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Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

More brands should get involved with schools

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

When my son was in reception, he made a Mother’s Day card for me at school. On the front was a teapot. Outside the teapot was a tag belonging to a teabag, which was hanging inside the card accompanied by a little rhyme encouraging me to put my feet up (yes, I still have it…),

The teabag was Tetley’s Drawstring. I was impressed. How clever of them to engage with schools and provide the materials for this, I thought.  Imagine the emotional resonance as mothers all over the country open their Mothers Day card to find a Tetley teabag swinging sentimentally within their child’s heartfelt message.

The following week I asked the teacher if Tetley’s did this every year. Her response surprised me, ‘if only! I go to Asda to buy a box of teabags and spend the night before cutting out 30 teapots!’

The activity is on Tetley’s US Facebook page, so I know they are aware of it – so what is stopping them from working with schools in this way? It seems they’re not alone. In spite of Michael Gove’s encouragement and agencies dedicated to producing some great work in schools, there is still reluctance from some brands to a) get involved with schools or b) admit to it.

Do they fear press accusations that they are cynically exploiting schools that should be commercial-free environments? Has the Bailey Review stretched its net too wide in corporate consciousness?

I have spoken to several teacher friends who would welcome more brand-sponsored materials in class. As long as junk food brands are kept away, there is no overt advertising message and the content is shaped to deliver a lesson, they see no problem.  Although there are no regulations in place about the level of commercialism allowed, they said these were unnecessary, as they would reject anything that they felt pushed the boundaries.

Neither is there an issue with parents. A quick ad hoc assessment of my own peers’ opinions supports research in 2004 by  Edcoms which shows that parents also view this kind of corporate help positively, viewing it not as an abuse of commercial power, but at best ‘giving back’ and at worse an acceptable ‘long-term brand building exercise’.

In the light of this, it’s very frustrating that a minority voice seems to be forcing brands to shy away from this much appreciated form of CSR. With reduced funding and squeezed time in schools, surely well produced materials carefully developed to link with the curriculum (and only subtly branded) can perform a valuable job.

However, the issue goes deeper than that. There are also brands that I suspect are using the ‘hot potato’ excuse and not engaging with schools when they morally should.

I’ve touched on this before when asking why technology companies don’t take some responsibility and produce school delivered programs which tackle the actual health and social issues raised by their products.  I do not believe there is one parent who wouldn’t welcome a corporate message warning of the dangers of addiction to Playstation, Facebook etc. The positive PR received on the back of it would surely drown out the dissenters.

So let’s accept that our kids are exposed to brands everyday, and at least show them that they can be positive forces for good. At the vey least it can stimulate a lively and honest discussion around the practice of marketing, perhaps giving the kids tools to – shock horror – make their own minds up….

Where do you think the boundaries lie with schools and brands?

Man or machine; Tesco and the flowchart fallacy

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Here at 1000heads we often extol the virtues of using human analysts to derive meaningful insights and recommendations from WOM listening. We also talk about how brands need to be more human when interacting with people in social media (and beyond). For a large organisation to achieve this, and to deal with any customer service issues that arise, there must clearly be some sort of process involved.

But what happens when that process actually makes the humans seem like robots?

Watching the recent Tesco employment story evolve, we saw a well-run and personalised customer service Twitter stream begin repeating the same message to multiple people for hours on end. But regardless of your views on the issue itself something went very wrong with the way Twitter was used to respond to people’s concerns. What’s more, I’ve no doubt that it was a human in charge of the Twitter feed. So what went wrong?

I imagine what we saw here was that Tesco has a prescriptive set of KPIs telling operators how many people they should reply to and a flowchart telling them how to respond in a crisis. These two processes perhaps worked together to make Tesco suddenly appear less human and more like a robotic call centre. Like other Twitter outbursts such as the GAP logo change, this may not have a lasting effect on Tesco’s reputation in the short term. But all brands should remember that human operators are more than capable of appearing machinelike in certain situations. A coordinated, sincere, human response to a situation like this is really hard to pull off, but a modern social business has to aspire to it.

How do you encourage the people running your social presence to come up with a better solution? For me it has to start with measuring the right things. For example, if you measure the % of tweets you are responding to as a success metric, your team is left with no incentive to demand a change to the script when it’s really needed.  They’ll just keep on tweeting to hit their quota. It’s the same reason why direct marketing can become labelled as junk mail. The need to hit volumes outweighs the ambition to be targeted and relevant, and brands only entrench themselves deeper when social interactions go wrong.

This problem of blind process getting in the way of delivery has been solved elsewhere. In his excellent book “How to Measure Anything” Douglas Hubbard describes the early days of agile software development, where people measured the speed of work simply because it is an easy thing to quantify and optimise. But when these developers produced a large amount of features that no-one wanted to use, the realisation struck that a gauge closer to a consumer-facing outcome was needed.

So if our supposition is correct the first thing Tesco needs is a shift from speed-of-work based reporting to measurement based on outcomes.  In doing so its Twitter team would be empowered with the flexibility to identify an issue and elevate it internally (with the benefit of a linear organisation structure to provide the speed and level of authority needed), which would ultimately allow the brand to respond in a human and empathetic way.

Putting a face to a name

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Last week, my boiler broke down (bear with me I do have a point here). For two full days during one of the coldest weeks in the year I had no hot water or heating in my flat, and when I called British Gas I was quickly assured that an engineer would be round imminently to fix the problem.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the person on the other end of the phone was charming, personable and efficient. I hung up feeling like a valued (albeit rather cold) customer, secure in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be left to freeze. But no one turned up. Then, after waiting for more than ten hours, I had a call from the British Gas engineer to say he couldn’t make it that day and would come the next.

As a result, British Gas found its way into my bad books.

The point I want to make (see, I said I had one) is that despite the very good customer service I experienced from one part of the company (in this case, its call centre), the no-show and rather dismissive attitude of another part (the engineer) succeeded in tainting the whole of the British Gas brand for me. I even tweeted about it:

We at 1000heads are strong believers in the fact that in order to become successfully social, brands need to become more human. This is true both on and offline, whether the point of contact between a brand and an individual is someone sitting in a call centre, standing behind a counter or updating a Twitter feed or Facebook wall. People want to be able to put a face to a name, and a personality to a brand. That is what being social means.

But companies are often so preoccupied with ‘humanising’ and engaging people with certain aspects of their brand that they forget that for the average person, the brand is seen as a single entity; if they have a bad experience with one aspect of the organisation, then it will taint their perception of the brand as a whole.

The trick is to get the balance right. Being human should not mean losing sight of the overall message you want to promote, and being professional should not mean coming across as unapproachable or disconnected.

British Gas made the mistake of believing great call centre experiences are the key to customer loyalty, rather than customer service as a whole (although I should mention that it has since apologised and offered me compensation for the extra day I spent feeling like a polar bear in an ice storm). Others have cottoned on to the fact that maintaining a personable, human side to every aspect of their brand is crucial in making people believe and trust the services on offer. Take a look at this little gem. The sign could easily read “Please use other door”, but in saying so much more, it (ahem) says so much more about the brand beyond the doorway….

Persepolis, Peckham

Welcome back to the coffee house…

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

A certain little scandal in the UK right now involving The News of the World has left the nation’s journalism reeling, and posed some serious questions for the industry. How was this level of unethical behaviour allowed to happen? How do we prevent it from happening again? What are the standards of journalism now that anyone can blog news and opinions?

With freedom of speech vs regulation at the heart of the debate, some leading writers have touted word of mouth as the force that will evolve and transform the industry.

The Economist has written both a provocative leader and a full special report on the topic of how conversational culture is transforming news, from WikiLeaks to comments on online newspaper blogs.

Their basic premise? That

“…as news becomes more social, participatory, diverse and partisan, it is in many ways returning to the more chaotic, freewheeling and politically charged environment of the era before the emergence of mass media in the 19th century. And although the internet has proved hugely disruptive to journalists, for consumers—who now have a wider choice than ever of news sources and ways of accessing them—it has proved an almost unqualified blessing.”

According to new media author and columnist Jeff Jarvis, crowdsourced fact-checking will now be our only real way to achieve real accountability and reassure readers; “rather than enabling government and media to become even more entwined, we must explode their bonds and open up the business of both for all to see”.

The implication is that for the first time since mass media gained hegemony, we once again live in a public sphere which has regained its power to challenge closed systems and call bullshit. This affects individuals, governments, brands and previously untouchable media conglomerates.

All of them need to start learning how to harness it for good, rather than fearing, suppressing or ridiculing it.

If you’d like some ideas, get in touch ;)

Google v Microsoft; a question of ethics

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

On a recent trip around the web last week, I came across this old post by one Steven Hodgson writing for WinExtra -

He poses an interesting question: Why is it that what’s cool for Google is an ethical question for Microsoft?

Quote:

I remember when Google surprised everyone who was attending one of their conferences that had to do with Android with a free smartphone that had the current Android OS installed on it. They did the same thing when the Nexus was launched much to the delight of the attendees.

At no time when this was happening did anyone do anything but cheer Google on for coming up with a great marketing idea and ya it was a great idea.

Yet when Microsoft does the same thing like they did at their E3 event to announce the new Xbox 360 suddenly we have CrunchGear suggesting that there are ethical questions that we should be considering.

At 1000heads we adhere to a strict ethical policy across all engagements; be that through fostering relationships between brands and communities or simply through outreach and / or disruptive product trials – and it’s in this latter section that we come to Google v Microsoft.

I say it again: it’s an interesting dilemma and I consider the two examples to be slightly different; on one side you have a large global search/software company (dressed up as Android) trying to get its (at the time still relatively new) operating system into the homes of developers globally and on the other you’ve got a big gaming brand trying to make the biggest splash at the world’s largest electronic entertainment expo (E3).

Who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong?

Ethics are a constant discussion point here at 1000heads and I’m proud to say that ALL of our staff work hard (and often argue passionately) about what is right and what is wrong.

In the case of Microsoft v Google, where do you stand?

Pester Power

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

How powerful is it really?

My daughter has started a new school, and along with other pressures comes the need to be seen as ‘a good mum’.

Last Friday she announced she needed a blue nose. A request like this usually implies an entire costume is required at breakneck speed for an assembly or charity day.

“What do you need it for? I’m not sure I have a blue eyeliner…”

“Not a blue nose Mummy! A Blue Nose! It’s an animal with a blue nose – everyone in my class has one, but Emily says if you don’t want to, she will ask her mum to get me one.”

Okaaay. I look slyly at Lily. Does she realise she has just performed the most perfect piece of pester power? She smiles sweetly, “It’s true – she says she won’t mind!”

Five minutes later we’re at the toyshop. Bluenoses are ugly, unimaginative ‘plush’ creatures with dead eyes. I know it, she knows it. She keeps glancing furtively at the Sylvanian Family section. She’s wanted a Dalmatian baby for a while now….

I suggest a Bluenose key ring – visible the whole time on her bag but only £1.99. She accepts and I then buy her the Dalmatian baby anyway simply because she didn’t ask for it – bizarrely the second most perfect piece of pester power.

The reason I seem so weak is because I actually don’t have a problem with school crazes – they’re part of school life, and more often than not, they occur organically rather than are brand driven. I’ve asked around – the passion for Bluenoses isn’t replicated at any other schools around here – nor was the obsession with Mighty Beanz last year in my son’s class. Yes, they are designed as kid’s collectibles, but I think it just takes a couple of kids to kick-start it – and the herd follows.

But what happens to my point of view when a pester is clearly brand driven – usually through advertising or a website? I feel my shackles rising. Nothing annoys me more than a request for an obscure item that I must then go and research – only to find more stuff aimed at seducing kids.

So how am I feeling about the brand now?
What emotions am I attaching to it?

Ultimately, I still hold the purse strings, and nine times out of ten I will say no on principle. Yes, I know I’m tough, but I’m sure those parents who give in do so under duress rather than through warm feelings towards the brand.

By all means talk to the kids – but talk to the parents too. At 1000heads we go further than that. We will not target kids under 16 at all. We speak to parents, communities and often, schools too – in a language which seeks to inform, stresses the benefits and ultimately results in a positive attitude towards the brand. Instead of a one-way pester, you get a two-way conversation.

It’s an ethical decision – but a smart one too.

Is social media marketing to children ethical?

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

You may have seen on the news that the government has commissioned Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of charity Mother’s Union, to chair an independent review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood in Britain. Part of the review will involve looking at the impact of social media, brand ambassadors and “online marketing to children” in accelerating the process.

We’ve always been known for our very strong ethical stance on word of mouth, so it’s been great to discuss this with BBC Radio 4, who are going to be considering the review on World at One.

We recently produced a big piece of research for a media client on teenagers; we participate in academic debates around digital and kids; and our family brand specialist Carrie spends her time investigating the most effective and ethical family WOM strategies, so we feel we have a pretty good grounding in the issue.

We avoid engaging directly with kids – we see the ethics as simply too fragile. Our age limits are 16 for trials and 18 for events, and whenever clients approach us to talk about reaching out to children through word of mouth, we help them find alternative routes through communities, parents and schools.

This is equally, if not more successful – we’re targeting the purse holders after all, and kids simply aren’t ready to develop long term brand advocacy. What they experience at a young age may set up many of their future loyalties, but in that case we’ll help brands simply listen to what they want, and then work on their product development, packaging, retail strategy and so on to ensure that they’re offering is so damn great and relevant, the kids will love it enough to want to continue to use the brand now and then engage with them directly when they grow up.

This isn’t to say we outright condemn any word of mouth directly targeting teens – Random House’s Random Buzzers Teen Community for books is a nice example of a carefully moderated campaign. It’s just the way we choose to approach it.

What do you think?

How will the ASA’s extended remit affect word of mouth?

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) have been discussing extending the remit of the CAP code (UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing) for several months now, and this week the extent of the new digital coverage was announced.

Intended to prevent misleading marketing, ensure social responsibility and protect children, from next year the code will also apply online to:

  • Advertisers’ own marketing communications on their own websites; and
  • Marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The new code goes on to clarify what this means for user generated content. UGC will fall under the code as ‘marketing communications’ if it qualifies for the following criteria:

  • Did the website owner originally solicit the submission of UGC from private individuals, then adopt and incorporate it within their own marketing communications?
  • Did a private individual provide the website owner, on an unsolicited basis, with material which the website owner subsequently adopted and incorporated within their own marketing communications?
  • Does the content of the material and the form in which it is re-used by the marketer itself constitute an advertisement or marketing communication by the marketer?

The extension has been welcomed by the likes of the IAB (who have produced a useful set of FAQs on the extension) and DMA, and rightly so. The code is only there to prevent unethical activity and keep the distinction between marketing and consumer content clear, which is a principle at the very heart of word of mouth. As soon as peer to peer opinion gets ‘owned’, dictated or spun by brands, it loses the independent, trusted power that makes WOM such an effective force.

Here at 1000heads we provide people with opportunities to experience brands, which are inherently conversational – but we never dictate what consumers should say or censor that content. And we believe WOM should remain where it had most clout – out there on individuals’ own on and offline spaces, not editorialised on a branded silo. You can see our full ethics commitment here.

But what do you think? Do you believe this is just the start of increased regulatory control over UGC and social spaces? Will we see marketers held accountable soon or will it prove too tricky to enforce?

As President of WOMMA UK, with a close partnership with Reed Smith’s advertising compliance legal team ReACTS, and a member of the DMA Social Media Council, I’ll be keeping a close eye on how things develop, so let us know if you have any questions, suggestions or thoughts.

How will the ASA's extended remit affect word of mouth?

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) have been discussing extending the remit of the CAP code (UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing) for several months now, and this week the extent of the new digital coverage was announced.

Intended to prevent misleading marketing, ensure social responsibility and protect children, from next year the code will also apply online to:

  • Advertisers’ own marketing communications on their own websites; and
  • Marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The new code goes on to clarify what this means for user generated content. UGC will fall under the code as ‘marketing communications’ if it qualifies for the following criteria:

  • Did the website owner originally solicit the submission of UGC from private individuals, then adopt and incorporate it within their own marketing communications?
  • Did a private individual provide the website owner, on an unsolicited basis, with material which the website owner subsequently adopted and incorporated within their own marketing communications?
  • Does the content of the material and the form in which it is re-used by the marketer itself constitute an advertisement or marketing communication by the marketer?

The extension has been welcomed by the likes of the IAB (who have produced a useful set of FAQs on the extension) and DMA, and rightly so. The code is only there to prevent unethical activity and keep the distinction between marketing and consumer content clear, which is a principle at the very heart of word of mouth. As soon as peer to peer opinion gets ‘owned’, dictated or spun by brands, it loses the independent, trusted power that makes WOM such an effective force.

Here at 1000heads we provide people with opportunities to experience brands, which are inherently conversational – but we never dictate what consumers should say or censor that content. And we believe WOM should remain where it had most clout – out there on individuals’ own on and offline spaces, not editorialised on a branded silo. You can see our full ethics commitment here.

But what do you think? Do you believe this is just the start of increased regulatory control over UGC and social spaces? Will we see marketers held accountable soon or will it prove too tricky to enforce?

As President of WOMMA UK, with a close partnership with Reed Smith’s advertising compliance legal team ReACTS, and a member of the DMA Social Media Council, I’ll be keeping a close eye on how things develop, so let us know if you have any questions, suggestions or thoughts.

This post is not sponsored

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Twitter is well-known for its ecosystem and large range of apps. OneForty.com, the Twitter app store founded by Laura Fitton, has listed more than 2600 apps so far.

This morning I came across a Twitter tool called MyLikes while monitoring the latest tweets about word-of-mouth. The purpose of this service is to give cash to influencers to tweet what they like; they also have the option to donate earned amounts.

Domino’s  also recently launched a social ad programme which repays bloggers and social networkers whose readers click through on an ad widget. This new spin on traditional click-through advertising adds a murky element of incentivisation for page owners’ recommendations and opinions about the brand.

We always ask this question when confronted with mechanisms encouraging paid WOM:

is it strategically meaningful to pay influencers to talk about a product or a service?

I don’t think so.  Monetary rewards modify behaviors, attract money grabbers, encourage spamming forms of communication and in fact make the independent, trusted WOM even more valuable. Now, more than ever, people have the possibility (and the choice) to filter the noise and to refuse to listen.

You can’t buy word-of-mouth. You have to deserve it.

But do you disagree? Do you really think there is a place for paid WOM in the social sphere, if it is transparent, with appropriate disclaimers? Or do you feel, like I do, that it’s basically a waste of everyone’s time and money?