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Have a laugh at B2C blunders, but B2B isn't exactly perfect

Bad B2C campaigns frequently makes headlines but, as Rob Green explores, that doesn't mean B2B marketing is always faultless

Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s CurryWars campaign was one of 2018’s B2C talking points, albeit not for the right reasons. Its misguided attempt at humour actually turned out pretty racist, and was a prime example of the ‘loud equals good’ approach some B2C brands subscribe to even more heavily in the age of Trump. Because if you’re not screaming at people, how will they hear you?

But B2B doesn’t get away scot-free - it’s just usually not ripped apart quite so thoroughly in public, because Kendall Jenner doesn’t feature in misguided campaigns about recruitment. I’m not advocating any campaign or creative should be left to the mercy of the masses, but there’s a wealth - if that’s the right term - of B2B missteps we could all learn from.

There’s a difference between targeting people and making people targets

We understand - you’ve got to stand out. But sometimes that results in you standing alone. For a B2C example, you’ve got the British Army’s recent recruitment drive, targeting ‘snowflakes’, ‘phone zombies’ and ‘selfie addicts’. Hoping to play on stereotypes in order to recruit said group, the campaign’s since been mocked for trying a little too hard to bottle the zeitgeist.

In a similar stumble, esteemed tech company IBM’s ‘Hack-a-Hairdryer’ creative had a clear, seemingly simple objective. The 2015 spot bemoaned the lack of women in STEM professions - quite rightly - and looked to change that. Whether IBM misread the cultural temperature or thought it was being tongue-in-cheek is anyone’s guess, but ‘Hack-a-Hairdryer’ was torn apart for its literality: it tried to entice women into STEM professions with the promise of hacking a hairdryer.

The ad’s sexist connotations undermined the point IBM was trying to make – again, if it was going for tongue-in-cheek, it was a little naive. It’s not the fifties anymore and gender stereotyping isn’t acceptable in advertising, even if they’re played for laughs. Just because this is B2B, it doesn’t mean your customers aren’t people. Empathise with whoever’s buying your products and services to avoid mishaps like this.

Crisis comms can turn a spill into a drop in the ocean

BP Tony Hayward 'Sorry' Ad Original Version Exclusive

You remember the 2010 BP Deepwater Hoprizon oil spill. The 11 who died, the irreparable damage to the environment, the PR disaster that ensued. Nobody likes being wrong, obviously, but at this titanic level – or, come to think of it, any level – of human and commercial tragedy, there must be a plan in place for when things go south. 

Last year, BP announced it would take a $1.7 billion expenses charge in relation to the incident, having already spent $61.6 billion in court fees, penalties and clean-up costs by 2016.

The infamous 'We’re sorry' ad above did little to quell customer dissatisfaction, BP losing 38 percent of its American adult customers in just nine weeks. The company may have been able to avoid a roasting from South Park if it had taken a different route to We’re Sorry, but there’s only so much you can do to limit public backlash in the face of such a terrible event.

From a B2B perspective, the effects were surprisingly manageable. As long as BP can still shift vast units of oil, investors will remain loyal. Public outcry is inevitable, but this BP incident is much like any massive crisis or exposé – no matter how bad it is, if the company’s still going, people will flock back for price and/or convenience. BP knew this, and focused on retaining B2B clients with its rigorous testing processes, rather than spend the next however-many-years playing the blame game with contractors.

In BP’s case, the misstep was apparent but reparations were achievable. Whether you’re an established brand or a fledgling startup, you have to have accountability, moving forward and reassuring shareholders every step of the way - both B2B and B2C. 

B2B isn’t boring, but you can sure as hell make it seem that way

3M Protac 3 - Workers Choice

There’s plenty of fun B2B. Funny B2B. One of my favourite things OLIVER’s done in the past few years is this 3M ad above – it’s obviously trying to sell safety gear to firms, but it’s engaging, to the point, and full of genuine humour.

Getting messaging like this in front of massive audiences can do no end of good – it asserts the value of B2B and further broadens its appeal. So when you’ve got an opportunity like Super Bowl 2018, you’d think to pull out all the stops.

Wix.com Official 2018 Big Game Ad with Rhett & Link

Website builder Wix.com missed a trick here, it seems. Offered a last-minute slot, Wix submitted creative it already had, featuring YouTubers Rhett and Link, as its Super Bowl contribution.

It was basically just 30 seconds of two men showing us how to use Wix. That’s fine for YouTube, for targeted advertising. In a different context, this is good B2B. But at the Super Bowl, it fell a little flat.

So in a nutshell: don’t offend people, have a backup plan and always know who your audience is. And remember: louder doesn’t always mean better.

B2B nation: The B2B industry's contribution to the UK economy revealed

While B2C brands steal the headlines, it’s B2B brands that bring home the UK’s bacon. Download this free guide to find out just how important the B2B sector is to the UK economy.

Reveal how much the B2B nation is worth

B2B nation