Monday, January 19, 2009

The Act of Criticism vs. the Art of Critique

What went wrong with the Burger King Sacrifice social media promotion on Facebook: A learning opportunity in the building and execution of ideas.

Tearing down is vastly easier than building up. It only take seconds to bring down an old Las Vegas hotel that may have taken years to plan and build. Tearing down is fun, too. Crowds gather and cheer as the old is turned into rubble and dust. Lots of dust. Click and watch Vegas hotels implode for yourself on this HeroFlame video. C’mon, admit it. You want to look…you need to look.

On the other hand, building up is hard work.

All the worry and sweat and heavy lifting is usually done by smaller teams that have ownership and accountability for their product. No big crowds gather as the team burns the midnight oil. Concepting great ideas is tough work. Ensuring the flawless execution of those ideas is equally taxing. Results, reputations, money, and sometimes jobs, may be on the line.

Criticism is easy

Pick a victim and circumstance to tear down. Be fairly lucid as you skewer home your points. Then move on, smug in your superiority and scarcely moved by the rubble and dust you raise. The headline for this blog could have been,

Whopper Sacrifice Faceplants on Facebook.”

Easy and fun. But not constructive.

In case you haven’t hear about it, the Whopper Sacrifice promotion was released by Burger King on Facebook January 8—and killed just one week later by Facebook. According to Brian Morrissey at Adweek, the concept of the Burger King-developed social media promotion was to reward people with a coupon for their signature burger when they “sacrificed” 10 friends from Facebook. It noted that people who have been on Facebook for a while may have accumulated too many so-called “friends,” some of whom they may barely know.

Facebook reportedly killed the app for privacy reasons. If you think about it strategically, you may come to another conclusion.

I believe Erica Naone at Technology Review gets it right for at least part of the BK audience. “Facebook's primary value…lies in maintaining…second-string acquaintances. I'm not going to lose touch with my best friend, my husband, or my sister, and I hardly need to interact with them on Facebook. But there's a circle of people that I care about and miss but who are beyond my ordinary ability to stay in touch. Thanks to Facebook, I can find these people….”

Big oops! It's critical to understand how your target audience relates to the medium and how they use it. Another apparent big oops, especially for a big international brand--not having Facebook in your camp before you release the promo.

How do you set the stage early on to prevent yourself from making these kinds of social faux pas? Back to our learning opportunity.

Critique is harder—and better

If you live on the front line as a brand marketer, it’s your job to create and build. I find that I get lots more out of my team and our ideas—and take brands to greater heights of success—when we practice the art of the critique as we brainstorm and develop new ideas.

While pure criticism is a hammer that destroys. Critique is an art that builds.

Good critique requires you to have mastery of your territory. For marketers, you must understand your brand, your target audience, key stakeholders, the marketing and media tools. You must understand the needs of your marketing partners. And you must know how to communicate your thoughts and criticisms to your team in a way that enables them to see weaknesses and at the same time enjoy the thrill of having the chance to continue to build. That’s their passion. They’re great at it. That’s why you hired ‘em, right? So let ‘em build and love it.

Go hypothetical and put yourself in the room at the marketing agency as the Whopper Sacrifice idea is being born and developed. Let’s say you’re the director in charge. How would you have reacted?

Would you have recognized the fun in the idea? Would you have recognized the inherent controversy? That it asks Facebook members to cut people from their friends list. Would you have spotted the strategic disconnect between the Burger King objective—involve customers with the brand in a fun, new social way. And the Facebook objective—grow membership and branded relationships. Would you have killed it?

Instead, if you practiced the art of criticism and built on the idea, what would you do?

You would recognize the folks that generated the Sacrifice concept for their ingenuity. You would lead them to discover the strategic disconnect for themselves. You would direct them to advance the objectives of both promo partners. If you had given your team that goal, and had them take another go at it, would the Sacrifice idea have evolved into something great? I submit that the talent in that room would have been fully capable of achieving greatness. And that the next iteration of the program—though it would surely look different—would be running today in glory, instead of living in infamy on the trash heap of “good.”

Look at Kraft as a model.

Kraft is running a Facebook campaign in conjunction with Feeding America that donates meals to needy families when users get their friends to add the Kraft Facebook app. Every friend who adds the Kraft Supports Feeding America app will provide over six meals for an American suffering from hunger. As this blog is being written Kraft has donated 1,792,322 meals toward its goal of 3.2 million—nearly 60% of its goal.

The promotion drives the objectives of both promotional partners. And it looks as if it’s on its way to be a social marketing success.

Mistakes can be good…as long as they’re not repeated

Marketers entering social media are entering new territory. The right answers are not always known, nor are they obvious. Mistakes will be made--and online they're hard to erase. Learn from others. Set the stage for success early on. Learn the art of critique. And build great ideas. Every time.


Paul Hydzik grows brand value. As a brand marketer and award-winning creative leader, Paul has more than 15 years of experience driving business success from start-ups to blue chips. His strategic resume covers all aspects of B2B and B2C branding from go-to-market to consumer insight to identity development and all forms of marketing communication.

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