Monday, April 25, 2011
Beware! Buzz Can Bite!
Awhile back, a client looked me in the eye and said, "I don't need to advertise. I'm on Facebook and Twitter and I can create a buzz any time I want." I walked out and spent the rest of the day laughing because, (a) This client made the bulk of their profit selling franchises, starting at $200,000, and most people need more than a few Facebook likes and re-tweets to part with that kind of dough, (b) Social media works best when used to connect and build relationships and thus build trust with consumers, and this client's Facebook and Twitter feeds were nothing but cut and paste promos of sales at their franchise locations, and finally and most importantly, (c) He overlooked the fact that it's the customer who generates the buzz, not the advertiser. (Also, (d) when I was in college, I had a completely different definition of buzz and I'm moronic enough to still be amused by the juxtaposition.)
Focusing on point C above, buzz as it's defined by Web 2.0 (the level of excitement generated by a brand or product) can be a tricky thing. But the most important thing to remember is the fact that you don't control your buzz, you can only hope to generate it. And, thanks to the recent highs and lows of some major names, the pros and cons of buzz have been on graphic display.
For the National Football League, this year's Super Bowl was a high point. As the pinnacle of the NFL season featuring two traditional powers with huge fan bases, the game was watched by more people than ever before. Soon thereafter however, the NFL owners showed themselves to be greedy jackasses when, after asking NFL players to give up $1 billion of their cut of revenue while at the same asking them to play more games, locked the players out and essentially shut down one of the most profitable sports enterprises in the world. Don't feel too bad for the NFL owners though, as they still could split up to $4 billion from the TV networks, even if the NFL doesn't play a down next season. Their PR people are working overtime to create positive messages for the League (hyping draft prospects and highlighting big games in next season's schedule, even though it may not happen) but, overall the NFL's buzz has been less than flattering since the onset of the lockout, and even the positives have been colored with mention of the shutdown.
For Chrysler, the game was also a buzz-worthy moment, with their two minute spot, featuring Eminem and a catchy tagline (Imported From Detroit), garnering plenty of buzz after the game (and scoring a coveted Super Bowl Ad Award for the Non-Poetic, or SBAAFTNP if you're into the whole brevity thing).
Since then, it's been all downhill buzz-wise for Chrylser. It started when an employee of their social media agency accidentally posted an F-bomb via the Chrysler Twitter account instead of his own user name. Then, news broke that the Detroit Free Press had watered down a savage review of the Chrysler 200, (the centerpiece vehicle of their campaign) after a complaint from an advertiser (allegedly a Chrysler dealer). Needless to say, though they've continued the Imported From Detroit campaign, the buzz for these incidents lingered a lot longer than their Super Bowl bump.
Finally, we have Charlie Sheen, he of the tiger's blood, Adonis DNA, erratic behavior, rehab, goddesses, rampant drug use, #winning and a very public firing from a hit TV show. All of that quickly made Sheen the King of Buzz almost overnight, with millions of Twitter followers, appearances on talk shows, and a sold out tour with "shows" across the country. However, all it took was brutal reviews of his very first show and suddenly the buzz went bad for Sheen. While Sheen showed an ability to quickly recover with more outrageous statements and behavior, his buzz will inevitably turn sour because, though America loves a death defying, living on the edge freak show, sooner or later the buzz will move on to the next big thing (I reserve the right to edit the above statement should Charlie Sheen actually resort to shooting up or engaging in a carnal act with one of his "goddesses" on stage.)
So what's the moral to all this buzz bashing? It's simple: Buzz is great and it can be a part of a comprehensive marketing plan. But, remember, you don't control it and buzz alone is not a viable long-term strategy. Instead, find out what your customers want, then base your marketing (and the message you control) on highlighting the solutions you and your company offer to fulfill their needs.
A little bit of tiger's blood may boost your bottom line in the short run. But, if you want to build and maintain a solid customer base, boot the buzz and instead focus your marketing efforts on the basis a solid, long-term advertising and marketing message, that you create and control! Because, as the examples above have shown, if you only depend on buzz, you're very likely to get stung!