Does it pass the pub test? What is the barometer of a good marketing or publicity idea in this saturated environment?
When I was a kid, it was ‘buy now and receive a set of free steak knives’, whereas in 2022 it’s buy coffee beans and receive Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).
St ALi, a beautiful coffee roastery in Melbourne, sent an automated text message to its database offering valued customers RATs with every purchase of coffee. Apparently, they had an excess of products that their staff didn’t require, and they were kindly offering to sell them to their VIP customers – people on their database willing to spend a minimum of $160 per order…and, of course, first in, best dressed.
In a world where you’re heavily dictated to by supply and demand and you need to always ensure you are on top of trends, it sounds like a good marketing idea, doesn’t it? Particularly so as coffee brands fight even harder to encourage consumers to select their coffee beans for their machines at home.
Good idea on paper. But wait, what about people who are immunocompromised, or desperate to prove they are okay for cancer treatments, or the essential workers who are often required to prove they are okay to be able to do their vital job, who can’t get access to these tests which seem more in demand than liquid gold?
That’s where this marketing idea failed the pub test. It came off as elitist with a shot of ‘oh you might be struggling to get a test, but we’ve got too many and are going to profit off your misfortune’. Imagine receiving this text message after driving around for four hours to chemists and supermarkets searching for a test. All that time feeling stressed about how you were going to work tomorrow or see your immunocompromised mum, or even just have the comfort that you haven’t got the spicy throat lurgy and won’t need to isolate and watch even more Netflix.
Now, isn’t that a kick in the guts when you are already down.
I can see how the team at St ALi thought this would be a good idea. I can even picture them all on a Teams call or WhatsApp going ‘umm, we have an excess of tests, and they are now more popular than a Beanie Baby in the ’90s…why don’t we group it together for our loyal customers and share the love?’
But what I can’t understand is how more emphasis was not placed on ‘um – does this pass the pub test?’. The pub test, for those playing at home, is what I and my team live by. You run the idea up the flagpole to see if it is on the nose or will get people talking (for the right reasons).
You know the idea; you and your mates are at the pub having a drink after work. You mention an idea for an app you came up with while sitting on the toilet or a business idea that popped into your brain at 3am after mindlessly scrolling Instagram, and your mates either go ‘ahh, wow, didn’t think of that, or how hasn’t that already been done, it’s so clever’ or they go ‘what a crap idea – no-one would buy that – what were you thinking?’.
Never is a more honest conversation had with your close friends over a pint of beer or gin and tonic.
As marketers or public relations professionals, it’s good to push the boundaries. You know the saying – you can only break the rules when you know the rules. If you have experience in knowing the risk appetite of a brand or how to strategically make something work, to cut through the noise, you can run a little left of centre of a pub…but running a full lap away from the centre is not a good idea. Particularly in a world where everyone is hypersensitive and quick to be outraged.
This is why it’s always important to ask three pertinent questions when it comes to marketing or promotional ideas:
- Would this pass the pub test? Now and in this environment.
- Can we push the envelope a little and how will it play out – map out all options and strategies. What is the worst case scenario and how do we feel about this?
- How does this align with my brand? Is my brand known for pushing the risk factor a little bit more…can I be cheeky?
Don’t get me wrong, I love not playing it safe (if the brand can handle it), but I do think you need to weigh up all options and ensure you have done your due diligence.
A good idea on paper just may be that: a good idea on paper, but not in reality.
And for those playing at home, within a matter of an hour or two the same company sent another message admitting they weren’t sensitive to the environment, and they apologised profusely. They donated the extra tests to a local charity. Just as I was reading the text message, I saw a number of media stories naming and shaming the brand.
I feel for the brand and will continue to buy their sweet caffeine nectar and would like to say to their marketing manager right now…. see you down the pub, beer is on me.