Is your moment and viral marketing idea vulturistic?

Last week, I was in back to back meetings with my phone put on the silent mode. Once I concluded, I checked my phone to find a notification: 8 Missed Calls from Mom. It took me few seconds to understand the message was instead a notification from my ridesharing app.

My instant reaction as a customer was to feel deeply agitated with the gimmick. The communication professional in me felt this will trigger a crisis. However, an ex-journalist who covered the marketing automation space, I felt perhaps the purpose was to “get my attention”; and the notification did hit the bulls-eye with the move. Later, I saw news reports where several other consumers too felt this wasn’t an appreciable idea.

Vulturism of the idea

In the game of agility and moment marketing, there have been several instances when the social media strategy instead of strengthening a digital safety net has triggered unwarranted attention to a brand. Few of these are remembered by customers for the time to come. There are a few more examples of such misadventures which backfired not just on social media but otherwise.

The entertainment industry has been caught offside of the subject several times. But a school of thought believes that such moves bring in the required attention to the film – notwithstanding if its negative or positive publicity. Pihu, a film that narrated the story of a kid stuck at home with deceased mother, was promoted with a viral marketing idea. People got calls of a kid wailing from an unknown number. This was followed with a link to the trailer. The idea drew flak for being a traumatising.

Similarly, for a film promotion Shah Rukh Khan travelled in train with his co-stars. Somehow the itinerary got ‘leaked’ with large mob collecting in railway station to catch a glimpse of the superstar. Unfortunately, the onground team was not prepared to handle the mob, which eventually resulted in a stampede and cost a life.

Several years ago Kevin Carter’s iconic photograph of a starving Sudanese girl, who collapsed on her way to a feeding centre while a vulture waited nearby, will always remain controversial. The idea threw light on vulturism of an idea. A message on Father’s Day to a customer who has lost his father, the notification of 8 missed calls from mother, and many other fall in this category.

This also begs the question, how did the communication team allow this? The fact is that the silo between the marketing and communication team continues to persist. Communication team is often unaware of such risqué ideas being implemented.

The conundrum

In journalism, most senior editors would tell cubs: When in doubt; eschew it. If your idea is expected to be perceived vulturistic, it is better to avoid it. Avoidance of a crisis costs far lesser than redressal. There are few ways in which you can test your idea before sending it out to larger cohorts. A few of these I had discussed in my earlier column: What is campaign myopia, and how to avoid it?

Marketing and communication teams need to be discerning about their choice of moments to market. But more critical is the idea itself.

However, there can be times when the objective outweighs the fear of backlash. In such cases, it is okay to proceed with the idea. But such occasions are far and few.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Supreeth Sudhakaran
Supreeth Sudhakaran is Deputy General Manager in the Corporate Communication and Brand Team of Aditya Birla Group. He was earlier associated with Godrej Industries Limited, leading owned media platform - Design Dekko, research-driven narratives, hybrid media engagement, and brand communication mandate for the Godrej Agrovet Ltd.

Supreeth is a journalist by education, he started his career working as a desk editor at the digital arm of the Dainik Bhaskar Group. He later worked at senior editorial roles with several leading general and trade media publications such as the Indian Express Group, IPP Media India, Haymarket Media Group, and Geospatial Media, writing and editing stories on various niche subjects including marketing technology, printing, packaging, publishing, and geospatial science. His first stint as a communication professional was with India’s largest PR firm, Adfactors PR Pvt Ltd., before moving to his current role.

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