You may take a controversial stand some time at some point in your career. Disintermediate a long established channel by going direct, for example. Launch a product in a format or style long dominated by a chief competitor. Maybe launch an edgy ad campaign that the CEO’s mother doesn’t like. At all.
All of these are fine. Sometimes careers and lives are defined by interesting choices based on equal parts of hard facts and pure intuition. The problem arises when we find ourselves attached to the patently ridiculous. Not ridiculous as in controversial or risky. Ridiculous as in one of those things that everyone in the bar shouts in unison when you walk in the door, for example. Would a case study be helpful here?
What would you pay not to be Sheryl Crow right now?
Would you like to be known as a crusader for preventing disease in Africa or for reducing global warming by limiting one’s use of toilet paper to a single sheet? Her blog suggests it was all a joke, but the explanation is a bit light. First, the rest of the entry is downright sanctimonious, and second, regardless of the spin she’s trying to impart on the ball that’s already left her hands, it’s all just too late. Everyone from Dennis Miller to Drudge to the guy down the hall in accounting will tell you the story at this point. People who have developed serious brands can’t quickly become comedians, can they? Just ask Gavin Newsom.
Still, you don’t have to theorize about bathroom hygiene to find yourself high and dry. How about singing the company song to U2’s “One”? (I have to admit, the guy would have crushed most of the American Idol contestants, but jeez, his choice of material…). What was Raphael Palmeiro thinking when he acknowledged his poor batting average in the bedroom? As it turns out, Viagra was about the tamest thing he was taking, of course, which only made the situation worse. What ever happened to athletes who just sponsored brands like Gatorade?
We’re programmed to avoid shame at all cost. Never, ever put yourself in a position to do something that will make you or your brand the object of ridicule for the rest of your respective professional lives. I think I’d prefer to avoid the chicken suit at the sales meeting, the lambada at the Christmas party, karaoke anywhere for any reason, and any social event that includes NFL players and strippers after about 2:00AM.
This caught my eye. The trick is that there may be a very fine line between what will be considered shameful and what is fun. It starts with *your* comfort level with the tactic: does it suit your personality? Alas good taste s subjective and common sense is not that common.
My feeling is that if there is a fine line, it probably isn’t a big problem. When there’s a wide line, and everyone knows you’ve just taken a position that attracts a certain amount of ridicule (global warming as a function of toilet paper consumption, for example), then you’ve ‘taken the plunge.’ Have I taken the metaphor too far? My apologies.
Does your stance elicit anger or rage? Think back to Bennetton and their highly controversial ad campaign some years ago, since discarded. People still think of this today when hearing the brand name. But are they ridiculed? Not really. We all laughed at Infiniti’s ad campaign when it launched (“… car sales are flat, but rocks and trees are up 24%!”), but they’ve recovered.
When you’ve launched yourself over the line, you know it. I was at Disney during the making of Lion King and heard the first working tracks of “Circle of Life”; the original voice that was to do the track for the movie wasn’t Elton John — it was Michael Jackson. Just before he became synonymous with non-children-friendly activity.
If we broaden our field of vision to observe non-profits, political platforms, or even individual celebrity (the marketing of ideas and image), this issue becomes one of messaging architecture and role management. We support X, and we animate our support via Y and Z — and we keep it there, because it keeps our position clear and consistent. We don’t make things up as they occur to us in unreflected moments (thank you, Don Imus, Rosie O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, etc.).
So much of this comes down to basic discipline and keeping messages clear! Let’s talk soon — I owe you a call!
The best advise for CMO’s? You can’t control it.
Whatever it is, it can’t be controlled. No amount of advertising, no amount of goodwill, no amount of communication can control it.
JetBlue was the best, wore a halo, then one storm and one rude baggage claim person ruined them.
Want to know why CMO’s only last two and a half years? They apply for the job telling CEO’s they can control it. It can’t be controlled, so it looks like they lied, and in fact they did.
Best advise? Pick a strategy and go with it, maybe it will work and maybe it won’t, but hard work will generate the best results. You can’t control it, but you can keep trying. Bad strategy succeeds and good strategy fails, all you can do is hope you are in the right place at the right time.
As a long-time conservationist (since long before green became a fad), I shuddered when Sheryl shared her thoughts. Joking or not, her gaff is the reason most celebrities (exclude Bono) should keep to what they do best and leave the marketing to the professionals. We make enough mistakes on our own, without any assistance from others.