Sack Alan Jones: Reflections on the social media campaign

Yesterday the organisers of the ‘Sack Alan Jones’ campaign formally closed the social media campaign against the polarizing broadcaster and declared the campaign to be a success.

Regardless of your opinion of Alan Jones and his comments (which have been labeled defamatory, racist, misogynistic and riot-inciting), reflecting on this social media campaign to oust him is an opportunity to observe how effective semi-organised social media campaigns are at achieving their self-stated aims and at driving change more broadly.

The Sack Alan Jones campaign started following a much publicized comment the broadcaster made at a Young Liberals fundraising event, suggesting that Julia Gillard’s late father died of shame caused by the perceived performance of his daughter’s performance as Australia’s Prime Minister.

Once they were widely reported a few days later, Jones’ vitriolic comments we replayed ad nauseam and everyone was given the opportunity to publicly comment, with fellow journalists, politicians, business leaders and everyday citizens weighing on Jones’ choice words in the public sphere.

Sack Alan Jones

Sack Alan Jones

Running parallel, there was similar heated commentary on social media – mostly negative and often hostile.  This sentiment was what the ‘Sack Alan Jones’ campaign hoped to harness and translate into action against the broadcaster.  The campaign attracted over 21,000 likes on Facebook, countless tweets were made with the hashtag #SackAlanJones and the cause gained the support of like-minded organisations such as Change.org.

The social media campaign was also reported in television and print media, with journalists from many organizations reporting on the activity of the social media campaign.

However, for all the social media activity, what has the campaign actually achieved?

Well firstly, Alan Jones is still on the air, broadcasting his opinions in his regular breakfast-morning time slot   In terms of the all-important ratings, Jones seems to be more popular than ever.  The Australian recently reported that Jones increased his audience share since his much publicized comments September 30. His 2GB breakfast show was the clear winner in its Sydney time slot across AM and FM networks with an 18.2 per cent share (a 0.9 increase since the last survey period).

At the height of the negative publicity, a number of advertisers withdrew their support (in terms of adverting spend) for Jones via his talk show.  Recent estimates put this short-term profit loss at between 1 – 1.5 million dollars and 15 advertisers have vowed “never to return”.

Was this driven by the social media campaign?  It is unclear.  Likely the social media had some influence, but it was highly unlikely the sole factor which companies based this decision on.

What’s more, this loss in advertising revenue is a relatively minor figure given the amount and frequency of advertising spend on the Jones show.  Moreover, it is likely that many advertisers made a big deal in claiming the ‘moral high ground’ through pulling out, but will inconspicuously return to the program as the negative attention decreases).  In fact, the station’s chairman told the Sydney Morning Herald that: “We are confident that in the second half of the year there will be minimal, if any, residual impact”.  Hardly the claim of a man concerned about the image of Jones and his ability to drive revenue for the station.

The social media backlash against Jones largely did not come from his faithful target audience.  It came from a tech-savvy, and presumably more progressive, audience who have likely never tuned into his morning talk-back program.  They likely have never respected his views or given them credence.  They were probably the same people who despised his comments surrounding the Cronulla riots and the Kovco tragedy, as well as his various anti-climate change and racially charged comments.  These people have long-despised Jones and this social media campaign simply gave them another avenue to voice their displeasure.  In effect, they were using social media to talk among themselves, and in the process attract some fleeting attention from more traditional media.

It would seem as the Sack Alan Jones campaign was only successful in mobilizing a section of people who already disliked him to speak out and encouraging them dislike him even more.  It would seem that the campaign failed to “crush Jones’ powerful and invincible image”, particularly in regard to his loyal base of listeners which has seemingly grown in number.

This makes the organisers’ claims of “stripping him of his influence” and “severely limiting, his capacity to damage the Australian community” seem a little over confident.  If anything, it may have made him more of a martyr, thereby increasing his appeal among his already loyal target audience through fostering oppositional loyalty – Jones did, and continues, to receive many supportive phone calls from his loyal listeners, praising his opinions and observations.

Although the ‘Sack Alan Jones’ social media campaign attracted a lot of support and activity, it terms of action it seems not to have been successful as its organisers think.

// Alec Schumann

Why Dodo isn’t Australia’s Worst Brand

Yesterday, many news outlets reported on consumer ratings compiled from ProductReview.com.  A summary of the newsworthy results can be found here.  The major news emerging from these findings was that budget telco Dodo was named to be “Australia’s Worst Brand”, beating out Nestle, Simpson, Whirlpool and Australia Post for the undesirable title.

For those of you who don’t know, Dodo provides low cost telecommunications services – often at a fraction of the cost of competitors. It doesn’t make things that kill people, exploit international labor laws or provide home loans to people who can’t afford them.  Probably the most offensive thing about the brand is their interminable advertising. (I think it prudent to point out at this point that I have no association with Dodo).

Is Dodo as dead as a ...?

Is Dodo as dead as a …?

Why is it that they have been bestowed with this undesirable title?  What does this really mean?  And is there brand as dead as their namesake?

I would argue that this title is a meaningless and potentially harmful claim which isn’t an accurate representation of how the brand is perceived.

Firstly, the title of “Australia’s Worst Brand is in no way objective.  Just as there is no agreed way to objectively and definitively measure a brand’s value, there is no objectivity in making ridiculous claims of “best” or “worst” – especially when the claims are based on extremely selective sample of customers.

Even as a subjective claim it is extremely contentious.  Figuratively speaking, the lists compiled from ProductReviews.com compare apples and oranges with pears and elephants.  Is experiencing poor internet speeds worse than an owning dodgy car?  Is having a package delayed worse than a fault computer?  The answer is not clear.

Furthermore, consumers who post on ProductReview.com aren’t comparing or ranking brands in similar categories (which would be a more accurate method of comparing like with like).  They are simply giving an arbitrary score out of 5 at one point in time.  Scores which as I mentioned here can be heavily influenced by a vocal minority who “review bomb” the website with low scores – justified or not.

Websites such as ProductReview.com have an important role to play in ensuring people are not being ripped off and that they have a collective voice to hold brands, particularly major players, to account.  However, pseudo-scientific scores and the subsequent publishing of ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ lists is inevitably a meaningless exercise.  What’s more, considering ProductReview.com to be an independent forum is at best contentious as they openly sell commercial advertising.

Finally, these types of lists may have unintended consequences – for brands who are unfairly targeted by a vocal minority.  I doubt that the customers in the telecommunications marketplace would be better off without a lost-cost player such as Dodo – particularly as their low-cost model appeals to first time internet buyers.

In any case, I doubt whether Dodo’s target market will care too much; it is unlikely that its score on ProductReview.com will dissuade many first time internet buyers or those after the cheapest internet connection available.

// Alec Schumann

Do you really want to be friends? An argument against relationship marketing

“Like us on Facebook!”, “Follow us on Twitter!”, “Join our super-special VIP friendship group!”

Whether they are in the business of making coffees, selling clothes or providing car insurance, it seems as though every brand wants to have a relationship with its customers.  No longer satisfied with simply extracting money from transactions, businesses want to take their relationships with customers to ‘the next level’.  The logic is understandable: as consumers engage more with the brand, they grow to like it more, become more loyal and tell their friends etc.  Thus, the brand becomes ‘stronger’, the marketing department is vindicated and shareholders are happy.

This seemingly prevailing logic is not surprising.  Given the well documented expenses of generating new business, customer retention is a high priority for most firms.  Armed with new technologies, in particular social media, relationship propositions are cheaper and easier to deliver than ever before.  Consciously or not, you’ve probably encountered various relationship propositions numerous times today.

However, what happens when things go wrong and when the brand doesn’t deliver on the relationship as promised?  If a customer has agreed to enter into a social contract with the brand, they will inevitably feel more let down.  It’s this existing contract which makes transgressions feel worse.  A faulty product isn’t simply shrugged off, repaired or refunded; it’s considered a breach of trust and an insult.

Furthermore, these social contracts can make it harder for a brand to deliver hard news to consumers when they have to.  As a bank manager, would it be ‘easier’ to tell a customer they had defaulted on their loans if they were seen as a friend of the bank, or simply another account?  One can think of many more examples when ‘friendships’ between brands and consumers can make the normal course of business harder.

No matter the cause of the brand-consumer relationship failure, consumers often complain loudly, tell their friends and vent on social media.  Like gossip among friends, people are hurt and reputations are damaged, and often irreparably so.

Often by making relationship propositions, brands are offering a social contract that they can’t fulfill and are setting themselves up for more costly failure.  Repairing lost relationships is often more costly and than cutting and running from acquaintances – it’s why getting into an argument with a friend feels more emotionally charged, as opposed to one with a complete stranger.  Business is often easier when the transaction isn’t complicated by a complex social relationship.

Many brands should re-evaluate if they are willing to invest building relationships with consumers beyond business transactions.  Sometimes, simply offering a good service at a good price is enough to build a successful brand.

// Alec Schumann

Can you brew authenticity under license? A case of ‘imported’ beer.

Ales, lagers, stouts, porters, pilsners, IPAs… If there is one thing Australian’s like its beer.  Whether it’s for celebrating, commiserating, relaxation or concentration, a beer is never far away.

Although the market is dominated by a few stalwart brands (think VB, XXXX and Tooheys), their overall share of the market has been diminishing in recent years.  Fueled in part by the easy accessibility and relative affordability of international brands, increasingly sophisticated Australian drinkers are branching out and expanding their sudsy palates.

If you have spent some time sampling various ‘premium’ international beers, your discerning eye may notice a seeming peculiarity – often your bottle of Heineken is not brewed at the eponymous factory in Holland, but at a decidedly less romantic, non-descript Lion Nathan brewery on NSW’s central coast.

In many cases, your premium international beer is made in Australia.  Well known brands such as Peroni, Stella Artois, Kronenbourg and Carlsberg are brewed by Foster’s and Heineken and Beck’s are brewed by Lion Nathan.  This is done for economic reasons, for their bottom line it makes more fiscal sense for these big, well-known international brands to outsource and franchise their production.  After all, the majority of their value exists in their ‘brand’, rather than in the beer itself.

Peroni: Made in Australia

Peroni: Made in Australia

Is there a taste difference?  Well the evidence it is inconclusive.  Dedicated beer aficionados claim they can taste whether a Peroni Nastro Azzuro is the ‘real’ Italian version or a ‘fake’ Aussie knock off – often citing differences in water quality and ingredients.  However, casual drinkers may be unable to tell, or simply blissfully unaware.  In fact there is even the suggestion that some people may find the locally brewed versions tastier.

However, this is really not what’s at stake here for many consumers, particularly those with some knowledge of the international beer market.  Many consumers are feeling duped.  If they are paying premium prices, they want a premium product; they want the ‘real’ thing.  It’s almost akin to thinking you are buying an authentic Rolex, but getting a dodgy knockoff.

This is reflected in the user reviews of various beers on Dan Murphy’s website (one of Australia’s largest alcohol retailers).  Interestingly, they stock both the ‘fully imported’ and ‘brewed under license’ of a number of well-known, premium international brands.  Invariably, the ‘authentic’ version scores much better than the ‘fake’ version, a phenomenon which is reflected in the various comments.

Fully imported Brewed under license
Peroni 4.5 2
Becks 4.75 2
Heineken 4.5 3
Stella Artois 4.3 1.8
Grolsh 4.3 2.7
(scores out of 5)

It would seem these brands can’t brew authenticity under license.  In fact doesn’t matter if there is a functional taste difference – psychologists would tell us that if your brain thinks it is likely to taste inferior (because it is made locally and therefore less authentic), chances are your tongue will agree.  Once the illusion of international sophistication is eroded, of the authenticity brand will be questioned every time a beer is in hand.

This rejection and scepticism of the ‘fake’ international brands is likely to increase, particularly as Aussie beer drinkers become increasingly sophisticated and questioning.  And although it may not hurt these brands in the short run, it may over time see Australian consumers turning their back on these well-known international brands – particularly if online consumers become more vocal.

// Alec Schumann

Online pwnage: Do negative user reviews matter to the video game juggernauts?

The videogame industry has undergone tremendous growth over the past decade.  Big name releases consistently financially outperform those in other entertainment media, such as film and music, even though they attract a tech savvy, illegal-download capable audience.

Over the past 5 years, the most visible and commercially successful videogame franchise has been the annually released, rapid fire military shoot ‘em up Call of Duty.  Recent estimates suggest that the most recent entry in the COD cannon, Black Ops 2, is on track to becoming bestselling video game of all time, earning over $500 million in revenue within the first 24 hours of release for publisher Activision.

This is not surprising, as each previous entry in the franchise has posted obscene sales figures. The company claims this is the fourth consecutive year, that the Call of Duty franchise has delivered the biggest entertainment launch of the year.

Objectively speaking each COD release is an impressive entertainment package boasting huge production values, addictive fast twitch game play and an active, dedicate community which guarantees an essentially never-ending multiplayer experience.

However, online user reviews seem to paint a different picture.

Despite receiving favourably among recognised critics, 2011’s COD Modern Warfare, was bombarded by negative user reviews.  Currently, its Metacritic score is 88 denoting “universal acclaim”; whereas the average user score has fluctuated between around 3.3  and 1.7 (out of a possible 10), denoting an average user sentiment somewhere between “generally unfavourable” and “universal dislike”.  This discrepancy was arguably fueled by angry fans bombarding the site with negative reviews.  Were these reviews justified or were they unfounded attacks?   One could probably either either side convicingly, but it doesn’t change the fact that the brand has seemingly taken a battering on Metacritic.

Call of Duty - Metacritic Warfare

Call of Duty – Metacritic Warfare

A better question is do Activision care about these negative reviews?  Many people think not as the franchise largely adheres to the same formula and engages in little in the way of dialogue with users about changes or improvements to the franchise.

What’s more, it would appear as though they actively discourage people invovled with the company to engage with the community.  In response to the Metacritic bombardment, one the developers posted tweets asking fans of the franchise to help out by posting positive reviews.  Unsurprisingly, this tweet was later deleted.  Most likely because it didn’t toe the corporate line.

Online word of mouth is the lifeblood of games by smaller publishers, with limited promotional budgets.  It can mean the difference between bankruptcy and becoming millionaires.  Some have also argued of a relationship between a game’s Metacritic score and its company’s shareprice and remuneration of employees.

However, do negative user reviews have any effect on larger games with seemingly limitless budgets?  No matter how loudly sections of the online community complain about and deride the Call of Duty franchise, it seems as though their impact on sales and market penetration is essentially meaningless.  Even though online user reviews of the franchise have steadily decreased (with many users proclaiming outright hate for the franchise), sales have steadily increased.  The most recent release, Black Ops 2 is similar in that it has a metacritic score of 83 and user review of 4.4.

One possible explanation is that hatred of the game from one group, encourages an oppositional loyalty and sense of solidarity amongst those who support the franchise.  This may be a plausible argument given the oppositional nature of some videogame communities, e.g. Xbox owners vs. Playstation owners, or that Game A is better than Game B.

This may explain some of the commercial success of COD, however it is more likely that the millions of people who purchase the game simply don’t care about or don’t listen to the online rants of a vocal group of a few thousand.

Marketers often talk about the danger of negative online word-of-mouth; however, the success of franchises like Call of Duty suggest that negative online user reviews may not have an easy to deduce impact sales and market penetration.  (Many other critically and commercially successful games have attracted low user scores on Metacritic – such as Mass Effect 3, FIFA Soccer 13 and Diablo 3).  Perhaps if a brand is big enough and appealing to the masses, it can withstand and even thrive despite a vocal minority  – at least in the short term anyway.

// Alec Schumann

Australian politicians on twitter #facepalmingfortheelectorate

Examples of prominent figures embarrassing themselves on social media are everywhere.  So much so that some astute observer could compile a multi-volume text book on exactly what not to say on social media using thousands of examples from the past 5 years.

Particularly prone to embarrassing gaffes are Australian politicians.  So much so that their media advisers and public relations staff probably live in a constant state of anxiety, as it would seem that in spite of their best intentions, a foolish tweet by their minister is only ever moments away.

Twitter gaffes were back in the media following another gem from enthusiastic tweeter, Federal MP Steve Gibbons.  Earlier this week he tweeted: “Libs are led by a gutless douchebag and a narcissistic bimbo who aren’t fit to be MPs let alone PM and Deputy. Both should be sacked.”

Obviously this zinger sounded hilariously incisive in his mind, but in his haste to share his witty condemnation of his political opponents, he failed to consider the fact that his party had recently bombarded the opposition leader with claims of misogyny and sexism.   He promptly apologised and wiped the egg off his face.

What’s more, some politicians don’t even understand common terminology.  For example, ACT’s long suffering opposition leader Zed Seselja furiously reacted when an ACT Labor MP called one of his staffers a twitter “troll”.  Believing that his staffer had been referred to a mythical, cave-dwelling giant or dwarf, Zed labelled this claim as “gutter politics of the very worst kind” and “cowardly personal attack”.  #Oops.

So long as Australian politicians tweet, rest assured there will be bad jokes, strong opinion, and maybe even the occasional coherent policy update.

In the meantime, keep up to date with Australia’s own “politwoops”, a website which records the deleted tweets of politicians.  Examples range from poor taste to incomprehensible gibberish.

What’s your favourite?

// Alec Schumann

Modern music festivals: A branded experience

There was something liberating about music festivals of the 1960s and 70s.  They were predominately about music, love and various social (and often anti-commercial) causes.

Fast forward to 2012 and the modern music festival has evolved to become a different experience.  There is still music, but many festivals have increasingly become branded experiences as companies compete to connect with and engage an increasingly fickle and distracted young marketplace.

Festival goers at the recent Splendour in the Grass in Byron Bay Australia were able to shop at Sass and Bide, Quicksilver, in between having a Grill’d Burger and a drink at the Smirnoff Cocktail Lounge or the Jagermeister Hunting Lodge.

Splendour In The Grass: peace, love and brands

Is this commercialisation and ‘branding’ of music festivals a good or a bad thing?  And what does it mean for both companies and consumers?

Corporate sponsorships and commercial partnerships can help promote up-and-coming festivals with the spill over effect of publicizing new acts.  The NME “Generation Next” tour is a good example of this.  Many acts would not gain this level of exposure without a strong commercial promoter.

Corporate sponsorships can also make established festivals more affordable by offsetting the high costs of paying artists, venue and equipment hire, insurances and staffing etc.  It would be extremely hard to fund major festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella without significant financial support from corporate partners.

However, over commercialisation and excessive branding may have a negative effect on the ongoing viability of music festivals.

Many consumers go to festivals for a break from work or study and to enjoy music, friends whilst indulging in various recreational vices.

What’s more, after paying well over $500.00 for tickets, accommodation and transport to a festival, most consumers won’t be able to afford to indulge in a $600.00 Sass and Bide skirt.  And will get annoyed at being repeatedly asked.

It is also about congruence with the event.  Put simply does your brand “belong” and have a right to be at the festival?  Most would agree that the Jagermeister Hunting Lodge had a greater sense of belonging at Splendour in the Grass than the Sass and Bide retail outlet.

Consumers will accept and even embrace a small to moderate level of commercialisation, but if it goes overboard, companies can expect attendance at festivals to decline and engagement with their brand to decrease.

Consumers won’t pay exorbitant festival prices to go to a shopping mall with musicians.

// Alec Schumann

Shame marketing won’t solve the complex problem of obesity

There is something of a trend of what I like to call “shame marketing” emerging.  To address complex social problems like obesity, some organisations are running campaigns based on messages of shame and guilt to in an attempt to bring about positive behavioural changes

For example, Strong4Life (left) ran this intentionally controversial campaign with obese children in an attempt to shame parents in order to disrupt an institutionalised trend of childhood obesity in Georgia.

Strong4Life or Shame4Life?

And the Western Australian Heart Foundation (right) recently ran this series of belly grabbing ads to promote awareness of the potential dangers of carrying a few extra kilos.

Toxic Fat: The campaign director described it as “truly innovative and creative”

Using intentionally controversial messages and imagery to address sensitive and complex problems is purely a shock tactic and will be ineffective in addressing these problems.

An institutionalised and complex problem like obesity will not be reversed by an ad of a fat child.  There is no silver bullet that will solve the problem of obesity.  Rather than simplistic shock advertising campaigns, addressing obesity will involve a series of initiatives which target social and economic issues such as shopping and eating habits, body image and self confidence issues

Even being able to isolate the effect of a single media campaign on the multifaceted process of losing weight is implausible.  It would be hard enough to show that there any relationship between a campaign and obesity, without even making a claim that the media campaign actually caused people to become healthier.

Being able to say these campaigns “work” by encouraging people to get healthy is practically impossible.  And anyone who tries to claim otherwise is making an extremely misleading claim.

Essentially the only good these campaigns do is shock and offend people into talking about the problem of obesity.

// Alec Schumann

Shell’s arctic campaign: snowball fighting with trolls

Shell recently had the well-meaning idea of asking the general internet population to create their next ad about arctic fuel sources.  Posting a meme template with images of the arctic, anyone can enter in ad copy and it is published on Shell’s website http://arcticready.com/social/gallery.

Power on: Let’s melt some ice

On the surface it seems like a good idea.  Allowing customers to have a say in ad copy, in theory will encourage them to engage with the campaign, share it with their friends and feel a stronger sense of ownership in the campaign.  It also allows Shell to crowd source ideas for the campaign and get some constructive ideas about what consumers think about their brand.

Theory does not always predict action, particularly when it comes to online consumers.

Despite Shell’s best intentions, this campaign failed miserably. 

Their official campaign site was attacked by consumers who subverted the campaign message by posting ad copy rich with sarcasm and black humour.

Shell was either not prepared for or did not anticipate this possibility.  What should have been a democratic campaign, quickly turned into a running joke which went viral (even making it onto popular online humour site 9GAG).

Shell: Social Media Fail?

By running this campaign, Shell has likely done more damage to their brand among the general internet population.

In the short term it is an embarrassing social media gaff, but in the long term it may do lasting damage to their brand image as these consumer created, anti-brand images will likely remain on the internet for a long time.

As Shell’s campaign demonstrates, involving consumers in designing your ad campaign is not always a good idea.  It is also a reminder that online consumers can be funny, cruel and subversive in a short meme.

//Alec Schumann

Movie Marketing: 5 Informative Titles

We’ve finally extracted Levi Weismann from his fan flute quartet long for long enough to get him to write a blog post.  In a rare moment of eloquence, he makes a valid argument about how he enjoys informative movie titles.

Movie studios often try to be too clever and intellectual with their movie titles.  So much so that the movie going public are left with little to know idea as to what the film is about.

This inevitably leads to disappointment.  I for one was very underwhelmed by Dances with Wolves.  I was expecting Kevin Costner to be doing the Macarena with a pack of energetic wolves and was mighty disappointed by the time the end credits rolled around.  I had a similar problem with Silence of the Lambs. (Spoiler alert, it is not a silent film about barn yard animals).

So in honour of informative movie titles, here are a few examples of movies where the premise is made explicitly clear to the movie going public.  Their promotion largely hinged on their name and as a result, achieved box office success with respect to their budget.

They may not have won Oscars, but at least they didn’t mislead.  Here’s 5 examples.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Going by the title, I’m assuming this movie was written by stoners.  The title is not an obtuse metaphor, but quite literally what the film is about.  It is quite good though.

Dude Where’s My Car? Even Tango and Cash cringed.

Dude where’s my car?

Get it?  It’s exactly what it sounds like it.  A stupid title and even worse movie.

Don’t see it. Also, Sean William Scott is a douchebag.

The Human Centipede

This intentionally controversial film relied on the simple yet nauseating premise of making a human centipede.  You know exactly what to expect and the film delivers as promised.

The South Park’s satirical take summed up exactly how good was.

Cuttlefish and asparagus anyone?

Snakes on a Plane

This movie shows that in order to get viral publicity, you simply need to get Samuel L. Jackson to shout an awesome title at a press conference, supplemented with several profanities.

The movie is exactly that, snakes on a plane.  And *spoiler alert* Sam Jackson gets mad.

Although the film was pure pulp, it did return a gross of $62million on a $33 million budget.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amYzBQMT4VI

Hobo with a Shotgun: simple yet elegant

Hobo with a Shot Gun

Grindhouse cinema has a well established record of informative film titles: Motor Psycho, The Wizard of Gore, Lesbo Vampires and Master of the Flying Guillotine to name a few.

However, the 2011 film Hobo with a Shotgun, staring Rutger Haur summarises the nomenclature of the entire genre.  And despite a not-so-subtle social commentary the film is simply about a hobo with a shotgun.

by Levi Weismann

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