Exciting new technologies can help to breathe new life into the traditional PR campaign model, but what’s the point if we don’t remember the basics? Rian Newman investigates PR disruption.
There’s a line in Jon Ronson’s 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed:
“With social media we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama,” where “the smartest way to survive, is to be bland.”
The inference comes from Ronson’s encounters with victims of social media take-downs, and the reputational savaging that comes from an online public shaming.
For media practitioners wanting to embrace digital disruption and push the envelope with their campaigns, Ronson’s words deliver a deflating reality check.
In the world of PR, diminishing editorial opportunities for brands combined with an unquenchable thirst for clicks mean that innovative, creative approaches are required in order to cut through within the new media landscape. Some succeed, while others flounder.
So how do we explore the wealth of exciting avenues offered by technology, while avoiding the traps of groupthink, trolls and manufactured outrage?
Let’s take a look at two of 2017’s most newsworthy campaigns and how they’ve harnessed digital disruption to their betterment – or their detriment.
Virtual Reality – The CEO Sleep Out
When we think about digital disruption through the lens of futuristic technologies, virtual reality (VR) immediately springs to mind.
The idea of strapping on a headset and being transported to another world is like something straight out of Blade Runner, so it’s no surprise that marketers have been jumping on board the VR express to give their brands a fashionable sheen.
But is it too soon? Greenlight VR’s 2016 Virtual Reality Industry Report suggests “the VR industry is still six to eight years away from hypergrowth or a tipping point in adoption of the medium,” and one of this year’s most noteworthy campaigns suggests they’re correct.
The Vinnies CEO Sleepout is an annual charity incentive that made headlines earlier this year, not for the $5 million raised to assist people experiencing homelessness, but for the “tone-deaf” virtual reality PR blunder that attempted to replicate the experience for some of the country’s most prolific CEOs.
— CEOSleepout (@CEOSleepout) June 22, 2017
The activation was one questionable component of what is undoubtedly a very worthy cause. But it’s also not hard to see why the PR team for the Vinnies CEO Sleepout thought they were onto a winner.
VR has been sold on the idea that it’s becoming the ultimate empathy machine. “We are entering an era that is unprecedented in human history, where you can transform the self and experience anything the animator can fathom,” says Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
“The research shows it can have a deep effect on behaviour.”
Chris Milk, founder and CEO of Within agrees. In his TED talk he observes VR’s ability to “connect humans to humans in a profound way” one that he’d “never seen before in any type of media”.
He talks about how his VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, gave those who viewed it – including members of the World Economic Forum – an emotionally affecting, 360° insight into the daily life of a 12-year-old Syrian girl caught up in the refugee crisis.
More VR marketing insights: The frontier of virtual reality
Interestingly, Milk’s project received virtually none of the same flack directed toward the Vinnies CEO Sleepout project, despite having similar objectives. It’s likely that because Milk’s film is presented as a work of art as opposed to a piece of marketing collateral he was able to circumvent this kind of criticism.
It’s important for marketers to realise that while the public are not always attuned to the latest trends in marketing, they are still plugged into human sensitivity. It’s more important than ever to “read the room” before undertaking a campaign.
Artificial Intelligence – Dove’s “Perfect Mum” Billboard:
There’s a growing sentiment within the media industry that data has become our most precious commodity. It informs our creative strategy and in the case of this recent campaign from Dove, can lead to winning the PR jackpot.
To launch their new product, Baby Dove, in the UK, Dove erected a provocative billboard inside London’s busy Waterloo station, depicting what was suggested to be the image of “a perfect mum”.
— The Write Impression (@thewriteimp) June 17, 2017
As you might imagine, the backlash was swift. Members of the public took to social media to express frustration about the use of “another filtered and unrealistic face” of a brand aimed at mothers.
Many were upset that the mom featured looked too manicured and artificial, a far cry from the reality of new-born motherhood.
Amidst all the outrage, people hadn’t considered that they’d been well-and-truly hoodwinked by Dove.
To tackle the unrelenting and unrealistic portrayal of new mums in advertisements and send the message that “there are no perfect mums, just real ones,” Dove used cutting-edge data technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the faces of women used in 1,800 adverts for products aimed at motherhood.
The woman in the billboard is an amalgamation of these results. Far from Dove’s idea of what a perfect mum should look like, but rather an assertive, fact-based reply to the industry shortcomings. The campaign’s punchline was a mic drop in the face of angry commentators.
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Both campaigns embrace new technologies in different ways in order to create digital PR disruption. The one that prevailed shows evidence of considered planning, both in its assembly and anticipating its audience’s response.
If the PR disruption and campaigns highlighted here teach us one thing, it’s that no matter how cutting edge your tactics are, they’re meaningless without a strategy rooted in the fundamentals of the job – knowing your audience, being confident in your message, and exercising due diligence before you set out.