The strange thing about Stranger Things

The strange thing about Stranger Things

Two unheard of writers with no previous television hits, a bunch of dorky Dungeons and Dragons playing kids, and a random girl with a shaved head and some freaky powers. How did all of this turn in to the most watched Netflix series to date?

Note: For those who do not watch Stranger Things, I do apologise for the references in this post that you will not understand.

If you haven’t yet seen Stranger Things, then you must be living under a rock (or in the ‘Upside Down’, but you obviously don’t know what that is). The thrilling Netflix series is set in a small fictional town in Indiana named Hawkins and stars four young monster-obsessed boys.

The sci-fi sensation crept on to our Netflix home pages with an unanticipated effect. Fans of ET and the Goonies would be patiently waiting for the series arrival. But how did the non-monster loving fans get so hooked?

The phenomenon that is Stranger Things took the world by storm, so much so that people are wondering what they ever did without the show.  According to the shows writers, the Duffer brothers, the show was rejected 15 to 20 times by various networks before Netflix took it on (Thank you Netflix).

 So what is the strange thing about Stranger Things?

 Unfamiliarity 

Prior to watching Stranger Things, had you heard of any of the cast before? Probably not.  Most of them have had brief TV appearances before, except of course for Winona Ryder (Will’s mum) who is said to be one of the most iconic actresses of the 1990s.

The unfamiliarity of the cast is immensely successful, despite all odds. It is interesting to watch the characters and develop your own opinion on them, rather than comparing them to a previous show you’ve seen them in. Think about it, do you really see Daniel Radcliffe in any other film and not instantly think of Harry Potter?

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 The kids

There is typicality about shows on Netflix nowadays with most being drug, prison or White House related. So what made Stranger Things stand out?

It’s simple – the kids! Of course, the story line itself is a very far stretch from drug mules and prison gangs but ultimately it’s the use of unheard of kid actors that make it so original. I think Stranger Things has everything that Netflix was missing – a cute adorable little dork like Dustin.

It’s difficult to grasp the challenge of a series starring teenagers, but not specifically directed towards a teenage audience and the Duffer Brothers did this perfectly! The average age of the Stranger Things fans is 18-29, a social media obsessed audience, which is evident in its media coverage online.

As well as this, there is a relatability about Stranger Things.

Dungeons and Dragons author David Ewalt says,

“You don’t have to have been a nerd in the 1980s to see yourself in one of those kids,” Ewalt continues. “We were all kids and we were all kids who faced our own monsters, whatever they were, and we’re going to relate to these characters who have a mission and troubles they have to face. Even a kid who’s that age today can look at Stranger Things and relate to it.”

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 Nostalgia and the absence of tech

Imagine if Lucas, Will, Dustin and Mike could Snapchat each other instead of using walky-talkies? What if Will could somehow text his mum from the Upside Down instead of talking to her through the light bulbs? Or if Nancy put out a ‘Missing person! Find Barb, please like and share’ on Facebook?

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The absence of modern technology makes it for a much more exciting series. By stripping communication lines back to that day in 1983, it has our adrenaline racing considerably more.

 What is even stranger about Stranger Things?

As I previously said, there was nothing to warn us about the arrival of the demogorgon, the shadow monster or the darkness of the upside down.

So how did this sci-fi thriller turn in to an overnight sensation?

Just plain and simple Word of Mouth marketing

It’s easy, we trust our friends! If your friend tells you with their blood shot eyes that they have shamelessly been living under a duvet and bingeing on Stranger Things for two days, you are going to believe that it really must be something worth watching.

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Sometimes, word of mouth marketing is the only option, and it is a huge risk. The Duffer Brothers had a low budget and therefore had to gamble that people would love the show, and then talk about how much they loved the show – and this is exactly what they did.

Thanks to the success of Season 1, The Duffer Brothers had extra budget to splurge out on the ultimate advertising opportunity for the Season 2 premiere – The Super bowl. It captured the most social media buzz out of the 65 ads that were showcased during the game and generated an undeniable excitement 9 months before the series even returned to Netflix.

Strange Partnerships

What could be better than Topshop AND Stranger Things? The quick-witted Topshop launched an exclusive collection in partnership with Netflix to join in on the Season 2 excitement, and obviously massively increase their sales – clever Topshop! They flaunted Stranger Things retro inspired tshirts, jumpers and bags as well as a massive in-store Hawkins experience at their Oxford Circus store.

There is no doubt about the massive buzz about the new sci-fi Stranger Things, a show you never thought you would be this obsessed with (I know I didn’t). However, if you made it to the end of this blog and still haven’t watched Stranger things…

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…why haven’t you?

Loren Ward is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @lorenward and LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/loren-ward-b93049a8

PR Under The Influence

How many posts have you read in the past week featuring the latest product which your favourite blogger just ‘cannot live without’? Or the number Instagram posts with someone promoting their newfound favourite brand of sunglasses that are a ‘must’ yet which you hadn’t even heard of until now?

The advertising industry is in the middle of a major shift.

Social media is radically reinventing the aging business of PR and nowadays, we only have to scroll before coming across an advertisement on social media and whether you realize it or not, you are being influenced.

With a focus on putting the public back in Public Relations, the advertising industry is championing the new, growing business of ‘influencer marketing’. Capitalizing on social media’s reach, influencer marketing focuses on the strategy of paying an ‘internet celebrity’ to promote products in their accounts to their followers.

So, you’re maybe asking what exactly is an influencer? To put it simply: an influencer is someone who has accumulated a substantial number of followers on social media. Therefore, an influencer’s established and reputable personal brand is the perfect platform for brands to promote their message in exchange for financial reward or exposure.

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Think of it like this, how often have you ever visited a restaurant, booked a holiday or bought that latest lippy because somewhere on your feed someone has filtered a picture nicely and added a discount link beneath? Well, if that’s the case then you have indeed been influenced.

With 49% of consumers seeking purchase guidance from social media influencers and a further 40% media users making a purchase as a direct result of a promotional post, digital PR presents a conspicuous opportunity for brands to utilise the power of word-of-mouth at scale through personalities that consumers already follow and admire. Why is this? Because as followers we trust recommendations from and identify with who we choose to follow.

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Adrien Koskas, general manager for the U.K. for L’Oréal Paris, stated influencers are a hugely important part of their creative process. Using a team to track them and annual contracts, L’Oréal Paris has 23 influencers for its’ True Match product.

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There are four key reasons this shift in PR is shaking up the industry – it is cost effective with marketers who implemented an influencer marketing campaign earning an average of six times what they spent on paid media; high ROI – 81% of marketers’ state that influencer marketing is extremely effective; gaining customers trust – 92% of consumers trust recommendations from personal connections; has mass popularity – 74% of all marketers’ plan to use digital PR this year.

“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising”.

– Mark Zuckerberg –

 

Amy Greer is a second year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram: @amyagreer & LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/amygreerrr

CRM & Higher education: relationship building in the cyber age.

CRM & Higher education: relationship building in the cyber age.

I’ve been working within higher education for nearly three years now, but more recently and specifically within International Student Marketing & Recruitment. My role mainly entails communications management and dealing with international prospects worldwide on a daily basis; from initial enquiry – to establishing contact – nurturing the lead – and finally, to conversion.

While the process sounds smooth, anyone involved in student recruitment will tell you it’s usually painstakingly slow, taking anywhere between 6-24 months to complete this cycle …and that’s if you’re lucky!  Some leads go cold, defer their entry or just choose somewhere else to study – all after your sustained efforts in having built relationships with them. But that’s the roulette wheel of recruitment; you can’t win them all.

So the conversion cycle can be protracted and uncertain. And with the volume of enquiries that universities tend to generate in any given year from student prospects in the thousands, it’s important in today’s age that their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can track and trace every line of communication with an enquirer and pinpoint what stage of the ‘student journey’ they are at – or are not.

 

Gecko’s client forum. credit: @geckoengage

I traveled to Edinburgh a few days ago, to visit Gecko HQ, one of the organisations pioneering CRM development. It was their first ever client forum; a chance for higher education institutions across the UK to meet, hear upcoming product enhancements and share organisational feedback and experiences with the Gecko team. It was a fairly casual affair, 20-25 university representatives meeting up in an open-plan office, where Gecko techs worked busily away in the background. Only established in 2012, Gecko is a surprisingly young newcomer to the arena of digital marketing, yet they seemed only to be emboldened by their nascencey rather than timidly hopeful.

Gecko HQ

After a routine tea & coffee reception, we were ushered into a smaller glass-encased room, where we heard introductory remarks from CEO and Founder, Matt Lanham. It was really his words that are the basis for this blog. He spoke about communication; but particularly in the subtext of today’s cyber-social age of instant information, and how the global consumer culture is putting universities on the back-foot in creating tailor-made and personalised communication content for each student.

Paraphrasing Matt, he said:

“Most of the students coming through now have never lived without a smartphone. They have never lived in a world without Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter. They are digital natives with the world at their fingertips. And so, today’s CRM is perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”

In a world where all information ever recorded is now “Google-able”, universities need to do more than just blindly process personal data, they need to interact with it and foster relationships with it. The student journey needs to become more than a transaction. It needs to become a two-way conversation whereby the student feels they are receiving personalised communication based upon the information they allow the university to have. That’s where Gecko excels beyond most CRMs.

Gecko’s uses something called “conditional logic”, and it is intertwined throughout its software capabilities. It allows users to tailor communication content to recipients based on the information they supply. So, if an enquirer registers for a university event and expresses an interest in – for example Law – users can tweak the conditional logic so that the student receives a QR code event ticket, information about the many courses aligned to Law, and information about other relevant events and courses that the student might be interested in. That is conditional logic in its most basic expression.

But it means, for organisations dealing with thousands of enquiries, that specified and personalised content can be automated, and ensures the enquirer receives only the relevant information that they are interested in, not spam. The more conditional logic you apply, the more personalised the content, and the easier it is for the enquirer to trust and familiarise with your brand. The problem with many other CRM systems is that they focus on process and procedure, instead of relationship building. CRM systems were never intended as anything other than a data management tool. But data management is not sufficient enough for universities to keep ahead of the curve when it comes to recruitment and marketing. It was Matt who noted that, only very recently, CRM systems were finally able to make their software mobile-optimised, despite 60% of all internet browsing in the UK being performed by mobile. So CRM systems are having a tough time catching up with the curve – trends move too often and too fast to become complacent.

 

 

Matt’s words and sentiments certainly got me thinking about communication, and how much of it is actually wasted by broadcasting generic and unspecified information to users. I remember when I was a student – and I suppose I still am – being inundated by waves of e-mailing spam, either by internal university communications, or otherwise which I would swiftly swipe left into my trash folder without even opening it. Matt’s words certainly also made sense shortly after the event, when I was browsing on Booking.com for city breaks away (conveniently inspired by my encounter with the cultural delights of Edinburgh), only to receive an email three minutes later informing me of “fantastic deals in Edinburgh for you, Conán!”.

Or maybe there’s a very fine line as to how much relevant information people want to receive from companies. The Booking.com example certainly did feel a little odd, if not plain weird, but perhaps its instantaneous timing hindered its effect on me slightly. Either way, I think we can agree that communication – digital, verbal, or otherwise – is a very powerful tool and has the ability to very quickly form opinions and assumptions, therefore handling it appropriately is the key to building successful and genuine relationships.

 

Conán Meehan is an MSc in Communications & Public Relations student and Executive Assistant for International Student Marketing & Recruitment at Ulster University. You can follow him on Twitter @ConanMeehan

It was this time a year ago I quit the job I had for 13 years.

Carrying plates for a living begun as a way to earn some extra money back in university in the heady days of the nineties. University soon fell to the wayside and before I knew it, I found myself trapped in a regional hotel that made Jack Nicholson’s break-down in the Shining seem quite reasonable. This situation had to change, so I took my rabid consumption of the music press and turned my hand to writing about music.

I wrote, for free, for a local glossy magazine called Alternative Ulster. I promoted up and coming bands, I DJed anywhere that would take me. I did stand up comedy, I stage managed, I guested on Across the Line and turned my hand to restaurant critique. I also studied journalism but made the rookie error of starting my course mere months before the bottom fell out of the print industry.

Then I had a part time job as the in-house writer for a large promotions and bar company. It was the heady days before the 2007 property crash, and everyone was so rich we were buying Terry Bradley prints like they were going out of fashion (which they did) and paying to have tiny fish eat our feet. Almost overnight the bubble burst, the money was gone and Belfast’s nightlife died a slow death that year.  I was one of the unlucky ones, and so it was back to the restaurants.

Fast forward almost ten years. I’ve kept my hand in and continue to write. I’m looking for a placement in my third year as a CMPR student, but the market is very competitive, especially for a mature student. I’ve since quit my job in the restaurant, as I now have a family and a degree to worry about. The placement is hard to come by and I’m running through my contacts getting a lot of encouragement, the promise of passing on details, and then, out of no-where, word that a local venue is looking a digital marketing assistant.

It’s not a full time position, but more importantly it’s paid and I can continue to study while working on my final year. Within a few months the social media feeds have benefited from a dedicated member of staff and I am learning every day about the ins and outs of promotion.

Things turn full circle when my original boss from the promotions company gets in touch. He’s running Oktoberfest at Custom House Square and he’s looking someone for Digital. It would have been rude to say no.

What has this taught me? It would be easy to say that picking up work is not a matter of what you know, but who you know, but I would disagree. In these challenging times money is still a big factor and people demand a return on their investment. I’d prefer to say that work brings in work. Do your best, get a reputation and put yourself out there. I’ve since got two leads for more digital work, thanks to a high profile event.

If you’re asked, say yes and work out how you’ll do it afterwards. If you’re asked once and say no, there’s plenty of others who’ll say yes and you won’t get asked again!

Shane Horan is a mature student in his final year of BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter @shanehoran.

Burger King Tackles Bullying

When someone says the name Burger King what do you think of?

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Fast food, unhealthy food, convenience? But what about anti bullying?

It is not a connection that I would have originally made myself however, as part of anti-bullying month Burger King did a PR stunt in an undisclosed restaurant in LA where hidden cameras where used and Burger King employees served beaten up Whopper Jr. hamburgers whilst at the same time paid teenage actors are physically bulling another teenage boy.

What is the spot about?

The spot is called “Bullying Jr.,” and was created in honour of National Bullying Prevention Month which took place during the month of October in the US to raise awareness that 30 % of students are bullied each year.

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The stunt was to highlight the sad truth of bullying that in many cases bystanders will not get involved and in this instance it turned out to be true, with only 12% of customers reporting the bullying of the child whilst a staggering 95% of customers reported the ‘bullied’ Whopper Jr. Burger.

The campaign has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube and been retweeted hundreds of thousands of times.

Burger King partnered with US anti-bullying organisation No Bully and the CEO and Founder Nicolas Carlisle had this to say about the ad:  “We know that bullying takes on many forms, physical, verbal, relational and online. But the first step to putting an end to bullying is to take a stand against it…our partnership with the Burger King brand is an example of how brands can bring positive awareness to important issues. You have to start somewhere and they chose to start within.”

Link to the video on YouTube:

Why I think it worked:

Although the ad received some criticism due the obvious product placement and the fact it only confronts one element of bullying, physical bullying, I think that the ad worked very well for a number of reasons:

  • Real Life Situation

It was a real life situation that any of us could find ourselves or have found ourselves in so the relatability factor had you questioning what you would do in that situation and by the end of the ad it may have you questioning what you might do in the future if you are ever in a similar situation. The fact the situation is real life reactions emphasises the figures presented at the end of the experiment.

  • Support Of A Recognised Charity

As the campaign is supported by an anti-bullying organisation, No Bully, this helps ensure that the message gets across without it seeming like another ploy to promote a fast food chain. It further adds authenticity to the facts and figures provided during the ad increasing the strength of the message. By partnering with an anti-bullying organisation this highlights the good that globally recognised brands can do to shine a light on important issues.

  • Emotive

The ad is very emotive as it shows a child getting bullied in the video and that can be hard to watch. Combined by the fact very little people stand in to helps further heights how distressing bullying can be if you are in need of help but people chose to ignore your plea.

The comparison of people’s reactions to the bullying and their ‘bullied’ burger increases the emotion as it is hard to comprehend that people would be more concerned with food being bullied than a child.

The ability to involve people’s emotions and possibly draw on their own experiences is very powerful as it adds an extra dimension to the ad and helps ensure that it is memorable, thought provoking and engaging.

Final Thoughts:

Burger King says it wants its position to be clear.

“The Burger King brand is known for putting the crown on everyone’s head and allowing people to have it their way. Bullying is the exact opposite of that,” the company said.

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At the end of the ad when they speak to the people who intervened when the child was being bullied it was interesting to see their reasoning behind helping – many of them had been bullied as children and wished that someone would have stepped in to help them. Does this then raise the concern that ignorance is bliss? Are we living in a society that if you have not been directly affected by bullying that it is easier for you to choose to ignore it even if it is happening right in front of you? In my opinion the ad does make you consider your own actions and how you might act in the future.

In order for any campaign to be successful the message needs to be clear, memorable and with a call to action and I think that Burger King managed to do all three within this ad.

 

Caoimhe Fitzpatrick is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @caoimhef_95 / LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/caoimhe-fitzpatrick-0b8682110/

Flight Centre UK find PR potential in a mundane scenario

As I passively scrolled through my Twitter feed, I stumbled across a post regarding a situation that initially appeared somewhat passive. A few clicks later and I’m intrigued by a simple, yet subtly clever, PR move. For me, it is the fitting reminder that we, as PR practitioners, need to make the most of every opportunity regardless of whether it’s big or small. We shouldn’t overlook the potential within simple monotonous day-to-day situations that we all encounter.

The scenario: A young guy, George Armstrong, goes on a night out, gets drunk and loses his ID card. Standard. The outcome: A travel agency, Flight Centre UK, find his ID, return it to him and then some. You may ask yourself, how have these two managed to cross paths? Very simply. The travel agency had found his ID outside of their premises. They then took it upon themselves to post it back to George and most likely gave him a slight scare in the process of doing so.

Upon opening the letter, George was welcomed with his nicely laid out travel summary. It appeared that he had treated himself and booked flights from London Heathrow to the Maldives (#treatyoself). The following page thanked him for his custom and gave a subtle reminder that his rather modest balance of £5,289.87 would be due by the end of the week. However, he was finally put out of his misery when he came to the last page. It stated that the entire thing was just a joke and that they had simply found his ID outside of their premises. (Note the lovely ‘Just make sure you consider us for your next holiday. Take care!’ at the end).

Those who are inherent sticklers when it comes to grammar, can’t quite seem to get over the faux pas that was the incorrect use of the word you’re instead of your. For the rest of us mere mortals who saw past this faux pas, it was simply a kind act and an imaginative move all in one by the travel agency.

Flight Centre UK has somehow eloquently mixed humour with fear – not quite the same fear that George thought he’d suffer from after his night out on the town. Facts are boring; playing on emotions will spark true reactions and grab people’s attention. This example backs up that statement. Imagine if Flight Centre UK had have returned George’s ID and attached nothing else. Well, you don’t have to imagine because that passive act would have been just that. Dull. Boring.

Having just clicked back on the post, it appears that George has paid a visit to Flight Centre UK to meet the guy who made it all happen – Steve. Instead of robotically signing off the letter as an unnamed member of the team, Steve took the personal approach and simply used his first name. Everyone wants and appreciates that personal touch when dealing with corporations and particularly with bigger corporations. George appreciated his gesture so much so that he even got his photo taken with his new-found friend Steve. A happy, humorous ending to a simple mistake.

Louise Harvey is studying for an MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @louiseharvey_ // Instagram: @louiseharvey93 // LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/harveylouise/ 

Part One: The Social Influencer: Front Stage

Part One: The Social Influencer: Front Stage

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Identity’ as “The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is”

But is it something that we are born with or is it something that we create?

Sociologist Erving Goffman describes identity as an interactive construction rather than something ‘given’ and suggests that all social interaction is like a dramatic performance.

Likewise, I believe that we can be whoever the hell we want to be … understandably, we cannot control how we are born, our gender or the genes we inherit; however I feel we have the power to manipulate our identity and portray ourselves as whoever or whatever we desire to be.

People behave differently in different settings. Take a working environment in which you would perform professionally against a social setting were you would behave in a more relaxed manor. In both settings we would conduct ourselves differently however both still require performance.  This theory applies across the communication board, whether that be in person, over the phone, email and varies depending on the receiver / audience.

Goffman’s theory was, pardon the pun… identified in the late 50’s, a long time before the internet and the rise of social media but I feel it largely applies to this day and age.

The internet and social media platforms enable us to go to extremes and be absolutely anyone we want and to the point where we can hide behind the identity of an existing or fictitious person…commonly known as ‘catfishing’.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these social media Influencers have fake profiles but I do think they can paint their identity to appear absolutely perfect and flawless. That combined with consistent activity of interesting content, generates followers and subscribers and enables them to position themselves on a social pedestal for us “real people” to view them as superior.

It’s obviously not as simple as that, if it were we all would be doing it but you do have to have that something extra and special to stand out; whether that be a beautiful face, body or character…it’s knowing how to utilise it and essentially brand / market yourself.

International social influencer and all-rounder 23 year old fitness guru, entrepreneur and mother of 3, Tammy Hembrow is a prime example and she is very much in demand.

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Her social identity has become a 24/7 job, inspiring thousands of people and consumers worldwide. The success has even landed her brand sponsorships and endorsements such as fitness clothing line ‘Gym Shark’, which generate revenue and a lot of revenue at that… since 2017 her net worth is approximately $1.6 million!

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But is it possible to be absolutely flawless 100% of the time? Of course not but this platform is one of Tammy’s ‘front stages’ and when she’s not working, she probably behaves like a normal full-time mother and fiancé and in a more relaxed environment, as her ‘back stage’ self.

Technology is so advanced these days that you don’t need to be a professional photo editor to edit images. We can instantaneously alter and enhance a basic photograph with the use of filters and editing tools…we can even access editing apps for free or pay next to nothing to smooth out blemishes, whiten teeth and even bring in our waistlines.

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But how far is too far? Are these embellished photographs not showing an unrealistic representation that you couldn’t possibly compete with in person…

Vicky Pattison was initially and famously known for being on MTV TV series Geordie Shore which let’s be honest… probably didn’t paint her in the best light.

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However with the help of the social media, she has managed to change public opinion and landed respected roles such as presenting on ITV’s Loose Women as well as starting her own online clothing boutique ‘Honeyz’.

Vicky is also no stranger to editing apps and isn’t shy about it either!

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She admitted during a discussion on Loose Women that she enhances pictures of herself; airbrushing and smoothing out wrinkles etc. something that various social media fans have slated her for.

Vicky might regularly share airbrushed selfies and edited snaps but occasionally she will post a natural and unedited picture, say at the gym for example.

When it comes to male social influencers, their natural snaps are more than likely untouched but enhanced with a basic filter however the same measures apply; the content is attractive to consumers, brands and is consistent.

Take Instagram success Nick Bateman for example…

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Aside from the obvious…he’s a very handsome guy but his social content is appealing to a wide audience and probably a large majority of that being Yorkshire terrier fans and followers.

I’m a big fan of Nick and how he portrays himself online. In the words of Derek Zoolander, it’s not all about being really, really, ridiculously good looking… Nick doesn’t take himself too seriously and offers an element of humour on his social feed.

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Haters are also not likely to hate with content like this…

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I mean how could you???

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Social Influencer: Back Stage

 

Cara Cowan is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/caracowan/