Why do so many brands keep failing in the social sphere? | Blog - Arena UK

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Why do so many brands keep failing in the social sphere?


Nailing viral social campaigns seems to have become the elusive holy grail in the ever-changing zeitgeist. It seems that no matter how hard brands try, the social ecosphere just won’t allow their campaigns to bloom. The heady combination of a saturated marketplace and cynical consumers ranging in demographic often results in brands being left teetering on the edge of either a brilliant campaign or a dramatic bomb.

There have been some impressive viral campaigns recently, but these weren’t associated with big-name brands – both the Ice Bucket Challenge and #ThisGirlCan were imaginative feats of simplicity. This Girl Can was created by the fairly unglamorous Sport England, which had the straightforward aim to get girls moving. It worked well thanks to its well-crafted sassy ad copy (‘I jiggle therefore I am’) and unselfish desire to make woman across the country more healthy – much unlike the fitspo trend that’s currently sweeping the nation, which only seems to promote mahogany-hued women wearing zesty neon sports gear to offset said tan. Seeing actual sweat and ill-fitting t-shirts was a welcome relief in the social sphere.

The brands that seem to be succeeding in the science of shareability are charities, rather than wooden commercial giants. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge generated in excess of 2.4 million videos on Facebook, with 28 million people uploading, commenting or liking challenge-related posts. No brands were involved and it was started organically by two friends who’d been diagnosed with ALS. Through its combination of competitiveness and social narcissism, coupled with public ‘feel-good’ slacktivism, the campaign was a roaring success. It was not without controversy, though, as Macmillan was accused by many of hijacking the hashtag and diverting donations from the original cause. Prior to this, Cancer Research UK cleverly piggy-backed on the authentic wave of #nomakeupselfie with mobile donations, but didn’t actually come up with the creative concept highlighting the intangible formula for viral success. These two examples started as movements, not logistically thought-out campaigns, and perhaps it is the authenticity that propelled them to the social stratosphere. After all, you can’t bottle the viral phenomenon.

There’s nothing more tragic than agencies trying to self-consciously construct a viral campaign. Consumers loathe pre-meditated social campaigns that have been created over a game of ping pong by two beardy ad planners in New Balance trainers. When brands come across as human and funny, their campaign is much more likely to work.


Meanwhile, Burger King has rather cutely decided to fork out for the marriage of Joel Burger and Ashley King. The fast food giant hunted down the couple and said it had an ‘overwhelming urge to celebrate their upcoming marriage’. This may have been a tad overzealous, and no doubt the brand will milk it on social media, but it is undeniably adorable. Then there was Penguin’s ‘Your Mum’ campaign, which got hijacked by spirited Year 9s on Twitter when a thoughtful Mother’s Day campaign turned into a proverbial bloodbath of ‘Your Mama’ jokes. Penguin’s response was somewhat awkward as it floundered to get back on its wholesome path of righteousness: ‘Thanks for pointing out Your Mum has an alternative meaning you guys! Now back to the books…’. Even though Penguin failed to communicate a strong brand identity, it certainly caused ripples across the Twittersphere. It goes to show that if brands fail on social media and admit their mistakes with humorous gusto, this is often received well by consumers.

Greggs was the perfect example of this when it showed its self-deprecating side last year after experiencing an initial PR nightmare. Its normal logo was replaced with a spoof logo featuring a somewhat offensive slogan, which automatically appeared on Google with a Greggs search. What ensued was an adorable rapport between Greggs and Google, with the former pleading the search engine to change the logo back via baked goods bribery. Greggs then humorously reacted to consumers’ tweets and SEO digs about the ‘ultimate fail’, and quickly capitalised on the insult with unparalleled marketing finesse. It even cheekily asked to be featured in the Google Doodle after spelling out ‘Google’ with 25 sausage rolls.

It seems that being cute, human and spontaneous is the best way for brands to find success on social – although this often relies on a PR mishap occurring in the first place. Recently at Ad Week, Jimmy Carr and Rory Sutherland berated brands for being too scared to be funny. In the politically correct minefield of today’s society, one false step and Twitter’s omnipotent eye can come down on a brand like a ton of bricks. Jimmy Carr described humour as a mild form of aggression and making the unsaid sayable, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for brands to act in a natural, witty manner while clearing the tangled regulation web of ASA. The alternative is going down the route of cute or leaving it to consumers themselves – the non-trolling ones, that is.