Rory Stobo

3 February 2016

Reactive content gone bad: I don’t share your greed

Rory Stobo, Chief Copywriter at Sookio, uses the recent spate of celebrity deaths to promote his work by telling you not to promote your work using the recent spate of celebrity deaths.

2016, it has to be said, has not graced us with a fantastic start. The deaths of Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie and Terry Wogan have ensured that if you’ve even so much as caught a whiff of pop culture over the past 50 years, you have some reason to feel a little bummed out.

Tributes poured in accordingly, both genuine and…not so genuine. Living online as I do, I had the misfortune to spot a blog from a self-professed ‘Marketing Strategist’ whose name I shall not dignify here. Its title: ‘No sleep ’til email engagement: 5 things email marketers can learn from Motörhead.’

Cue your friend and humble narrator cringing so hard I actually flopped out of my own skin and spent the rest of the day wandering around looking like the thing from Attack On Titan.

I should have saved my strength. We had absolute corkers like this to follow…

Crocs Shoes tweet

Ah yes. Crocs. I do fondly recall the original studio cut of Labyrinth, where the Goblin King waxes lyrical about his love for this effortlessly stylish footwear.

Both blog and tweet were deleted following furious backlash, but the damage was done. It continues to be done every day by brands who fail to realise that real people on the internet will not stand for this shameless bullshit any longer.

How not to be reactive with your content

The desire to hop on a trending topic or to tap into the general consciousness online can be overwhelming for brands. When it’s done right it can be brilliant.

The 2012 Olympics saw the flag of the wrong Korea being displayed ahead of a women’s football match, causing a bit of a kerfuffle as you might imagine. Specsavers were in there like whippets.

Specsavers Korean flags ad

So what’s the difference between that and the touching tribute to David ‘Crocs’ Bowie?

Here’s a good rule of thumb:

  • Is someone dead?
  • Did their death have an impact on millions?
  • Were they utterly unconnected to your brand in any way shape or form?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ you should probably leave well enough alone.

Quite why this simple test eludes so many content marketers is a mystery to me. Grief is a powerful and volatile emotion, and emotions travel five times faster than rational thought.

Reactive content means tapping into the emotional impact of an event and using it to do the hard work for you. If your message doesn’t vibe with that impact, it creates a dissonance that will have people reaching for the pitchforks.

If you’ve spent time getting to know your online audience (you have, right?) and engaging in an authentic dialogue to understand how they communicate online (you did that, right?) then you’ll know the emotional spectrum you have to work within.

It’s a little bit like… brace yourselves… it’s a little bit like speaking to real people.

Once you’ve mastered this basic but utterly, inescapably critical step, it’s simply a matter of technique like anything else. In my experience, there are three main considerations to make reactive content go over well.

1: Don’t

Ask yourself if you can realistically comment on this event and make it work. I know your boss told you that she/he wanted to see a bit more reactive content, but this one just might not be for you.

Sometimes, even when an event seems too big to ignore, you’ve got to make like Queen Elsa and let it go. The alternative is to come across forced, corny or patronising. If you’re selling barbecues, you’re not going to get much out of wishing your customers a Merry Christmas.

2: Subvert the trend

Often, by the time an event, trend or meme reaches the wider consciousness, it’ll be too late for you to comment on it and appear relevant. This goes especially for companies who don’t trust their Social Media teams and require lengthy signoff processes before anything out of the ordinary gets posted.

However, you might not be too late to catch things on the way back out. At the time of writing, the ‘Be Like Bill’ meme is going through its mutation phase and inevitable backlash as it fades out of fashion.

Understand the cycles these things work in and you’ll be able to anticipate the best time to release a reaction to the reaction. The internet loves meta.

3: Actually be funny

This one should underpin the other two. The whole idea behind this content runs on spontaneity and wit. If you end up developing your reaction over the course of three in-depth meetings where everyone from HR to the sales intern has their input, you’re quickly going to sap the life out of it.

Again, brands should trust the people they’ve hired to run social media to know what they’re doing. ‘Funny’ on Twitter is not the same as ‘funny’ in the office. It’s a different context, a different language, a totally different culture.

You could easily argue that content which provokes a huge backlash is actually preferable to that which just sort of fades away with a damp little squawk.

Getting it wrong will always attract ridicule, and accounts like Brands Saying Bae and the Condescending Corporate Brand Page do sterling work highlighting the worst offenders. To avoid their ire, a little bit of common sense and self-awareness will help you pull off reactive content in a way that’s genuine and engaging.

Lemmy would have wanted it that way.


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