Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Mar-Apr 2020

Staying on Topic

Like it or not, topical marketing is the current new black, and it would be wise to pay attention and learn.

What does a $120,000 banana that is duct-taped to a wall, have do with your brand here in Pakistan? The short answer is: it doesn’t matter. Just slap on your logo and climb on to the trend bandwagon, lest you miss out the golden opportunity to be featured on Khalid Alvi Marketing Next.

Welcome to 2020. As far as branding and communication go, it is pretty much a scene right out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Large legacy players are being outwitted and outsmarted by rebellious upstarts. The signal-to-noise ratio is abysmal, and if by chance you have something worthwhile to say, the attention span of your audience is that of a gnat. One silly Facebook post can either make you the hero-of-the-day or get a fatwa assigned against you.

In this dog-eat-dog world, brands, while scrambling to hold on to their long-term plans must recognise the very real threat of being rendered irrelevant by their fickle audience. When pig emojis can command a better engagement than your close-to-crore-rupee productions, you begin to feel shaky about enduring branding convictions. So even if you are working at the awareness and brand-building level of the funnel, you still have to contend with the ground reality that topical and moment marketing is actually a thing. They have not quite written the guidebook yet, but here are some lessons that we have learnt at Ishtehari in terms of this particular vein of communication:

1. Put Conviction in the Concept

Nothing is sadder than a brand jumping on topical content out of peer pressure. Decide whether you will be among those brands that have an opinion on current affairs and pop culture or not. Imagine a spectrum where one end is extremely conversational (think Amul or Fevicol) and the other where you are only sticking to your pre-meditated messaging (pretty much sanitised FMCG brands with global restrictions). You can choose to position your brand anywhere in the middle as well, but it needs to be deliberate.

2. Determine the Tone of Voice

It is easy not to need a tone of voice when you don’t talk much. But if you do want to have an opinion on everything, you need to be more acutely tuned to what your brand’s conversational persona will be. Suffice to say, the voice needs to outlive campaigns and team restructuring. We usually do an exercise whereby we co-define the brand’s personality and rank it on humour, formality, irreverence and enthusiasm. This determines the kind of reaction your brand will consistently give on pop culture events.

3. Move Fast

Building a brand is a long, sustained process. The established wisdom is to err on the side of caution. Yet, in today’s fast-paced environment, you see that the brands not built by traditional marketers (think Careem and Foodpanda) have a quicker public response time to trending topics. Even if you are operating in a different industry, the messaging space will be quickly filled up. You need to be immediately aware of what is about to capture public attention and push out reactive content fast. We have built a whole service business (called Trendfather) on this insight alone. Each trend has a different half-life and heat level, so choose wisely.

4. Embrace the Goldfish

Remember chai wala? Olivia’s copied ads? Neither do we. What goes on the internet stays there forever, but it gets buried in an ever-expanding pile of content, so your most embarrassing brand messaging mistakes today will be largely irrelevant a year from now. This should help you become a little braver in taking up a position on trending topics. It is much, much, worse to be ignored than it is to be berated.

5. Use the Right Hashtags

A big reason to leverage trending topics on branded assets is to get some hashtag juice out of them, which can then be diverted into traffic and improved health for the assets. The mighty forces of Facebook’s ever changing alogithms are forever on the change, but there is some evidence that using the right hashtag (especially on Instagram) can increase reach and therefore give a temporary organic boost to your post. This pushes up the overall page health and you will see tapered effects of the same in subsequent, non-trending posts as well.

6. Curation and Angling

Content angling is what separates the me-toos from the oh-wows. Basically, once you have decided to go after a particular trend, the second great determinant to success (other than speed) is how you connect the brand’s story to the topic at hand. Ignore the armchair marketers who will eventually dissect your approach regardless; instead, think about the benefit for the brand. The right angle should not be too forced or too expected. Keep the curation to yourself and get a good team of copywriters (or a better agency) to develop the trend angling.

When push comes to shove, it is hard to ignore the fact that we are living in an era of social content overflow – 500k tweets, 300k million status updates and thousands of links shared across the internet every minute – and we need to be able to be a part of the conversation. Whether you like it or not, brands are talking to each other and to their audiences about everyday water-cooler stuff. You can choose to sit out the topical advertising wave, but you may be swept away by the currents of irrelevance. The best way, as of now, seems to be to stay in the hearts and minds of your audiences by capturing and leveraging these trends. Maybe one day, your brand will be able to create them as well.

Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.