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SXSW14: Make them hate you, or, why polemic marketing fails #win

The world of marketing hasn't kept up with people's own development and understanding of ideas, and its overestimation of risk and fear of failure is holding brands back from creating bold work, says Adam Abrahami, associate director at iris Concise, in his talk at SXSW interactive.

Adam Abrahami, associate director, iris Concise

Adam Abrahami, associate director, iris Concise

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"There’s too much information to consume it all. This overloading of the individual is altering the way that we interact with information. Passive consumption of facts, figures and frameworks is no longer an efficient means to understand a topic or gain knowledge. Today people develop their own understanding through interaction with, and the exploration of, ideas.

"Marketing hasn’t kept up with this. Too often we see anodyne, box-ticking marketing campaigns that barely break the surface of our interest. Presenting only one perspective isn’t enough. Consumers are demanding the full picture, one they’re only able to obtain through active research. Winning in this new hyper-competitive and hyper-informed universe has created a new set of challenges for us.

"The answer I propose lies in conversation, debate, and participation.

"Examining activities from 2013 it was clear that polemic campaigns which created a conversation about a topic of interest outperformed flat activities significantly. Coca-cola’s recent ‘America is beautiful’ Super bowl advert illustrates this point brilliantly. Within seconds of airing, the debate was lit and burned brightly for almost a week after the Seahawks had finished proving themselves. In every way the intensity and duration of the reaction to this advert outperformed every other year since 2009 for Coca-Cola. It had a higher peak velocity; a longer sustain; more tweets per individual; it was picked up by all the news channels – the list goes on.

"But, there was also a huge amount of negative commentary, customers were not happy and vowed to #boycottcoke and so forth. The ultra-positive endorsement, advocacy and support the broader audience showed outweighs this – I have no doubt that Coca-cola will consider this a stratospheric success.

When driving a debate means doing something which divides your audience, we all tend to get frightened by the possibility of cataclysmic failure. That such a failure could not only destroy a business, but invoke a tempest like attack from online consumers and be written indelibly into digital history. Research would show that the repercussions of stumbling in social are not as severe as we fear. Of all the companies and brands mentioned in the various ‘Top social media fails of 2013’ articles – there is not one that is not still trading actively.

"Armed with this piece of information we should understand that there’s a systematic error in the perceived risk associated with failing today. This over-estimated risk is driving us away from making the best recommendations as agencies and best decisions as brands. It is this very fear of failure that drives us to play it safe with activities that don’t fail, but don’t win either.

"In order to win and drive positive returns from our marketing investments we need to be bolder, to be braver. The risks will always be there but they are smaller than we imagine and should be managed as part of a portfolio strategy. Some activities will be riskier than others, but in order to win overall for our clients and businesses these are risks I feel we should all be taking."

Adam Abrahami is associate director at iris Concise – the consulting, CRM and technology arm of the network

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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