We all know Groupon blew it with their Superbowl ad. (If you missed it, here’s a good recap of the brouhaha by University of Colorado journalism instructor Sandra Fish.) Now the CEO has finally admitted it too–better late than never.
Rather than cover the blow-by-blow error of Groupon’s–and their ad agency’s–ways, let’s talk about how you can make sure your next campaign doesn’t suffer a similar fate:
1. Choose your reviewers wisely. Whether you’re working with in-house or agency creative teams, it can be easy to get swept away with a concept or idea and forget about what really matters: what your audience thinks.
In any size company, it’s important to have checks and balances built into the review process. That means hand-picking a few select reviewers with different perspectives–the yin and yang of your best people. Choose trusted people who know and understand your audience, and aren’t afraid to tell you what they really think.
While it’s good to choose stakeholders who understand marketing and good creative, it’s also ideal to include at least one conservative person as a litmus test. If that person recoils at your campaign, you don’t have to start over, but you should consider the ramifications if a majority of your audience responds the same way.
Bottom line, if you’re taking a risk–working in a new medium, testing a new strategy, dabbling in humor when you normally don’t–the more eyes, the better.
2. Use humor sparingly but wisely. Humor in marketing is like prescription-strength Retin-A for your face–more is not necessarily better. Groupon’s email copy relies on cheeky, sassy verbiage, which is a balancing act on the best day. But throw in a cause or charity or, as Fish put it, “a beleaguered people,” and you are crossing into dangerous territory. It’s like this Oatmeal cartoon about a brain tumor; Matthew Inman wisely thinks ahead to what some in the audience may think, so he starts with an explanation/disclaimer.
But he’s not selling something. You can’t add a disclaimer to a TV commercial about the humor. Great creative executions are like toilets–they should just work. No instructions. No explanations. No disclaimers.
3. Don’t assume. Remember the “Don’t assume or it makes an Ass out of You and Me” phrase? Fish’s article reports that one of the agency creatives responsible for the ad tweeted, ”Pretend to be upset by our #groupon ad, but we got people talking about Tibet & are donating money. More than what you’re doing.”
Wow. This tweet was retweeted a few times before it was deleted, but this defensive attitude says, “We don’t care if we upset or shocked you; we raised money and who cares if you don’t like how we did it.” This is arrogant, callous and unethical–hardly qualities you want associated with your brand, let alone your people.
This is what PR people are for–and why the best response from everyone else is no response. But at the end of the day, don’t assume that your attitude, approach or humor is shared by all. And never, ever assume that people will forgive you for a misstep just because you are a big brand or popular today. It could a blip on the radar–or it could signal the beginning of the end.
4. Sleep on it. Research shows that your brain often works on solving problems while you’re sleeping or engaged in a different activity–even when you’re not actively thinking about the problem.
If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat about a decision you’ve made, or if the problem keeps you up at night, that’s your brain’s way of saying–hold on, cowboy. Let’s think about this some more. Respect your brain’s time to process ideas and consider all the possible outcomes. Before you say, “Approved!”, sleep on it.
5. Be true to your brand AND your audience. When your brand tries to be something it’s not, or if you even think the creative is trying too hard, it’s a warning sign that you’re treading into dangerous territory.
Above all else, remember your marketing objective and your audience. If you even remotely think people could be offended or turned off by your creative, you should take a step back and think carefully about the potential fall-out.
6. Be prepared. If after all this you still decide to move forward with your creative execution, make sure you are ready to respond to both negative and positive reactions. By thinking through the potential outcomes ahead of time, you can respond quicker and more appropriately to the good or the bad.
Now that I’ve told you all of this, I’m going to say something that sounds contrary: don’t be afraid to take risks. A well-executed creative campaign could be just what the doctor ordered for your brand. By following these simple steps, you can help avoid being a case study of what NOT to do and avoid having to apologize to the Tibetan people and the world at large.