Tonight marks the 34th anniversary of Comic Relief. That’s older than some of our team. For many brands, charities in particular, keeping your brand in the public eye and popular after even 10 years is an achievement, so 34 years is a real landmark. But what lessons can we learn from Comic Relief when it comes to brand longevity?
Brand identity is strong.
It doesn’t get much more iconic in the charity world than the famous red nose. Originally symbolic of the clown population, Comic Relief took something familiar and made it their own. But it’s more than that; their branding makes sense. It encapsulates who they are and what they do. Too often brands are going for an identity based on something transient that doesn’t reflect their business and will most likely be out dated before the brands even launched.
It’s also versatile and flexible meaning it has greater potential for maximising audience potential. It can be adapted for children, adults, affluent, not so affluent. Obviously we’re not saying all brands have to have a wide range of merchandise but it has to appeal to your target audience. So if you’re setting up bank, stay away from emojis or jokes. Likewise, if you’re launching a new toy brand, maybe stay away from corporate messaging and have a bit of fun.
Give something back to your audience
The whole premise of Comic Relief is built around knowing their audiences well enough to know what they want in return for donating: donate money, we give you celebrities making fools of themselves. That’s what their audience want. They want to see Dawn French suffocate Hugh Grant with the most exuberant snog in television history or Smithy giving the England team the pep talk we all wish we could.
This is key for brands. Consumers aren’t spending money with you to help you out. They want something out of it. That’s the selfish nature of humanity. People want to know they are valued. Whether that might be a good quality product or service, a good loyalty scheme or simply that warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing they money have given is doing something positive.
They know the importance of getting their story right
Comic Relief wouldn’t be successful without the real life stories it punctuates the comedy with. They know many of the VTs they show are an uncomfortable or shocking watch for audiences but that’s what makes it so powerful. It’s safe to say without them Comic Relief would struggle to generate as much interest and wouldn’t have lasted 34 years. In fact, the fact they are still providing so many hard hitting real life stories after 34 years shows how important their work is.
Audiences need those stories for a number of reasons. Obviously there’s the guilt factor; but it also gives the charity legitimacy. These organizations and causes are real and that’s where your money goes. This is shown most clearly in the success stories of people whose lives have benefited from audience donations. By both tugging at the heart strings and giving the audience something to feel proud of they are connecting on a one on one basis with everyone watching.
Not only that but it’s all about real people. The ‘that could be me/ my friends or family’ factor. It’s relatable. It doesn’t isolate anyone because the stories could quite easily be about someone you know. This is storytelling with purpose at its finest. And it’s something brands can learn from. Whatever your brand, whatever you’re selling or however you’re selling it, if your stories can’t engage audiences and give them something relevant to their own lives, it probably isn’t a story worth telling.
So next time you’re using storytelling in your marketing ask yourself: Does it shock? Does it provoke emotion? Does it relate to my audience?
They’ve got the right spokespeople
Picture the scene: There’s a knock at the door. It’s dodgy Barry from down the road. He’s doing a skit and asking for money in return to help anxious parrots in The Gambia. Are you going to give him anything? Ok you might give him 20p to get him to go away but realistically he’s not going to generate much interest.
This is what Comic Relief do so well. Ok, so we can’t all have Hollywood A-listers dropping by to help us out, but we can do better than Barry. If your brand wants to make an impact from the stories it tells, then you need someone with a bit of weight behind them to tell it. Now that might not be Hugh Grant, but it could be an independent doctor, psychologist, or commentator. Someone who can talk in depth about the issues you’re dealing with. Whether it’s a charity story or a bread company talking about the rise in gluten free diets or even a travel company talking about how many people are taking city breaks, if you’ve got someone who knows their stuff your story will have much more impact.
Celebrities of course are a bonus but they have to bring something else to the story than just their name. Have they got a connection to what you’re talking about? If not and they are just there for their pretty face, maybe go back to the drawing board.
They adapt to suit the times
Whether it’s the merchandise they sell, the type of sketches and stories they show or the ways they give people to donate money, even the celebrities and hosts they feature, Comic Relief wouldn’t have made it to 34 years without changing with the times. This is key for brands that want to be around 10 years from now. Brands may have things that they’re sentimental about but if it doesn’t relate to modern audiences, it’s probably time to resign it to the history books. Think of logos for example. Some of the biggest brands in history have logos that have developed with the years to keep them looking fresh and on trend. The same goes for websites. Nothing turns consumers away quicker than a website that looks like it was made with dial-up internet.
This also goes for the type of content you’re putting out. Especially with social media. 10 years ago GIFs were merely a whisper amongst techies. Now they fill timelines across platforms. Video content is in the peak of its popularity because people realised it was good for engagement. Podcasts are seeing a boost in popularity.
Do your research. Look what’s popular now, not what was popular then. Look how people are engaging with things. Think about your own lifestyle. How would you engage with a brand?! What sort of content peaks your interest?! Use this in your marketing plan.
Of course it would be wrong if us to talk about Comic Relief without prompting you to donate to their wonderful cause… you probably know where to go and how to do it by now but in case you don’t, here’s the link.