Monthly Archives: June 2012

“Birds crap on cars!” says company selling car-cleaner

June 22nd, 2012

Generally, here at Bad PR, I’ve focused primarily on surveys with leading questions or tricksy outcomes. Go back, take a look over the rest of the site, you’ll see that I’m right. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. 

However, there’s another common and very potent PR trope – which, for want of a better name, I’ll call the ‘biggest orange in the bowl’ manoeuvre. Here’s a classic example, taken from the Daily Mail (chosen partly because it’s in my RSS feed, and partly because they’re the worst culprit, of anything, generally):

When birds see red: Crimson cars get hit with more droppings than vehicles of any other colour

Bright red cars attract more bird droppings than vehicles of any other colour, according to a study.

Scientists recorded the frequency that birds left their mark on cars in five cities around Britain, and found crimson vehicles were targeted the most.

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Before I explain the trick, there’s a few things I’d like to address.

First up, while the Mail insist unspecified ‘Scientists’ made this shitty discovery, that’s not a claim which appears anywhere in the original press release, issues by Halfords (who, by startling coincidence, will sell you products to remove bird crap from your car). We know this, because the press release is here, and merely speaks of their ‘researchers’ – who are essentially people paid by Halfords to document examples of shit (nice work if you can get it – I get nothing for documenting the crap which passes through this blog).

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Secondly, the article in the Mail bears so similar a resemblance to the original press release that an analysis of the text actually shows it to be 80% identical to the Halfords release, meaning Daily Mail journalist Graham Smith contributed only a fifth to the story. Which is fun to know (well done, Churnalism.com). 

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The fact that this is a press release directly posing as news with barely a fifth of the story written by the stated author notwithstanding, we can now examine the trick behind this whole ‘research’, and it runs thus: in a closed data set, something has to be the ‘most’ in any given criteria. 

If you’re looking at 1,140 cars, and your options range from 6 colours, one of those colours has to be the most frequently crapped on by birds. Just as somewhere in the UK has to be the most sexually active town, somewhere equally has to be the least, and one of the subjects at Oxford university must feature the student populace who have the most sex. This isn’t necessarily research, it’s merely common sense – at every school sports day, someone has to win the egg and spoon race, but this doesn’t mean they’re the best egg-and-spooners in the world, they just beat the other people in the race. 

“People hate having messy gardens!” says find-a-tradesman website

June 21st, 2012

One of my favourite tactics in Bad PR is the bait-and-switch – where an article opens with ostensibly one angle, only to veer back later towards the real aim of the company funding it. Such as the finding that we’re all a bunch of garden obsessives:

Why half of us get upset if next door’s garden is a jungle

You do your best to keep your garden at its blooming best, but there’s always one pest you can’t control – your neighbour.

More than half of us get upset if the plot next door is overgrown, a survey has found.

Other annoyances for those who like to keep up appearances include litter, dead grass and children’s toys strewn all over the lawn, according to the research.

What might seem a little surprising at first would be to discover that the story was based on a survey funded by – and therefore in order to promote – tradesman directory ratedpeople.com.

A spokesman for the publication said: ‘Britain is a nation of Hyacinth Buckets, with over half the population frowning on neighbours with an overgrown garden.’

The nationwide survey found that living next door to families proud of maintaining a manicured lawn is the dream of many.

Oh such lofty ambition from the humble Englishman – we but dare to dream of a world so green and pleasant as that glimpsed over the fence of our imaginary dream neighbour.

In fact, here’s their blogged version based on their press release, over at their website.

Now, simple logic would lead you to deduce that a nation made up of people who ‘do their best to keep their garden at its blooming best’ would have little need for a gardener – it’s their messy neighbour who poses the real problem. So, marketing budget wasted, then? Not so:

The report also found that many homeowners were frustrated that the pace of life left too little time to garden.

A third said they did not have enough time to look after it, while a quarter said there weren’t enough hours to relax on their plots.

And there’s the switch: from praising our obsessive need to have a tidy garden, we’re now addressing the fact that this (imaginary) obsession is undercut by our hectic working lives, leaving our (fictional) itch unscratched… and allowing for our trusty ratedpeople.com to step in and reap the seeds they’ve sown. 

“I can predict the news ahead of time!” says your humble Bad PR author

June 20th, 2012

People who follow me on twitter – otherwise known as ‘correct people’ – may have spotted this bold tweet last week:

Predicted ‪#badnews‬ in the papers around Sunday: modern men are useless at DIY/car maintenance, rely on their dads for help. Maybe from B&Q.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when the following appeared on the FemaleFirst.co.uk news site today:

Dad knows best when it comes to DIY

Who needs the internet or modern technology when you have the hands and knowledge of your own father?

A new study found that 63 per cent of youn(sic) people are still turning to their dad first on all matters of DIY.

Whilst youngsters make up the largest group needing fatherly assistance, a third of those in their thirties and forties also show how important the traditional fatherly role still is in this aspect of our modern lives.

The research carried out by leading decoration preparation brand Polycell, also revealed that Fathers play a massive role in terms of practical knowledge and also giving recognition, with 1 in 5 DIYers needing a fatherly pat on the back to feel proud when they’ve done a DIY job properly.

I realise it’s not exactly a leading story in the Daily Mail, but I’ll chalk this up as a win. Plus, don’t be surprised if this does in fact appear in the Mail in the morning, as the two publications often publish very close to one another.

Given that I know my readership is smart (albeit small in number), I know that you know that I didn’t guess this story purely by chance, or indeed by psychic skills (which don’t actually exist, by the way). No, instead, I spotted the following questions in a poll from my favourite polling company OnePoll.com:

Do you agree that modern men aren’t quite as good at tasks such as DIY, decorating, car maintenance etc as the previous generation of men?

And this one:

If jobs needed doing around the house, what would you be most likely to do?

– Attack them yourself, even if you didn’t really know what you were doing
– Call your dad for help
– Phone a professional for hired help
– Leave the jobs undone
– None of the above

And it’s fair to say there were others too – variants along a theme.

The interesting thing to note in the latter question there, of course, is the false positive in the responses: the first answer is the closest thing to a ‘I can change a plug myself, actually’, so those who were competent may select this… so to avoid having too many people state their competence, the question is appended with a ‘I’m clueless though’ clause. Thus, the competent could well be put off from selecting this option lest they be bundled into the DIY-bunglers category.

Similarly, all those who confidently state their DIY skills can be spun in the results as being likely to throw themselves into a job they can’t do, which in itself feeds back into the main narrative of the article. 

Given the clear steer the questions were giving respondents, the timing of the questions so close to Fathers Day, and the DIY theme to the whole survey, it became relatively easy to see what article we were looking to create. The only thing left to do was to take an educated guess as to the company behind the poll – I stabbed at B&Q, when in reality it was Polycell. Close enough, I think.

The underlying point here is useful, I think: if it’s possible to piece together the desired results of a survey by looking over the questions asked in a poll and the range (and biasing) of answers to choose from, the poll isn’t genuine research.

“Women something something something that popular lady-porn book!” says bandwagon-jumping bingo company

June 20th, 2012

Given the popularity – and indeed the content – of erotic fiction bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it’s little surprise that a rash of other companies targeting women might tie themselves to the spanking bandwagon with extra-durable bondage tape. Take, for example, an article featured in the Daily Mail this week:

Not tonight dear, I’m reading: Almost half of women say they would rather read about sex than have it

Survey reveals 43 per cent of women think erotic fiction makes their own sex lives seem routine and boring

Backs up Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James’ theory that her books provide readers with a ‘holiday from their husbands’

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The article, chock-full of stats about the boring sex lives of British women – including the odd and somewhat unlikely stat that women would rather read about sex than actually have sex (show me the questions, I say!) – was almost certainly a direct lift from a press release, given identical claims and figures appearing a number of days earlier over at women’s magazine www.womanandhome.com.

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Which company was behind this blatant bandwagon jumping? That would be Dotty Bingo, purveyors of the traditionally-stereotypical-bored-housewife’s favourite number-yelling game. 

The tactic is simple: piggyback on the back of a popular trend in your target demographic, thus attempting to link BDSM with BINGO – a case of ‘dominatrix: eighty-six’.

“Learn the secrets of a good night’s sleep!” says bed linen company

June 10th, 2012

A little while ago (I’ve been busy, OK?), the newspapers were alive with the secrets of how to get a good night’s sleep.

From the Mail:

Drink tea, wear pyjamas and retire at 10pm: The secrets to getting a good night’s sleep

We all know what it is like to have a bad night’s sleep and to start the day feeling tired and grumpy.

But a new survey has revealed the key to sweet dreams – going to bed at 10pm after having a cup of tea in your pyjamas.

And from the Telegraph:

The key to a perfect night’s sleep

The key to a perfect night’s sleep is going to bed at exactly 10pm, wearing pyjamas and enjoying a cup of tea beforehand, according to a poll.

And from the Express:

SECRETS OF A GOOD SZZZLEEP

THE key to a perfect night’s sleep is going to bed at exactly 10pm, wearing pyjamas and enjoying a cup of tea beforehand, it was revealed yesterday.

A survey of 2,000 adults who claim to enjoy an undisturbed sleep every night of the week highlights how they do it.

It shows you should have at least two hours and seven minutes’ rest in the evening after cooking, washing up and doing the chores.

Where might this highly-important information, presented right across our popular press, have come from? Might it be sleep scientists, advising the public for our greater good? Or perhaps some kind of sociological survey?

Nope, it came from bed linen company Bedeck

We can see this for certain, as we can locate the press release their PR firm Camron came up with, having commissioned the survey through our old friends OnePoll. Quickly comparing the three articles with the press release shows just how closely the press release text and listed findings were replicated into the news.

You might think it odd that a bed linen company list the most important factors involved in getting a good night’s sleep, and their bed linen not feature in that list. Herein lies the subtlety of PR – had ‘a nice set of clean set of sheets’ been high on the list, the commercial source of the story would have been far too obvious. However, consider the value in having ‘a good night’s sleep’ subtly linked with the name of this bed linen firm. This is the subtle value of PR.