When records really count

One of the things that makes a career in PR so much more interesting than being a corporate lawyer or merchant banker (and you keep […]

One of the things that makes a career in PR so much more interesting than being a corporate lawyer or merchant banker (and you keep telling yourself that interesting is way more important than lucrative) is that, from time to time, you find yourself doing really odd things. And it’s only when you stop and think about it that you realise how out of the ordinary they are.

A couple of weeks ago we helped break two world records.  Not many lawyers do that (I haven’t really got a downer on lawyers; I only just dodged that particular career bullet anyway).

On October 12th, Thorntons broke the world record for the world’s largest chocolate bar (six glorious tonnes of the stuff), and the next day, 50,000 children were brought together by Lifebuoy in a stadium in Nigeria to break the world record for simultaneous handwashing.  The handwashing should have come before the chocolate eating you’d have thought, but deadlines are deadlines.  And headlines are headlines, lots of them for both.  Very different audiences and media channels for each, although the Huffington Post, bless them, covered both stories: Thorntons and Lifebuoy.

All very interesting, but does it make a difference?  Records, like surveys, have become a staple of many PR campaigns, and are often derided as such, for creating easy but meaningless headlines.  But when they bring a brand idea to life, they work, they really do. The issue, of course, is when they bear little resemblance, if any, to the brand idea (sometimes born of the fact that the PR people responsible don’t really understand what a brand idea is).

Not surprisingly, I’d argue that these two attempts succeeded not only in breaking world records, but also in telling key elements of the brand story.  One of the ways Thorntons differentiates itself from its competition is the skill and craftsmanship of its master chocolatier and his team, who can create magic from chocolate. The world record showed their expertise to millions of chocolate lovers around Britain (and, pointedly, took the record away from the Americans who had recently snatched it, like they did another now formerly British chocolate company).

And Lifebuoy soap wants to make handwashing with soap the norm, so what better way of demonstrating this than seeing 50,000 children all practising the life-saving habit together?

Two questions to ask, next time you see a PR-created survey or world record attempt: one, is it newsworthy enough for someone to choose to publish it or talk about it? And two, does it effectively get across what the brand stands for?  Similar to the question Diageo asked itself ten years ago, when it decided to sell the Guinness Book of Records. Yes it was newsworthy and interesting, but no, it didn’t really say anything about a pint of the black stuff.