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‘Another speck in the wall of noise’: should brands stop jumping on every trend?


By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

September 27, 2022 | 8 min read

As news happens and content calendars reign, some brands try to be heard at every opportunity. But, learning from the more misguided responses to Queen Elizabeth II’s death, should they sometimes stay shtum? We asked five marketing and PR experts.

A line of people on camels in the desert

Is following the group always the smartest strategy in social and PR? Maybe not, 5 experts tell us / Chandler Chen via Unsplash

Julio Taylor, chief executive officer, Hallam

I see why brands feel the need to jump on topical trends. If it suits the brand or your values, sure, get involved – but there’s an assumption that being ‘on-topic’ is going to grow awareness or even that it’s ‘doing the right thing.’ This isn’t always the case. By merging into the great big crowd of others doing exactly the same, you end up achieving the opposite, becoming another speck in the wall of noise. I urge brands to think twice before getting involved for the sake of exposure alone; brand loyalty takes years to grow, but decays quickly.

The ability to stay true to the integrity of their brand vision is what separates Apple and Nike from the many competitors they left in their wake. These brands are bigger than transient trends; they transcend them. Although it’s understandable that certain global events like the death of Queen Elizabeth II will impact brand activity in certain countries or sectors, the single-minded pursuit of their own unique destiny is what sets apart the great brands from the rest. That trend will never change.

Sophie Owers, senior creative, Jellyfish

When you’re frantically trying to fill a content calendar or impress with topicality, it can be tempting to fall back on events with the hope that their supposed relevance will equal reach, but it’s important to filter them through the same lens as any other post you create. Ask yourself: which of our brand’s social strategy goals does this support? Is this occasion relevant to our target audience? Do we have something to add to this conversation (even just humor)?

Look at Netflix: it won’t comment on your National Sausage Sandwich Day* just because it’s there, but it will bring you recommendations for spooky watches in October because that’s a known audience behavior, and subscribers need help sifting through its catalog.

*This may or may not be a real day.

Steve Baker, head of PR, Propellernet

Before using a major or topical event, every brand should ask themselves: ‘Is it relevant to what we do or stand for?’ It should be a genuine, rather than tenuous, connection, and there should be far more events that you don’t try and tie in with than those that you do.

Only brands known for (or trying to be known for) being humorous or risky can use a wide range of broad topical events to their advantage. For others, it will be transparent that you’re merely jumping on the bandwagon.

A brand that does this particularly well is Paddy Power. It knows its audience inside out, has developed a wry sense of humor, and uses this to weave together relevant cultural references and sporting events to build a following and maximize engagement.

Polly Astill, senior marketing manager, Impression

I would advise brands against jumping at every opportunity. In doing so, your audience may begin to question your authenticity and whether you have a hidden agenda, despite good intentions.

To determine which events your business should respond to, know what you stand for. Consider whether reacting to a trend/event aligns with your mission, vision and values, and whether it ties into your marketing strategy. Does your input align with your positioning, or could your audience perceive you to be merely following in others’ footsteps?

When responding to sensitive matters, like the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, consider and balance the risk of not saying something v saying the wrong thing. Sense-check your ideas with your wider team.

When you do react to a major event, have a clear reason why. Strategic decision-making consists not only of choosing what to do, but also what not to do.

Adam Smith, managing director, Rawnet

When we’ve been guilty of jumping on trends in the past, it was to do with having nothing else to say and a lazy approach to marketing. Pointless KPIs such as updates per week led to brands always looking to pivot their messaging into something topical. I now have a strong view on piggyback marketing: I don’t like it. At best you’ll find a pun; at worst it’s a forced tenuous link. Before thinking of something to say, think about what the best-case scenario is.

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Brands do it because it gives a sense of fast and responsive turnarounds, but do you want to be known as a company that can throw out a poorly executed piece of messaging within the hour, or for nailing your marketing through intelligent and thoughtful content?

The potential for damage far outweighs any benefit. You’ve only got to look at the backlash around how some brands handled Elizabeth II’s death, such as Playmobil’s tweet a few hours after the news.

If someone truly has nothing to say or is at a total loss about any marketing plan, they’re likely to create a content calendar around generic events and crowbar themselves into the spotlight. To what end? A strong brand with an opinion doesn’t need to rely on news or an event calendar to be relevant. And don’t even get me started on a brand’s unwavering willingness to virtual signal at every possible moment. It doesn’t fool anyone into thinking that they care.

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