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Brand FOMO: The risks (and remedies) that come along with fear of missing out


By Guy Gouldavis, VP of strategy

February 23, 2017 | 5 min read

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is one we all had as teenagers - wondering if a great experience was happening that we were not part of.

Credit: Absolut

Absolut launched its new lime flavor during the Grammy Awards with a campaign called "RefreshTheTalk"

Today those most suffering from FOMO are brands. Brands and those that care for them fear not being a part of the right cultural moments. The speed with which cultural moments evolve today heightens this fear of missing out.

But, there are serious consequences for brands that react because of a FOMO when they act the wrong way. Saying or doing the wrong thing in the vast social sphere does more than fragment a brand or squander a budget. The downside of FOMO and knee-jerk reaction has the potential to alienate fans and even create a backlash.

These six principles below give marketers a way to approach cultural moments and choose the ones best for the brand, while steering clear of the risks.

1. Don't believe the brand radicalization hype

Just because recent political development has prompted some mainstream brands to be highly vocal on divisive issues, doesn't mean it heralds a new era of brand extremism. People welcome brands supporting a cause when it is authentic to its purpose and values and when it is done without being radical or divisive.

One brand who did this well was Absolut. Absolut promoted its pro-social conscience through its "Refresh the Talk” effort at this year’s Grammy’s via a red carpet tie-in with singer Santigold and Skylar. Santigold’s LED clutch was an accessory that literally delivered messages about women’s rights and empowerment through the evening supported by the brands social messaging.

2. Begin with an assessment of brand fit

Corvette’s tribute to Prince’s death in 2016 was a good fit given his reference to the brand in one of his classic songs. But the connection to Cheerios and Hamburger Helper was a bit of a stretch, and as a result they faced some consumer take downs in social media. So too for Popeye’s and Denny’s sunning themselves in the spotlight following the recent announcement that Beyonce is expecting twins.

3. Money doesn’t buy authenticity

Jiff’s sponsorship of the US Olympic team in 2016 represents an increasingly outdated marketing approach: buying goodwill by merchandising a donation. It left them trying to deepen the brand fit through a product link and the resulting campaign ‘Nourishing dreams. Jif…what if.’ The approach comes across as trying too hard to connect Jif to the dreams of athletes and as a result it feels inauthentic.

4. Use culture for strategic as well as short-term goals

Fleeting moments may characterize the speed culture moves but they can be exploited successfully for bigger strategic ends – affirming what a brand stands for. In 2015 REI used Black Friday to powerfully affirm its support for the environment and its broader mission: to help more people get out and enjoy the outdoors. Giving back all its $15mm Black-Friday profits has become a defining act for the brand and one that it continues to evolve year after year.

5. When it’s cause related, actions speak louder than words

Talk is cheap. Brands are held to higher standards today and actions – not intentions – carry more weight, as they reflect a brand’s commitment. But all actions are not created equal. Adidas has focused on a rising cultural concern for ocean pollution. Together with Parley they are taking action to reduce pollution by recycling ocean plastic into performance footwear. It’s a no brainer as its shoes are almost entirely made of plastic. But the investment, planning and logistics across design, manufacturing and distribution is testament to a much bigger commitment than a donation to buy goodwill.

6. Lead, fast-follow or don’t bother

It’s one thing for people to contribute to a meme long after it began but it’s a risky prospect for brands. #Mannequinchallenge first appeared in late October 2016 and was picked up by brands shortly after. Those brands in early on the meme earned enviable limelight but it faded quickly the following month. Even though December saw 1.65 million tweets overall, the reach of brand tweets fell 90% compared with November. Cultural moments have relatively short-shelf lives and evolve fast. Companies have to be organized to mobilize quickly or risk seeming un-cool in the attempt to be hip.

Guy Gouldavis is VP of strategy at TVGla

REI Advertising Absolut

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