Platform: Reputation is the victim of media shock tactics - Advertising has discovered the benefit of piggy-back PR campaigns but shock treatment does the client no favours, says Eugene Bacot.

’Fcuk fashion’ is the copy line for the French Connection ad campaign.

’Fcuk fashion’ is the copy line for the French Connection ad


And it isn’t a misprint - although some might call it a mistake. Acres

of mock-enraged press coverage was, no doubt, the aim. When launched

recently, the campaign was described as ’deliberately provocative’ and -

rather a give-away - included the unveiling of a 140-foot poster to the

press in central London.

Advertising has discovered that press coverage can magnify a media spend

enormously. But as 40 rapt members of the IPR Marketing Communications

Group heard two weeks ago, this volatile integration of two disciplines

is difficult to control. It can even happen unintentionally, as in the

case of Club 18-30.

French Connection joins Wonderbra, Benetton, Club 18-30 and probably

Demon Eyes, as campaigns that seek to generate the PR-ad spend

multiplier that comes from integration.

With French Connection, all the integration ingredients are there. A

poster campaign for impact and low cost; a press unveiling to generate

concern on the lines of ’We believe you will share our outrage etc’ -

while, of course, ensuring that lots of newspapers are sold, as well as

lots of clothes.

The latest media relations-ad campaigns created to generate media

coverage tend to share a similar character. To grab attention they must


By contrast, the very best campaigns to become media stars are original,

brave and intrinsically amusing.

Consider another recent ’shock’ campaign, for Gossard. The poster

campaign carrying the legend ’Who said that a woman can’t get pleasure

from something soft’ attracted a record number of complaints to the


But is this really quality integrated marketing? In my opinion, no.

In some respects shock campaigns are the media equivalent of a smash and

grab raid. A short-term gamble, probably resulting in long term


You might say they have got little to do with PR. Let’s spell that out


PR as in Public Relations: the business discipline which creates

favourable attitudes and behaviour towards a company and its products.


Integration is right at home with this approach.

One might ask what shock media relations campaigns do for a company’s

reputation; what return they deliver on years of investment in public

relations, advertising and marketing? What effect they have on

shareholders; financial institutions; employees, the local


More crucially, what do they say about brand, or corporate values? Might

they not even backfire, as the Conservative Party’s Demon Eyes and

Helmut’s Dummy posters seem to have done by creating sympathy for Mr


To put this into a wider context, I detect increasing concern about the

tone of communications; it is similar to the concern over TV and cinema

violence, low standards of public behaviour, the gutter press. And

people generally are voicing that concern. This month, for example, the

ASA said that complaints about sexism in advertising had doubled.

I freely agree that a well-orchestrated campaign dovetailing direct

advertising and media relations can produce extraordinarily

cost-effective returns.

That, after all, is what integration strives for.

The strategy, surely, must be to create short-term impact with long-term

benefit: positive attitudes which endure; continuously favourable


Not a short, sharp shock or do I mean schlock?

Eugene Bacot is a director of PR agency Oakes:Bacot.

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