Sociability and empathy

One of the questions every marketer should be asking right now (along with How do I manage data ? How do I manage mobile ? Remind me never to give £50 million  worth of sponsorship to a man who is clearly an asshole and What is the name of a good head-hunter ?) is – How can I make the most of social media ?

From the clients I’ve been talking to, the answer is – go and see a specialist social media agency, which is followed with amazing efficiency by step two, moaning about those agencies.

I swear, if you set up an agency specialising in social media and you  knew what you were doing and you treated clients well, you’d clean up.

But anyway.

My thoughts on this topic are a bit hazy (along with everybody else’s) but here are a couple of notions for the new year (which I’ve already christened the anus bloodyhellabis).

1. Go on a Decoded “social networks in a day” course – it’ll teach you the history of social media, show you how they work and you’ll build a social media app. (Come on, don’t act surprised – you knew I’d say that.)

2. You still need creative ideas. So ponder  these 3 things – impact, topicality and empathy.

Impact. The only question worth asking of any creative idea is this – Is it shareable ? Weird stuff gets shared, boring/selly stuff doesn’t.

“Bono is feeding miniature dachshunds to a naked Romanian pole-vaulter on a pedalo” is shareable (if technically, at this point, untrue).

“Our pork pies taste nice” probably isn’t.

Topicality.

This is a crucial part of social media – it’s all about “now”. Eckhart Tolle would love it. (Well, he would now. I wonder how he’ll feel about it in 5 years’ time ? That’s the crucial question.)

So – “what is Bono doing now ?” has an appeal, even if the answer is only “having a crap”. But this currency has speedy devaluation. What was Bono doing yesterday ? “Wiping his arse”. Who cares ?

Empathy. This is the big one.

As Campaign’s new editor Danny Rogers said in his inaugural  editorial  – ethics  will play  a crucial part in effective  advertising campaigns from now on.

He was talking about Coke’s attempt to grapple with the issue of obesity. Which I think is great. It’s like Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ or Persil’s ‘Dirt is good’ – belated but honourable attempts to clear up the mess which advertising has made in the first place.

But you have to do it and mean it – not like the backfiring load of tosh which Lance Armstrong fell into when he screwed up his big “confessional” on Oprah.

God, what a load of crap.

For the first time ever, I found myself wondering about Nike.

I want to see a little less “just do it” and a little more “maybe we should do the right thing, baby”.

“Just do it. Just be a psychopathic winner-at-all-costs”.  Er, no thanks.

I don’t particularly care about Woods’ infidelities or Armstrong’s doping – it’s the lying and bullying and arrogant attempts to manipulate us with baby-fed morsels of semi-truth which I can’t stand.

So let’s explore the topic of empathy.

In a book called “the Wonder Box” Roman Krznaric talks about the power of mass empathy in the early 1800s. His view is that slavery was abolished in Britain then because for the first time in history you saw huge numbers of people caring about OTHER PEOPLE – ie other than themselves or their immediate community.

He points out that this landmark needed two things to make it work – an audience who were open to receive the messages, and a bold marketing campaign.

The first happened more or less by accident – the British people were able to react emotionally to stories of slave hardship because they’d been through something similar.

For a century or more, the Royal Navy had just kidnapped young men from the streets and told them they’d found a new career as sailors.

Press-ganging.

Some ad agencies in Britain’s coastal towns still use similar recruitment techniques, I’m told.

So most people back then knew someone who’d suffered from this practice and they were able to empathise with the horrors of African slaves being forcibly taken to America.

And the marketing campaign led on this aspect.

A poster was created that showed the full horrors of a slave ship (men head to toe in airless holds for weeks on end, chained together) and 10,000 copies were put up on the walls of pubs and other buildings.

As a result tens of thousands of British people got involved in what Adam Hochschild described as “the first time a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged over many years, over someone else’s rights”.

According to Krznaric, it was “the most powerful human rights movement that the world had ever seen”.

It required the passion of some leaders like Thomas Clarkson, and some brave and relevant creative work.

If you feel like you’re working like a slave – you’re not, you have basic freedoms.

You can change stuff.

And social media is an unprecedented tool to do that.

Let’s take our briefs and turn them all into projects which seek to answer the question – not “how can I sell more dog-food ?” But “how can I make the world a better place ?”

I believe we’ll sell a lot more effectively if we do.

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