Hurricanes can be a horrible business. Before Sandy, Zeitgeist remembers being in New York on a work placement during the East Coast blackout of 2003. It was a necessary reminder of just how many things rely on electricity. In mid-August, air conditioning, a constant presence year-round in New York, vanished. Cell phones quickly died a death without anywhere to charge them. Hot water shut off, before cold water did too. And of course, without refrigeration, restaurants across the city had to abandon serving customers even as they dumped food they could no longer preserve. So it felt like one of the nicest treats ever when, after 36 hours of experiencing no electricity, Zeitgeist plonked himself down at one of his favourite eateries to indulge in a humongous lunch. There is something very therapeutic about the act of consuming a good meal. As Virginia Woolf said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”.
Brand communications often generate greater engagement when they leverage topical events, but must tread carefully when it comes to occasions such as this. It was probably with Woolf’s quotation in mind that the people behind the eCRM programme for the elite diffusions of the Michelin-adorned chef Daniel Boulud sent out this comforting email (above) to those registered on its database, saying basically that their services were available for those that felt up to it. Zeitgeist thought it was a nice note, and importantly written in an appropriate tone of voice. Certainly those establishments that were able to be open saw a surge in business. Indeed, this evening sees the Cafe Boulud team with chef of currently-closed momofuku to create a $500 six-course extravaganza, proceeds of which go to the American Red Cross. The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors again on October 31, welcoming over 13,000 people and making entry free. An email from the President of the Museum to friends and members made a show of solidarity and pushed the right buttons.
Other brands also wishing to remind potential customers of their presence during the immense disruptions and terrible circumstances of Hurriance Sandy met with more vociferous reactions, especially on social media. Despite a recent article from the FT imploring businesses to think twice before they tweet, it appears to have gone unheeded, at least by the likes of Gap and American Apparel. Again, it was not necessarily the content, but the tone of voice that was so important here. American Apparel suggested you might be “bored in the storm”, which quickly led some to conclude that the brand was trivialising what was happening, i.e. that lives had been lost and that many were without power. Gap tried a slightly different similar tack. They offered no discount but instead talked up the fact they were shopping online, and, while hoping others were ok, wondered if some other people were also surfing gap.com. Again, this met with much consternation, particularly on Twitter.
Starbucks, meanwhile, managed a more disciplined approach. On Twitter, they reiterated again and again that their thoughts were with those affected by the storm, and that they were working as hard as they could in order to get back up and running again so they could start providing a service for YOU. They weren’t saying anything drastically different to the retailer brands above, it was all to do with the way they were saying it.
The most surprising action taken by a company in response to Sandy was by none other than Goldman Sachs. The business opened their offices to all and sundry afflicted by the disaster, setting up places for local afflicted denizens to get fresh water and, perhaps more importantly for some, to charge their cellphones. What a nice bit of brand-building, and a great humanitarian thing to do as well.
UPDATE (12/11/12): brandchannel recently featured an excellent update on how multiple brands are responding to the ongoing problems caused by Sandy.
The importance of having a brand attitude.
In categories where the offering is essentially the same, a brand’s positioning and the way it behaves become all the more important as means of differentiating them from the competition.
One such category is online gambling.
In essence, all of the companies offer punters the chance to stake some of their hard earned cash on all manner of sporting and cultural events. The market is extremely crowded and with sites like oddschecker.com enabling gamblers to find the best odds on a given bet, building loyalty can be difficult.
All of which means that acquiring new customers is essential and online bookmakers must stay front of mind in order to be considered. For brands with large budgets, oft-pursued routes include high profile sponsorship, advertisements and idents.
One brand with a smaller budget that manages to maintain a high profile is Paddy Power.
Their novelty bets, early payouts, refunds and risky communications have helped them carve a niche position amongst their rivals. Ranging from the Last Supper reworked as a casino table to a poster seemingly offering odds on which old lady would be hit by a car to sponsoring Tongan rugby player Epi Taion to change his name to Paddy Power by deed poll for the duration of the the 2007 World Cup, their activities are marked by a rebellious streak and a desire to generate as much free publicity as possible.
Their ability to respond quickly to current events helps keep them in the public eye, the poster at the top of the article greeted visitors to Ireland immediately after they’d been knocked out of the World Cup Play-off by France and Thierry Henry’s imfamous handball. The stategy of capitalising on current affairs is as strong as ever has as evidenced by a couple of recent viral activities.
The first was an opportunist game, turned around in under 24 hours, which invited users to ‘slap’ former SkySports pair Richard Keys and Andy Gray. Capitalising on the furore caused by their sexist comments the game was passed around by football fans and feminists alike.
The second is a great piece of activation.
Following the high profile deadline day transfers of Fernando Torres from Liverpool to Chelsea and Andy Carroll from Newcastle to Liverpool, the bookmaker offered distraught fans the chance to trade their old hero’s shirt for a £50 bet.
Better still, the unwanted shirts will then be given to Oxfam and sent to Africa.
Both activities will have been relatively cheap to implement, but their relevance both to current events and their target audience ensured that they were shared virally, thus saving a fortune in media costs.
Paddy Power’s long history of courting controversy and clearly defined brand personality distinguishes them from their myriad competitors and allows them to continue to engage their audience in such a distinctive style. Each stunt serves to raise their profile in the short term while further reinforcing their brand identity in the long term.
Their behaviour might not appeal to everyone and their stunts often cost them financially, however so long as no one used their £50 wager to bet on a draw after Arsenal went 4-0 up at St. James Park on Saturday, the Irish bookmaker will look back at a couple of weeks of good work courting publicity and living up to expectations.
A simple idea, well-executed, playing on a subject matter that people are very aware of but have never had to engage with. For most people in central Manhattan, access to clean drinking water is rarely an issue. Most people dining at even the finest restauarants choose tap water because it’s supposed to be that good in NYC (it’s apparently the reason the city has such great bagels). What do you think of Unicef’s work here? Most of the people Zeitgeist has shown it to have commented on the intellectually stimulating comments by the two girls at the very end of the video. Found on Adverblog.
In the saturated market of telecoms, brands really do need to work hard to differentiate themselves. Consumers are spoilt for choice, with companies with broadband and TV heritage offering a range of enticing bundles that conceal the costs of individual services.
One the face of it, one can be cynical as whether it is just a publicity stunt and there will be plenty of pensioners who will claim that they have a wide circle of friends and no need for such a service.
That said, Talk Talk claim there are over four million over 65’s living alone in the UK and the fragmentation in society suggests that a number of them will appreciate someone to chat to.
Talk Talk are keen to state that the service will never be used to sell a product or service and that their staff are not counsellors, nor are they attempting to take over from social services or charities.
“We’re not trying to replace social services and charities but our research shows that the service we’re providing meets a need which is not currently being met.” confirmed communications director Mark Schmid.
No information was available as to how many over 65’s were Talk Talk customers and the service is initially only available to 50 applicants – around 0.001% of the aforementioned four million – which suggests things would have to be scaled up considerably to make a real difference and deflect accusations of gimmickry.
Quite whether a commercial enterprise should be required to provide such a social service at all is a topic for debate, but in the meantime, if it improves the lives of some of our elderly citizens then it should be welcomed.
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