From storytelling to ‘contagious truthtelling’

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In a world dominated by social media, PR spin has been made redundant. We are in a new communication age of ‘contagious truthtelling’ where brand truths generate contagious sharing and reputational advantage, says Good Relations’ Tim Browne.

Abraham Lincoln famously said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

In 2015, when consumers are demanding greater transparency and authenticity from brands than ever before, we anticipate a ‘flight to authenticity’.

There are a number of major factors driving this. First, a series of global corporate crises of reputation, such as Tesco’s profit overstatement, HSBC’s tax avoidance issue and the horse meat scandal, have all significantly damaged consumer trust.

Second, the accelerating pace of digital technology means that truth is more accessible than ever before. Furthermore, the rise in social networking has generated a wave of activism from well-informed and media savvy consumers.

In a world dominated by social media, where bloggers and citizen journalists proliferate and there are 9,134 tweets per second, ‘spin’ no longer works.

BP felt the brunt of this when it failed to admit the true scale of the issue when its oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. This gave rise to social media activism that drowned out paid advertising, including a parody BP Twitter account that was followed by more than 180,000 users. As a result, BP fell off Interbrand’s list of top brands.

This same digital explosion has flipped marketing on its head. The rise of digital content platforms has, for the first time, given brands an unmediated link to their consumers. With more than 100,000 YouTube videos viewed every second, brands are in a better position than ever before to tell their own stories and become content producers and publishers in their own right. At the intersection of these two trends is the distinct need to make content that is authentic.

At Good Relations, we set out to measure the power of authenticity with a proprietary piece of consumer research called Triple G.

Among other measures, consumers were asked to score brands on ‘good actions’ (‘I think they are truthful in what they say’) and ‘good recommendations’ (how strongly they are prepared to recommend the brand). Our analysis of the results shows that authenticity drives recommendation. Trust is what drives people to listen to, recommend and return to a brand.

We are entering a new communications age where a new approach to brand building is required. We have defined this approach as ‘contagious truthtelling’ – the act of uncovering and expressing to a market, through earned and owned channels, authentic brand truths so as to generate contagious sharing and reputational advantage.

We deliver this approach through ‘brand newsroom’ teams, made up of expert planners, creatives and digital and media specialists. This enables us to create streams of creative content born from compelling brand truths and get these into the hands of the right people at the right time to spread them contagiously.

By using truths about its origin, beer Pilsner Urquell has achieved higher levels of engagement, with a recent video receiving one million organic views

We have used this to great effect on clients such as premium lager Pilsner Urquell and aircraft manufacturer Airbus. Three years ago, Pilsner Urquell was having a difficult time differentiating itself from other premium lagers, despite increasing consumer excitement about great beers and the craft beer scene.

To make the beer relevant to these broader conversations, we went back to what we knew – the truth. Pilsner Urquell is the original golden lager, still brewed in Pilsen, Czech Republic, in the original way. This care, quality and heritage makes the beer very relevant to discerning beer drinkers, who are looking for authentic brands with layers of interest to discover. To make this truth compelling, we created a new brand world using real-time news and features to provide a constant flow of ‘truthtelling’.

Since then, we have been telling truths about how the beer is made, who makes it and where it is produced, as well as creating content around food and craftsmanship. We have even held events that let people experience these truths in new and exciting ways.

The content we have created for Pilsner Urquell has much higher engagement levels than the category average. A recent video has achieved one million organic views in just three months.

Truthtelling requires a brand to take a position it believes in and hold it, even if the going gets tough. The recent furore over Protein World’s ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign demonstrates this. The perceived fat shaming in the ad outraged certain groups, leading to the ad being attacked both online and offline.

Knowing that those who disapproved of their ads were unlikely to ever want to purchase the product, the brand was unperturbed when responding to negative tweets with comments like “Why make your insecurity our problem?”. Their £250,000 media spend turned into a viral phenomenon, reaping £1m in direct sales revenue as a result.

Contagious truthtelling is also an effective business-to-business tool, as demonstrated by our ‘Comfort’ campaign for Airbus. The company challenged us to make an 18-inch-wide seat the standard for future long-haul economy air travel, to gain leverage over competitors offering a 17-inch-wide seat.

Good Relations commissioned a sleep centre based in London’s Harley Street to produce a scientific study on aircraft seats. The truth we uncovered demonstrated that one extra inch in seat width delivered a 53% improvement in sleep quality. The story became contagious, making headlines globally and going viral online.

We launched the campaign to coincide with the Dubai Airshow, ensuring that we dominated conversation throughout the event. We executed global media outreach via integrated social and traditional media, which generated 74.3 million impressions on Twitter and over 1,000 pieces of media coverage globally.

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One hundred and fifty years after Lincoln’s death, things have clearly changed. We believe that today “you can’t fool any of the people, any of the time” and it is why we have built our agency around the contagious truthtelling model.

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