[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 8TH JUNE 2009 BY RED C MAGAZINE]
Here’s a question: how do you feel about Paris Hilton? Personally I have nothing against the pointless, insipid, spoilt, undernourished, narcissistic, empty-headed, fame-raping little brat… but I know others feel differently.
When Ms. Hilton was found guilty of drink driving in 2006, her PR team decided to harness the power of public outcry in a campaign to request her pardon. The Free Paris Hilton petition – which includes the incredible declaration “Paris provides beauty and excitement to our otherwise mundane lives” – received a fairly impressive 33,000 signatures. Unfortunately, a counter petition requesting that the socialite serve her full sentence was signed by over 91,000 people and featured on several major news channels in the US. Proof, if it were needed, that not everybody shares my innate capacity for forgiveness.
Petitions for profit
I know what you’re thinking – what does this have to with marketing? Well, just think about that counter petition for a minute. The creator of the campaign managed to capture the names and email addresses of over 90,000 people and enjoyed international media exposure on the side. Oh, and it didn’t cost him a sausage. I can’t think of a brand that wouldn’t bite your hand off for statistics like that…
Inevitably, marketing agencies are waking up to the benefits of petition marketing – and there are many more than data capture. The creation of a petition involves a tiny investment of time and money compared to things like press ads and DM, yet it could potentially drive far more traffic to your website – including those individuals that keenly despise or simply ignore more traditional advertising. A worthy campaign can enhance your company’s reputation, garner significant media coverage (and, consequently, links to your website) and also increase exposure through good old word of mouth. You can even, if you’re so inclined, capitalise on extra website traffic by implementing third-party advertising. In short, petition marketing is low effort, low cost and low risk, yet it has the potential for incredibly high returns.
Down with sunbeds
Few brands are willing to commit to a fully-integrated online petition marketing campaign just yet, but some brave pioneers are dipping a tentative toe in the water. In May, for example, St. Tropez launched a campaign that hints towards the great potential of the petition.
The self-tan brand’s SkinSmart campaign calls for tighter regulations on sunbed use. They are “proposing a ban on all unmanned coin-operated sunbeds in the UK and [the prevention of] under-18s from using sunbeds”, and once they have 10,000 signatures the petition will be presented to parliament with a mandate for change. On the surface, this may seem like a noble and altruistic endeavour (particularly after the recently red teen) but don’t be fooled – St. Tropez stand to gain an awful lot from their apparent grievances.
The most obvious benefit is data capture – if all goes to plan, St. Tropez collect the names, addresses and emails of over 10,000 prospective (hopefully pasty) customers. The campaign also makes the company appear socially conscious and morally superior, especially as it’s dealing with a current issue. Plus it raises the awareness of risks associated with sunbeds and encourages users to switch to a safer alternative such as… let’s see… self-tan? Then, if St. Tropez’s campaign actually makes an impact in parliament, sunbeds may be subject to increased regulation and restrictions – leaving many customers with no choice but to switch.
Once this petition picks up media attention then it will be brought to an even wider audience, giving sunbeds a negative press right across Britain. And remember, all these benefits are the result of just a fraction of the effort and cost of DM, door drops or… well, just about every other marketing technique there is.
Creating a petition
So, what’s the secret to a successful and profitable petition? Well, to be honest, it’s a bit too early to say. Nobody’s really done it yet – at least not on a big enough scale to achieve all of the benefits inherent to petition marketing. However, with a bit of common sense, innate marketing nous and the use of ill-considered soundbites, it’s possible to suppose the basics for creating some very profitable petitions…
Piggyback. Generating public outrage is the job of journalists, but utilising public outrage is the job of marketers. Focus your petition on a contemporary issue that people really care about. Although not-for-profit, the most popular petitions right now focus on topical issues like ID cards and MPs’ expenses.
Up the anti. Make sure your petition has a negative slant – be against something. Bad news travels faster than good news, so petitions that vehemently oppose a perceived evil will do much better than petitions that strongly support a perceived good.
Do it right. Make sure your petition is well-researched and well-communicated with a clear target – consider the people your petition needs to reach to have optimum impact. Your arguments should be clear, concise and persuasive, while remaining factually watertight.
Promote. The outcome of your campaign is heavily reliant on effective promotion. Link your petition to as many websites and forums as possible for maximum exposure. Set up a Facebook group and a Twitter account. Contact media organisations and send out a press release. And, vitally, ensure there’s a quick and easy ‘share with friends’ link on your site. Basically, utilise every form of cheap online self-promotion going.
The future of marketing?
It’s still very early days, but petitions have the potential to become one of the most effective forms of online marketing. There are few, if any, other weapons in a marketer’s arsenal that give such a high return on such a meagre investment. Even the likes of viral video can’t compete with this kind of cost to benefit ratio.
Without a doubt, petition marketing has a future. The real question is whether this is a sustainable technique, or one that will flourish for a short time before a global mega-brand attempts the technique and falls victim to a Tonight exposé. Either way, keep your eye out for many more petition marketing campaigns in the coming months.
For more info about petition marketing – and for all your advertisement copywriting needs – please get in touch.