Social Hashtag Campaign Is A PR Winner For Excedrin

Tying a brand to a big news story is a time-honored public relations tactic for earning media coverage. Sometimes it’s about a fast-breaking event, like a data security executive commenting on a major hack. Often there’s a narrow window of opportunity to ride the wave. Then there are stories that dominate over months, offering more time for planning and programming, like – well, the U.S. presidential election.

Hitching a brand to politics is always tricky, and this election season has been a land mine for anything or anyone who doesn’t already have to be part of it. It’s been nasty, divisive, and occasionally NSFW. Definitely not a civics lesson for the kids.

That’s why I was impressed with Excedrin’s clever hashtag campaign around the third and (thankfully) final presidential debate. #DebateHeadache popped into my Twitter feed at exactly the right moment last night, and it’s been trending all day.

Unlike Bisquick’s bid to mix it up during the second presidential debate, the Excedrin campaign is a winner. The promoted tweet itself is blatantly commercial — something that rarely succeeds in engaging Twitter users. But it definitely hit a nerve. The tweet got more than 2,100 likes and 900 retweets in its first hours and generated lots of sympathetic new tweets that used the hashtag.

“The possibility of a #DebateHeadache is high. Be prepared with Excedrin.”

It’s successful because it zeroes in on the pain points of many election-watchers, from pundits and media to us ordinary voters. And it includes a statistic from a brand-sponsored survey, another tried-and-true tactic for generating buzz. Not original, but the social packaging and clever timing makes it fresh and easy to swallow. And though it’s been hijacked by partisans on Twitter (always a risk for a hashtag campaign), the idea is universal enough that the brand is protected from the ugliest aspects of the election season. We can all agree on one thing, that it’s been a giant headache and we can’t wait for it to be over.

Excedrin’s debate prescription comes in contrast to the Bisquick hashtag campaign of ten days ago. #PancakesVsWaffles backfired, not only because it inserted the wholesome Bisquick brand into the social chatter about the second debate, but because it seemed to trivialize the real issues at stake. As Marijane wrote, it was the type of campaign that worked if the goal is press at any price, but it failed to generate the kind of organic response that makes a hashtag work. With its appeal to the masses and our long-suffering tolerance of things we can’t control, Excedrin’s is almost reminiscent of the old Alka-Seltzer ads of yore. Similar message, new package.

So, bravo, Excedrin. A successful hashtag campaign may look easy, but it’s like a viral video – far harder and more unpredictable than you think. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for election night.

Bisquick’s Flapjack Flap? Public Relations Weighs In

When companies seek clever ways to leverage hot topics and gain some positive public relations in the process, it helps to vet the idea for relevance and the execution for tone. While Bisquick’s product may be yummy, its #PancakesvsWaffles Twitter hashtag campaign lacked taste – and good judgment – all the way around.

The obvious reason was timing. It was a week that saw a nominee boast about groping women in the most vulgar terms, and the news media ate it up.

The link to the election was also questionable. Even if 2016 weren’t unprecedented for its family-unfriendly content, it’s not a logical association. PR pundits should ask themselves if it’s really intuitive to put pancakes and waffles alongside a political debate, especially in real time. Are breakfast foods a natural link to politics in your mind? No, they’re not. And the public didn’t bite.

Almost immediately, Twitter was flooded with pleas to stop the blatant marketing tie-in and begged the question – do you want your wholesome pancake and waffle mix mixing it up with Trump and his crass comments?

We understand the lure of real-time marketing and clever hashtag campaigns. Who can forget Oreo’s brilliant “dunk in the dark” tweets during the famous Super Bowl blackout of 2013?  Where that campaign was genuine, true to the brand and fun in its spontaneity, the pancake waffle weigh-in was just illogical and offensive.

How should a brand decide when to get in on a hot cultural moment and when to sit one out? Here’s a primer:

What’s the campaign goal? If it’s “press at any price” and controversy is part of your brand’s DNA anyway, then go for it. Align with the outlandish and don’t think twice. This has continued to work well for Kenneth Cole, who uses his advertising and social media to make provocative statements like the “Boots on the Ground” campaign at Fashion Week. This approach doesn’t work for every brand, however. It pays to conduct some smart strategizing ahead of any such link to a hot topic to weigh out the pros and cons.

Will your target audience “get it?” This appears to be the biggest part of the Bisquick fail – no one saw the relevance. Who wants to see a beloved brand catch heat when most are weary of partisan rhetoric and on edge about the whole process? Since Bisquick stands for comfort food that evokes childhood, maybe it should stay in that comfort zone. The brand might be wiser to cook up a campaign that counters the bitter political fighting with something sweet and syrupy that makes us forget about the nastiness.

Does the effort have buy-in up and down the organization? We’ve talked before about the importance of selling strategic PR to the C-suite (and other decision-makers) for comprehensive company buy-in. What works best is demonstrating the measurable benefits and ROI to the organization. These would include the obvious PR exposure and less obvious – perhaps engagement of an untapped audience or an opportunity to create a strong advertising tie-in. And don’t discount the personal. For example, we know that the CEO of one our client companies is a weekend musician, so a campaign idea with a music component may strike a chord with him.

Can the campaign be executed across platforms? The best ideas are workable across media platforms. Brands like Dove always seem to do it right. It extended the life of this Facebook contest through all manner of permutations on YouTube,  Twitter (#Mybeautymysay) and of course, through traditional media relations. The “beauty” of this campaign is how well the brand knows its audience combined with a meaningful message and flawless execution. Twitter alone, by contrast, can be a harsh community, with little room for course corrections.

Does the idea have staying power? Some campaigns like these for National Doughnut Day and Veteran’s Day are replicable year after year, but still manage to resonate. In any public relations program, we look for an idea that sticks in the consumer’s mind. Is there any chance the public will be thinking about Bisquick on Election Day? Odds are no.
The current presidential race is so divisive and exhausting that unless you can find a legitimate PR angle related to a bipartisan issue (how about a shorter campaign season?) or a civic call-to-action (a true get-out-the-vote campaign), it’s probably best to turn down the heat and stay out of the politics kitchen until after November 8.