March 2017


“That’s not what I was trying to say!”

The latest brand outrage from the internet is the fallout from the Cooper’s Brewery “Keeping it Light” campaign.

In a nutshell.

Coopers have released a light beer commemorating their sponsorship of The Bible Society.

The beers have bible quotes on the label. “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.” John 3:21 That sort of thing.

The Bible Society (or Coopers, it’s unclear exactly who decided to expand the reach of the campaign and both Coopers and the society are backing away from the kerfuffle like it’s a turd bomb in a wedding shop) also ran a piece of online content (part of the “Keeping it Light” campaign) with two South Australian Liberal politicians “Keeping it Light” on Marriage Equality. One was pro-equality. One was anti-equality. It was all very civil. They had a beer. End scene. And, curtain.

Or maybe not.

It wasn’t long before wrath descended like a storm of tomatoes coming in from the cheap seats. These have included, pointed rage, general disbelief, the gnashing of teeth, promises of unholy retribution and claims like, “Corporate sponsored religion-based politics”, “Anti-intellectualism” and “Business should not push a religious agenda.”

The question is not, “What can brands learn from this?” but, “Where do you start?”

Let’s start with the collision of naivety and ambition.

The Bible Society probably thought they were promoting a gentler, less-divisive discussion.

Which, from my limited understanding of Christianity, seems to be the whole point.

It seems to fit. And it’s not like religion and alcohol have not had a long and meaningful relationship.

I don’t think they believed, for a minute, they were deliberately taking the mickey. One side said, “I agree with marriage equality”. The other side, “I don’t”. They have a beer and a chat and nothing gets decided, but at least they’re talking and, hey, isn’t that a good start.

The society probably also thought it might be a good chance to spread the word – a new platform, a gentle reminder of the good stuff in the book, a tentative embrace of a new media, a current hot topic they could coat-tail in on.

The trouble for the nobler minds at the society is not so much what is in the bible, but how the bible has been used.

While they see their product as a genuine force for good, many of the people they included, by proxy, in the discussion, have had “The Bible” thrown at them so often they feel like St Sebastian during archery practice.

It's not what you say, it's what they hear

The Bible Society don’t want to ram their opinions down people’s throats, but do want to raise awareness. They needed a relevant topic. Marriage Equality. Sure. Let’s start there.

The brewery, as is their right, is leveraging a commercial relationship, and trying to do so in a respectful way.

Quotes on the can.

Some light-hearted banter.

Blokes having a beer together.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Perhaps, if I might be so bold, it’s not the cake they were trying to bake, but the ingredients they were using.

Beer. Conservative politics. The Bible. Christian fundamentalism. Commercialism. South Australia. Saint Sebastian. Civil liberty. Marriage equality. Leviticus. Emotion. Generations of shame and guilt. A tsunami of rage. Cat videos. Hops. Yeast. Water.

The issue for Coopers is they have tried to weigh in on a very sore point with their usual light-hearted, beer-geek bonhomie. Perhaps naïve. Certainly ill-considered. (Especially for a brand which likes to be seen as vaguely intellectual.)

For the people most affected by the marriage equality question, civil liberty isn’t something conservative politicians should even attempt to be light-hearted about.

The issue for The Bible Society is religion and politics and civil liberties and commercialism go together like weapons-grade plutonium and an arming system.

The people who decided to run the campaign probably thought they were giving people a chance to start a conversation. To see another perspective. To be “slow to talk and quick to listen.”

The people who saw the campaign probably thought it was yet another fireball coming over the walls of their own private Jerusalem from the conservative Christian lobby.

And, while that is not necessarily how the idea was born, that is how the idea was received.

Which brings us to the lesson for the day.

Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what the customer believes it to be.

The danger of running a great ad

I do like the KFC “Shut up and take my money” campaign.

Or rather, to be clear, I do like the first two ads in the series.

The sleazy boss buying lunch for his overworked staff.

And the delightful retirement home ad. 

I would love to say they’re Australian made.

Sadly, I don’t believe they are.

For a couple of reasons.

The fashion. It just screams Florida Retirement Home.

The way it was shot.

The delightfully just-overplayed acting.

A delightfully tongue-in-cheek scenario that had a simple message, “It’s easy to make friends with KFC”. And showed that even tight-arses can afford the greasy goodness that makes them seem generous.

The ads show a level of maturity from KFC I’ve never seen before and made me believe they might just have turned a corner.

It made me want to buy some KFC. For the first time in a long time. KFC! Oooh, my.

Then, last night, I saw the new version. Kids in the car.

An Australian addition to the campaign.

From the looks of the ad, a much cheaper offering.

Less post-production. Simpler editing. Less nuanced acting.

And a simple message, “KFC is so tempting, I would abrogate all responsibility for one taste of that finger-lickin’ artery hardener.”

Which makes me not like KFC.

Not because I hate the ad. Or the production values. Or because I have a moral responsibility to the health of the nation’s children.

But because they’ve won me over with humour. Then used that humour again. Badly. To get my attention. And, rather than reward my attention, just try and flog me a pack of greasy chook.  It was like hearing a bad impersonator do a bad impression of your favourite comedian.

Hello. Hello. Is this thing on?

It could have had the same message as the others in the series – man has screaming kids in car, sees KFC ad, they all share KFC and peace ensues.

But.

They didn’t.

Maybe because research groups don’t like seeing kids eating fried food. (Just a guess. But I’ve sat in enough research groups to not be surprised if that was the case.)

It could so easily have been saved.

By not using kids. (We know kids love fried chicken. We don’t need to show it. Trust me.)

By not sticking to the same situation once the end of the ad had died in research. (What you have there, my friend, is a zombie ad and best dealt with using a spade and a mincing machine.)

By sticking to the message. “Make friends with KFC.” (Again. Don’t use kids. Use rugby players. They’re just like children but no one cares if they have a heart attack.)

While the challenge for any advertiser is to turn attention into a sale, the trick is to ensure the attention is rewarded.

If we reward the customer, they will reward us.

If we build their expectations of a reward, then slap them with a wet fish, their level of indifference will sink lower than before we made them like us again.

That’s the danger of running a great ad.

You set a new benchmark.

It’s why great brands make great ads.

And bad brands just make you sad.