Storyfied #pridesco – Reaction to CIPR Scotland PRide Nominations


Last week the CIPR announced the shortlist for the CIPR Scotand Pride awards.

CIPR Scotland Pride Shortlist 2012

I sit on the CIPR Scotland group committee as Secretary and also contribute to the CIPR Scotland blog and twitter account. We wanted to collate the response to the nominations and decided to give Storify a whirl. However, it didn’t really want to work with blog (which we use for the group) so I have posted the Storify over here instead.

Congratulation once again to all the nominees and I look forward to seeing you at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange in December.


The art of Inconspicuous Consumption and Marketing


I stumbled across an old article on The Atlantic via Mindhacks (all links below) on inconspicuous consumption and how it relates to social groups.

Coined by Thorstein Veblen in 1899, inconspicuous consumption is the act of spending lavishly on visible goods to prove prosperity.

Research has found that as a social group earns less money members tend to spend more money on public shows of wealth and prosperity. This is at the expense of unseen benefits, such as home improvements, experiences and items like insurance.

In a nut shell: The less money your social group has the more you visibly flaunt wealth to other members even at the expense of your overall well-being.

If you’ve got it, you don’t flaunt it

We see example of this in marketing and advertising all the time. Next time you walk down the high street or look at branding in adverts examine the size of the logos and their prominence on products and communications

There is a lot research into luxury brands and the size of logos. As the brand moves up the luxury and price scale the logos get larger and larger until the size reaches a peak and reduces  again. For very expensive items the branding is very subtle (for a quick overview visit  Neuroscience Marketer).

This research refers to logos but it could equally apply to styling or design if it is easily identifiable with a company or brand. Just think about Apple and it’s lawsuit with Samsung over the look of their smartphones.

Nuanced but Inconspicuous

While examples and comparisons are obvious between distant socio-economic groups there are likely to be more nuanced version out there as well. This got me thinking about a scene I observed while a student.

I was (very) lucky to attend one of the UK’s ‘posher’ universities. The Yah culture in St Andrews is the the envy of no other campus. If you haven’t come across a Yah before then this now famous video will help explain.

You get the picture…..

I was in one of the Yah drinking haunts one day when I heard a group making snide remarks about the quality of a friend’s shirts. I couldn’t tell the difference; pink is pink and the collars of all were all definitely pointing up. The group had clear but relatively discrete designer labels on their outerwear bought from expensive high street stores. The poor victim had a small simple symbol on his shirt and was looking perplexed by it all.

A friend of mine, who knew the victim before university, leaned over to me. It turned out he was one from a very well monied family and the small symbol was a their emblem and sown into all their clothes – and this £100+ bespoke shirt – by the family tailor on Saville Row since 1844.

While this group of gentlemen were definitely not from a poor background they still tried to demonstrate relative group status through branding. Even more so they were clueless about the real value and quality of the product their friend was wearing.

Subtle forms of inconspicuous consumptions may be out there and have more to do with an individuals relative position within a group than the group’s overall position within society.

It is just a hypothesis but newer members a group could be more likely to demonstrate the trapping of that group in order to feel and asset that they belonging. Whether or not something is thought of as inconspicuous is determined by that group. It British culture this usually manifests itself as snobbery.

Inconspicuous Consumption and Communication

When dealing with rich economic status groups, branding and communication should be more subtle. Very high wealth individuals have a group identity that is not flash, flamboyant or crass. Quality, bespoke workmanship and service are paramount.

Additionally, as branding becomes more conspicuous then only those truly in the know can recognise it (Beger and Ward, Journal of Consumer Research 2010), the real leaders and taste makers of a group.

This implies group leaders look for discretion. They don’t need or want to show their wealth and prosperity. The also means that they are less likely to link to, mention, post about or interact with a brand via their own online channels.

If you are thinking of targeting these people through an activity involving public display of affection for your product or activity then you are unlikely to reach the right people and will be seen as crass by your target audience.

If you are speaking to people who want to be seen by their group as upwardly mobile (even in relatively rich groups) then you can go big. Communicate how the product and brand demonstrate success within their social group and give them the option to declare their love in the open.

And if you want to fit into a group and look like you belong consider more subtle cues of membership. Covering yourself in Ferrari logos won’t help you communicate with millionaires.


Is Public Relations (PR) just about reputation?


I have been reading an old(ish) book on the concept of attitude how it relates to behaviour. It has got me thinking about the Public Relations (PR) industry’s reliance on reputation to describe what we do.

Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour ( CIPR’s definition of PR.).

If you really think about it, reputation (often stated simply as some sort of evaluative dimension) is a difficult concept to pin down and is it even necessary to describe what we do?

Knowledge Vs Reputation

Say for example I wanted to get across the a particular idea or get you to enact a particular behaviour.

Let us say, a scientific revelation comes out tomorrow that a daily spoonful of vinegar is good for you. A campaign to communicating ways for you to fit a spoonful of vinegar into your diet does not necessarily have to alter the way your feel about vinegar (or spoons) to be successful.

Take for example the hypothetical goals and information that could be support them:

  • Increase blood donation –>The donor centre is short bus ride away
  • Reduce cancer risk in men – -> Learn how to examine yourself
  • Reduce fire fatalities –> Test your alarm every week
  • Increase interest in investment in company X –> X is considering floating next year.

Campaigns and PR can be about communicating new or changing existing knowledge or ideas rather than a global evaluation . Reputation is not always necessary to evaluate, formulate and talk about much of the work we do.

However, Reputations is the common thread between apparently disparate PR activity and sectors. It does describe a large amount of PR work and and it  is an important term to help others understand what we do. It is also a strategic term to to help PR get a foot into the boardroom.

Nevertheless, perhaps we should start to think about whether  it is enough and how we use? Are there other terms we could turn to or could we do a better job of defining reputation to help PR mature as discipline?


PR Redefined – Why not look to an old master?


The Public Relations Society of America is looking to redefine Public Relations. A healthy and welcome discussion but I wonder if they have not missed a trick.

Edward Bernays
Edward Bernays (from wikipedia)

Edward Bernays is regarded as one of the father’s of public relations (Wikipedia entry). He combined the best psychological theories of the time with a strong belief that a ruling class should sway the masses and that this was necessary  for a healthy democratic society. Putting aside his politics he has certainly interesting and an influential figure over the PR profession and his definition of Propaganda could have been an ideal starting point.

He defined his work in the following way…

Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of a public to an enterprise, idea or group.

The word propaganda comes, unfortunately, pre-loaded and Bernays himself encourages a return to its more egalitarian roots in his book Propoganda (available free and well worth a read).If you just change the word propaganda to PR, I see at lot to like in this definition:

  • It has agency in it. The PR effort is doing and changing something
  • It is platform agnostic (no mention of media, social media or a technology yet to be invented). I hate the idea of a definition of PR being wedded to a current set of tactics or channels. This has a lot to do with how we got into a mess in the first place
  • It does not judge. PR can be used for good and bad, judge the individual not the field. A definition should not to try to enforce a moral code
  • Influence is here; a key part of the PR role
  • The word free is thankfully absent.
  • It has a focussed output, a change of an relationship.
Of course it has its problems – for starters I would prefer a mention of behaviour and the term public is too broad – but the definition feels modern in comparison  to existing statements from some professional bodies.
So, could it be a case of back to the future for a definition of public relations? Can we separate a man and his words from his politics? What do you make of Bernays’ definition?
[The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that this is my first post on Babble of Tongues, thanks for visiting.]

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-06-18