Dear Brands: Why So Serious?

Dior will probably continue counting on Charlize Theron to strut through a mansion mouthing the words “j’adore” over and over to sell its perfume. In this age of transparency and the Millennial, however, brands might want to think twice about taking themselves too seriously.

As a public relations professional with social media strategy as an essential part of my tool kit, I will admit that the most difficult and nuanced type of messaging involves humor. But now that we find ourselves in the age of Snapchat, paid social, bloggers and even — gasp! — influencers, this “lighter” type of message has become essential. Brands need to connect with consumers in a voice you would find in a text from a friend or colleague.

I asked my standup comedian friend for some tips on how to land a joke. As you might expect, her advice applies perfectly to brands hoping to bring some edge to their content strategy.

Know your audience, and how they perceive you.

A comedian knows where they are, what they look and sound like, and the type of people they’ll probably find in the audience. Where they perform has a big effect on what they say.

Similarly, brands should recognize where their messages are being delivered and adapt them based on channel and audience. Taco Bell is one of the funniest brands in the game, for example, but they keep the jokes off their LinkedIn page, and with good reason.

While overarching campaign messages and objectives should cross platform lines and help to accomplish a specific goal, it’s important to recognize that the group of people that see someone’s personal LinkedIn page is far different from the group that sees his or her private Snapchat story. The same goes for brands. Different platforms target different people who ultimately have different expectations.

A good example of diverse messaging across a variety of platforms is the luxury automobile segment. Luxury car television commercials are exactly what you’d expect: beautiful backdrops, attractive drivers, and sophisticated language artfully delivered by Morgan Freeman or Donald Sutherland.

On Twitter, however:

  • Mercedes-Benz’s most recent tweet included the hashtag #ZombieApocalypse
  • Jaguar had its own witty take on #NationalCatDay last week
  • Lexus just had a back-and-forth a few hours ago with a woman named Isbell regarding her birthday plans.

And it’s not just cars:

  • Charmin regularly pushes out “That awkward moment when…” tweets as part of its #TweetFromTheSeat campaign (gross)
  • Taco Bell uses essentially the same voice on social media as my emoji-crazed little sister
  • Old Spice is well-known for pumping out a whole lot of lovable nonsense

Understanding what type of messaging gets the best response on each of your media channels is essential to crafting a dynamite campaign. Specifically recognizing which channels warrant humor, and which expect it, is key.

Know what’s happening NOW, and put your own spin on it.

If something big happens in the news one afternoon, it is expected that a comedian will at least mention the incident that evening, or craft an entirely new routine based on the fresh material.

Likewise, agencies can’t read about “the dress” and then schedule a planning meeting with the whole social media team, brainstorm a branded joke in response, add it to your content calendar, schedule a photo shoot, and plan for it to go live by EOW. You’ve got 10 minutes. Read it, think about how your brand would speak or respond to it, and take over the conversation.

Always get a second or third opinion on timely writing, of course, to make sure you’re not being unknowingly insensitive or incorrect (so you don’t end up on this list). As any comedian will tell you, timing is everything.

Keep yourself unique and unexpected.

At Eric Mower + Associates, our ultimate goal is to create friendships for brands. After research and analytics, we discovered the nine drivers that fuel the heart of a great brand relationship, and it has become our overarching philosophy.

One of those key drivers is surprise. Flowers on their birthday, tickets to see their favorite country artist — the element of surprise takes a relationship from run-of-the-mill to one-of-a-kind.

Surprise is vital to developing business-to-business and business-to-consumer relationships as well. While it’s no surprise, for example, that Taco Bell is posting about its new chicken-taco-wrap-something-or-other, and Old Spice is actively promoting a new product or scent, who could have ever guessed that the brands would intersect on social media? The surprise was a hit, with plenty of reposts and media coverage.

Social media is not just another advertising opportunity; it’s a never-ending conversation that builds relationships. Surprise an active Instagram follower with some product, or throw some shade at a competitor (all in good fun). It’s all part of making and sustaining friendships with your constituents.

Ultimately, brands should stop taking themselves too seriously, because Millennials, Generation Z, etc. sure don’t. Lighten up and take some maybe unprecedented risks; they’ll probably result in plenty of earned publicity and well-deserved street cred.