Be genuine in interacting
with each and every user.
Salvias are plants in the mint family that are found all around the world. In floriography, they represent “respect.” The original garden variety of salvia comes from southern Brazil. It was first announced in 1822, and was taken to Britain the same year. Estimates vary, but there are now said to be as many as 900 new species of it around. The sage used as herbs in cuisine and medicine also belong to the same family. Possessing antioxidant properties, sage has been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times. In Europe, people have long believed it can help keep them and their families healthy, and it features in numerous proverbs and sayings along those lines. The name “salvia” itself is said to come from the Latin “salvus” (healthy), reflecting its use as a medicinal herb since Roman antiquity. The name changed as its spread to other countries, with the Latin “salvus” becoming “sauge” in French and “sage” in English. The English name “sage” comes from the homonym meaning “wise person,” from which it gets its florigraphic connotation of “esteem” and “respect.”
Having respect for each individual customer is very important in marketing as well. Companies have long recognized how crucial CRM (customer relations management) is for them when it comes to maintaining good relations with customers, and while it is usually only about customers, it is similar to PR in terms of being about building good relations. This is because a key part of building good “relations” with the “public” is its interactivity, in the sense that it is about listening to people's opinions, and proactively working to accommodate their needs. “Public hearing” is a PR term I am sure many of you have also heard of. Here, it is important that both sides' views are exchanged and listened to with respect in order to build good relations with each other and to further those relations in a positive direction.
Some approaches to CRM are about making the customers themselves want to maintain the relationship with the company; notable examples are membership systems aimed at keeping existing customers loyal by offering them perks, VIP services, and numerous other kinds of preferential treatment. Meanwhile, there are also digital approaches that are about boosting sales efficiency by analyzing and understanding customer data. A pitfall with the first example, however, is that, like the ads consumers frequently encounter on online shops, membership systems often end up being too pushy, instead annoying the customers and making them want to cut ties with the company. The rise in this sort of behavior is widely known to be behind the current desire to set strict rules to control how personal data can be handled, with the EU's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) being a prominent example. What is prompting action like this is the way companies abuse personal data for their own ends without so much as a thought for how the customers themselves will feel about it. One could therefore argue that the problem is that, in the first place, they are ignoring the need for the kind of relations that the former approaches to CRM are all about—namely, listening to what individual customers want and aiming to serve them better accordingly.
On the other hand, companies also have CS (customer satisfaction) departments and the like that are in turn home to customer consultation offices and so on. These departments also aim to build good relations with customers by gathering and responding to their opinions, questions, complaints, etc. They listen to what customers have to say and also treat complaints as golden input for improving products and services. Angry consumers who lodge a complaint will likely be disappointed if they are just thanked for their advice and that is where it ends, but none of them will dislike being taken seriously, and strangely enough, they are often prompted by it to naturally become supportive of the company's attitude and efforts. CRM that creates that kind of empathy may feel rather analog, but people nowadays may actually appreciate the warmth it engenders.
Respecting the existence of this kind of audience is important both in marketing and corporate communications. To respect the existence of others, you first have to be humble. By expressing that humility hilariously through its “Apologize the Rainbow” campaign, the Skittles confectionery brand successfully won back fans whom it had alienated some years before.
APOLOGIZE THE RAINBOW
Skittles are soft, fruit-flavored candies made by Wrigley (the William Wrigley Jr. Company), which is a division of American confectionery giant Mars. Their slogan is “Taste the Rainbow.” As well as standing for diversity, the rainbow is also an invitation to try the wide variety of flavors in each pack. Sugar-coated and stamped with the initial “S,” they come in a range of colors, each linked to a different flavor. The green ones were originally lime flavor, but a 2013 revamp switched them to green apple. This seemingly minor change provoked an outcry from the core fan base, however, and the revamp appeared to have been a massive blunder. Many of the fans who loved the lime flavor were furious at Wrigley for not asking them before they made the swap and spent the next nine years demanding that it be brought back. This goes to show how truly tremendous their love for them was. Similarly tremendous was the courage Skittles showed after remaining silent on the matter for nine years.
In 2022, the brand at last decided to revive the lime flavor and apologize to no less than 130,880 fans who had berated it for the swap. Nine years had been a long wait for the fans who had petitioned Skittles to bring the flavor back, so the brand opted to do them the almost over-the-top courtesy of apologizing to each and every one of them individually. It announced its apology live on Twitch, via Twitter, and even on the billboards in New York's Times Square, and also held a press conference for it. The latter was especially unique in that the spokesperson for Skittles read out all the angry Twitter tweets, among other things, that it had received from fans and apologized to them one by one Partway through, the monitor gave out. He apologized for the hiccup, then an OHP and free-standing screen were brought out from the wings and used to display a printout of the tweets. He then proceeded to read them out and apologize to them as before. It was of course all just a parody put on to get some laughs, but at the same time, it also successfully conveyed a desire to address each and every individual's complaints.
When companies and celebrities hold apology press conferences, it is usually because they have caused some sort of a scandal. In these cases however, they have often been pressured into holding them by the public and media, and the events feel somewhat superficial, formal, and insincere. In the first place, unlike in Japan, people do not hold an apology press conference so easily in the US. Apologizing means admitting that you were in the wrong, and this can be used against you in subsequent disputes. In the US, where this is the norm, Skittle's daring approach of breaking the 9-year silence through a parody of apology press conferences attracted more attention and garnered them empathy. It's also worth mentioning that it took 10 hours to read out all the apology posts. I believe Skittles was able to effectively link this campaign to marketing by not just apologizing to the fans who came back but also giving them lime-flavored skittles as a present.
Although they tried to make the campaign funny by making fun of the whole situation, they still showed humility by apologizing and admitting to their mistakes, garnering empathy from others while reconnecting with lime-flavored skittle lovers. After all this, they had record sales. The marketing strategy that embraced the feelings of lime fans and turned to an attitude of “respecting” the voices they had ignored so far was a great success. It increased engagement not only with customers who they originally lost but also with current fans who appreciated their attitude, and most certainly garnered new customers for Skittles. Changing the taste of the main product no doubt needs quite a bit of courage. There are fans who appreciate old-fashioned tastes, but the preferences of consumers are changing every year without them noticing. Some companies dare not disclose that they change the taste of their products through revamps, and there are products that continue to be successful by having their taste subtly adjusted to a more modern one. Looking at other companies besides Skittles, there have been companies that were disliked by their existing users for coming out loud in their announcement for a revamp just to be topical, saying “We are keeping up with the times!” There have also been manufacturers who try not to make a point of changing their products, choosing a more subtle approach to astonish their users. This can be seen with one that, voluntarily considering the health of their users, made their products “low sodium” without changing the flavor and only later said, “Our users have actually seen improved health.” In general, these responses may differ depending on the relationship between the company and the customer. In order to find the right way, one should understand the environment and ideals of customers through CRM and maintain a good relationship at all times; only then will you be sure to hear the voice of customers. The example mentioned above teaches us the right way to treat and interact with such loyal users.
Now, I would like to introduce an excellent example that made fans want to lodge complaints toward a company trying to revamp a product and, through heated discussions, made them realize their love for it. “American Rom” was a campaign launched by the Romanian chocolate brand ROM.
At the time, the ROM chocolate bar had been using the Romanian flag as its packaging design since its release in 1964. The tradition and history associated with the chocolate bar made it seem old-fashioned, and until recent years, it had been positioned as being mainly favored by seniors. Companies that sell chocolate usually want them to be regularly bought by young people, but the patriotic image of ROM actually made young people not want to buy the product. Instead of appreciating national pride for their country, the Romanian youth were more interested in Snickers and other cool-looking American brands. This was when ROM took bold steps to attract the attention of young people and provoke a debate over national pride.
ROM renewed the package motif with a new design, changing the Romanian flag to the American flag. The company made it public in the mass media. This caused social media to be riddled with posts that read along the lines of “ROM, a national candy bar, has been taken by the US!” and big debates along with it. Many criticisms toward manufacturers for abandoning their homeland arose around the country, blowing up the whole situation further. Watching this turmoil from the other side, the company announced within seven days in a TV commercial that the package would be returned to its original Romanian flag design. Of course, the manufacturer believed in the people's love of ROM from the beginning and knew everyone would react to such an event, and more and more people would demand the familiar design's return; they aimed to let everyone check again what they truly think of the ROM with this boomerang effect. As a result, the campaign reached 67% of Romania's population, provoking debate not only about ROM but also about “patriotism.” ROM reinforced its existence as a symbol of Romania's patriotism. The most significant achievement of all was that ROM’s sales exceeded Snickers' sales in Romania.
Sometimes people do not notice their feelings and spend their time idly. As time passes and we look back, we may feel regret and ask ourselves, “Why didn't we notice that we felt that way earlier?” This is a very advanced way to market your products, as it ignited unconscious feelings that were unknown to some and caused them to act. If it is an unprecedented and new kind of feeling, its existence would be difficult to guess. But what if it was a feeling that you could have had at least once before? If the person has revealed his or her emotion “in a certain place at a certain time,” it is likely to be reproduced again. It will take a tremendous amount of time if you only search for a place to connect and wander around aimlessly. However, it is easy to imagine the feelings that people have experienced before. This is because we can guess that a person who spent the same time in the same environment may at least have the same feelings. I have repeatedly said that, in modern communication, it is important how we are able to act in the position of the other person. Trying to find a common ground with yourself while imagining the days spent by the other person can also be a starting point for creating a good “encounter”.
The example of ROM is a unique collaboration between the history of Romania and the US flag, which drew attention from society. I would like to refer to it as a model of communication ingenuity. The surprising combination of the two went beyond people's expectations and created a situation where something just had to be said due to the uncomfortable feeling. On the other hand, there is another case. There was also a surprising combination in this case, but the merit of the fusion prevailed over the uncomfortable feeling because there are parts that are strangely synchronized. That is the collaboration between Jimmy Choo and Sailor Moon. The famous luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo chose to collaborate with the anime “Pretty Guardian: Sailor Moon,” which gained huge popularity mainly among Japanese girls. Its story is about a junior high school protagonist who transforms into a heroine of justice and fights against evil. It is hard to tell at a glance where the connection between the shoe brand and the hero anime lies, but in fact, international celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Billie Eilish, who are the representative celebrities targeted by the Jimmy Choo brand, proclaimed to be enthusiastic fans of Sailor Moon. This is the reason why the item strongly appeals to such a population. Every time they appear in public, they dress like Sailor Moon and wear printed T-shirts. Of course, it stimulates their desire to dress in the costume and invites them to buy it, but if they value it and share their feelings of empathy, it will have a tremendous effect.
However, what I want to mention here is not just how well the company topicalizes them from a marketing point of view. It is important to see that the two sides of this collaboration are respecting each other's brands and not damaging each other's values. They are successful because they are conscious of enhancing each other's value. Some people may feel strongly about the aesthetics of fashion and the fashion industry. However, through this collaboration, Jimmy Choo has succeeded in strongly disseminating the message of its brand by integrating into the brand not only the sense of trend in Sailor Moon but also the ability of empowerment in women expressed in the story, the importance of individuality and confidence expressed by each character, and their inclusive mindset and behavior. On the other hand, having such a mindset, Sailor Moon seems to appreciate it when she delivers the same message to the world driven by Jimmy Choo customers not only through media such as manga and anime but also through fashion. In other words, the most important result of this collaboration was the resonance of both ideas and the ability to send messages to their respective fans through their own unique media. In addition, fans on both sides were attracted to the collaboration, the products sold out quickly, and the Jimmy Choo brand continues to be regarded highly mentioned. This has had a positive impact on both brand management and marketing. In terms of meeting the two brands, it can be said that the attitude of “respect” of both brands were successful.
Next, I would like to introduce the “TWELPFORCE” campaign carried out by “Best Buy,” a major electric appliance retailer in the US, in 2009.
TWELPFORCE's “TWELP” is a word that combines “Twitter” and “help.” By adding the word “FORCE”, which also means military, the word TWELPFORCE gained the meaning “Twitter help force”. When it's back-to-school season, many people are unsure about buying computers and other devices. The service was launched to help people like these, so you can imagine what it was about. In this service, more than 2,000 Best Buy employees, including the CEO, answered all questions from customers about electric appliances on Twitter. It significantly reduced the costs associated with the call center. The “TWELPFORCE” was available 24 hours a day to answer technical questions on Twitter. Troubles always occur at unexpected times, and we all have faced some kind of event or accident at times when we are not able to ask for help, such as in the middle of the night or on store holidays, and this may be a pain for many people. The “TWELPFORCE” answered questions 24 hours a day, and engagement with customers naturally increased. In addition, the company's policy of answering questions other than those from Best Buy customers gained popularity, and sales of the company's laptops rapidly increased by 40 percent. It is the success of the marketing strategy achieved by accepting the customer's desire to solve the problems immediately, respecting it, and putting all efforts into it. It is an example of having reached the right answer, even though it is straightforward and simple. However, depending on what point of view you are coming from, it may be easier said than done. For example, considering the problems with the current work environment we are facing, some people may think it is not a good idea to make employees respond to customers 24 hours a day. However, the employees in this campaign took pride in being able to help customers, which led to employee engagement. Respecting others, taking pride in employees’ activities, and increasing customer satisfaction. This is similar to DOVE’s “Self-Esteem Project,” which we discussed in Chapter 1. The idea of “Self-Esteem” is to live by respecting yourself as you are. Of course, we are also interested in an objective perspective on how others see us. Before that, however, it may be good to look at ourselves and inspire ourselves with a subjective and absolute evaluation. If you further want to know the true evaluation of yourself, you must first act as we see in this case and then interact with others. We now have the opportunity to take off our masks and interact with each other again. It is a good idea to meet people and put yourself in places where people are communicating.
This example of Best Buy dates back more than 10 years. Now I would like to share with you the commercial message that Aldi, a German-based supermarket, recently aired in Australia that shared a similar stance. The scene starts at Aldi's cashier. A male clerk notices a shopping list that a woman had with her that has almost entirely been crossed out, showing that almost all items on it were purchased, leaving only one item left that the customer cannot find and buy at Aldi. The cashier clerk sees it and begins to talk. “Hey, you need that, don't you? It's okay, just go buy it somewhere else!” For some reason, the clerk sadly tries to send the woman out in the rain. Of course, the clerk wants to have all the shopping done at Aldi, but he can't make her buy a product that isn't there. The woman also seems to like the supermarket. She is a little confused but says, “This is my favorite store.” and leaves. The narrator finally says, “We know you’ll go to other supermarkets, but if you shop at Aldi first, you’ll be able to save money.” It is a customer-oriented stance not to let customers hold back what they really want with alternative products and send them to other stores. It can be said that it is an attitude that respects the customer's requests without imposing them. However, the company can only do this because it has confidence in itself. Aldi is taking various advanced measures to cut costs in its operations. That is probably why it can afford to send customers to rival stores. The company was able to create a good cycle by having people accept the commercial message with a sense of agreement and tell others about it rather than criticize it. This is because the company has a broad mind and maintains a relationship of trust with customers. In fact, there are many videos on YouTube where users wander around Aldi stores and show how cheap each product is, or introduce tips to shop even more cheaply, etc., and you can catch a glimpse of the movement of consumers to share good things with each other. The title of the commercial message is “Shop at Aldi first and save”. This is exactly what the commercial message wants to say, and I would think that their stance is consistent.
Finally, I would like to share an example of a company that has increased brand engagement by showing a willingness to respect and accept the existence of people regardless of their position. “THE BREAKAWAY: THE FIRST ECYCLING TEAM FOR PRISONERS (here on referred to as “THE BREAKAWAY”)” THE BREAKAWAY: The first e-cycling team for prisoners is an activity that has made it possible to treat prisoners (people in unusual positions) who are difficult to treat by using technology and has greatly contributed to their rehabilitation. Nowadays, there is no objection to the idea that diversity, such as race, gender, disability, age, religion, etc., should be respected, and everyone agrees and cooperates to uphold this. However, not all diversity is respected; there are still some that are not, and we are not sure how to go about changing that. One of them is the human rights of prisoners. If it is important to respect and accept any person, we must respect their position and accept their current situation, even if they are a prisoner who has committed a crime. Unfortunately, because they are held in prison and their contact with the outside world is very limited, it is extremely difficult to talk to them face-to-face. However, it may be possible to make their re-entry into society faster by letting them have a purpose in life and maintaining a relationship with other people. It was DECATHLON, a sports brand headquartered in France, that thought this was possible.
The campaign, named “THE BREAKAWAY,” used Zwift, an e-sports platform, and aimed to have six prisoners in a Belgian prison interact with the public through a virtual world while playing e-sports. This made them feel more human and motivated them to re-enter society. DECATHLON has always strived to popularize sports under its corporate purpose of “allowing everyone to enjoy sports and the benefits they bring.” The company has a strong will to accomplish it “even if it seems impossible at first glance” and engages with all kinds of people in these activities. In fact, sports provide benefits not only to health but also to emotional and mental health. HEAW The reason why the company made the prisoners the symbol of the activities may be because the cities in Europe were frequently locked down due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, and people could not go outside as if they were prisoners themselves. The message contained here is to break through this feeling of stagnation through sports. In the spring of 2021, DECATHLON in Belgium launched its marketing campaign with “Freedom” as its theme.
The actual prisoners were selected from the Prison of Oudenaarde, one of the most strictly guarded prisons in Belgium. DECATHLON provided them with the clothing and equipment they needed for cycling, and even a trainer to train them. They joined others among the general public without other race participants knowing that there were prisoners among them. However, the company kept a record of the entire process of training and the actual race. The company recorded it in order to show the public later how the prisoners practiced to compete among the general public, how they set their goals, how they did their best in terms of teamwork, and how these activities changed the lives of the prisoners. Most of all, the company wanted to show how sports can have an effect on people.
There was another team that participated in the race. This was the “judicial team,” organized by lawyers, security guards, judges, and the Minister of Justice. In court, the two teams are supposed to compete as opponents. The opportunity to compete on a different level, i.e., on the field of sports, probably made the prisoners feel a certain level of satisfaction. By the way, “BREAKAWAY” can mean “escape.” Of course, this campaign did not allow the prisoners to actually escape, but it tried to imply that the minds of the prisoners went out of the prison and into virtual reality.
The virtual race involving a prisoner team and a judicial team was broadcast live on DECATHLON’s Facebook channel and was covered by major Belgian media outlets. It was also broadcast by media specialized in cycling outside the country, reaching 15 million. In particular, the story of prisoners who were trapped in confined spaces and whose mental health was weakened but felt connected to others through virtual sports and regained mental and physical health has reached many. DECATHLON’s efforts have gained great empathy for the brand.
What is interesting is that, since the announcement of the event in March 2021, other similar activities have become more active than DECATHLON’s efforts. In May of the same year, John McAvoy, a former armed robber in the UK, launched an e-cycling social event on Zwift where hundreds of prisoners participated. MacAvoy, who was sentenced to life in prison, was released early and is now a top triathlete contracted with Nike. It can be said that he is the most prominent prisoner who has recovered through sports. He now gives many talks at schools and juvenile reformatories and, through his own fund, is working to help young people who are struggling with problems or suffering from poverty. In the first place, in Belgium and other European countries, there has been a movement to support the reintegration of prisoners into society through IT. There are places in prisons where prisoners can use the Internet. Perhaps because of these backgrounds, after a race held by DECATHLON at Zwift, the Belgian Minister of Justice announced that all Belgian prisons will be equipped with e-cycling equipment in the next few years. The movement is planned to spread throughout the country. One activity became a trigger, and the people around them who empathized with it, are trying to expand it and now the movement is spreading. This passionate story that successfully connected with and touched on similar thoughts that exist all around us seems to have gained a great deal of empathy.
So far, we have looked at examples such as Skittles listening to customers' voices and responding honestly, ROM using gimmicks such as letting others notice what they truly feel with some kind of shock therapy, and Best Buy showing the attitude of coexistence by putting “Ask, and you shall receive.” into practice. In these examples, there is the attitude of simply facing people as individuals. Even though the companies had to face a lot of people, they conducted their activities by imagining the faces of each one. There, I could see a glimpse of the sincere attitude of the companies, and I think this is why it brought about empathy. To respect a person does not mean to obey what the other person says. I think it is to understand the essence of the other person and to become his or her friend. Each person has their own way of determining value in things, and it is a given that the same thing can appear completely differently to a person depending on whose looking. There should be no need to force everyone to see it the same way. If it is forced, the view points of both sides will continue to diverge as time goes on, and we could not understand each other. Inherent inclusiveness is achieved when we accept other people as they are, accept different opinions, and accept those differences without correcting them. Needless to say, it starts with the relationship with other people. The relationship will also be an opportunity to discover the differences between the two and to deepen the relationship in the future. If you can “respect others,” you will never have to be afraid of coming across differences between you and another; instead, you will be able to open yourself to others through those encounters.
Transform conventional ways
of saying and showing.