There is perhaps something innately human in the desire to correct mistakes. And that desire is sometimes accompanied with a certain sense of glee or even smugness in the observer. Some might even call it schadenfreude. And in the never-ending marketing quest to cut through noise on social, a number of brands are making mistakes on purpose with the specific intention of tapping into this human behavior, or at the least, to pique consumers’ interest. Recent/notable examples have come from brands like Hostess, as well as Monster.com and JCPenney.
While making a mistake can be quite powerful on a single occasion, it’s a strategy with somewhat limited effectiveness in terms of repeatability. So, other than snagging consumers’ attention in a single moment, why do brands do it? And what do other brands need to know before trying out this strategy?
We talked to the brands themselves, as well as advertising executives, to find out.
For major league baseball’s Opening Day, snack brand Hostess posted a tweet that jumbled sports lingo with the caption, “Touchdown.”
It is perhaps the most recent example of brands purposely making mistakes in order to generate buzz and/or to make a point.
“Since embarking on the ‘Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever’ nearly two years ago, Hostess has employed a strategy aimed at contemporizing the brand. The bolder approach has been particularly visible in the brand’s social media platforms,” according to Ellen Copaken, senior director of marketing at Hostess. “The ‘Touchdown’ line was intentional; it’s fun and aimed at young audiences who are in on the running joke — which, of course, is the goallll.”
The tweet itself generated about 1,400 retweets and 950 favorites and an unscientific review of the comments reveals a mix of confusion and/or consumers jumping to correct Hostess’ mistake, as well as those laughing at what they believe to be Hostess’ own confusion and still more Twitter users extending the joke further with additional sports metaphors.
Hostess certainly isn’t the first brand to attempt to capture consumer attention in this manner. For its part, employment website Monster congratulated the wrong team as the 2015 Super Bowl victor in a tweet that also highlighted the brand’s own services.
Monster, which has previously advertised in the Super Bowl, but opted out in Super Bowl XLIX, wanted to still participate in the moment and in kicking around ideas, settled on the concept of congratulating the wrong team, said Matt Anchin, Monster’s senior vice president of global communications.
“A lot of people were nervous. A lot of the company is Boston-based, so if [New England] lost and we said, ‘Congratulations,’ we were not sure if we would have employees with torches and pitchforks,” Anchin said.
In addition, the brand knew many viewers would see the tweet on mobile devices and Twitter would only display the thumbnail, so only those users who actually clicked on the tweet would see the complete message and understand the joke.
Indeed, many of the initial comments point to Monster’s mistake until, Anchin said, “The crowd did what everyone hopes for, which is self-policing and correcting, jumping in to say, ‘It was a joke! They did it on purpose.’”
The goal was to come up with “some entertaining and engaging tweets” and “something that sparks conversation” among millennials, Anchin said.
The tweet itself resulted in 4,400 retweets and 2,700 favorites, and, Anchin said, the brand saw a 1,700 percent increase in activity from a typical Sunday. In addition, he notes, “We saw a few people delete their tweets when they realized they totally missed it and before we could count them and analytics could get them.”
What’s more, Anchin said, some employees within Monster wanted to repeat the effort for other events like the Oscars, but “we decided to take a much more judicious approach. I think it will lose its value if we overplay it.”
However, he said, “We would definitely do it again if we felt it was a good and opportune moment.”
Retailer JCPenney, too, opted for an in-game mistake strategy for the 2014 Super Bowl in a series of typo-laden tweets that the brand later revealed to be the result of #TweetingWithMittens.
“With the game taking place outdoors in cold weather, we thought it could be a fun way to promote our Go USA mittens…especially with the Olympics just around the corner,” said Kate Coultas, senior manager of media relations and corporate affairs at JCPenney.
According to Coultas, the first tweet generated 15 retweets per second and the entire series of tweets ultimately received more than 50,000 retweets. The brand also gained 8,500 followers that night.
In addition, the brand didn’t want to wait for a spontaneous real-time moment, as Oreo did in the 2013 Super bowl.
“Ultimately, instead of trying to find the perfect tweet for the perfect moment, we essentially created our own strategy. In the process, other brands even drafted off of us to find their own moment,” she said. That includes Kia and Doritos.
“If you factor in that the game was a slow and people were looking for entertainment on their second screen it ended up being a perfect storm,” she added.
Per Coultas, the initiative garnered nearly 300 million media impressions and an ExactTarget study found JCPenney was the second most talked about brand on Twitter during the Super Bowl and the fifth most mentioned.
“This was our first time we’ve done something like this before and perhaps we would consider [it] again should it be appropriate for the situation,” she said.
A Brief History Of Misdirection
This strategy is nothing new, according to Brian Harris, creative director at advertising agency BaM. In fact, he said so-called misdirection in advertising goes back to the Mad Men era with advertising creative director William Bernbach’s infamous “Lemon” ad for Volkswagen.
“It was shocking to people that a company would run an ad that seemingly called the product a lemon,” Harris said. “Of course, this tickled the curiosity of the reader who would then read the copy to discover that the car pictured above was a lemon because the inspector at the factory noticed there was a blemish on the glove compartment, which was then fixed. The point was that they actually had a higher standard of what ‘lemon’ meant than other car manufacturers.”
Further, Harris notes that even though this tactic was a success for Volkswagen, it is still only used selectively.
“Most marketers don’t have the stomach to risk relying on the curiosity of the reader or viewer. Every copywriter can tell you a story about how marketers generally fear negativity in any form to the point of never using words like ‘never’ or ‘not’ or ‘no’ in headlines,” he said. “Social is opening the doors to a more daring type of marketer, but I wouldn’t say that there has been some sort of risk revolution.”
So where does that leave brands that want to perhaps leverage this strategy? What should they do?
Here are five insights from agency executives.
1. Don’t Mess With Consumers Just To Mess With Them
There has to be a strategy behind the campaign and the creative has to be top-notch.
It’s a marketer’s job to shape how consumers think about a brand or product, said Eric Fulwiler, social media director at Mullen.
“That emotional path doesn’t always have to be linear – you don’t have to always just tell someone exactly what to think. In fact, sometimes it can be more effective to take them down a more interesting path with a few twists and turns,” he said. “When people figure something out on their own it’s much more effective. And that’s not just marketer-speak. There are plenty of psychological studies out there that prove how emotional participation impacts memory and association.”
Fulwiler goes on to call the Monster post “brilliant.”
“It pulls you in, makes you gasp in shock, then guides you to the solution yourself,” he said, also pointing to another good example in Snickers’ recent extension of the “You’re not you when you’re hungry”-campaign with YouTube vloggers posting uncharacteristic videos.
2. Do It If It Advances Your Brand Voice, POV & Purpose
That’s according to Susan Credle, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett.
“If not, this technique is trolling and just because you are brand does not mean it is any more acceptable,” she said.
Dennis Claus, group director of mobile and social platform at R/GA, agrees brands need a specific goal with this technique. The Monster tweet was carefully designed with a clear tie to the brand message. JCPenney, however, missed the mark because the 2014 Super Bowl wasn’t actually as cold as it was expected to be.
“[It] was predicted it was going to be very cold – one of coldest in the history of mankind – but it was in the 50s or 60s…so it felt very unnatural when it turned out to not be cold, but they still [used mittens],” Claus said.
3. Stay Away From Devout Fan Bases
“If Hostess made a joke about Zayn Malik leaving One Direction, they would have had a full-out Twitter riot on their hands,” Harris said. “I think they felt safe with baseball, because the average fan is older [and] not as likely to be on Twitter and even the least knowledgeable sports fan knows the difference between touchdown and home run. It was truly surprising to see how many people took the bait and tried to correct them.”
4. Find Opportunities In Trends & Events People Care About
Any trend or topic that people care about offers an opportunity for brands to use this approach.
While the three earlier examples had ties to sports, Fulwiler said the tactic isn’t necessarily specific to sports, but rather to cultural trends or events.
However, Claus said he doesn’t think it is a coincidence that so many examples have sports ties because sports are popular and it’s easy to make mistakes with them.
“People are very passionate and so if you troll them, you’ll get a lot of response,” Claus said. “If you highlight the wrong winner of a chess tournament, you won’t get a response, but if you misname the winner of the Super Bowl, you’ll get backlash.”
5. Consider The Consequences
Purposeful mistakes cut through the noise on social, to be sure, but they don’t necessarily create relevant engagement. So: Don’t just look at the short-term attention, but also consider the long-term implications, Claus said.
“It’s important with schadenfreude marketing and troll marketing to think beyond one day of glory and to really consider the consequences,” he added.
What’s your take? Is it a mistake for brands to purposefully make mistakes, or is it good marketing?