So how was your Christmas? Ours was very nice, thank you for asking. We all ate our own body weight in chocolate coins and mince pies, and as such the Small Man Media office now has ‘subsidence issues’. Any more pigs in blankets and we might sink into the ground for good.
Someone else who had a good Christmas was, by coincidence, another Black Country firm, namely Poundland, who are based just down the road from SMM HQ, in Willenhall. You might have been aware of the hoo-haa they created – in fact, for a few days, it was difficult to avoid it.
In a nutshell, Poundland’s Twitter feed, in the run-up to Christmas, put out a series of risque – in fact, let’s not mince words here, some of them were downright rude – images in which an elf doll, coincidentally one sold at Poundland, got into a number of rather saucy situations, often with one or more lady dolls. About the most family-friendly one is the one below, and even that one is… well, unsettling, to say the least.
The one that really kicked up a stink involved the elf, a lady friend and a teabag. Outrageous! And indeed a lot of people actually were outraged, as is often the case nowadays. In the days that followed, a Twitter storm swelled and erupted, think-pieces appeared on how distasteful the Poundland campaign was, with a counter-reaction from even more people along the lines of: Can you fuddy-duddies not take a (rather rude) joke?
The punchline to said joke, dubbed the ‘Elf Behaving Badly’ campaign, was that Poundland tabled record sales for the week running up to Christmas, totalling £59 million, sales that were bolstered by 200,000 toy elves and over a million elf-related products, as the saying goes, flying off the shelves (elves off the shelves, anyone?). So the campaign clearly worked. What seems blindingly obvious is that, had so many people not been so repulsed by the tweets, to the point that they felt compelled to express their disgust, then the campaign would not have been nearly so successful.
So really, the professionally outraged – and there are a good many people out there who really do carve an entire career out of being horrified by things – played right into Poundland’s hands. It’s hard to remember a social media campaign so custom-designed to provoke a negative reaction, and thus garner column inches (of which there were oodles) and reap the benefits. In the process, a lot of the objectors made themselves look a bit silly, saying that they would never buy the type of stuff sold at Poundland when, of course, they sell the same brands sold at pretty much any other supermarket chain.
What Poundland seem to have realised, quite reasonably, is that this type of collective outrage can be easily and effectively monetised, because the ratio of people shrieking ‘DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING!’ to those sighing ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s just a joke’ and deciding that they rather like Poundland after all, is about 1:10. At a conservative estimate. And, of course, when a campaign tactic works, lots of people suddenly sit up and take an interest. One of those, at the time of writing, is the Advertising Standards Authority, who are ‘looking into’ the adverts, but that’s very much the definition of closing the stable door about a fortnight after the horse has bolted.
So we’re going to make a prediction: In 2018, we’re going to see more campaigns like the Poundland one, specifically designed to flirt with the boundaries of taste, test their elasticity, and nark those who are more prone to being narked. There are sure to be some slapped wrists along the way, because the thing about deliberately nearly going too far, is that some people inevitably will overshoot that crucial ‘not quite too far’ mark.
As luck would have it, January has already thrown up a perfect example of social media sass going horribly wrong. It started when train user Emily Cole complained, via Twitter, to Virgin Trains that a male train manager had called her ‘honey’, which seems fair enough, this isn’t the 1970s. Whoever was running the Twitter feed of the fantastically unreliable train company at that moment thought it would be hilarious to respond thusly:
Oh dear. It’s like… Just NO. Outrage obviously followed, but there was simply no way for a positive spin to be put on what was, from top to toe, a company being needlessly rude to, and dismissive of, one of their customers, a fact borne out by the very rapid and suitably grovelling apology from Virgin. It’s one thing to embark upon a campaign that’s saucy-rude, with no specific victim, for example one featuring a slightly horny elf – but you can’t just be snippy-rude purely for the sake of it. The next step down that road is to tell all of your customer complainants to go jump in a lake.
The Small Man Media opinion is this: If the ‘calculated outrage campaign’ trend does kick off, then so be it – these things flare up from time to time, they’ll burn out soon enough. When you decide to go down the route of echoing someone else’s shock tactics – let’s call it a ‘tribute act campaign’ – then it betrays a lack of original thinking and a certain lack of faith in one’s own PR abilities, but then not all PR agencies a) think originally or b) have any abilities. We’re of the opinion that it is better to be lovely and come up with commensurately lovely new ideas, but hey, that’s just second nature to us.
If you think your business could benefit from lovely brand support that doesn’t involve elf doll pornography or calling people things like ‘sweet cheeks’ or ‘hot stuff’, then have a gander at @smallmanmedia on the aforementioned Twitter or on Facebook at facebook.com/smallmanmedia if it pleases you. This blog was composed by our Writer Monkey Pete, who seems to have a lot of opinions this week.