If there’s one thing better than seeing someone take a clever swipe at a brand, it’s seeing a brand that takes the punch on the chin and returns it with interest. This is exactly what Smart USA did last week when ad agency creative director Clayton Hove made a joke on Twitter about the smart car’s ability to withstand a bird dropping.
Within a couple of days the Smart USA twitter account had responded, but not just with nervous laughter as some brands might have done, but with a response that outsmarted this particular ‘smart-outer’. The conversation appears below.
— Official smart USA (@smartcarusa) June 19, 2012
Cue almost 500 retweets, 250+ favourites, a slew of blog posts congratulating the brand for outsmarting the original joker (including one from Hove himself) – even a #smartresponse trending hashtag for a time.
Smart by name, smart by nature?
In his blog post, Hove says that the response made him rethink his perception of the Smart brand, like many others (myself included) I imagine. Finally a brand that really gets the informal, conversational nature of social media and isn’t afraid to demonstrate a bit of humility and humour.
But then a tweet from The Duffy Agency last Friday caught my eye.
— Duffy Agency (@Duffy_Agency) June 22, 2012
According to Adrants, Smart USA’s agency Razorfish “was behind the response and the creation of the hilarious graphic.”
Somehow, I felt let down. Here was I imagining a company that had really got to grips with the importance of embracing and embedding social media into its culture, with a dedicated in-house team listening first hand to what people are saying about their brand and working out how to respond and engage authentically and transparently, as real human beings.
But it appeared not. Instead, it was the result of just another agency creative brief. Worse still, perhaps no-one in Smart USA was listening to the conversation at all, and it was the agency that did everything? Perhaps the agency even manages the Smart USA Twitter account for them?
As a result, my perception of the Smart brand changed again, this time to one of a brand that is only as smart and creative as their agency (the response – as it turns out – is part of a formal “campaign” designed, one assumes, to make them look smart).
Does any of this matter?
I guess most people won’t give a hoot about this. Whether you care probably boils down to the same issues as to whether you think CEOs should write their own blog posts, politicians should write their own speeches, or authors of autobiographies should employ ghost writers. Of course, I can only talk about how it makes me feel and for me it’s a question of brand authenticity, transparency and ultimately trust.
First, I want to believe that the people and brands I interact directly with via social media are doing the same. Second, I expect them to be transparent when this isn’t the case; and third, only when they exhibit both these behaviours consistently, can I truly trust them.
So in this case, I’m left feeling that whilst the response was certainly smart, the agency back-story takes away some of the original admiration I had for Smart.
What do you think? Should brands be getting kudos for their social behaviour when they’re effectively outsourcing it to an agency?