Is honesty the boldest action in marketing?

Here, I’ll look at First Direct’s Live campaign, which invited users to be part of its marketing by providing live comments, and ask why companies aren’t more transparent with their advertising.

One of the boldest actions in marketing this century has come from a reinvigorated player in a traditionally conservative sector. First Direct’s ‘Live’ campaign invited users to be part of its marketing by providing live comments about the retail bank.

How did it work?

A collection of sentiment data related to First Direct was collected from various media sites together with live customer service data that was directly pulled from its call centres.

This content was displayed on a specially made microsite. Consumer comments poured in at a rate of up to 100 per day over the four-week period. The site was the hub of a wider campaign of activity including online display, digital outdoor and PR.

What shocked me was the date – this campaign was run in 2009. Groundbreaking. On reflection, we could ask ourselves whether this campaign was ‘ahead of its time’ or just ‘a one-off and unrepeatable’. I haven’t seen anything similar since.

Why has it not happened again?

Could this be because at the time, this campaign could run safely and obscurely in a nascent Twitter world? I don’t believe that is the reason. Sure, Twitter was not as big as it is today (it was around 7% of its current size) but the campaign was still multichannel, and it was certainly not obscure.

Or is it just that creatives dismiss anything that is similar to what has been done before? If so, I see that as an unfortunately obstinate view.

You wouldn’t hear a Creative Director say, ‘No, we can’t do CGI in a commercial, because The National Food Processors Association has already done that’. That was way back in the 80s by the way.

Nor, ‘We can’t use celebrity endorsement, because Wedgwood already did that.’ This dates back to the 60s – the 1760s to be precise.

The originality argument is valid when it comes to the content – copying the content would definitely be unoriginal. But the use of transparency is a technique just like CGI or celebrity endorsement. The consumer’s perception of originality is dominated by the content, not the technique.

The most likely reason seems to be that brands fear that the sentiment would be negative. That is unfortunate, because actually, as we have found at Reevoo, many companies have little to fear. On average we see that 94% of consumers would buy again from the company they are reviewing (and yes, I agree with you, there is a self-selection bias at play here).

The importance of consistency

I call for businesses to use the power of transparency in advertising. Online banner ads are a simple way to start, but are still relatively obscure.

Even if they get millions of impressions, online banner ads are rarely seen. Some of our clients have put live scores in their ads – as you can imagine, trust is pretty important when you’re dealing with live data.

If the ad says the product scores an 8.9 out of 10, then upon clickthrough, the landing page had better say 8.9 as well.

‘Out of the home’ (or outdoor) advertising is the way to get more visibility. Integrating digital into the physical world is happening, and the number of digital billboards dramatically increasing is just a small part of that.

Although there is no clickthrough, the need for score consistency is still there; in the world of multichannel consumerism, people will use their smartphone at any time to get to your web presence on the go.

The road to total transparency

Displaying live scores is just dipping your toe in. Like First Direct Live, it’s easy to imagine reviews being displayed as they come in; but total transparency would mean both the good and the bad are there to be seen by all.

I understand that a move like that takes courage, but I cannot think of a single client of ours for whom the results would be negative. Nobody is perfect, and we know that bad reviews are actually good for business – especially if you react publicly to them.

That could (and even should!) be your message: “we’re not perfect, and in the rare case when we screw up, this is how we deal with it.”

At this point it is probably helpful to address the issue of spamming and trolling – give the public a stage and fools will show up.

First Direct Live dealt with it nicely, but it was open to anybody saying something about its brand; even if they were not a customer. A far safer and more powerful approach can be to use a closed system, where reviews only come from verified purchasers.

The iconic outdoor digital board in Piccadilly Circus has been the showcase for some interesting advertising, notably the British Airways #LookUp campaign with live air traffic data feeding into the ad.

Who will be the first to stream live reviews in Piccadilly Circus? In Times Square? It takes confidence, but transparency sells. If you know you’re good, you can deal with the odd bad review.

And finally, let’s think about TV. The technology is there; betting companies often insert the live odds in their half-time TV ads.

Including the average score and total number of reviews is not actually that difficult and is very convincing. Getting the live text in on the other hand – that is not quite as simple to fit into 30 seconds. It takes an incredible amount of courage to automatically feature the latest review, unseen by the brand beforehand.

Whoever does it should be applauded loudly for their courage and transparency. Perfectionism is expected in advertising. Break the expectation and become credible.