Once upon a time, my friend and I had a digital ad agency as a client. Although quite competent, the company wasn’t doing anything particularly worthy of publicity, so we decided that the most effective way to generate earned media coverage was to devise a newsworthy research study that would showcase their strengths. It’s an old-school tactic we used to call “research for ink.”
Because the company was heavily involved in designing email content for its clients, we created a survey to determine which factors were most likely to cause recipients to forward an email. This was long before social media, folks, and the only way that things went viral back then was when people forwarded email content to their friends and colleagues.
As it turned out, the study found that humor was, by far, the most likely attribute to cause a recipient to share content. And this lesson about the power and value of humor has stuck with me ever since, even though I once had a boss tell me that I needed to be less funny (I was tempted to ask her if there was some sort of professional development course she could send me to, in order to be less funny, but then I realized that was kind of funny as well).
The reason I shared that little story about the power and value of humor will become apparent shortly. But first, another tale. This one is about the time I crashed a LinkedIn discussion. It was one of those ridiculously self-serving LinkedIn discussions that people in my profession tend to have, repeating the same, often obvious points as if they were sharing some truly ground-breaking insight.
This particular discussion was about social media, and specifically whether or not there were any brands that couldn’t benefit from social media engagement. Naturally, in a profession that provides brands with social media content for a fee, everyone made the case that every brand could and should benefit from social media engagement. And, of course, they were all quick to note how uniquely qualified they were to help brands achieve effective social media engagement.
Annoyed by this endless stream of experts who were offering up self-serving examples to counter imaginary dissenters, I decided to have a little fun. I pointed out that it was unlikely that stool softeners would receive many likes and shares on social media, as the product carried such a stigma that most people would not be willing to publicly connect themselves with it. And, in hindsight, perhaps I was also trying to make a point about how our profession is so engulfed in trying to sell our advice that we often don’t spend enough time thinking about the quality of that advice.
Anyway, as the mention of stool softeners often does, that seemed to suck the life out of the online discussion. A few people sheepishly conceded that I may indeed have found an exception. Of course, there are countless other examples of things that carry such a stigma, like hemorrhoid medications and Adam Sandler movies, but you get the picture. Some things, it seems, are better left unposted.
But I recently came across a video (below) for a company selling a DIY bidet. As you can see, they have opted to focus on the “back road” as their target application. And like a sudden gush of cold water on my tender undercarriage, I had a eureka moment, realizing that perhaps I was a little too hasty in dismissing stool softeners from the social media party.
I have since learned that Tushy, which is the name of the company that makes this apparently easy-to-install butt rinser, has made quite a splash with its marketing. In addition to excreting one of the funniest promotional videos I have ever seen, it also squeezed out this blog post, which explores the history of derriere dusting. Personally, I have always wondered about such things, much to the displeasure of my history teachers over the years. And now I’ll have an amusing anecdote to share the next time I am eating corn on the cob!
Considering the blog post and the company’s other efforts, this video appears to be part of a carefully crafted digital marketing strategy. Sure, it’s bathroom humor, but we’re talking about a bathroom appliance. It works.
And eventually all this crap got me rethinking my suggestion that some brands are not well-suited for social media engagement. What if a stool softener manufacturer was willing to embrace the humor of its product – taking off the hard edge, if you will? Then there might be some value in generating content and sharing it through the various channels. Perhaps a little animated video about Nick & The Bleedies, a band of aging musicians going through a rough patch on the road to play at some dump in Hershey, PA?
Again, it might be a bit much for some. But, as I noted in a recent post about working with designers, you need to consider the target audience. And remember that content may be king, but the joker is often the key to going viral.
I have always been a proponent of research, data, and analysis. And I had the good fortune of working closely with some of the best researchers in the business over the years, so I may be more willing – and perhaps even better equipped – to use these tools than many of my colleagues.
But what I think is missing most from today’s data-driven marketing world is the ability – and willingness – to ask the right questions. That goes for the questions asked of the subjects as part of the research as well as the questions asked of the data as part of the analysis. And that ability to determine the right questions really comes from experience.
That said, the reason I’m thinking about research is because there has been a flurry of reports in the media about the latest trends in internet usage, as cited in the annual study done by Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Adweek had seven trends, whereas VentureBeat had seven takeaways. And Ad Age topped them both, with 12 key takeaways and a call to panic. That’s 71-percent more takeaways, folks, and did I mention that they said you should be worried? Fear! FEAR!!! It seems to be selling better than sex these days. Sad.
As a marketing communications professional immersed in the digital world, I was keen to read these reports, to see which way the digital winds are blowing. And one thing that stood out for me wasn’t the growth of digital media, which is hardly surprising, but rather the average amount of time an adult spent consuming digital media in 2016: 5.6 hours per day. That seems like an awful lot of screen time. But when you consider the shift toward consuming traditional media – films, television, music, etc. – over the internet, it seems quite plausible. And it would certainly explain why, on a recent visit to the Guggenheim Museum, I noticed several people sitting on the benches in the Thannhauser Gallery with their faces buried in their phones instead of taking in some of the finest artwork in the museum’s collection.
Another interesting albeit unsurprising finding was that online ad blocking continues to grow. Personally, I use the Ghostery browser extension, opting out of almost everything, and can’t imagine how anyone lives online without it. Now I’m hoping someone will create a solution to suppress these advertorials, the sponsored stories from questionable sources that have undoubtedly polluted the public mindset to the point where a feeble-minded man-child ended up in the Oval Office.
The study also noted that, as measurement continues to improve, the ROI on social media ads remains a large, if rarely acknowledged, concern. Which reminds me that I just had a client ask me about advertising on Instagram. It would seem like a hip and happening place to be for most businesses. But once I showed them some of Instagram’s demographics (80 percent of users are outside the US, and 90 percent are under the age of 35), they opted to invest elsewhere, as that’s far from their target audience.
And while the study found that online ad spending finally topped traditional channels in the US last year (how long have we all been predicting that!), the amount of time we are spending on mobile devices – the highest growth segment – is increasing faster than ad spending. As a marketer with deep roots in public relations, I take some comfort in that. With usage increasing faster than ad spending, along with the rise in ad blockers and increasing concern over ROI, it’s likely that earned media and other forms of unpaid communications still have their place, and plenty of it, in the evolving digital landscape.
So what’s my takeaway? Content is still king! King, I say!!! Which is good news for those of us who try to make a living from it.
If you want to see Meeker’s entire 355-page presentation, you can find it here. And if you do decide to browse through it, you’ll likely boost our average of 5.6 hours per day for the next annual survey. But, please, just don’t do it while you are sitting in a museum…the stuff on the walls is infinitely more interesting.