News Exchange: Innovation or intervention?

News Exchange: Innovation or intervention?

Four marketing stories have caught our eye in the last couple of weeks. With varying degrees of success, businesses from Lush to KFC have all broken new ground…
Lush quits social media

Cosmetics retailer Lush drew gasps of surprise when it revealed it was shutting down its social media accounts. Announcing the plan on its, er, Instagram page, the bath bomb specialist said: “We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. So we’ve decided it’s time to bid farewell to some of our social channels and open up the conversation between you and us instead.” Lush leaves behind 569,000 followers on Instagram, 202,000 Twitter followers and 423,000 Facebook likes. Enviable numbers all, so what’s it up to?

“It’s an announcement that’s earned the business a lot of headlines,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. “And it’s not quite as radical a move as it first appears.” Indeed, Lush itself said in that Instagram post, “This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new.” While it now encourages customers to make one-to-one contact via its website, email or even telephone, it also hopes to promote its #lushcommunity via enhanced influencer marketing.

“The #lushcommunity isn’t fully up and running yet, so there’s a chance they’ll lose customers after the shutdown,” advises Butler. “Hopefully there’s a strong, strategic reason behind this decision, but right now that’s not clear. At a time when the dangers of social media are in the spotlight, perhaps they want to be pioneers.”

Pioneers, of course, take risks to explore new areas, with mixed results. For a beauty brand to abandon Instagram, with all of its potential for promoting the aesthetic aspect of its products, is certainly risky. “I want Lush to succeed,” says Butler. “If they can build an organic community without relying on the big social media platforms, perhaps they will encourage others to reduce their reliance on them. That would certainly be no bad thing.”

Age of no consent

Last week the Guardian reported that dozens of UK businesses – including law firms, estate agencies and training companies – are using artificial intelligence to monitor staff. Working in real time, StatusToday’s Isaak system collects data on workers’ meeting schedules, use of email and other files and analyses this data to rank staff; in turn creating profiles that define individual workers as ‘influencers’ or ‘change-makers’.

Trade unions say the system creates distrust, academics warn it will encourage workers to abandon activities that are not accounted for (e.g. creative thinking) and CIM marketing director Gemma Butler also believes it is unhelpful. “In its current form, this can only encourage presenteeism. It might also have a detrimental impact on well-being – for example, if there is a disconnect between a worker’s self-image and their Isaak score – and could downplay the value of collaborative activities.”

The top-down imposition of the system is also problematic. “This is one to mark down as ‘test and learn’,” says Butler. “In particular, businesses need to recognise that, as well as creating a value exchange with customers, they need to create one with employees. In the age of GDPR, acting without consent is simply not going to play well.”

Tables turn on KFC

Last time out, this column was impressed by KFC’s willingness to take creative risks in its ad campaigns. A couple of weeks on and, just as it looked like it might have cracked its strategy, the fried chicken specialist has been left with egg on its face.

In Miami at the end of last month, KFC activated Colonel Sanders for a five-minute set at Ultra Music Festival. While dance-music connoisseurs closed their ears to the colonel’s “trashy, out-of-time” beats, brand activation specialists had their hands over their eyes.

“This is what can happen when you’re using widespread, sporadic marketing tactics,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. “You will get some misses among the hits. In this case, the execution was poor but, in terms of the overall strategy, I would still like to see KFC carry on doing what it’s doing. At a time when consumers are getting better at blocking ads in other channels, this is an interesting kind of integration to at least be exploring.”

For this particular misstep, the blame probably needs to be shared. “The festival let KFC do this,” Butler points out. “It let KFC force-feed its audience a chicken advert. The pair of them should probably have just agreed to hand out some free drumsticks.”

Accenture buys into branding

Accenture has been on a spending spree. In the last couple of weeks, the management consulting giant has bought renowned New York-based creative agency Droga5 and similarly esteemed Madrid-based agency Shackleton. Its new acquisitions are designed to bolster and broaden an Accenture Interactive offshoot that had already been strengthened by the additions of creative agencies in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

In the words of Accenture Interactive global chief Brian Whipple, “The future of brand building is not just about creating great ideas; it’s about creating great experiences.” Clearly, Accenture believes that clients want more than just an eye-catching ad campaign for their branding money – and that it is now the company to deliver on these needs. What does this mean for incumbent marketing agencies?

“There’s no doubt expectations are changing,” says CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone. “A full-stack consulting agency that can take on – and improve – entire consumer experiences is a great idea on paper. Now that Accenture has used its financial muscle to buy its way to that status, there is just one question: how does a traditionally independent agency like Droga5 integrate with a big corporate agency – without losing any of the creativity that made it so desirable to Accenture in the first place?”

While we wait to find out if the new pairing will hit it off, marketing incumbents will need to think about how they can match the breadth of Accenture’s new offer. “As a management consultant, Accenture already has top-level access to client businesses,” advises Lee-Boone. “It is well used to talking business strategy in the C-suite. This is what marketing agencies need to work on: they can’t just appeal to CMOs anymore; they need to appeal directly to CIOs and CEOs too.”

Ready for innovation? Take a look at the latest opportunities available on CIM Marketing Jobs

Tobias Gourlay Journalist
Gemma Butler Marketing Director CIM
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