Written By: Workmore Chimweta

Social media has introduced a new dynamic to marketing over the years. It has been dubbed the great equaliser, where a refined professional who finds themselves on the so called ‘social media streets’ (like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok), may find themselves squaring off with an opinionated subject matter novice or lay person with a smartphone and a data bundle as their only and by no means (to them) lesser claim to authority.

A large international corporate comes head-on with a teen who spends his day in bed, has likely missed a few baths and probably skipped school. In all this we have seen the virality of the sensational and aghast. We have seen too many times people quote the adage – there’s no such thing as bad publicity. We have experienced a well-known international fast food chain which specialises in spatchcock chicken masterfully grow their brand equity via some fine humour and satire bordering on political naughtiness.

A number of mostly smaller businesses and start-ups have jumped onto this bandwagon and divided opinion as to whether this tactic of using raw satire, the macabre and even outright dirty and often lewd controversy works to build brand equity. The question is, ‘does it influence people to become users?’ Does “outrage marketing” as a tactic, or even as a strategy for some, deliver? Does virality for eyeballs’ sake pay for brands? Does the shock factor work for brands?

Perhaps we can begin by defining brand equity. In this instance we will limit the scope of definition to the consumer facing side of brand equity leaving aside the commercial and business value side. Brand equity is the value attached to a brand that emanates from consumers firstly getting to know the brand, secondly liking the association with the brand and what it does to them physically and emotionally, and lastly forming a bond with the brand – a bond that may last for some time. We will coin these elements as follows:

  1. Get seen (Eyeballs)
  2. Get engaged (Experiential)
  3. Find love (Hook).

The combination and degree of impact of these three elements determine the strength of the brand’s equity. If a brand becomes very widely seen (Eyeballs), makes people feel great whilst satiating their desires (Experiential) and ultimately creates a lasting affinity (Hook) then that brand can be said to have a strong brand equity. For completeness the commercial side of brand equity then begs the question, what attributable business-value impact is connected to the affinity created between the people and the brand such that there is co-mobility between business and brand – that is to say if you moved the brand to another company it will have the impact of causing a transfer of that affinity, and connected dollar value, to the new entity. Further and for completeness, the reference to ‘people’ in this definition does not mean all and sundry but relates to the people whom the brand intends to influence and connect with. These people are referred to as the target audience, usually defined by both demographic (age, gender, location, wealth) and psychographic (by way of their state of mind and their orientation in thinking, feeling and motivation).

The answer to the question of the day, which is whether the shock factor of outrageous posts works is one that cannot be given to anyone. It is one which must be left to the individual to make a call. What we can do is guide you, the individual, to making that assessment. There are instances where it may very well work. Then there are instances where this approach will spell disaster for a self-respecting brand. Short of disappointing you and saying the largely unuseful ‘it depends’ we will rather bring your attention to the definition of brand equity which we outlined above. It is within this definition that the answer lies.

  1. Does the approach speak to the defined target audience in a language they understand? If indeed the target audience is lenient and or partial towards the dramatic and awful, it may be receptive and appreciative of the same. It will naturally therefore get their eyeballs.
  2. The dramatic and aghast will catch fish like a wide net cast into a lake. It will catch fish and toads alike. The experiential outcome for the target audience and the not-target audience is going to be different. The fish will relish (no pun intended) the thought of becoming a most delectable side on a platter to be devoured ravenously by some hopefully famished soul! Such is the making of a fulfilled life – seafood actualisation – of the highest order. The toad on the other hand will be grabbed, pinched, throttled and tossed back into the mucky waters facing the devastating emotional stab of absolute rejection albeit lucky perhaps to have escaped the garrotte. We digress. We are just saying the target audience will get satisfaction and pleasure from the experience whilst the not so targeted audience will likely be repulsed or just fail to get it.
  3. The repeated, surmised positive experience will get the target audience hooked. They will become enthusiastic brand advocates. Those not in the target will not even engage or connect and in instances will be driven further away.

Digesting these three elements, one is drawn to the simple question: Are there sufficient numbers of the target audience who have a chance of getting hooked – enough to make it worthwhile? It is worth noting that this assessment assumes the underlying product delivers on the minimum requirements to satisfy the need being served. The element of difference and consideration in this case being the communication, engagement and image aspects of consumer interaction. We leave it with you to make the call. It’s a risky business, this. But then again, a good marketer knows – nothing ventured, nothing gained – OR NOT.

Workmore Chimweta is the Managing Director-  Zimnat Life Assurance. He is a member of the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe (Senior Executive) and second runner up for the Marketing Oriented CEO of the Year –Exceptional Marketing Awards 2020. He writes in his personal capacity.