What We Can Learn from Epic’s Attempt to Insert Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. in Fortnite

To say that Fortnite’s recent March Through Time was a mess would be putting it lightly. It’s a framework for how to fail at corporate social responsibility.

When developer and publisher Epic Games partnered with TIME Magazine and made the announcement, we thought at first that someone was having a laugh. Certainly, Fortnite is currently one of the most popular arena shooter video games on the market. And it’s true that the younger demographic is disproportionately represented in the title’s player-base. 

But Fortnite is also a game where colorful characters shoot at one another with absurd weapons whilst frantically building gravity-defying structures, competing to be the last one standing. It’s even hosted some virtual events in the past, like concerts.  If your first thought is that this doesn’t sound like the sort of platform one would use for the discussion of serious, sobering topics, that’s because it isn’t. 

The reality is that it is a successful Battle Royale game, nothing more.  

Yet reality didn’t stop Epic Games from proudly announcing at the end of last month that it was bringing the Doctor Martin Luther King Memorial to Fortnite. Community reactions ranged from confused to amused to profoundly dumbstruck. But the one thing everyone appeared to agree on was that this was a bad idea.

And it would, like any other shallow attempt by a business to appear socially responsible, backfire spectacularly. 

“You can’t sell licensed skins for your social Battle Royale Party one minute, then expect it to be a serious place to learn about history the next,” said games journalist Chris Franklin, posting to Twitter shortly after the announcement. “You can’t just place a somber reflection on race and history in America in the middle of your party time Battle Royale any more than you can comfortably hold a wake in a Chuck E. Cheese.” 

To make matters worse, the initial launch of the event was quite poorly managed. Initially, as reported by The Gamer, the developer forgot to remove emotes on the map. Anyone who joined was faced with athletes, superheroes, supervillains, and more dancing and spamming emojis during MLK’s iconic speech

Although Epic disabled all other emotes for the event, the “Whiplash” emote was left untouched. Some fans speculated that this was due to a pre-existing agreement with DC Comics, but per CBR, this claim has yet to be verified.  The company further tried to drum up interest in the event by promising a free “DC ’63” spray that players could use as part of the regular game. 

Unsurprisingly, both the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and King’s daughter Bernice King disavowed the event, saying they had no direct involvement in the collaboration. 

Through its collaboration with TIME Magazine, Epic Games doubtless wanted to present itself as socially conscious — to demonstrate that it understands the nuances of race relations. Instead, it came off as cynical, tone-deaf, and disrespectful. 

On the plus side, we can use Epic’s failure to compile a list of how not to run a corporate social responsibility initiative: 

  • Understand the limitations of your platform. Don’t try to shoehorn in social commentary where it has no place being. There’s a time and place for certain conversations.  
  • Know your brand. Epic Games hasn’t exactly had an excellent reputation for the past several years. From trying to present itself as the counter-cultural underdog in its legal battle against Apple to its shady practices with its digital storefront, the brand is not trusted by most of its core audience. 
  • Get buy-in from the right people.  If no one on your marketing team has a personal stake in a particular cause, then find someone who does. Bring in a paid consultant who can help ensure you get things right. 
  • Plan for everything, then plan some more. Especially when dealing with highly-sensitive issues, you cannot afford to put in a middling effort. You must go above and beyond to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Because if you don’t, it will blow up in your face. 

Not all marketing ideas are winners. Ultimately, March Through Time is one event that, in our opinion, should have been left on the cutting room floor. 

5 Alternatives Marketers Can Use Instead of Facebook

Facebook has long been a necessary evil. But now, it may be time for marketers to drop Facebook for good. Here are a few places you can go instead.

Facebook has been going the way of MySpace for a while now. 

We might as well get that out in the open now. For most of us, marketing on the social network is viewed, at best, as a necessary evil. With any luck, it may not be necessary for much longer.

It’s no secret that Facebook has been in trouble lately, nor the reasons. An unreliable community standards algorithm that unevenly and often unjustly doles out punishment. A suite of business tools that could charitably be described as cumbersome. Advertising policies that seemingly apply to some, but not others. 

All tied together by a complete and utter lack of any meaningful user support — it’s almost ironic that, as reported by Bloomberg, the social network released a suite of new customer service tools in June

That’s not even getting into the ongoing case involving whistleblower Frances Haugen, who, per CNN, has released tens of thousands of internal documents. In addition to providing demonstrable proof of the harm the company causes, Haugen’s leaked documentation also revealed that Facebook is bleeding younger users at an alarming rate — and that’s when they create an account at all. According to The Verge, there’s also the matter of the recent outage that showed just how poorly-managed the company really is, with its engineers requiring angle grinders to gain access to the server room.  

Taken together, the above makes three things abundantly clear. 

  • Facebook is an unreliable platform for advertising and marketing. 
  • Advertisers looking to target Gen Z aren’t going to find their audience on Facebook. 
  • The atmosphere cultivated by Facebook’s algorithms is no longer conducive to a positive customer experience. 

It’s time to diversify. Although Facebook’s size means it’s a bad idea to abandon it entirely just yet, the writing on the wall is clear. The world’s largest social network is rapidly going the way of MySpace — intelligent advertisers must prepare now. 

With that in mind, here are five compelling alternatives to advertising on Facebook. 

Streaming Media

Unsurprisingly, streaming platforms like Twitch, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video enjoyed enormous success during the pandemic. Although not all streaming services support paid advertising, a well-placed ad on the right streaming service could be immensely valuable. Just be sure you keep things short, simple, and direct. 

Snapchat & TikTok

According to marketing research from analyst YPulse, visual social platforms have rapidly overtaken Facebook in popularity amongst users aged 13-25. TikTok is among the fastest-growing of these, with YouTube and Snapchat close behind. If your goal is to engage with the younger demographic, these are the places you need to be. 

Google

The world’s largest search engine is an advertising powerhouse. Between Google My Business, Google Ads, and YouTube, Google’s properties represent arguably one of the most compelling alternatives to Facebook. Their reach is unmatched, and if you know what you’re doing, they can be every bit as valuable as Facebook. 

Reddit

Reddit styles itself the front page of the Internet for a reason. It’s an excellent place to promote your brand with an incredibly engaged and active community and a subreddit for nearly every interest you can imagine. Just make sure you aren’t going for too hard a sell. 

It’s Time to Diversify

Amidst all the scandals and the growing awareness of how exhausting Facebook can be, the social network is fading slowly into obscurity. And although it isn’t likely to die off anytime soon, that doesn’t mean it will remain dominant. It’s worth remembering, after all, that MySpace still exists too.   

3 Things to Know About SEO for Nonprofits

Effective search engine optimization is just as important for nonprofits as for other sectors. Here’s some advice to help you master it for yours.

Your cause is admirable. Whether through personal investment or a simple desire to help, you want to change the world for the better. To succeed, however, you’re going to need more than good intentions. You need to understand how to get the word out about your cause — how to draw in prospective donors and differentiate yourself from competing nonprofits in your sector. 

Search engine optimization is absolutely crucial in that regard. 

“People who care about a social issue or cause are very likely to use search engines to find relevant information about it,” reads a blog post by strategic design firm Forum One. “Having your site listed within the top results can increase visibility and drive in relevant, high-quality traffic.  Together, with the right content and calls-to-action on your web pages, search engine optimization (SEO)  is one of the best ways to spread your mission’s story.” 

Right. We’ve established the importance of SEO to your nonprofit. But how exactly can you implement it in a way that furthers your cause? 

Let’s talk about that — here are three things you need to know about SEO in the nonprofit sector. 

Content is King

In the early days of SEO, tactics such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, and link farming were a legitimate means of traffic generation. These days, they won’t get you anywhere. On the contrary, they’re far likelier to get your site hit with massive penalties. 

Google doesn’t care if a page is an exact match for a particular keyword or keyphrase. What it cares about is if that page matches both the phrase and the intent behind it. See, while keywords and the like are still important, content is what truly matters. 

So with that in mind, compelling content is and will always remain your best bet and bringing in donations and generating buzz. Craft content that meshes with what your audience wants to see, and you might be surprised at the impact it has. Examples include: 

  • Newsletters and posts that update donors about the progress of your initiatives
  • Information about your cause
  • Guidelines for how people can contribute if they don’t have money to donate
  • Educational resources around your cause

Local SEO Is a Powerful Tool

Unless you’re a major, international nonprofit, there’s a good chance that the vast majority of your donors are going to be from your city or region. For that reason, it’s imperative that you master local SEO. The good news is that this isn’t especially difficult.

You just need to make sure you’ve seen to the following:  

  • Create a Google My Business page for your charity with as much information as possible. 
  • Make sure you have Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) information on every single page of your site. It should be extremely easy for prospective donors to get in touch with you. 
  • Optimize your content with city or region-specific keywords and references. 

There’s No Substitute for Knowing Your Audience

Who are your donors? Why do they support your cause? What can you do to inspire them to donate? 

These are the three most important questions for any nonprofit to answer. Knowledge of your audience is the foundation of all marketing, from SEO to content creation to social outreach. You can craft the perfect narrative to get your donors on board and keep them invested if you understand what motivates them. 

Making The Right Choices

You want to change the world for the better. The first step is getting the word out about your cause. SEO is the best way to do that.

And now, you have some basic knowledge to get you started in that regard. 

Exploring the Link Between Marketing and Psychology

What do marketing and psychology have to do with one another? A great deal more than you might expect. In many ways, they’re two sides of the same coin.

Ask anyone who works in marketing why they decided to pursue that particular career path, and you’ll receive a multitude of answers. 

Some people will maintain that they enjoy the opportunity to flex their creativity; they enjoy the fact that they essentially are paid to create art. Others enjoy the mercurial nature of the profession, the fact that no two days are exactly the same. Still, more love how fast-paced the industry tends to be and that it allows them to blaze from one deadline to the next (often procrastinating until the last minute all the while). 

But one of the most common answers is that marketing involves people. 

Figuring out how an audience thinks and what they want. Determining the best way to build a relationship between a brand and its customers. Crafting compelling messaging that fascinates people enough to convert. 

In other words, getting inside each consumer’s mind and figuring out how they think, how they feel, what they’re interested in, and ultimately, what makes them tick. There’s something exciting about that. And something is satisfying about finishing a project and watching as it successfully creates engagement. 

The connection between marketing and psychology is about more than satisfaction, though. Learning more about how people think goes a long way towards being better at your job. The deeper your understanding of the human mind, the more effective your marketing will become. 

As it stands, there are already multiple psychological principles underlying the profession — you probably even encounter several of them in your day-to-day without realizing it: 

  • Priming. Exposure to one stimulus influences how you react to another. This comes into play with everything from a brand’s language to the colors/layout of its website. 
  • Social proof. The idea is that people make decisions based on the actions of others. Social shares, reviews, and word-of-mouth marketing are all examples of social proof in play. 
  • Reciprocity. When someone gives you a gift or does a good deed, you feel compelled to return the favor.  Most commonly comes into play with free gifts/offers. 
  • Loss aversion. Simply put, when given a choice between loss and gain, people will choose to gain. In marketing, this might involve selling subscription services or free trials. 
  • Anchoring bias. The first piece of information someone sees will influence how they evaluate further information. This is why most stores display the original price of a product next to the sale price. 
  • Verbatim effect. People are likely to remember the gist of what they’ve been told rather than the exact wording. 
  • Scarcity. People are likely to make a snap decision on a purchase if what they’re buying is of limited quantity. They’re also likely to rank a scarcer product more highly. 
  • Decoy effect. When a customer is choosing between two options, the introduction of a third, less compelling option will make them likelier to choose a more expensive option. 
  • Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Essentially, this refers to selective attention. When you see or hear about a particular product, you’re likely to start noticing it in advertisements and the like.
  • Clustering. The tendency of people to group similar words and concepts together in their short-term memory. 

What we’ve listed above is just a small sampling. There are other concepts at play, as well. But that should be enough to give you an idea of how much interplay there is between the two disciplines. And with that, we’ll leave off with a bit of advice on how you can amp up your knowledge of psychology to become a better marketing professional. Here’s the good news. Especially in the wake of COVID, there are a ton of free educational resources available online to help you learn more about the human mind — we recommend EdX in particular.

Has Facebook Become Too Volatile Even for Marketers?

Facebook has effectively become the poster child for everything wrong with social media. But does that mean it’s no longer a suitable marketing tool?

The past few years haven’t exactly been great for Facebook. The social media organization has seen itself rocked by multiple scandals, including, per NPR, being called out by its own oversight board for the sorry state of its decision making. And that’s to say nothing of the fear, uncertainty, anger, and misinformation currently running riot through the social network. 

While Facebook certainly made a good show of accepting feedback and addressing how it deals with community standards violations, it remains to be seen if those efforts have borne any fruit. Just last year, 40% of respondents to a Canadian Internet Authority survey indicated that Facebook is the most toxic social network on the Internet, with 63% indicating they do not feel safe from harassment. And per BBC, false information is still on the social network, despite the company’s stated commitment to curbing its spread. 

It’s clear at this point that something about the social network is fundamentally broken — and there’s no singular cause. 

One might point to the fact that Facebook relies too much on artificial intelligence to enforce its rules. Time and again, Facebook’s community standards AI has completely failed at its stated purpose. It allows homophobia, transphobia, and racism to skirt under the radar — case in point, Snopes reports that QAnon still thrives on the social network more than a year after Facebook publicly announced it would remove such content.

Worse still, when those posts are manually reported, the response, contradictorily, is that they do not violate community standards. Meanwhile, the algorithm, absent human guidance and incapable of understanding context, comes down like a hammer on people of color discussing their experiences with racism (USA Today).  Two months ago, an anti-trans post on Instagram, one of Facebook’s subsidiaries, led to open violence, according to The Guardian

Not that Facebook’s human moderators are any better. According to The Verge, content moderators for the social network are underpaid, overworked, and lack access to even basic mental health services. All this while moderating some of the most troubling, traumatizing content Facebook has to offer. 

One might also point to the fact that if you encounter any serious issues with Facebook and require any help, you’re out of luck. Facebook still does not employ customer support staff — making it perhaps the only major tech company to take such a hands-off approach. It’s bad enough that, as reported by Techdirt, hacked Facebook users had to buy a $300 VR headset just to talk to a human being

The truth is that Facebook’s current state is a perfect storm of all the above factors forcibly colliding with the myriad stressors of the pandemic. And the result? From a marketing standpoint, it’s one of the most volatile channels on the Internet. 

Consider last year, when per Input, multiple major brands abandoned the platform due to its inaction over hate speech. Or there’s a December 2020 piece from Bloomberg which saw testimony from multiple advertisers harmed by arbitrary punishments, nonsensical ad rejections, and unjustified lockouts. Or Adweek’s report earlier this month that Facebook is flagging lingerie ads as nudity.  

As if having to contend with the inconsistent algorithm isn’t bad enough, there’s a good chance that, at this point, your marketing might not even reach a receptive audience. In a poll published last August, analyst Pew Research found that 55% of U.S. social media users felt ‘worn out’ by political posts. Brandwatch’s 2020 Consumer Tech Report, meanwhile, saw a 41% increase in mentions of social media fatigue over just ten months.

So, to summarize: 

  • Facebook’s community has grown increasingly volatile, marked by frequent arguments and heated political debates. 
  • Facebook’s inconsistent community standards algorithm appears to apply arbitrary judgments without regard for context, impacting regular users and marketers. 
  • People on Facebook are frustrated and exhausted, and therefore much less amenable to marketing messages. 

In short, Facebook is no longer the fun, community-driven network it used to be. It’s become something else — something ugly. While there’s arguably still value to be had by establishing a presence there, before long, the drawbacks of Facebook marketing may outweigh the rewards.

At this point, it might just be time to turn your attention to Tik Tok. 

Are You Targeting Too Broad a Niche With Your Marketing?

The most successful marketing is nearly always focused and directed. As such, if you target a niche that’s too general, you’re going to run into a few issues.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

That old saying is surprisingly applicable to the approach some businesses take with their marketing.  Instead of trying to figure out who they’re marketing to and the context in which that marketing is being executed, they simply allow themselves to dive in face-first. It’s akin to attempting skydiving without a parachute. 

Sure, you might make it through. It’s far likelier, however,  that you’ll end up a stain on the ground. Alright, we’ll grant that it’s not a perfect analogy — but it gets the point across just the same.

For your marketing efforts to meet with real success, you need to define your niche. 

Finding Your Niche: The Questions You Must Ask

The right niche is a perfect blend of relevant, untapped, and compelling. It’s something you can write about without too much difficulty and which resonates with you as much as your brand. With that in mind, here’s what you should consider when seeking a niche. 

  • How competitive is it? 
  • How much do I know about it? Can I cover it with a reasonable degree of authority? 
  • Who is interested in this niche? 
  • Would this niche’s primary audience also be interested in my brand? 
  • Can this niche be tied back to any of my products/services? 
  • How active is this niche/how much traffic can I expect it to generate? 

How Can You Tell if Your Niche is Too Broad?

We see a lot of businesses take the ‘kitchen sink’ approach to content creation. They shotgun ideas across multiple niches and topics, hoping that at least one of their shots will be a winner. They don’t realize that when your target audience can be best summed up as “yes,” you’re going to run into trouble.

The people who might be genuinely interested in your products or services might see the eclectic collection of blog posts and reconsider. And the people brought in by a blog that’s too general likely aren’t going to turn into qualified leads.

But how exactly can you tell if you’re targeting too general a niche? 

  • A high bounce rate on specific pages or posts.
  • High traffic numbers, low conversions. 
  • Your list of topics could fill an entire page in a Word document. 
  • You cannot describe your niche in just a few words.

Granted, not all of the above are surefire signs that your niche is too broad. But they are all red flags. The good news is that now that you’re aware of them, they’re that much easier for you to avoid. 

As for how you might narrow your niche if you already stumbled headlong into one that’s too broad? Examine your most popular content for common threads, look at what competitors are doing, and most importantly, ask your colleagues/team for any advice they might be able to offer.

Do all that, and you’ll be just fine. 

Facebook’s Issue With Scam Adverts Speak to Deeper Problems on the Platform

Recently, Facebook failed to remove fraudulent ads from its platform. This isn’t just Facebook’s failure, but speaks to a larger problem with advertising.

As reported by The BBC, both Google and Facebook failed to remove a large percentage of fraudulent ads from their platforms. The former failed to remove 34% of reported ads, while the latter failed to remove 26%, according to a report from consumer watchdog Which?. More concerning, however, was the fact that of those who fell victim to a scam ad, 43% of people didn’t report it.

In Facebook’s case, it was because they doubted anything would be done. A fair assessment, given the social network’s completely uneven enforcement of community standards and complete lack of customer support. With Google, it was because the victim had no idea how to report the scam.

“Tech giants, regulators, and the government need to go to greater lengths to prevent scams from flourishing,” Which? consumer rights expert Adam French told BBC. “Online platforms must be given a legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content on their sites… and the government needs to act now.”

The lack of reporting isn’t the issue here, though. The problem is that although advertising has functionally been on life support for years, nothing tangible has changed. Even though 96% of people don’t even trust ads, advertisers and ad networks are still chugging along just like they always have.

There needs to be more regulation. Advertisements need to be held to a higher standard. And perhaps most importantly, platforms like Facebook need to stop dodging accountability for spreading harmful content. 

And it’s not just scams that are the issue. Malvertising remains one of the most common delivery mechanisms for malicious software, and simultaneously remains one of the best justifications for using ad blocking software. Moreover, as noted by the Sophos 2021 Threat Report, two new tactics have been circulating lately. 

  • Fake alert attacks. These technical support scams attempt to convince the user that they’ve been locked out of their computer or try to drive them to contact a fraudulent helpline. 
  • Fleeceware. Shady application developers are charging a premium for basic applications, and malicious advertisements help direct potential victims to their scams.

It never had to be this way. Advertisers could have taken to heart the myriad issues people have with ad networks. Platforms like Facebook and Google could have practiced greater accountability and exercised greater control over their ads. 

Instead, what we have is an industry that’s in even more dire straits than ever before. We have paid advertisements that generate questionable returns and an entire generation of consumers who view advertising as just more spam. If that’s to change, there needs to be better reporting, more effective removal of bad ads, and overall better quality control.

Because without these elements, advertising deserves to die.

What You Need to Know About Marketing Yourself as a Creative

Whether you’re an artist, an artisan, or a designer, spreading the word about your work can seem daunting. It’s easier than you might think, though.

Creatives don’t get enough credit. 

On at least one occasion, every artist has been told that they should look for a “real job.” In the face of such attitudes, it’s easy to grow discouraged. It’s easy to think that no one could possibly be interested in buying what you’re selling.

But that’s far from true. The value of art goes beyond what it can do for a business. And whether you’re a freelancer, an entrepreneur selling their crafts online, or a business-minded creative who wants to start their own studio, you can find success with some hard work, a bit of luck, and (perhaps most importantly) an effective marketing strategy.

Let’s go over a bit of advice to help you get started. 

Have a Plan

Think carefully about what you want to do, the audience you want to reach, and where you want to reach them. A Facebook crafting group, for instance, will have different priorities than an Instagram influencer. Each will require a different approach and may be interested in other elements of your portfolio. 

Make a List

Especially for a first-timer, marketing can seem overwhelming. By looking at projects not as singular, monolithic entities but collections of smaller tasks, you’re giving yourself some space to breathe. More importantly, you make it easier to justify taking a break since you can actually see measurable progress.  

Build Relationships

Creating a more substantial presence in your local art community and beyond starts with collaboration. Working with other artists ensures you have people you can bounce ideas off. Someone who’s more entrenched in the community can also offer you valuable advice about getting yourself established while also recommending your work to others. 

You can (and should) collaborate with more than just the people who share your craft, too. For example, let’s say you’re an artisan who makes custom ceramics. You might consider approaching a photographer, offering them your services in exchange for theirs. 

It’s a win for both creators. 

Don’t Settle

There’s no point putting time or effort into marketing if you’re using improper techniques or cheap materials. No one wants to buy a product that looks terrible or breaks in an instant. You need to make sure you can quickly produce quality work and price it competitively. 

To be fair, this one might go without saying. After all, most people who seek a career in a creative field tend to be extreme perfectionists. And almost every creative has a small mountain of unacceptable’ projects that will never again see the light of day. 

Create a Unique Brand

Creative markets are now more oversaturated than ever, meaning it’s difficult to set yourself apart. The best advice we can offer here is to look at what others in your market have done and think about how you can do it better. You might consider looking at online reviews for weaknesses in competing products or simply studying how leading professionals do their work.

Products aside, you also need to create a brand for yourself. When someone looks at your products, you want them to think of not just your artwork, but you. 

Build a High-Quality Website

Contacting you or purchasing your art should be seamless and secure regardless of the user’s device. Your website is the first impression any customer will have of your artwork. You do not want that impression to be tainted by poor mobile optimization, terrible performance, or bad design. 

Above All, Just Be Human

Often, when a creative starts plying their craft professionally, they lose something. They stop putting as much of themselves into their art, instead focusing on what sells. Don’t fall into this trap. 

Do not be afraid to add personal work to your portfolio. Passion and a personal touch together can be incredibly magnetic. Never lose sight of that, and never forget what made your art great in the first place.

Finally, when you’re taking your first steps into the world of ecommerce, be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. People are imperfect; it’s part of the beauty of life. 

The difference between someone who’s successful and someone who isn’t is not that the former doesn’t make mistakes — it’s that they learn from those mistakes. 

3 Things April Fool’s Day Can Teach Us About Digital Marketing

Every year, businesses attempt to convey their humor on April Fool’s Day. And every year, many bungle their attempts. There’s a lesson to be learned in that.

German automotive manufacturer Volkswagen has, reports Mashable, learned exactly how not to approach April Fool’s Day as a brand. On March 29, the automaker’s U.S. subsidiary claimed that it would be rebranding itself to Voltswagen of America as part of its commitment to sustainability. It even published a full press release on the change. 

Get it? Volts? Like electric cars? Do you get the joke? 

One day later, The Wall Street Journal reported that no, the company is not planning a rebrand. The announcement was, in fact, part of a marketing campaign for the company’s recently-released ID.4 electric SUV. Reportedly, the renaming was meant to be ‘playful and fun.’ 

The joke fell flat on its face for several reasons — and each of these lessons can serve as a valuable lesson for marketers. 

Know Your Brand’s Reputation

Volkswagen’s reputation where sustainability is concerned isn’t exactly clean. As reported by MIT News, the company spent years lying about its vehicle emissions, even going so far as to install devices designed to break emissions testing in its cars. Environmental conservatorship is not something a brand with Volkswagen’s history should be joking about. 

Mashable’s Jack Morse noted that when accounting for Volkswagen’s history, this publicity stunt’s message appears to be that it views green energy as a joke

Stay In Character

Some brands are built on comedy. They make a name for themselves on social media by being sarcastic, irreverent, or simply absurd.  Their personalities are geared towards millennials and Generation Z, and they remain consistent in never taking themselves seriously unless they absolutely must. 

Denny’s is a perfect example of this, regularly posting bizarre content on its Tumblr page that its target audience can’t help but enjoy. Wendy’s also exemplifies this trend, regularly roasting both its audience and its competitors. If either of these brands did something ridiculous for April Fool’s Day, no one would bat an eye. 

If a brand that was known for generally taking things seriously suddenly turned around and started trying to make bad jokes, though? That’s jarring. It’s another reason the Voltswagen stunt failed so spectacularly.

It came completely out of left field and was in no way consistent with Volkswagen’s previous online behavior. 

We aren’t saying your brand shouldn’t occasionally do something fun, nor are we trying to claim that there’s no place for corporate April Fool’s jokes, just that those jokes should be appropriate for your brand. They should be something your audience would actually find funny. 

Avoid Mixed Messages

Volkswagen wanted to have its cake and eat it too. It tried to do something ‘fun’ for April Fool’s Day, but it also wanted to advertise its new product. Unfortunately, the result was a jumbled mess that pulled the audience in two directions at once.

When you’re planning a marketing campaign, stick to a few core, interrelated objectives. Keep your messaging concise and focused. Because the more mixed signals you put out, the likelier you are to stumble headlong into a media circus. 

Just Don’t Overdo It

Ultimately, there’s a time and a place for comedy. As a marketer, you need to learn to recognize that. Otherwise, you’re bound to make the same mistake as Volkswagen’s marketing team. 

How (and Why) Your Business Should Apologize For Its Mistakes

From influencers to major businesses, people seem to have forgotten how to apologize. But if your brand messes up, that’s something you need to remember.

Nobody’s perfect. Everyone from the freshest intern to the highest-paid CEO makes mistakes now and then. Yet many of them seem incapable of what comes next — apologizing and resolving to be better. 

Recently, we’ve begun watching a YouTube channel called Observe.  Hosted by professional body language analyst Logan Portenier, one of the channel’s primary content streams involves analyzing influencers’ apologies for everything from ignoring COVID restrictions to being party to unsavory behavior. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of these apologies share a common theme.

They’re entirely insincere. 

A BluePrint For An Ineffective Apology

If you’ve spent any time following the recent controversy surrounding YouTuber David Dobrik and his group “The Vlog Squad,” you’ve doubtless seen shades of this. As reported by Mashable, Dobrik has himself posted two separate apology videos. We’re not going to get into what transpired, as in addition to being triggering for victims of assault, it’s not our focus here. 

If you’re interested in learning more, you can read the article we linked above. Instead, we’re going to look at what Dobrik did wrong in both cases. Because together, they form a very effective framework for how not to apologize for a brand crisis.  

In Dobrik’s first video, which fans and critics have widely panned, his mistakes are glaringly evident. 

  • Sweeping it under the rug. The apology was posted to Dobrik’s Podcast channel, Views, rather than his official channel. The former has only 1.7 million subscribers as opposed to the latter’s nearly 20 million. 
  • Dodging the issue. Dobrik never directly addressed the allegations against his brand, instead speaking in vague terms about consent. 
  • No dialog allowed. Despite the video being titled Let’s Talk, Dobrik disabled comments. 
  • A lack of commitment. The total length of the video is only two and a half minutes. Given the seriousness of the allegations against The Vlog Squad, most felt that was nowhere near enough time. 
  • Obligation, not authenticity. Portenier refers to Dobrik’s apology as “hollow,’ noting from his body language that it’s clear Dobrik doesn’t seem to particularly care about rectifying the issue. 

Unsurprisingly, this video was not well-received. After losing over 100,000 subscribers and multiple brand partnerships, Dobrik posted a second video a week later to his main channel. He did a lot of things right this time. 

He owned the fact that he messed up. He at least appeared genuinely remorseful. He asserted that moving forward, he will be implementing checks and balances so that something like this need not happen again and has delisted the videos associated with the controversy.

But he still made mistakes. 

  • Too little, too late.  Instead of getting ahead of the issue, Dobrik waited until he began suffering direct and severe consequences from the controversy. This has led some to assert that the YouTuber isn’t actually sorry that any of this happens, only that it’s directly impacted him. 
  • Poorly-staged. As some have noted, Dobrik went to great lengths to look pitiable, being close to tears, appearing disheveled, and filming his apology from the floor. 

“If [Dobrik] had come out and immediately apologized and immediately went to the people, that would at least show that he [recognized and owned up] to his idiocy,” Portenier notes in his analysis of the second apology. “Dobrik’s apology is genuine [but] perhaps for the wrong reasons.” 

Why Should Your Brand Care About Apologizing?  

In Dobrik’s case, the degree to which he mismanaged his apology has damaged his brand, perhaps irreparably. Just two days after his second video, YouTube demonetized his channels. Insider reports that Dobrik has, as a result of the controversy, lost nearly everything (content warning: SA).  

Per a study published by Science Daily, economists found that people are over twice as likely to forgive a brand that genuinely apologizes.  As reported by The New York Times, when a doctor honestly admitted their mistakes to patients, they were significantly less likely to take legal action. A good apology, in other words, costs nothing. Ignoring a problem or failing to apologize, meanwhile, can cost you everything. 

As for what’s involved in an effective apology, let’s refer back to Dobrik. 

  • Recognize the problem as soon as possible. The sooner you realize you messed up, the better.
  • Don’t try to dodge accountability. Be honest about what went wrong and why. 
  • Show that you genuinely care. Don’t just say you’re sorry. Mean it. 
  • Resolve to be better. Explain what you’ll do to improve in the future, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. 
  • Explanations, not excuses. Don’t try to go into the reasons things went wrong. 

Everyone makes mistakes, even the most prominent brands. The capacity to recognize and apologize for those mistakes can be the difference between repairing one’s reputation or damaging it beyond repair.