April 18, 2014

Shock tactics in advertising – anything goes? (The Student Perspective series)

This guest post from Carly Smith is part of The Student Perspective series – a set of posts contributed by future stars of the comms industry.

A couple of months back, the Charity Commission updated the guidelines on fundraising and warned charities over the risks to reputation associated with using shock tactics to encourage donations and raise awareness. After reading the article in PR Week, it got me thinking: should shock tactics be allowed? And in such a crowded market place are they effective anymore?

We’ve all seen the adverts featuring the lonely puppy tied up by the side of the road and the children living in a shanty town surrounded by rubbish, but has the time come for charities to find new methods of attracting our attention?

The majority of people know what these charities stand for so don’t need to be reminded every time they see the advert. Some people may find the content of the advert distressing and be so shocked that they disengage with the advert and the charity completely because they associate them in a negative way. There is also the argument that one of the reasons people donate money to charities is because they experience a sense of guilt, these adverts are encouraging this as individuals will look at themselves sat in their comfortable well furnished houses and feel bad. Would it not be better to try and educate donors as to how their money would benefit and show the work they have done already? This is an approach that Cancer Research UK has adopted and I feel it has been successful for them.

However is this all just further evidence of the so called ‘nanny state’ trying to shield people from what goes on in the real world? The advert represents what the charity stands for and illustrates the type of work it does. As my grandparents would say: ‘If people don’t like it then they can just turn it over.’

I do believe that when used effectively shock tactics can be a brilliant addition to a campaign as they break through advertising clutter and are likely to be remembered. In my opinion the THINK car safety campaigns use shock tactics effectively and are memorable. The main message of the advert is always remembered and sometimes I find myself quoting them saying things such as: ‘Don’t be a back seat killer!’ to my friends when they are in the back seats.

Shock tactics should be used with caution and extensive research should be done as to not offend viewers or shock anyone too much. There will always be people who prefer not to see them but that’s their choice. A balance is needed, therefore a campaign should be both informational and attention seeking.

What do you think about adverts relying on shock tactics? Is there a place for shock advertising? Would you be more likely to donate to a charity who didn’t use them or not?

Carly Smith is currently in between her 2nd and 3rd year at the University of Lincoln studying Marketing and Public Relations. She has a work placement at a local PR agency one day a week on an unpaid basis.

Preparing tomorrow’s PR pros

This is a guest post by Jane Crofts, a PR Lecturer at the University of Lincoln. I asked Jane how the university is preparing the next generation of PR pros for the changing landscape amidst the rise and rise of social media

So how are we preparing the youth of today to be the PRs of tomorrow? Particularly bearing in mind that many of the tutors of today are the PRs of yesterday… and bearing in mind that the advent of Web 2.0 sees PR changing faster than it has for very many years!

At the University of Lincoln we are a small but beautifully formed team of ex-practitioners and academics setting PR in the business context alongside Marketing, Advertising, occasionally Management or HR and even less occasionally Journalism. Our purpose is to give students a solid academic grounding in their chosen subjects but with a practical dimension to give that added extra to their employability. To this end we encourage them to get as much paid or unpaid work experience as they can find and to develop a portfolio of work they can show off to potential employers.

Increasingly we are encouraging students to develop this portfolio online in the form of blogs and integrated web pages taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn used appropriately – Facebook is very much the ‘Uni life’ and softer side of the portfolio! So, we are inviting our protégés to embrace Web 2.0…and then explain it to us!

The portfolio may also be a repository for some of their assignments for example in their studies of Managing PR the assignment is a blog about developing team working skills and a reflection on how the individual has learned about their own strengths and weaknesses as a team player. As part of PR for organisational communications part of the task is to develop a real campaign for an organisation of their choice – a charity or voluntary group – and to get as much of it implemented as possible.

But of course this is just part of the picture, it’s getting those blogs and pages noticed that will count. ‘Behind the Spin’ the Chartered Institute of Public Relations student online publication provides a great outlet for the students to write about their experiences, review books and observe about developments in PR. Recent contributors from Lincoln have attracted comment from far and wide resulting in offers of help with their careers and even jobs. Subjects have included a discussion of the role of Twitter in crisis communications and aspects of the debate between students from different schools at the University – is PR killing Journalism? One book review by a Lincoln student prompted the book’s author to make contact and another student’s observations about a PR campaign to stamp out spamming in PR attracted interest from the campaign manager.

Dissertations form a critical part of the final year of study and students are encouraged to explore something new. This year social media is a popular subject including its role in the workplace as an internal communications tool, its impact on music PR as well as the afore mentioned crisis management. The students are developing a wealth of original thought and creating new angles on old models such as the popular Grunig and Hunt four models of communication (Managing Public Relations, 1984).

So, to return to the question, I guess the students are preparing themselves very well and in true academic style we are guiding them to think independently, take risks and try new ideas in a safe environment. I am confident, therefore, that tomorrow’s PR specialists and thought leaders will be able to shift and change to meet their clients’ needs and provide wise counsel to ensure PR objectives are fully integrated into a powerful package of communications using the most appropriate tools and techniques from the ever expanding kit bag.

Are you a blogger? March is Be My Guest month, and we’re encouraging bloggers from all over the world to swap posts and reach new audiences. See Be My Guest for more information.

Diagnosing weak marketing: a good cause for heart failure

£1 Challenge for the British Heart Foundation

The £1 Challenge was a noble idea: get one million people to donate just £1 in the space of four months to raise £1m for the British Heart Foundation. In the end, however, the attempt was dubbed by its organiser, Steve Trister, as a “catastrophic failure”, raising just £2,329 and receiving very little media coverage.

Raising over £2k for charity is not to be sniffed at, but it is a long way from the £1m target, and in the video from Steve that draws a curtain over the challenge, he is visibly disappointed.

From my perspective as a marketer, here are the main five reasons I think the campaign failed to launch:

1. Uninspiring challenge

The idea of raising £1m is interesting but, frankly, a bike ride is not. The tie in between healthy exercise and healthy hearts is a no brainer, but there was no stunt to inspire the hearts and minds of the national press and social media trend setters. A campaign like this needs to be visual and exciting from the outset – the £1m target was not an exciting enough concept by itself.

2. Local cause

Steve suggests that perhaps a cancer charity would have fared better, but I think it was the locality that was the problem. An international charity would have encouraged international donations, and thus broadened the reach of the campaign. That said, if the UK media and online community had got behind it, I believe it could still have succeeded with a UK cause.

3. Lack of celebrity

Steve Trister seems like a great guy with some great ideas, but he’s not a known face. Journalists are looking for a hook that will interest the masses, and a famous face early on could have helped the cause. Some celebrity endorsement was secured, but it was low key, and too late.

4. Over-reliance on social media

There were lots of earnest social media users helping to promote the cause in the beginning, but without the PR to support it, this ran out of steam. Some press coverage would have ignited and reignited public interest and helped drive the campaign on.

5. Lack of planning

Steve acknowledges himself that the campaign could have been a success with more planning. The problem is, when everyone is donating their services for free, there is only so many hours they can realistically offer. Strong media relations was needed in the months before campaign went public to get nationals to back the cause and help launch it with a bang.

Steve has promised to come back with another challenge in six months, and I wish him luck – I just hope he spends the next six months taking his own advice and planning carefully to make the next challenge a full-blooded success.