The Pros and Cons of Edgy Marketing in the Digital Age

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    Edgy Marketing in the Digital Era: Pros and Cons

    One of the most common questions for clients to ask us today is, “How far is too far when it comes to edgy marketing?”. Competition for audiences across all forms of media is at an all-time high, and for brands that are struggling to break through the idea of ‘any publicity is good publicity’ starts calling. While I’ll never agree that any publicity can have good aspects (disagree? Let’s hear your thoughts – catch me on Twitter @nomorecrisis), if your brand voice doesn’t feel out of place doing something that walks that line then it’s not a complete no-go, you just need to be careful.

    So, what protections should brands put in place to prevent marketing efforts from crossing that line and sparking outrage or worse?

    The answer for this one is short, but time and budget-related constraints often mean this critical piece of crisis prevention is cut early, only to have missteps create greater costs down the line… Brands need to have a specific person or small committee dedicated to asking, “What could go wrong with this marketing effort?”, and give them confidence they won’t be canned for putting the kibosh on an ‘almost complete’ ad or plan. If possible these filters should be familiar with the brand but not full-insiders, as it’s often tough for those closest to these projects to take an objective viewpoint.

    With success in social media marketing so often equated to speed, how do we avoid missing out?

    I’ll borrow a phrase from the Navy SEALS here that applies to almost anything you can think of: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. While speed is a factor in social media marketing, risk assessment and dynamic adjustments to new information can’t be discarded. Your speed comes from advanced preparation and planning, including making crisis or reputation management protocols part of day-to-day operations so you aren’t faced with a massive checklist when it’s time to get a project out the door now. Yes, speed is a big part of many marketing efforts, particularly if you’re trying to capitalize on current events or engage in the type of publicity-grabbing sparring that brands like Wendy’s have taken to new heights, but remember – being first is meaningless if you’re charging into your own destruction.

    Stop and think…

    While successfully playing the edge can be a powerful tool for earned media that far outvalues your spending, it’s not for everyone. Before investing the money and energy into vetting a full campaign give some serious thought to whether your brand should even be swimming in those waters. Take a serious look at your audiences, work to understand their expectations, and before taking the plunge make sure you’ve built up enough goodwill to absorb a minor fail and quick apology to boot!

    [Erik Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy.]

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