The sex appeal of dabbling on the dark side of digital PR

“To know nothing about yourself is to be constantly in danger of nothingness, those voids of non-being over which a man walks the tightrope of his life.”
― Athol Fugard, Tsotsi

Where there is a stink of shit there is a smell of being”

― Antonin Artaud, Theatre of Cruelty

The ultimate challenge and a naughty thrill… is sometimes building social media strategy for the brands people love to hate.  You know the types I am talking about alcohol, gambling, tobacco, banking, insurance and so on.  The ones you wouldn’t bring home to meet the parents.

When I worked as a theatre director I found it amazing the way through slightly changing the context of a scene, or an action on stage, or even the emphasis on a line you could completely change the audiences reaction – even though the script remained unchanged.  So perhaps it is not surprise I find it exciting working out ways that marmite brands can benefit from this type of direction within social media.

However, before you lynch me or peg me for some cynical “spin doctor” I should point out brands from alcohol all the way along the spectrum to tobacco, don’t have much room to manoeuvre within social media to stay within legislation and guidelines from relevant bodies (which of course is reassuring).

Alcohol brands must adhere to guidelines which include restricting Facebook users aged under 18 from accessing official alcohol brand pages, and a commitment to remove inappropriate user-generated content from brand pages on Facebook within 48 hours.

Tobacco brands have to contend with the fact that Tobacco advertising is banned in 161 nations that have now ratified the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).  Article 13 of the FCTC requires ratifying nations to undertake a complete ban on tobacco advertising and promotion, which is broadly defined as:

“any form of commercial communication, recommendation or action with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly, unless prevented from doing so by their constitution”

And against the broad definition of advertising required by FCTC signatories, social media marketing in some instances could be considered a “commercial” communication and therefore also be banned.

Making successful social media strategies for the types of brands you wouldn’t necessarily want on agencies creds is not easy, because it involves three competing motivations:

a) doing the best possible work to help them retain and possibly recruit customers

b) staying not just on the borderlines of relevant legislation but well within it, for the brands safety, and your own conscience

 c) not selling your soul.

I suppose a marketeer must constantly balance the projects they are proudest of in terms of feel-good factor, with the ones that provide the greatest intellectual challenge.


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