Should you risk it for the biscuit? Thinking outside the box to generate results

Kerrie Murphy, General Manager, Communications, Ovato

We’re all aware of risk versus reward. Usually associated with finance, it’s a quick way of weighing up the risk of losing money as you try to make more of it.

But we also do it with something as mundane as trying to cross the street when you’re in a hurry. Do you wait and cross when the lights are green, or do you make the dash on red and chance something going wrong?

The same applies to PR and marketing. We all want to engage with our audience, be talked about, go viral, but sometimes this requires the risky move.

Before you decide to step out into traffic, you need to ask yourself: is the possibility of falling flat on your face worth the reward of making an impact? And how can you maximise the possibility of getting flattened by the semi-trailer of public disdain?

Most of the time, it comes down to assessing whether being edgy will resonate with your audience, even if it doesn’t go down well with others.

Making headlines for the right reasons

A recent example of a campaign that didn’t hit the mark was South Australian Tourism Commission’s “Old Mate” ad campaign.

The ad features an elderly man visiting some of South Australia’s most beautiful and picturesque settings, before bursting into tears at the top of the Adelaide Oval, with the admonishment that he wouldn’t be so sad if he’d visited Adelaide sooner. The campaign attracted criticism online, with detractors calling it “the saddest ad campaign of all time” and “ageist, offensive and depressing”.

Following the backlash, SA Tourism Commission marketing executive director Brent Hill defended the campaign, saying, “you’d be crazy if you made an ad like this and didn’t expect to get some response.”

“That’s obviously what it was designed to do – we definitely wanted to put something out there that was getting a message across. We knew it wasn’t going to be of everyone’s cup of tea.”

The problem is that the message fell flat, because people couldn’t see the positive of what it was trying to say – don’t put off visiting South Australia – and instead focused on the man’s maudlin story.

While a single ad won’t drive people away from the state, will it bring more people there? Can the ad be considered a success? It got people talking, but arguably not for the right reasons.

Finger lickin’ good?

Another brand that’s made some interesting marketing moves in recent years is KFC, which is striving to “be more Kanye”. According to KFC’s Chief Marketing Officer Annabel Fribence, “Kanye has a total blind spot when it comes to his weaknesses, but he has a ridiculous unwavering belief in his strengths.

This new punky attitude results in all kinds of oddball Millennial-baiting marketing. Tender Wings of Desire – a romance novel written by none other than The Colonel himself – and sponsoring a live DJ set at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami are among the saner offerings. Most recently, KFC and creative agency Psyop released “I Love You Colonel Sanders: A Finger Licking Good Dating Simulator”, a free-to-play parody of Japanese dating simulators, and offered to organise and pay the costs of a chicken-themed wedding for six Australian couples.

It’s not exactly the behaviour you would expect from a fast food chain, but it resonates with the young, tech-savvy consumers the brand is trying to reach. By being irreverent and quirky and moving away from fact-filled “functional” campaigns to keep things fun and light-hearted, KFC engages potential customers in a memorable way. And it’s led to continued business success – in the first quarter of 2019 alone it opened 372 new restaurants in 46 countries and experienced the best sales growth in three years.

“We now believe it’s riskier to be overlooked than to be considered an oddball,” according to Fribence.

“It’s better to be a weird bird in a room full of pigeons.”

Decision making

Why did one campaign generate the right attention, where the other didn’t?

SA Tourism attempted to show us the downside of putting off travel. But the sombre ad, beautifully shot, did not pay off with happiness, which is what you’d hope Old Mate would feel after finally taking his dream trip to the Festival State. The message was mixed, and people responded as such.

KFC went in the other direction, not taking itself too seriously. While the product remains the same, the appeal of its various stunts is broad thanks to their irreverence and humour.

Why can one brand get away with pulling ridiculous stunt after ridiculous stunt, while the other suffers from a single badly-received video? Well, the two industries – tourism and fast food - are speaking to vastly different audiences. One audience has a tolerance for silliness - they’re selling fried chicken after all, and they’re mostly targeting younger people. For SA Tourism, it’s an older audience and the purchase decision to travel interstate has a higher price point, so marketing activity needs to make its audience fully invested in the benefits.

Audience feedback

You always need to balance risk versus reward in a new campaign, especially in an age of easily shared content. Sometimes the risk is greater than the reward, but in marketing and PR, if nothing’s ventured, nothing’s gained. KFC may have less to lose than SA Tourism, but it’s still putting its neck on the chopping block.

Your brand should absolutely look to push the envelope. Be creative, be inventive. But always make sure your target audience is one that will appreciate your efforts.

Get in touch to find out how we can help you come up with creative communication ideas that engage your audience.