A few weeks ago Sarah Palin seemed like the ideal VP pick for the republicans. Her straight talk, family values and relative youth gave McCain an apparent answer to many of the weaknesses the democrats were touting. Then came the PR gaffes. In the weeks since she was unveiled she has made a string of mistakes and has essentially been withdrawn from the public eye. indeed NPR did a piece this morning questioning both her withdrawal and the few ways she was still getting in front of the media. Her interview, which was satirized on SNL, with Katie Couric was an absolute disaster. Indeed SNL added a few jokes but left many answers unchanged – it was that bad. You can’t help but question, as NPR did this morning, why her advisors have chosen to shut her off from the short interviews that would normally be taking place at this stage in the campaign and then allow the longer interviews like the one with Couric where she struggles. Right now it would appear that she has gone from Republican saviour to pariah in just a few weeks. She could be saved if she does a good VP debate but I doubt it. She is not making any solo public appearances or attending fund raisers. Presumably she is using the time to prep for that debate. If she comes out of the debate badly she will have put a large hole in the republican campaign. It goes to show that in politics, as in business, a good presenter (which Paln is) goes only so far. You have to be a good interview. This means you have to do more than learn your lines. You also have to understand the subject matter and know the facts. On the latter it would seem someone should have given her a mock press interview before she was nominated.
I’m not a huge fan of the Interbrand global study as its methodology means many large private companies get left out but it is nevertheless useful. This year’s study shows that Tech brands continue to play an increasingly important role, while not surprisingly financial services brands are struggling. Indeed a quarter of the world’s top 100 brands are now tech brands, while only 13 are financial services. While the vast majority of tech brands maintained or improved their ranking, all but two of the financial services brands saw their rankings fall. I’d love to see how much each of the brands in this ranking spent on PR and advertising!
I have a theory that people don’t remember the average but instead recall the very good and the very bad. This means that a great deal of marketing work is often not remembered as it is not best in class. This doesn’t mean it has no value but it does reduce its value. Of course marketing departments don’t aim to be average. Instead they aim to do stand out work. So why is most work so average? If I look at the programs I have worked on that were just OK (and there were a few), then in many cases it boiled down to a few simple things:
1. Dummed down – all too often a great creative idea has the edge taken out of it in order to reduce the potential risks that idea creates. Sadly by removing the edge it becomes a less then memorable campaign.
2. Under resourced – I don’t just mean here that companies spend too little. Instead I mean that all to often great work is sandwiched in alongside large pieces of average work being done by the same company. If the resources of the average were reapplied to the great just imagine the difference it would make.
3. Trying to do too much – good campaigns will often be hijacked by all sorts of areas of a business. As a result the original focus of the campaign is lost. If other parts of a business want to jump on board a marketing campaign it is them that should adapt (within reason) and not the other way around.
4. Failure to learn from mistakes – too many companies ignore the mistakes they’ve made in the past. Even companies that bother to hold a post mortem after a campaign, will all to often ignore the lessons learned when creating a new campaign. Why?
5. Logic beats emotion – great marketing campaigns often have something that is illogical in the mix. Or at least an element that appears illogical or pointless. Take the recent Microsoft ads with Gates and Seinfeld. They are quirky and silly and have generated a lot of opinion both good and bad. Logic would have killed these ads a lot sooner than Microsoft did (apparently they are no more now). If they had made Seinfeld talk product features it is unlikely people would have talked about them. By avoiding talking about Microsoft for almost all of the advert and instead focusing on trying to connect with an audience, Microsoft made an honest attempt to connect with its audience. You can argue whether they succeeded or failed in this instance. To me they succeeded.
My concern with this issue is that I’d love to see more memorable PR work being done. As it stands I’m convinced people can easily recall bad PR and can recall, albeit to a lesser degree, great PR. That leaves a lot of work that probably penetrates the subconscious or affects a small community but goes largely unnoticed. Perhaps the best way to get people to do great PR though is to make them fear doing truly bad PR (See my poll on the right). Put another way, I think people should always ask “what do we need to do to do a better job this time?” They need to ask this at every step in the process.
I have to confess I thought the idea of using Seinfeld for Microsoft ads seemed a little less than exciting. I felt Seinfeld represented the wrong generation. Now that I’ve watched the ads I’m a convert. They are great entertainment and remarkably brave. They don’t sell a product or promote an area of technology. They entertain and get you to connect with the brand. If you haven’t seen the ads go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBWPf1BWtkw
What is also clear from these ads is that were produced not for TV but for the Internet. The one I linked to above is perfect for YouTube. This is a great example of a brand taking advantage of a medium to do something different.
Earlier this week Obama made it clear that Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin should not be attacked because of her daughter’s pregnancy. His VP nominee, Joe Biden, also backed this up in a move that was clearly designed to show the Democrats were above that kind of thing. However, what they failed to anticipate was how strongly she would attack them and that she may even damage them through these attacks. What the Democrats now have to struggle with is how to fight back at Palin. She is standing there throwing punches while the Democrats have effectively tied their own hands behind their backs. Of course they could just fight back but the risk is that they will be seen to be attacking an injured party. By saying people shouldn’t attack her for the pregnancy issue they effectively said nobody should attack her – period. On reflection they should simply have said nothing and let the Palin news play out. Then they could have attacked her with at least equal force. As I see it they have lost round one in a big way and they’d better quickly figure out how to deal with Palin or she could do some serious damage.
For the record I am a registered Democrat