For decades, Adland has reflected social trends back at consumers, with varying degrees of success. From Coke’s “Hilltop” which was met with applause in the 70s, to Pepsi’s “Live For Now” flop earlier this year, it’s no wonder brands are using social trends to build relevance with their audiences with the allure of such great rewards. In the context of today’s rapidly evolving social trends and bandwagons, opportunities for corporations big and small to wade into the conversation are ever more appealing. But what factors can determine whether these efforts will sink or swim? What gives a brand license to get involved in social trends, and when do their campaigns come across as transparent marketing tactics?
It’s not just social activism causes which can make or break brands. Even jumping on other bandwagons, most commonly with internet culture, can launch a brand into fame or infamy. In a meta turn of events, posts of brands missing the mark in their comms have become a meme of their own, going viral for all the wrong reasons far too often. From Reddit forum r/FellowKids to Twitter account @BrandsSayingBae, there are whole communities of people who bond over brands trying to be relevant and missing the mark. Posts which make it big in these forums almost always come across as unfamiliar with the community they’re speaking to.
A twitter thread from Microsoft’s social media team which did the rounds earlier this year highlighted the difficulties corporate giants can face online in being accepted as genuine or relevant. Yes, there are some great corporate twitter accounts interacting with their followers in a lighthearted and banterous way – but do we really want Microsoft to be making smalltalk with us? Brands who can get stuck in with social and cultural trends like this need to be able to do so without changing their voice too drastically. Microsoft aren’t someone we’d want to chat with, and this is clearly a view shared by everyone who reposted the conversation below (some 150,000 people).
But when brands do manage to appropriate the right cultural bandwagon the rewards can be significant. Earlier this year, Gucci launched their #TFWgucci campaign which used meme culture to showcase their watches. Whilst it was met with mixed reviews, ranging from “Gucci should delete their account” to “Gucci is killin the game w/ their memes rn”, the campaign nevertheless landed a whole load of press, and whilst polarising opinion, averaged 80k likes per snap. Plus, creating a bit of uproar isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, especially when compared to the prosect of being met with ambivalent silence. The only aspect which felt out of touch was the age of the memes and styles they chose to feature: memes can move at a rate of knots, so posting such out of date work contrasted with expectations of major fashion houses to always be ahead of the curve. Social currency like this relies on being one of the first to say what we’re all thinking – so perhaps if they’d have timed the campaign better, Gucci could have been met with more universal approval.
So, how can brands land that elusive approval from their audiences when trying to build social relevance? Really, the biggest threat to a brand’s credibility is trying to force it. The number of brands who can operate in this space legitimately is so small, but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. If you don’t think your brand should be making small talk with people on Twitter, or posting memes on Instagram, then there’s no need to crash those parties. Be brave and start your own.