Author Archives: Michael Marshall

“Men can form intense friendships with each other!” says film about famous male duo

When I give lectures on Bad PR, I often highlight that the statistics shown in PR surveys are rarely if ever the point of the story, they’re merely the detail that serves as a delivery mechanism for the main commercial message.

One of the ways you can test whether that’s true of any given story is to ask whether, if the figures and findings in the story were entirely reversed, it would appreciably change the main thrust of the story. Take, for example:

More than half of men say they would rather spend time with their best friend than their wives or girlfriends

It is the flashpoint for countless domestic rows – and now a survey has shown just how many men would rather be with their pals than their partners.

Of 1,500 men, more than half – 54 per cent – said they would prefer to spend time with their friends than their wives or girlfriends.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, 44 per cent of men have argued with their other halves about the amount of time they spend with their mates.

Source: Daily Mail, 8th June 2019

This story about friendships between men is brought to you by the DVD release of a film about two men who formed a close double-act:

The study was released to mark the DVD release of the Steve Coogan film Stan & Ollie, about the friendship between Laurel and Hardy.

It’s therefore not a surprise to see that the story supports the premise that men form close friendships. In this story, the claim is that 56% of men said they preferred to spend time with their friend rather than their partner (note: that’s just over half of men, in a question that was 50-50). But if the finding was that 2 in 3 men had that preference, would that change the reporting of the story?

In fact, what if the data had said the opposite – that men preferred the company of their partners to their friends – would this be an issue for this particular story? Or would the headline “1 in 3 men say they prefer their friends” or even “20% of men prefer their friends” just as easily support the narrative of the article?

“People are missing out on loyalty points!” says company who just joined loyalty scheme, via OnePoll

Savings news now, with the revelation that Brits are missing out on massive amounts of loyalty points:

Customers could be missing out on £46billion a year on loyalty points

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s offer customers a loyalty card to pick up points which can be exchanged for money.

Customers earn hundreds of pounds a year by collecting points on their Clubcard or Nectar cards.

But did you know at least £46billion is lost on supermarket loyalty points per year?

Source: Daily Star, 22nd June 2019

Who might be keen to remind you of the potential value of reward schemes?

The research, which was carried out by OnePoll.com on behalf of Esso, found that Brits are spending £86.57 on average per week on fuel and groceries (£4,500 per year), which totals to £46.8 billion worth of loyalty points being missed out on.

Esso’s horse in this race is pretty clear:

Esso recently joined forces with Nectar to reward drivers with loyalty points every time they fill up.

Customers filling up at participating Esso-branded stations are now able to earn Nectar points on their fuel and shop purchases.

“Using Viagra is totally commonplace now!” says online Viagra seller

Erection news now, with the eye-catching revelation that one in seven men has taken Viagra:

More than one in ten British men have taken Viagra with Yorkshire males most likely to seek help in the bedroom

More than one in ten British men have taken Viagra or similar pills – with Yorkshire males most likely to seek help in the bedroom.

A nationwide survey found that 15 per cent of men in England had taken Viagra or other erectile dysfunction medication, compared with just 11 per cent of Scots.

Source: Daily Mail, 8th June 2019

If you think that one-in-seven stat seems a little high (even if it’s underplayed in the one-in-ten headline), you might be onto something, because rather than an analysis of the over-the-counter pharmaceutical market, this story is actually a PR opinion poll on behalf of an online pharmacy:

Dr Daniel Atkinson, of online pharmacy Treated.com, which commissioned the poll, said erectile dysfunction could be higher in urban centres, where stress levels may be higher.

There are a couple of key marketing messages at play in this ‘research’:

  1. Taking Viagra is entirely commonplace, everyone does it, so you might as well too.
  2. There’s no shame in taking Viagra, because of how normal it is these days.
  3. You can buy Viagra online in discreet packaging, because people still feel embarrassed about buying Viagra, and despite the cursory nod toward destigmatising its use, that embarrassment is the real customer pain point Treated want to remind you about.

“You should change your bedding more often!” says bed company

Hygiene news now, with the revelation that the average bedsheet is dirtier than the bed of a chimpanzee:

Our beds are filthier than those kept by chimpanzees in treetops, as a quarter of Britons change their sheets only once a month, study finds

A quarter of us change our bedsheets only once a month, leaving them covered in bacteria, the poll of 2,000 Britons discovered.

Scientists took samples from some of the sheets and compared them to those taken from beds used by chimps, our closest living relatives.

They found that sheets left unwashed for four weeks were a ‘breeding ground for microbes’ and contained more bacteria than that found in chimp beds.

Source: Daily Mail, 8th June 2019

If it seems a surprise to hear that the average person’s bed is dirtier than that of a chimpanzee (who, it’s worth bearing in mind, live essentially in their own excrement), it probably won’t come as surprise to hear that this story is not so much a scientific or anthropology study as it is an advert for beds:

The bacteria on the bedsheets included bacteroidales, which can cause pneumonia, and fusobacteriales, a culprit for skin ulcers, the study from bedroom firm Time4Sleep found.

“All sorts of people can find love online!” says dating app

Dating news now, with the apparent revelation that what people find attractive online might not be what might be expected:

The most eligible online daters are ‘big drinkers who live at home with their parents’

People who live at home with their parents and drink heavily have been revealed to be the most eligible daters online.

According to research honesty is also one of the most attractive traits when it comes to online dating, with those boasting polished profiles and sculpted abs most likely to miss out.

Source: Mirror, 7th June 2019

Who can we thank for this fascinating sociological insight?

But ‘Living with parents’ and ‘heavy drinker’ came out as the most right-swiped on Badoo’s new profile badges feature.

Analysing 5,000 users, the dating site found people who reveal niche information, about themselves such as whether they want children someday, were more popular than those who didn’t.

Far be it for me to suggest the integrity of this analysis might be compromised, but it is certainly handy for Badoo to be able tell users that their less desirable traits might actually be date-winners.

There’s also an obvious selection bias at play: Badoo’s information, even if it is honestly presented, can only speak to the behaviours of people who have signed up to Badoo; there’s no reason to believe their ‘findings’ extend beyond their own platform.

Is being a ‘heavy drinker’ genuinely a surprisingly attractive trait, or is it just that heavy drinkers might be more likely to seek love on Badoo than in other places? These are the kind of questions that a genuine study would need to confront; they’re also exactly the kind of questions you wouldn’t ask in a marketing-first piece of PR messaging.

It is at this point that it’s worth highlighting the author of the Mirror’s article: Jack Peat, the Head of Digital at PR company 72 Point.

“It’s important to have a good office environment!” says office space company, TWO years ago

Whenever I give lectures on Bad PR, I always try to explain that the life of a PR story doesn’t end when it hits the newspapers – that’s just the start of its life, and once its published, it’s impossible to predict where the same story will surface again.

Sometimes, those stories surface years later, their headline facts stripped of the original (commercially-compromised) source, and used to justify a position far beyond what it was intended to support. Other times, they just resurface in a weird way – today, I have an example of the odder end of things.

Take this recent story in the Mirror:

How many minutes, hours and days you work for free by cutting your lunch break short

It’s something many of us do, but it all adds up – and could even cost you

Not taking your full, allotted lunch break is something so many of us do.

Maybe it feels as if there are not enough hours in the day to get through your work. It could be ingrained in the culture of your workplace. Or perhaps you just want to brown-nose your boss.

Whatever your reasons, that lacklustre, rushed desk “picnic” is doing you no favours.

Source: Mirror, 6th June 2019

In looking, as I always do, for the commercial entity who placed this story in the newspaper, I was slightly surprised to see the Mirror attribute the story to Refinery 29:

If you’re not paid through your lunch, then, according to Refinery 29 , that equates to working 6,032 minutes for free each year.

It seemed odd to me that a lifestyle blog like Refinery 29 would pay for PR to appear in the Mirror, so I followed the story through to find it had been posted on Refinery 29’s website… in July 2017!

From there, we can see the originator of the piece was Workthere.com – an office space company. Except, they claim to have posted their PR ‘research’ in September 2018… one year AFTER it appeared in Refinery 29, and a year BEFORE that appeared in the Mirror.

So, when was it? Was this story from 2017 as Refinery 29 say, 2018 as Workthere claim to have written it, or 2019 as the Mirror reported it? There is one last clue that helps us unravel the mystery – according to Workthere’s original press release, the research was carried out in June 2017:

So it seems like Workthere published this ‘research’ in 2017, at which point it was picked up by Refinery 29. Then, a year later, Workthere updated the publication date of their blog, to make the information seem more current. And then, slightly inexplicably, a further year later the Mirror published the story, attributing it to the middlemen, Refinery 29.

In any case, at the heart of all of this is a commercial message to justify the outlay on a marketing survey, and a spokesperson to drive that message home:

Cal Lee, the founder of Workthere says it’s important for offices to instil a lunch hour culture in order to increase wellness at work. Employers are, he says, “increasingly recognising the benefits of ensuring staff are content, happy, and most importantly in good health.”

He continued: “Part of this is creating a productive office environment where employees feel comfortable taking a longer lunch break and engaging with colleagues.”

“People should buy food that lasts longer!” says long-life milk company

What’s the oldest foodstuff in your fridge right now? And how long will you leave it before you consider it officially “off”? According to the latest PR ‘research’, for the average Brit it might be longer than ideal:

Millions of Brits tucking into food that is past its sell-by date – some by months

Researchers who polled 2,000 adults found we will comfortably consume cheese 10 days after its ‘best before’ date, devour bread five days past its best and feast on fish three days after its freshest

It also emerged Brits will cook raw meat three days past its use by date and consume butter as many as 10 days later. 

Source: Mirror, 6th June 2019

It’s no coincidence that the photo example of food that might be past it’s use-by date shows several pints of milk, nor is it a coincidence to see milk feature prominently in the article:

It also emerged milk and bread are being wasted more than any other products, in line with figures from sustainability charity WRAP which found 490 million pints of milk are wasted every year in the home. 

That’s because the company who put this story together are Cravendale, the long-life milk people:

Despite this, the research commissioned by Arla Cravendale found more than half of UK households still wish fresh food lasted longer, as fears about food waste continue to rise.

And to really put the long-life cream on top, we get a quote from the company spokesperson to drive the commercial message home:

Emma Stanbury from Arla Cravendale said: “It’s always a shame when things go to waste, especially when it comes to fresh foods such as milk, that haven’t lasted as long as we hoped. 

“We are often told by consumers that they feel guilty when have to pour milk away. 

“However, making small changes at home means we can all help to play a part, such as switching to products that stay fresher for longer.”

Company who makes long-life product commissions survey that finds people want a long-life product, and therefore advises people to buy the long-life product. National news, clearly.

“You should care about knights!” says TV channel running show about knights

Few things are as effective at grabbing PR headlines as running a story with some celebrity names in the headline:

Brits calling for JK Rowling and Stephen Fry to be knighted

One in five Brits think JK Rowling should be KNIGHTED, according to a study.

The Harry Potter author, who is set to release four new eBooks next month giving fans a chance to read more about the ‘wizarding world’, topped the poll.

A further one in six Brits would like to see Stephen Fry pick up the title, while Joanna Lumley was another popular choice.

Source: Mirror, 6th June 2019

Who is that wants us to care who has and has not been knighted?

The research was commissioned by TV channel HISTORY, to launch series two of historical fiction drama Knightfall, starting Tuesday 2nd July at 9pm.

“You should show your dad you love him!” says shaving company ahead of Father’s Day

A few weeks ago, it was perhaps no surprise to see companies gearing up for Father’s Day in the UK, with PR stories like this:

Barack Obama and Muhammad Ali beaten by dad in poll of UK male role models

A string of sporting heroes, Hollywood actors and high-profile figures have all taken a backseat in a study of male role models – which was topped by dear old dad.

A poll of 2,000 UK men found one in four named their father as their top role model, ahead of Barack Obama , Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore.

Men also voted their grandad into third place, with Winston Churchill the only famous figure to rank higher.

Source: Mirror, 5th June 2019

Who were the company who wanted to remind you that dads are the best a man can get?

The study was commissioned by Gillette to launch #MyRoleModel, a campaign which celebrates fathers and recognises other important role models who help shape and make men be the best they can be.

To drive the brand message home, we can see that the accompanying photo shows Ian Wright, ambassador of Gillette’s new campaign, putting his Gillette razer to use.

To be fair to Ian Wright, the quote he provides (or at least puts his name to) in the press release expresses some commendable sentiments:

Ian Wright, who worked with Gillette, said: “This Father’s Day I’m grateful to the men who helped me become who I am today.

“These men encouraged me to be the best I can be and I enjoy the responsibility that comes with being a role model and passing on what I’ve learned to the next generation, whether that’s my children, my community or some of the footballers I speak to who are now experiencing what I did in my professional career.

“I always encourage them to be the best version of themselves, no matter what that may be.”

It’s encouraging to see sensitivity and responsibility as prominent messages to men today, and this isn’t the first time Gillette has taken a stand against toxic masculinity – they notably ran an advert earlier this year which encouraged men to eschew sexist and predatory behaviour, and to be better versions of themselves.

The backlash the advert received is in itself a demonstration of how vital that message is… however, it’s hard for an experienced critic of the PR world to see this as an entirely altruistic campaign. It’s equally likely that Gillette’s PR team have realised there’s money to be made in being on the right side of history, and their new-found sensitivity is more of a marketing look than a genuine core value of their brand.

Time will tell whether Gillette keep pursuing a progressive and positive message in the long term, or whether they revert to old, reliable tropes of commercialised masculinity.

“All the cool kids are going on diets these days!” says diet plan

Here’s another great example of a PR story that neatly tucks the commercial angle into a secondary stat, behind the attention-grabbing headline stat:

One in three adults have lied about being on a diet due to shame, study finds

A third of adults who have dieted told NO ONE about it because they were ‘ashamed’, according to a study.

Researchers found many of those who have changed their diet were worried about failing publicly, while others were embarrassed to be dieting in the first place.

Similarly, a third would rather diet alone than do it jointly with someone else.

Source: Mirror, 3rd June 2019

Who placed this PR?

Commissioned by The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan, the new stats show Brits are embarrassed to admit they are eating healthy to try cut a few pounds.

You might think it strange that a diet plan would run with a headline suggesting a diet might be something to feel ashamed about – however, it all makes sense when you notice their real commercial angle, in the next paragraph:

Commissioned by The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan , the research of 2,000 adults found 69 per cent of the population have been on a diet at one time or another.

The ‘shame’ of dieting combined with a lack of support are the reasons healthy eating plans often don’t work out.

So while they might lead with the notion that diets are shameful, they reverse that impression with their main hook, claiming that almost 7 in 10 people have been on a diet, and that it is only stigma and shame that stops people owning up to it in public. Stigma and shame that headlines such as this arguably serve to add to, incidentally.

Mark Gilbert, nutritionist at The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan, said: “Diet shouldn’t be a dirty word – no one should feel ashamed of changing their food intake to achieve their desired goals as long as the diet contains proper nutrition and their goals are appropriate for them.