Thursday, April 15

Painting Truths: Let's Colour Project

The photos are striking. The before and after shots are cool. And the idea is worthwhile.

The "Let's Colour" project by Dulux trades in grey and gloom with blues, reds, and other hues. It's beautiful, perhaps with one exception. In attempting to cross authenticity with action, Let's Colour came up with a peculiar shade of green that Karthik S, head of head of digital strategy for Edelman India, thought might be astroturf, or if you read the comments, maybe not.

Maybe it's a matter of perspective. Let's find out.

Remixing The Communication Points

Karthik's point seems clear enough to me. Euro RSCG is handling the Let's Colour project blog but "presents" like the Akzo Nobel paint team's content with as many as twelve bloggers. It's not. Most of it is written by Rebecca Campbell, who is contracted by the Euro RSCG. The balance of the contributing bloggers are a mix of agency employees who can, but don't seem to, add their experiences.

"The fact that we have an official blogger is very simple: we need someone to keep the blog interesting, fresh and to be 100% dedicated," explained Fernanda Romano, creative director for the agency. "Rebecca is our employee, she is the official blogger. This doesn’t mean the rest of the team cannot blog."

But they don't, which was another of Karthik's points. Instead, if there is any blog ownership, it really belongs to Campbell, who is by all accounts, a blogger for hire. There is nothing wrong with that.

Her Spike experience is exactly why the agency hired her. And despite being based in London, the Australian native presents project content as if she is on site in real time. By agency account of the comments, she sometimes is, but not always, maybe. From a reader's perspective, it's hard to tell where creativity begins and reality ends.

So what's the big deal? As a matter of historical perspective, it's not all that different from the Edelman Public Relations Worldwide flog for Wal-Mart in 2006. While I disagreed with the assessment of our non-scientific poll participants in 2007, they identified it as the number one breach of communication ethics compared to several other breaches back then.

In sum, the flog was presented as two average Americans who parked their RV at Wal-Marts across the country and wrote about their experiences. The bloggers were paid, much like Campbell. And since the disclosure was less than obvious it was eventually deemed a disaster.

So what's the difference between the Let's Colour project and the Wal-Mart RV debacle? Um, nothing. Except, well, people love to pick on Wal-Mart much more than what appears to be a nobler cause like Let's Colour. So it gets a pass. As I've said before, Wal-Mart doesn't have a public relations problem as much as a media relations problem. Dulux does not.

However, let's be even more honest for a moment.

Since 2006, many social media experts have carved out positions within companies or have been contracted as company representatives under the auspices that they are somehow above bias. Maybe they are. Maybe they are not. From the pubic perspective, acceptance always boils down to the brand relationships between the people, products, and companies. We know so and so, the public says, so they get a pass. We aren't sure about so and so, the public says, so they get burned at the stake.

It hardly seems fair, but social media is anything but fair. It's currently the only place in the world where nice guys and gals finish first, even if they're pretending.

But all that aside, for agencies hoping to solidify the lines between right and wrong, I'll share a few techniques to ensure you can draw a clear enough line to remain on the right side of it. And, as often is the case with our firm, the approach is always situational because every client is different. Right on. They come in every color of the rainbow, but never artificial green.

As for this case, it seems clear that the agency had other plans from the outset. They meant to have a multi-author blog and something, perhaps budget constraints, prevented them from fielding twelve people. So, those other voices fell away. As to the convoluted nature of who works for whom, there weren't clear disclosures no matter how the explanation is framed up.

Perhaps, on the front end, the idea of volunteers or Dulux employees or even agency peeps penning posts was what won the pitch. But in terms of practice, it wasn't very practical. So, like agencies do, they shifted to some middle ground because it just didn't seem as sexy as having a full on single agency employee penning posts for a client.

Whatever. It could have been. People don't really care where the content comes from as long as its good, cool, and real ... it just has to be even better when public relations people become spokespeople.

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