On Friday 31st March 2017, Nivea, the skin-care brand that is owned by the Hamburg-based company Beiersdorf Global AG, launched a promotional campaign for its “invisible” deodorant aimed at customers in the Middle East.

It was intended to promote Nivea’s “Invisible for Black and White” deodorant with the advert depicting the back of a woman’s head with long, dark, wavy hair tumbling down the back of her all-white outfit, shot against a brightly lit window.

The company chose to launch the campaign via social media and put out the adverts on its Facebook page. With the Facebook campaign linked to the company’s Twitter page, the opportunity for the campaign to reach a wider public and for them to engage with it was enhanced. Unfortunately for Nivea, the response was not what they anticipated.

When the campaign went live, public furore was ignited by the strapline the company had attached to the image - below the woman’s flowing hair, in bold, blue capital letters ran the slogan: “WHITE IS PURITY.”

Nivea 2

Within a very short time, Twitter was buzzing with negative comments connecting the strapline with racism.

What the HELL is this? White Purity? Shame, Shame, Shame on you. Fire your marketing person and anyone who approved this ad,” Tweeted one user.

“These glaring missteps are directly related to lack of internal inclusiveness,” said one PR professional’s Tweet.

Things took a turn for the worse when right-wing activists started praising the campaign on Nivea’s Facebook page and even adding images of Adolph Hitler appearing to endorse the product. This lead to even more negative Tweets and Facebook comments.

Wow @NiveaUSA. This is horrendous. Your comments are FULL of society’s refuse. This cleared your marketing department? #prnightmare” read one Tweet.

Even worse was to follow, as white supremacist groups attached themselves to the campaign, claiming it supported their racist agendas as they set about posting on Twitter and Facebook.

This resulted in the Daily Mail publishing an image of a post by one of the groups on Nivea’s Facebook page, which read, “We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.”

“Nivea has chosen our side and the most liked comments are glorious,” read one far-right Tweet, that carried a picture of Nivea’s Facebook post. Another far-right group went so far as to encourage its followers to “LIKE ALL (Nivea) COMMENTS, BUY THEIR PRODUCTS.”

The post on Facebook stayed live for the weekend until the PR storm reached the ears of the Nivea PR team and it was taken down, but by that time the team were in firefighting mode. Media requests for comment were ignored while the team devised a strategy to deal with the backlash.

Nivea set about responding to every Tweet in person, taking the position that everyone who had commented deserved personal contact. In doing so, it distanced itself from any of the Tweets or comments made by the far-right groups.

NiveaUK tweeted: @benjancewicz@plumandmustard@NIVEAUSA This was not a @niveauk post, the NIVEA Middle East post was not meant to be offensive. We deeply apologise and it’s been removed.

NIVEA USA tweeted: @maej43@wickdchiq@niveauk The NIVEA Middle East post was not meant to be offensive. We apologize. It’s been removed. NIVEA values diversity and tolerance.

The company then followed that up with a media statement apologising for the post, which it said had been removed after “concerns risen about ethnic discrimination.”

The media statement read as follows; “We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific post. After realizing that the post is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of NIVEA: The brand represents diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity. We value difference. Direct or indirect discrimination must be ruled out in all decisions by, and in all areas of our activities.”

However, a connected advert for the same product with the strapline “Black Stays black. White Stays White.” was still live in the Nivea Middle East Facebook page two days after the offending one had been taken down.

So where did Nivea, a company that had been caught out with advertising deemed to be racially offensive in the past, go wrong? How did it not see the elephant in the room that was so glaringly obvious in hindsight?

The preparation of a PR campaign should take up as much, if not more time than the implementation of it. What’s more, it should look at every angle of possible interpretation by all audiences.

I have no idea who put this original advert together or who approved it for publication – but I will bet a pound to a penny that they overlooked the importance of semiotics and how images and language are interpreted by various readers. It would be easy to point the finger at one or two people in this campaign and blame them – but surely it was seen and approved by a large number of people who should have said, at some point, “hang on a minute, can this be interpreted in a different way?” Unless you look at your advert from as many different hilltops as possible, you are not in a position to anticipate the potential responses to it.

Equally important is getting comments from various people “before” the advert is approved for publication. If you are using an agency or in-house team to develop the advert, they have a responsibility to carry out the blue-sky thinking which identifies potential risks – but they are only human and can get carried away with their own ideas and not see the pitfalls; not that that is an excuse. As commissioners of the advert, the company it is promoting also has a responsibility to run PR health and safety checks on a planned advert. There is no absolute guarantee that an advert will not upset or offend someone, the options for interpretation and the multiplicity of varying opinions held by audiences precludes that – however, putting the right checks and balances in place before publication will prevent you making the same mistakes as Nivea did here.

With thanks to Amy B Wang and the Washington Post.

Over the years, a select few politicians have stood on platforms and declared their intention to think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable; some with better intentions than others, but most with an aim of shaking up the system or status quo, to throw a cold bucket of water in society's face, to walk to the end of the gangplank and offer us all a very strong black coffee.

And so I find myself thinking the unthinkable about a man who clearly is willing to do the same - has Donald Trump dared to see the elephant in the room that everyone else is blind to - or to put it another way; is Trump's approach actually right?

For years the liberal left has bemoaned the state of politics, not just in the US and UK but worldwide. "It stinks, they are all in it for self-gain, they don't give a hoot about the common man and only use the middle-class as power pawns in the game" - we've all heard it, many of us have said it and complained from the comfort of our sofa's about the wretched "system."

Then along comes a man who promises not only to change things, he's going to tear up the rule books of politics, diplomacy and PR and replace them with no BS straight talk that the "common woman and man" can understand. He is going to address his public in the language that they use and recognise. He knows full well that he will lose some people and many others simply will not buy into his speeches and rhetoric at all - but that does not matter because this speaker, this marketeer has done his market research. He sees a huge gap in the market where no one is meeting it's demand.

For years the competition has played the game by its own rules and it worked; but what if they failed to see their market share dwindling in the face of demand for something else - just as Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons ignored what Aldi and Lidl saw?

What then if the new supplier comes along and sees these consumers and addresses them in a very attractive way that sees him suddenly gain market share and bottom-line growth? The competition is at a loss - how can this be? His promotional offer is all wrong, it's packaged with bad taste and runs counter to all the accepted marketing techniques; except it's not - it's actually classic in structure and delivery.

Trump has not so much turned politics on its head as applied basic business sense to his campaign. He is treating everything as he would a business - see the market opportunity, understand the language of customers and fill his keynote speeches with messages that resonate with the demand from that market - how could he fail? The rest of the market may be screaming blue murder at his approach but it can kick and scream all it likes, Trump will carry on addressing the market in his way so long as it responds to him; once it stops, he will change his message so that he retains its loyalty - we have already seen that with his reneging on campaign statements.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blinded by his hollow rhetoric, like any good reality TV contestant, he will say anything to keep the man across the desk from pointing the finger and saying "you're fired" he knows how to play this game - let's face it, he invented a good part of it, he made up these media rules and knows how to use them to his advantage. Like the street hawker, he understands how to pull in the crowd, make them an offer that they can't resist and walk away with their cash in his pocket.

How else can we explain his ability to mock the afflicted and minority groups and get away with it? He does that because his core audience are not engaged on those subjects - at least not in the same way that the competitions' public is.

Obama was revered for his oratory and diplomacy - the very opposite of Trump you may think, and yet Donald has the right speaking skills for HIS audience. It is not the same audience that that Barack and Hillary addressed, they had lost their market share and Donald was not interested in them; and he certainly is not using the same speaking approach - he doesn't have to and won't, he is speaking to a different audience .

Trump is bringing business to the Whitehouse like no other President before because he sees America as a business, a huge company with a massive workforce that requires work. He needed to get them motivated to believe that capitalism is best handled by people who understand markets and not politicians who understand how to handle diplomacy and keep everyone happy. Trump is not interested in keeping anyone happy other than his workers in USA Plc.

Politics and politicians have let millions of us down for centuries in applying all sorts of economic strategies. Many of us bemoan politicians for "not living in the real world" for not having had any "real work experience" and for being career politicians. No one can lay that claim at Trump's feet - like it or not, President Trump is right on at least one front.


Do you know anyone who thinks that they can use social media to talk directly to the whole world? Yes, these people do exist, I know because I’ve heard it said that Twitter allows the smaller businesses and organisations on this tiny island to engage with a global audience – what’s more, it’s so easy to do and achievable with so little effort.

Let me invite to you consider this scenario. Imagine you are standing atop a mountain. All around you are hundreds of what look like potential new customers ready to hear your irresistible and well-crafted marketing message. You begin volubly extolling the virtues of your services or product – but you then realise that it’s not that you are not being heard – why not? Simple, because everyone else is doing exactly the same thing at the same time; and the noise is deafening. That is Twitter for you.

I tried a similar exercise with a group of businesses at a networking meeting recently and had one Director tell me it was everything he’d tried for years to explain how he envisioned Twitter; loads of noise going on with everyone shouting at each other and getting nowhere slowly.

Twitter is like any other communication means that you may have in your marketing toolbox – it has to be used correctly and appropriately. Ask yourself this question; after spending years refining your approach to market segmentation so that you are a finely tuned and accurate sniper, why would you suddenly invest in using a Blunderbuss to target new customers?

If you want to be successful in using Twitter you have to invest time, effort and resources into finding the right people to talk to and to organically growing your following list.

So how are you going to do that? Well the simplest way is to look close to home and to engage in a little sneakiness. If you have not already done so, make sure you are following all of your customers and any associations connected to them. If you are targeting a particular sector, then look for associations in that sector and follow all of their appropriate followers. In my experience you will get at least a third of those you follow fairly quickly following you back. Make sure you recognise them when they follow you back and do it on their timeline rather than in a Direct Message. There is so much abuse of automated Direct Messaging that hardly anyone bothers to read them these days; I’ve come across a number of Twitter accounts that actually state they never read a DM.

Your existing customers are likely to be following or being followed by similar businesses or organisations, so check out their follower lists for potential targets and follow them and introduce yourself at the same time.

And now we come to the sneaky bit. All Twitter follower and following list are in the public domain so there is nothing unethical about looking at your known competitor’s lists and following potential targets there as well.

Be consistent in your activity, make regular but different posts. Have a mix of formal and informal posts in your timeline so that you seem human and make sure you are checking your notifications on a regular basis. I ran a campaign for a client recently that ended up engaging with three new unknown contacts, all of whom expressed an interest in doing business with my client. If we had not checked the notification files we could so easily have missed these valuable connections. We put in an awful lot of effort to shift their traffic and follower numbers to achieve an 80% increase in following and 15% increase in follower numbers inside seven days but the client is now seeing substantial organic growth in followers as its network expands on a daily basis. The more your tweets are seen on increasing numbers of timelines, the more opportunity you have to connect with potential new customers, suppliers or referral agents.

Focus down on your Twitter targets and you will get better results, carry on taking a broad-brush approach from the top of the mountain and you will still be shouting in the wind until you are hoarse with very little to show for it.

I recently conducted a customer satisfaction survey on behalf of a client who had never used that type of market research before. We wanted to know what the real customer experience was when it came to buying the company's products and services.

You may have noticed I used the word "real" above - it's an intentional use to highlight the fact that many business owners will tell you they know what customers think of them even though they have never asked. I've often found that sales and marketing teams will tell you they understand what the customer wants because they "know" why they come to them - this knowledge is often based on nothing more than intuition, gut instinct or, worst of all common sense.

It is a position underpinned by the belief that the advertising campaigns being used are working (overlooking marketing pioneer John Wanamaker's attributed quote that "half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."), that customers are buying products and services and that no one is making complaints - even though 94% of complaints about a company are never actually registered by customers.
This assumption that we somehow just "know" what the customer wants, is not only wrong a lot of the time it is dangerous, overlooks sales opportunities and leads to bad practices being continued.

The information we got back from customers did indeed reinforce some of the assumptions the sales team had made - "we knew they liked us for quality, we could have told you that" but the difference now is that the company really does "know" all the good things customers appreciate about it when they buy products and services. What's more, the company now also has clear feedback on areas where it needs to make improvements and is at risk of losing certain customers. By taking action my client was able to respond to weaknesses in its operations, strengthen challenged relationships it had (and in some cases did not know about) with existing customers and with the use of good PR, turn those customers into unpaid sales representatives as they now go out and tell others just how much they are appreciated are by my client.

Customer feedback is useless on it's own, it does nothing but provide you with information - it is taking action when you have it that matters. You can see how this is used by reading an article on another part of my website here.
The positive feedback and specific brand values that customers appreciate when buying from my client can now be used to promote my client to prospective customers. All future marketing messages will contain the truth of what customers get when buying from my client - supported and reinforced by third party endorsement.

That endorsement can be used in press releases, on websites as it is here for a totally different client, in above the line advertising or in a myriad of tactics using social media.
Back in 1597 Sir Francis Bacon wrote in his Meditationes Sacrae that "ipsa scientia potestas est" or "knowledge itself is power', now I don't want to argue with such a respected figure as Sir Francis, but how much more influence and power would that knowledge have if it was followed up with action?

Until the beginning of this week the name Martin Shkreli meant little to anyone this side of the Atlantic - but it is now synonymous with business PR disasters on a global scale.

Screen Shot 2015 09 21 at 4.11.35 PM 600x332

Mr Shkreli hit the headlines again (he has a good reputation in the States for attracting bad press) when he whipped up a PR storm after raising the price of a drug used to treat Aids patients by over 5,000% .

Shkreli's company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the drug Daraprim in August with the intention of cornering the market and making it very hard for anyone to copy the drug and undercut his massively inflated price.

Amid a media and social media outcry at his actions, Shkreli went in front of the cameras to defend his decision to raise the price of the 62-year-old drug it had acquired from $13.50 to $750 a pill - which infuriated infectious disease doctors who then fanned the flames of the PR fire - Daraprim is  used to treat a parasitic infection that can be life-threatening to some babies and people with AIDS and cancer.

Not only was Shkreli staunch in his defence of his actions, he actually claimed there were some "altruistic properties" behind his decision to increase the average cost of treating one patient from $,1,130 to $63,000 a year. That altruism (selfless actions devoted to the welfare of others) was founded on the idea that profits from the sale of Daraprim would be used to fund further research into better drugs that Shkreli would then no doubt sell for more profits; even though Doctors told journalists that there is no need for improved medicines.

Following the outcry against Shkreli and two days of him trying to defend himself, he finally announced that Turing Pharmaceuticals would be dropping the price to a "reasonable cost" that would reduce the size of the profit being made. However, and this is where the company really is hoisted by its own PR petard, Shkreli refused to say what that price would be.

No matter what the price that Turing Pharmaceuticals adopts in future, it will always be seen as a callous company that will try to profiteer from the pain and anguish of others because it knew there was no other substitute for the drug it was selling. No amount of fire-fighting will dampen this PR fire while ever Shkreli appears in the media trying to look like he's been wronged for trying to make a fast buck - and he has made plenty of those in the past.

When a PR storm hits your company for something that you are responsible for, the worst thing you can do is go out in front of the media and try to claim that what you were doing to cause the storm was right and proper. What Shkreli should have done was to acknowledge his error in making the drastic hike, committed himself to working with others to find ways of preventing the infection for which Daraprim is used and alter his business practices to ensure he does not try to manipulate a market in the same way again. However, that would have taken authenticity and real altruism, which I somehow think Mr Shkreli would find difficult to purchase; no matter how he tried to corner the market.