think there was a response on Twitter that highlighted it perfectly. Scuse me, I’ve got a sore throat today. That highlighted that tweet well. And it was a picture of a pink glove and pink hairdryer and everything.
Sam Fiorella: And pink tools.
Danny Brown: And pink tools. They’re just selling to girls because girls like pink and the tweet said it all, like stop adding to the problem. If you really want to highlight inequality and gender inequality you’re not really doing it properly if you’re just adding to it by using the same stereotypes that women are fighting against.
Sam Fiorella: Even though you provided the context, maybe. And it could also be just because of the sensitivity of this particular issue today is, it’s even more so than trolling online which for years was a, and still is a big problem but the whole me too movement that’s going on right now, you know and everything that’s in the news, this might be … Clever as it may have tried to be, sarcasm trying to highlight stereotype with a stereotype, it might have been one of those topics that was just too sensitive and that people were gonna be so offended by it even if they recognized that it was sarcasm and that you’re trying to do good, they’re just not having it.
Danny Brown: Not used to it.
Sam Fiorella: So and maybe that’s, again for people that are listening and I want to make sure that we’re not saying two different things because really with these two examples we are saying two different things. Provide context and here context was provided and it still went wrong. In this particular case I think that there is always a line. You definitely need to provide the context, but if you’re gonna provide that context also understand what is the political, cultural social issues that are going on at the time. And in some cases, certain things are just too toxic, that you know you really gotta think about stepping back.
How would this have been avoided?
Danny Brown: Again, I mean it comes back to the pre campaign message. If Brewdog had maybe worked with influencers and within the spokespeople of the gender and inequality and the pay gap, worked with women that are very vocal about that and have them prep the audience for the message that’s coming out. And say you know, we’re working, really excited to be working with Brewdog on using stereotypes against stereotype messaging and try to work it that way. So now you’ve got people that are respected within the industry for speaking out about inequality and actually working with them and helping shape the message in readiness for the campaign.
Sam Fiorella: And even if you were you weren’t gonna do in my mind, even if you weren’t going to do the pre campaign which I think is definitely something that you should always look to do, what happened, and I think I mentioned this when we were talking about one of the Kardashian massive fails which seems to be a recurring theme across here, what happened to good old fashioned focus groups? You know what I mean? It really does seem that there’s such a rush today to get to market and to put something out. And maybe a little bit of that and a little bit of market managers thinking that they just don’t need a marketing agency.
And we don’t know if Brew dogs use a marketing agency or not. I’m gonna hope that they didn’t because you know what I mean? I can’t imagine any marketing company worth their salt that would actually have recommended something like this. So maybe it’s this issue of you’re going to market too fast, if you’re gonna be doing it by yourself and you know that you’re courting controversy, and clearly this brand likes to court controversy, you might want to get the opinion of an ad agency, or a social digital agency or, and if you’re not gonna do that, at a minimum, maybe test it with five, six, seven woman in this particular case and see what their initial gut reaction is and understand that that’s probably going to be indicative of what the rest of the world is gonna be looking at.
Danny Brown: Which we saw, yeah exactly.
Sam Fiorella: And had they done that, this may not have been quite the negative branding. I don’t know, as a male, gender inequality doesn’t really affect me because luckily I’m on the positive side of that inequality. However, this would turn me off from buying their beer again. I’m one of those consumers that while the issue doesn’t affect me necessarily, their attitude about it or their exploitation, which you’re looking at almost as exploiting the issue would bother me and I wouldn’t buy from them again. And I suspect there’s a lot of people out there like me as well.
Danny Brown: Yeah, oh no, for sure.
Sam Fiorella: So this is why it’s really advantageous to take that time.
Danny Brown: I almost wonder if they’d flipped the message just a little bit and said hey, we’re men we made you girls a pink IPA because we know that’s what you like and put the focus back on male ignorance when it comes to inequality, I wonder if it might have been received a little bit differently but again it comes down to the context and however –
Sam Fiorella: It does because again they’re still using that sarcasm. You know what I mean and the sarcasm didn’t work here. I think maybe it would have worked had they not created a Pink IPA, had they used the same one and just said, but then again would the message really have come across if they used their standard IPA brand and said by the way, a percentage of this is gonna go … you know, like and it’s true. Sometimes you do have to push the boundary and this is this fine line that we always have to walk. You want to shake things up a little bit and to get the attention to drive to a social cause, right? And we know that audiences want to stick to that social cause. Anyway, we’re getting, Rob is giving us the signal. Hey Rob.
Danny Brown: You’ve not touched that beer yet.
Sam Fiorella: You wanna give me your beer? Seriously give me your beer.
Danny Brown: He really doesn’t like it, so.
Sam Fiorella: Robert is sitting there with a thing of tea. Because he’s a teetotaler. So you guys are gonna get to know Rob over the upcoming episodes. Cheers.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Sam Fiorella: I’ll drink this one. So final call. Thank you Stephen for our bell. Guy from Glasgow. See how you see how nice people from. I said that wrong.
Danny Brown: You did say it, you said it an American way, which is interesting.
Sam Fiorella: Because I’m here. We live in North America.
Danny Brown: Glasgow.
Sam Fiorella: Glasgow.
Danny Brown: Glasgow. Glasgow.
Sam Fiorella: And we were just there, well weren’t in Glasgow, were in Edinburgh.
Danny Brown: Edinburgh.
Sam Fiorella: Edinburgh. F**k off.
Danny Brown: Oh! Language!
Sam Fiorella: Alright, so. I know right.
Danny Brown: We’ll first we’ll have to put explicit for the podcast.
Sam Fiorella: Do we got a bleep we can add? Alright so anyway he sent us our bell, so that’s how nice the people from there are. Final thoughts for the audience, how do you avoid these issues?
Danny Brown: I think, and I know we’ve said it twice already, but it has to be about knowing your audience and are they gonna accept the message that you’re gonna put out. Pre campaign, focus groups and yes you need to be edgy to try and differentiate yourself at times but at what level of edginess do you actually go to before it becomes offensive?
Sam Fiorella: I agree, obviously. That’s the reason we work together, we share a lot of the same ideas here, which is really unusual because we don’t always agree, but somehow on these podcasts we seem to be agreeing on almost everything. For me it is really understanding that line. I’d like to push the boundary in the campaign that we come up with because I think especially when it comes to a social cause like you know, trolling and gender inequality, sexism, racism. These are things that do need to be called out. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the importance of a brand getting behind a social cause because we know millennials are actually looking, you know the largest population of the workforce today, which means they’re gonna have the majority of the money very very soon, they are looking for brands that take a stand on political social, religious, cultural issues. So I think it’s important for people to do this, but understanding when to, how to walk that line and go one way or the other. If you’re gonna use sarcasm, make sure that the audience as you said is gonna know it. Or do some type of a pre campaign that will set the stage for what’s gonna happen.
Because if you’ve gotta pull something back at the prestage level, it’s gonna have less of a negative brand impact that it will once you actually launch the campaign.
Danny Brown: And save you a ton of money.
Sam Fiorella: And you’re not gonna have blokes like us talking about how crappy your campaign was. Anyway, that’s it for this week, thank you very much once again for joining us. I hope you found some value in this discussion. If you liked the podcast, please subscribe. So you’ll get alerted. If you like the vlog, if you prefer watching these handsome faces, hit the subscribe and like, we’d really appreciate it. Any feedback, put it down it the comments. Until next time guys, thank you very much! Danny Brown, Sam Fiorella, see you later.
Danny Brown: Cheers, guys.
Sam Fiorella: Cheers, everybody.
Danny Brown: Cheers.
Sam Fiorella: Thanks, Robert, for the beer.
Outro: You’ve been listening to Marketing on Tap with Sam Fiorella and Danny Brown. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next one and please, feel free to leave a show review. That’s always worth a cheers.