“Silly PR is better than serious PR”: 10 reasons why

Baa Baa Land Calm

 

When his startup became a unicorn, one of my long-term clients made a list of the lessons that he’d learnt on the journey there.

In fact, he asked me to read it before he posted it. It listed about a dozen lessons. They all made good sense – but one of them jumped out at me.

“Silly PR”, it stated, “is better than serious PR.”

Reading this prompted a rush of thoughts … in roughly the following order:

• “Silly PR”: Is that a thing?

• Yes, of course it is. That’s what I do. D’oh! It’s what I bring – what I’ve brought – to the party.

• What a brilliant name for it: MUCH better than all the various other names – including guerrilla marketing and viral marketing – that people use for it..

• How right he is. How true – not for every brand, in all circumstances but for many or most brands, in more circumstances than you’d think.

• Yet, why don’t more folks notice this? And act on it by actually doing silly PR?

And then, finally, and maybe most interesting …

• WHY is it so true? What makes it so?

In answer to this last question, I came up with …

 

10 reasons that silly PR is better than serious PR

 

1. Silly PR lets you be not just somewhat or marginally better than your rivals but WAY better.

If you do traditional PR well, the best you can hope for is to do it somewhat better than your competitors … since even if you’re doing it particularly well, it’s still pretty much what everyone else is doing too.

If, on the other hand, you do silly PR – alias non-traditional PR, guerrilla/viral PR, or quirky, creative PR – well, you’re likely to be doing it not just somewhat but spectacularly better than your competitors … since few or any of them will be doing doing it all … either because it doesn’t occur to them or because they don’t know how.

This is why silly PR, done well, can give you such a competitive edge and amount even to a kind of secret weapon.

2. Silly PR gives you more for your money – more buzz for your marketing buck.

With serious PR, you’re generally aiming to get one good piece of coverage at a time. With silly PR, if you get it right, you can get not just one piece of coverage but dozens or scores or sometimes hundreds.

3. The silliest ideas are often also the most successful.

The silliest ideas are, in my experience, also the ones that often generate the most coverage and buzz and top the lists of “Most viewed” and “Most shared” stories.

One of the most successful stories that Think Inc has ever done was Baa Baa Land, an eight-hour, slow-motion film, entirely starring sheep, standing in a field and doing nothing.

Produced for Calm, the meditation and sleep app, and marketed as both “the ultimate insomnia cure – better than any sleeping pill” and “the dullest movie ever made”, It went viral everywhere from Kazakhstan to Bulgaria and beyond, including even in the markets that we were actually targeting.

 

Baa Baa Land - Peter Freedman

 

It won so much global buzz that four months after releasing the trailer, we came back for a second bite of the cherry and staged the film’s world premiere at a cinema in London’s West End. Sheep in comfortably fitting tuxedos and evening gowns strode the red carpet for the cameras and planted their hoof-prints in … well, a tray of mud.

The result was a further shed-load of global coverage.

When the EU published its new GDPR privacy law, we had Calm respond by producing the world’s first and only bedtime story consisting of a long and sleep-inducing extract from a 500 and some page piece of EU legislation.

One journalist to whom we pitched the press release about Once Upon A GDPR, Calm’s unique new Sleep Story, hailed it as “wonderfully silly … in the best possible way” and shared it with colleagues who promptly posted a big piece.

And I could go on but there more examples of silly stories created by Thinc Inc here.

Once Upon A GDPR - Calm

4. Silly PR is the future; serious PR is the past.

The fact is that serious PR, alias traditional PR, is in decline while silly PR is in the ascendant.

The biggest reason that serious PR is in decline is that serious journalism is in decline and the influence of serious media – online and off – is ever shrinking.

Whether this is a good thing or not is another matter and there are good reasons to think that it may not be, but it is a compelling fact.

“Between 2009 and 2018, the share of teenagers in economically advanced countries who read newspapers declined from 60 per cent to 20 per cent”, explained an article by James Marriot in The [London] Times almost two years ago.

“Instead, a recent Reuters study found, their news comes from social media. That doesn’t mean Twitter (home of journalists and politicians) and Facebook (home of old people), it means Instagram and Snapchat.

“Adults are likely to be loyal to one newspaper. Teenagers prefer to browse a number of outlets. Almost every teenage phone has Instagram installed on it — barely any has a news app.”

Serious, traditional PR relies on contacts and there are ever fewer contacts for contacting, since there are ever fewer journalists and ever smaller newsrooms.

Silly PR relies on ideas. Ideas are the currency of the modern media, whether earned/traditional or social media.

5. Silly PR is “media neutral” – and media neutral is modern marketing’s holy grail.

Silly PR is media neutral since silly ideas that work well, are able to so on both earned media and social media.

One reason for this is that Silly PR isn’t really PR – or, at least, it isn’t just PR. The core and essence of it is the idea, which can spread equally across all media.

Apart from media neutral ideas, the other holy grail of modern marketing is virality. What everyone wants these days are ideas that “go viral”; Silly ideas are more likely than serious ones to go viral.

6. Silly PR works well when you have something genuinely new to share or announce. Silly PR works whenever.

… or, at least, whenever you have a good idea. You don’t have to wait until you have a new product or appointment to announce.

7. Silly PR reflects the spirit of the age.

In our ever more secular age, there is what John Mortimer, the late British writer, called,  “a deep modern awareness of absurdity”.

Silly PR reflects that awareness. If, as Nietzsche claimed, “God is dead”, then a deep modern sense of absurdity might be among the things that has replaced him.

8. Silly PR is on trend and of the moment.

This risks sounding like another way of saying that silly PR reflects the spirit of the age (see point 6, above). But I’m giving it a separate number because it’s sort of a different (if perhaps loosely related?) point.

What goes viral on Facebook, we are told, is content that spreads anger and fear. But Facebook is in (relative) decline, with an ageing audience. What goes viral on TikTok and Instagram, the two fastest-growing and most happening social platforms, is, according to the latest data, content that entertains, delights and amuses users.

“There’s a reason why the app [TikTok] has recently hit one billion users”, concluded a recent Semrush analysis on The Hooks of Viral TikToks, “and it might have something to do with the fact that happiness, humor, and surprise were by far the most common emotions sparked by the videos we analyzed.”

Instagram is going the same way. The biggest reason for using Instagram used to be inspiration and product discovery. But the number one reason that people now use Instagram, according to Instagram itself, to be entertained. Instagram, in other words, has pivoted … and entertainment, amusement and silliness are its new direction.

9. Silly PR can humanise a brand. It can help dispel stigma and detoxify a taboo subject.

So, among the longstanding ambitions of Calm, the meditation and sleep app and long-time Think Inc client, has been to help destigmatise mental health.

Mental health, of course, is a serious subject. Few subjects are more so. It’s also one that still carries a stigma that inhibits discussion and action.

One of the ways that Calm has done its own small bit to help destigmatise mental health has been by showing that you don’t always have to be sombre and po-faced in the discussion of it. You can show a sense of humour about it – like you can about most things in life.

The same goes, in a slightly different way, with meditation. Meditation is certainly something that is loved by … those who love it. For many others, meditation is still something, well, sort of woo-woo, if not toxic – something for vegans with sandals and weirds and beards, but not for them.

Silly ideas can help not just destigmatise mental health but also – for the scared and wary – it can help detoxify meditation.

10. “Silly and fun things are important”, said Elon Musk. They don’t just drive engagement and connection but also add to the gaiety of the nation.

When Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket ship, the most high-powered rocket ever sent into orbit by a private company, it marked the dawn, some said, of a new era of space exploration.

What prompted most discussion about the launch, however, was not its epoch-makng implications or even the rocket ship itself but its payload – a red convertible sports car; or to be specific, a cherry red Tesla Roadster.

Within minutes of the launch, a live video feed of the car was beamed from space, with a mannequin dubbed the “Spaceman” in the driving seat, wearing a SpaceX spacesuit. The car and its “driver” stole the show.

The video of the Musk’s car-laden rocket got over 14 million views in a week, along with staggering attention on traditional media.

As a stunt, strapping a convertible to a space rocket was outrageously successful.

“It’s kind of silly and fun”, Musk told The New York Times, “but silly and fun things are important.”

The reasons that they are so is not just that they, as the saying goes, add to the gaiety of the nation, but they also help consumers engage with the event and the brand on an emotional level. And when they do engage in this way, they in turn in talk and post about and enthuse about it to others.

Without the added silliness, in the form of a red convertible strapped to the rocket, the public and media reaction to a rocket launch, even a privately funded one, might have been, “Meh! Yeah, right, yawn, whatever”. With it, however, the reaction became, “Wow! Awesome. Ha Ha. Brilliant. Cool. Who can I tell about this?”

 

In conclusion

I did not coin the term “Silly PR” but I like it as a new marketing term – and a term for what I do and Think Inc does.

It may not sound as bleeding edge – viral marketing, guerrilla marketing, guerrilla content marketing – but I consider it both more accurate and more useful.

In the event, the client of mine who DID coin the term, ended up never actually using it.

Just before publishing his post, he changed his original statement that “Silly PR is better than serious PR” to something more general about how creative PR could be surprisingly effective.

But I much preferred the way that he phrased it the first time. I felt, in fact, that he couldn’t have put it better.

“If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR”, is what Bill Gates is famously reported to have said.

If he did, indeed, say it, then it may be time that he updated it, by now declaring, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on SILLY PR”.