And you will, folx. You will get some things really, really wrong when you employ an entertainment quotient in your content marketing.
This is the third weekly column -The Other EQ (Entertainment Quotient), in which I lay out my beliefs around the fact that modern marketing sorely lacks the entertainment value desperately needed to cut digital content clutter.
Allow me to get straight to illustrations of humour gone wrong on this one. Remember Ebola?
While natural disasters are a dime a dozen (sadly), and humour about these events (ironic, situational, self-soothing, or otherwise) abounds on social media when they occur, it’s been less easy to track the use of humour during disease outbreaks – to study against pandemic humour. Thankfully, because we haven’t had that many! 😬
But wind your clocks back a few years, to 2014, and you’ll find yourself remembering one of the scarier ones in recent past: the worst Ebola outbreak the world’s experienced (yet). By the time it was declared under control, it had spread – via *koff* international travel, whaddaya know! – from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to seven other countries: Italy, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The internet was awash with Ebola memes, which I won’t be sharing here coz so many of them are decidedly racist in their “humour.” <<< Brands, take note: there is a VERY fine line when you’re trying to be funny. You don’t want to cross it.
Twitter users waffled between blaming the WHO and CDC, and sending joke tweets primarily about the potential of sexual transmission of the virus. 🙄
Newspapers rolled out the requisite “more people die of obesity” editorial cartoons.
University papers published scathing articles slamming the chat boards and memes, pointing out that, “The only real reason Ebola remains such a popular source of humour is that most of us know it won’t happen to us. It is acceptable to make fun of it precisely because we don’t fear it.”
Then, predictably, there was “that guy.” Don’t ever be that guy, folks. “A 54-year-old man aboard U.S. Airways flight 845 from Philadelphia to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on Wednesday joked to other passengers that he was from Africa and said “I have Ebola” after he sneezed.”
People on that plane WERE NOT HAVING IT. The airline’s flight attendant called him an idiot. On the loudspeaker 😂 And a platoon of hazmat-suited, air-bubble wearing aliens cleared the plane – and the passenger.
His parting comment?
“I don’t know where I’m from these days… can’t even make them damn laugh.”
Read the room, dude. Read the room.
Walking on eggshells
Beyond the pandemic, let’s remember 2020 brought about a collective checking of privilege. We discovered what a crisis within a crisis means as everyone from politicians to influencers, business voices to behemoth brands got a taste of how easy it is to get your message wrong and be in the spotlight for it in times of crisis.
Which leads me to very important lesson number 3 in entertaining with your content: You’re going to get it wrong. When you do, react with grace.
Here’s a smattering of examples of when brands set out to be entertaining, and failed!
Dominos tried to be funny and current with their “Calling All Karens” twitter campaign, asking ‘nice’ Karens to write in and explain why they weren’t a bad Karen to receive a free pizza.
While the intention behind this might have been tongue in cheek, ‘Karen’ has become a name synonymous with white privilege; so giving seemingly already privileged people free pizza was insensitive when people are losing their jobs or living in poverty. Suggestions were made by the general Twitterati on how this would have been far better received if they’d given free pizza to front line workers or workers laid off. They faced a hurricane of outrage and backlash.
Speaking of hurricane (worst segue ever 😂) here’s a quick summary of the analysis of tweets involving humour during Hurricane Sandy.
“The content of tweets that were sent before the landfall of Hurricane Sandy was analyzed over a number of days. Information and affect display were found to be the most common tweet types, followed by humour.
The use of humour around Hurricane Sandy decreased over the number of days. On day one, this was 20%; on the last day (day four), this had dropped to 2.5%. This could possibly be explained by the idea that when the threat is significantly recognised, the situation stops being funny and expressions of fear or concern are more common.”
Clearly, humour can work, but gallows humour has a limit, especially when things get dire. For brands, walking the line between being humorous and insensitive can feel like navigating a tightrope, in the rain.
Find that line deep in the psyches of your customers. Whether we call ourselves B2B or B2C in the end we’re all talking to a human.
Sounds easy enough. But, what does the average post-pandemic customer want?
- Brands that take a stance
- Brands that are inclusive – and not just with a token gesture
- Brands that are authentic
- Brands that don’t add to the clutter; and cut to the chase
- Free advice – and how that can lead to growth of some type
For most brands, this points to the need to rediscover your voice so that you can be-relevant-again.
We love what Emily Crisps did.
Their original outdoor ad campaign was centred around the idea that the whole market eats “boring” potato crisps and that most brands copy Walkers’s red, green and blue styles. That led to the creation of a campaign called ‘ditch dull, eat bold’, but they didn’t want people to think they were making light of coronavirus and calling it dull. So they pivoted hard and decided to poke fun at their brand’s bad timing (the outdoor ad campaign was scheduled to run during lockdown). Instead of cancelling it or doing something generic, they took the opportunity to poke some fun at themselves – and reached their audience online anyway.
This can’t be impromptu, like you would have normally done it in the past, where you might have just dashed something off. You’ve got to really think and look to your team for advice. Don’t wing it. There’s a reason entertainers write and test their content for months and years (the digital environment does not allow that luxury of time, but testing must be done!)
Perhaps if McDonalds had done some customer or employee research, they would have realized that separating their arches to promote social distancing might be seen as a supersized awards stunt.
“F - - k right off you award-desperate morons,” wrote Twitter user Lucian Trestler. “The source of my anger is that this is a disingenuous scam ad to win awards. Which would normally only annoy me but it enrages me when the topic is a global pandemic.”
“Dear #mcdonalds: stop changing your logo for every event and actually f - - king DO something. Nobody cares how you’ve reformatted your ‘beloved’ arches,” blasted another angry Twitter user.
Perhaps @LaurelLu puts it best: “I don’t want your cute logo play McDonalds. I want you offering a million free meals to those in need. I want you turning your drive thru into safe testing sites. I want you doubling down on that happy meal box content for kiddos who are stuck inside RN.”
In an age where consumers value purpose over profits, it just isn’t enough for corporations to make fun, creative tweaks if they aren’t backed up by real action.
The ad, created by agency DPZ&T, appeared across all of McDonald’s Brazil’s social media accounts to convey that we are “separated for a moment so that we can always be together”. However, after a fierce backlash, the altered logo and accompanying social media posts were deleted and McDonalds issued an apology.
It’s safe to say this attempt is firmly in 2020’s hall of shame.
Which brings me right back to:
When you’re funny, you’ll offend some people.
Sometimes you’ll be outright wrong.
The grace is in the recovery.
And the most graceful way to recover when you’ve hurt someone is to apologize.
Just ‘I’m sorry’. Resisting the urge to qualify and add ‘but’. However tempted you are to explain and defend, get really good at the straight-up apology. There’s no need to over-explain and get self-indulgent. Be honest and straightforward.
Savanna Cider was quick to offer an apology when the ad they released in August 2020 got backlash for not featuring any black women, who are considered to be their primary target audience. This is a great example of a brand that stepped up and owned their mistake.
Well, this feels a lot like the first night of stand up. We tried something, we took an L, we’ll own it and we’ll be back. Thank you for the feedback. We hear you. #SiyavannaSouthAfrica #WeGetYouSA
10:54 AM · Aug 27, 2020
If you practices the funnies, you must practice it safely.
When you get it wrong, or hurt someone, master the apology. You’ll need that.