Whenever I've been in a meeting room where marketers are discussing social media, everyone agrees unanimously that the difference between it and straightforward advertising is that it's a two-way street. Twitter and Facebook are platforms for conversations. In strategic meetings, at conferences and in marketing textbooks everywhere, everyone says they understand this.
And yet in practice, it's so very different.
Today, this tweet appeared on my timeline.
It made me quite annoyed. While I'm sure there is the equivalent of the juice from eight apples in a pint of Strongbow, by omission it very clearly implies that this is all there is. It suggests that the apples are squeezed, the juice is fermented, and that's basically it.
But this is completely untrue. Strongbow is approximately 37% apple juice . If that's the wrong figure, I'll happily correct it if anyone from Bulmers - now part of Heineken - cares to tell me the correct figure. But they won't, because they don't want you to know. Anyway, I've been told on good authority that it's 37%.
That juice has been reconstituted from concentrate, much of which is shipped in from abroad. Bulmers does use a lot of apples from Herefordshire as they claim, but there are not enough apples in Herefordshire to cater for the huge volumes it makes.
Strongbow then has more water added to bring the alcohol strength down from its natural 7-8% ABV, and lots of sugar, additives and flavourings to stop it tasting so watery.
So the tweet above is misleading, if not downright dishonest.
You can get away with that in advertising (though I will also be complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about this tweet) but you can't get away with it in the conversation that is social media.
You might be able to make out the first response above: "that's bollocks and you know it!"
Further down the page, the responses come thick and fast:
"haven't mentioned fermented apple juice & glucose syrup,water sugar,carbon dioxide,acid:E270,E330,antioxidant:E224(sulphites)"
"how come I can't taste them then?"
"..and then bung in a load of artificial sweetener, right?"
"You'd probably find it easier to press them [apples] rather than squeeze."
This reminds me of the claim in another tweet from the brand which claims Strongbow is 'brewed in Herefordshire'. I'm not sure how Strongbow is made, but I do know that cider is not 'brewed'. Brewing is the heating/boiling of water with infused ingredients, such as tea leaves or hops. Cider is 'made' - at least in the method that Strongbow claims to follow here - and no brewing takes place. You'd really expect the UK's biggest cider brand to know a little bit about how cider is made.
You could argue that people who drink Strongbow don't really care about this, and there are enough 'so what?' comments on the thread to suggest you would have a point.
But either way, what is Strongbow's response to this? How does the brand react to having its claims challenged in a conversational medium?
It completely ignores them.
The above statements, which are potentially very damaging to the brand, remain completely unanswered. As does every other comment on the thread. The above pic was first posted on 9th August, and Strongbow UK have not responded to a single comment.
You could argue that with regard to their critics, they simply stopped digging - but I still believe it's foolish to leave these criticisms up there, unanswered. But elsewhere in the thread there are real fans of the brand who get the same silent treatment: several people ask semi-seriously if a pint of Strongbow counts towards their five a day. One fan asks if he can blag some beer mats or other swag for his pub shed. Another asks if the tall glass featured in the shot is available to buy.
Curious, I went through a few other tweets, and its the same story every time: a mix of stinging criticism and genuine questions from passionate fans, ignored. Having looked at five or six threads, I can't find a single follow-up comment from the brand.
What a genius way to do marketing!
Join a conversational medium and use it as free advertising space. Make outrageous claims that you couldn't get away with on TV. Then allow your critics to take potshots at you on your own timeline, leaving them there for everyone to see, making you look stupid and dishonest, and also piss off your most loyal fans by ignoring them as well.
No wonder this brand with a marketing budget running into millions has got fewer than 10,000 Twitter followers. They're actually lucky they don't have more people to watch online brand marketing commit painful suicide.
Boys and girls of Strongbow, I'm afraid you really haven't earned it with this sad, sorry show.