Friday, November 20, 2009

The wrong kind of trouble

I have quite strong opinions, but Plan Phoenix is not the platform to discuss Afghanistan or Gordon Brown's spelling or Stephen Gately's death or Jan Moir's opinions.

Still, the furore kicked up by the Sun's PM couldn't get our name right and the Mail's strange, lonely and troubling death made interesting media experiences. The dominant response to both seemed to be that each paper got it wrong. And this was in evidence even on the papers' own website comment sections - large portions of their own readership reacted quite strongly.

It is easy to get the audience wrong by taking them for granted. On the editors' desks both articles probably seemed well aligned to editorial policy and to the readership's attitudes. But many readers quickly rejected the implicit assumptions about their own prejudices. They had overstepped the mark from a conspiratorial pastiche of the consumer (like the Lynx effect) to a crude caricature.

Some of the complaining readers were not regular ones. In a user generated world there's no guarantee who is participating and strong propositions attract enemies as easily as friends. But both papers' reputations were tarnished in the process, even if some of the outrage was from people who sit well outside the brands' avowed consumer profiles.

Both brands are divisive, but at least they stand for something - demanding attention and generating loyalty. Only big incumbent brands can afford to be bland, and even then its probably a bad strategy. Most of us need to offend people from time to time. So here are two more tasks to add to the brand manager's brief:
1) Am I actively managing the boundary between complicity and condescension with my consumer?
2) Am I creating ways to proactively engage rejectors, even if I do not want to win them over?