While this story, commissioned by smart-home company Hive, might have some worrying news regarding our mental health, we do at least have some light at the end of the tunnel, in the shape of the internet of things:
Technology has become a vital tool for many, helping us to maintain relationships and give us peace of mind by keeping us informed on each other’s lives, even when we’re not together.
This is particularly true for technologies such as social media, instant messaging, and new smart home apps that can enable families and friends to keep in touch and provide real-time updates. One in five (19%) of us now regularly use these platforms to check up on each other’s welfare, with two fifths (39%) saying technology is ‘essential’ for staying connected to family and friends.
To cap things off, we have a spokesperson from Hive to emphasise the growing role of technology (that Hive sell) in alleviating our social isolation and associated mental health woes:
Claire Miles, Managing Director of Centrica Hive said: ‘Setting aside real, quality time with those we love is becoming increasingly tough to do, as we try to balance the pressures of modern life. At Hive, we are always looking for innovative ways that technology can make this easier, and help give each of us back precious time for the people we love.
‘These findings, launched today in our Quality Time report, show how technology is already playing a much more central role in the way we keep in touch with the people that matter most to us, compared to just five years ago. As we continue to see major socioeconomic shifts in the way we live our lives, it is so exciting to think about the ways in which new technologies can help us get closer to loved ones.’
Thank heavens Hive are here, to pay for articles telling us our mental health is at risk unless we invest in smart home technology like the kind Hive sell.
One of the reasons I find Bad PR stories so fascinating and worrying is what I feel they say about the current state of modern journalism – how flimsy a premise a story can have and still make it into the press, how evidently a story doesn’t pass the sniff test and yet it gets published, unverified and often unedited.
Take, for example, a recent story from the Mail Online, which made some surprising claims about the nation’s sex lives:
Isn’t THAT romantic! People confess to wearing AIRPODS during sex, as they open up about their bedroom preferences – from signature song choices to favorite fetishes
People confessed to wearing AirPods during sex in a recent survey inquiring about respondent’s music and sexual preferences during intercourse.
The survey, conducted by ticketing service TickPick, asked 1,010 people their music preferences during sex and how it compared to the positions they chose or if they used contraception, to name a few.
The story was put together on behalf of TickPick – an online ticketing service whose main aim was to emphasise how important music is to people, and to use the ever-reliable “sex sells” tactic of getting their brand name into the headlines.
However, looking at the headline finding about AirPods, it seems abundantly clear that this statistic could not possibly be true:
An astounding 17 per cent of people confessed to having worn AirPods during sexual intercourse.
The story claims that 17% of people have worn Apple AirPods during sex. If we pause for a moment and put that figure into context, that would mean slightly more than one in every six people have had sex while wearing the Apple bluetooth earphones. Does anyone genuinely think one in six people even own Apple AirPods?
Far more likely is that the participants in the survey, incentivised as they naturally are to answer survey questions quickly and with little care or concern, saw a question about using AirPods during sex and decided to opt for the more amusing answer. A good survey methodology would look at the findings, recognise the 1-in-6 AirPod stat couldn’t possibly be true, and throw it out as an outlier.
However, this story didn’t come from a study of human habits, it came from a marketing survey designed to create headline-grabbing findings. Whether they intended to generate a false and misleading stat about AirPods, or whether it was an unexpected outcome, either way the client and the PR company they hired are happy – the AirPod stat wrote their headline for them.
Any journalist who glanced at their press release should have been able to recognise the stat as clearly false, and spike the story as a result. And yet, the Mail Online ran 800 words of copy, with associated infographic and link through to the client’s website – a perfect win for TickPick and their PR agency.
When it comes to a ticketing website making ludicrous claims about our sex lives, this whole process is relatively (though not completely) harmless. However, the same pressures and failings that allow a story like this to get through are also present when it comes to more important stories – stories that influence the way we think, the way we act, and the way we understand the world.
By understanding the cheaper and sillier end of the spectrum, we can gain an understanding of the more sophisticated and more important effects of those pressures.
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.
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?
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’:
Taking Viagra is entirely commonplace, everyone does it, so you might as well too.
There’s no shame in taking Viagra, because of how normal it is these days.
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.
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.
We all like to get value for money, and this is no less true in the PR world, where it can be all about getting maximum exposure for your core commercial message, for minimal outlay. That’s where the global nature of online news platforms can come in handy, where the savvy PR can get one company to take two bites of the same cherry.
Take, by way of example, an article which made headlines in the Australia arm of the Mail Online:
Revealed: Millennials are Australia’s LEAST reliable workers – but even the most dependable generation rarely start their shift on time
Millennials are the country’s least reliable workers while Baby Boomers are the most dependable – but not by much.
Millennial employees, born from 1981 to 1995, are more likely to be late than any other generation, including the younger Generation Z.
A whopping 73 per cent of millennial men and 70 per cent of millennial women were late to work at least once from March 2018 to March 2019.
We see some of the classic hallmarks of modern-day Bad PR here: the audience-pandering dismissal of the millennial generation, the splitting of a PR message by generations to data-mine for headlines, the ascribing of generational differences to the better habits and upbringing of the older generations. It’s classic stuff. Plus there’s the convenient secondary message that all workers can be unreliable and need to be closely monitored, which fits perfectly with the commercial drivers of the company behind the ‘research’:
The patterns of over 290,000 Australian shift workers were uncovered in a Late to Work Report by rostering software company Deputy…
‘The majority of reasons why probation fails is because of their [millennial’s] own habits and lack of engagement,’ human resources expert Greg Weiss told Daily Mail Australia.
So far, so standard Bad PR. However, a few days later, a strangely similar story was published in the UK wing of the Daily Mail, by the ever-so-prolific “Daily Mail Reporter”:
Older women are the most punctual at work, but survey finds THREE-QUARTERS of men in their 20s and 30s cannot be trusted to turn up on time
Older women employees are the least likely to be late for work, according to a survey published yesterday.
But men in their twenties and thirties are the ones to watch for bosses worried about staff punctuality, it said.
The survey by timekeeping software company Deputy analysed data from company records on the punctuality of hourly-paid workers.
The same story, with the same demographic breakdown, from the same commercially-incentivised source, appearing twice on the same news platform. Perhaps whichever staffer was playing the role of ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ that day got into the office late, and didn’t have time to check if they were repeating themselves. Someone should track their hours, maybe.
Insurance news now, with the revelation that people claim on their travel insurance for all manner of reasons:
A powerful sneeze, an unwelcome bat bite and a fierce gust of wind: We reveal ten of the UK’s most unlucky travel insurance claims
A powerful sneeze, a gust of wind and a bat bite are three of the most unlucky – and in some cases bizarre – travel insurance claims made by customers, new data exclusive to This is Money has revealed.
Whilst this may sound like a comedy sketch, these are real reasons people have had to make claims on their insurance, according to travel insurance and medical assistance provider, Cover-More.
Cover More, the travel insurance company, commissioned the research which showed how you never can tell when you might need travel insurance. Unsurprisingly, their spokesperson has advice for would-be travellers on how to avoid a mishap while out of the country:
Glenn Broadhurst, of Cover-More, said: ‘While some of our most bizarre claims will surprise you – and even make you laugh a little – they’re no laughing matter and highlight how unpredictable travelling can be.
‘It’s important your travel insurance policy covers you for the unexpected – even before you’ve left home. We recommend UK travellers buy their insurance policy straight after booking their holiday, and ensure they read their policy so they know what they’re covered for.’
It’s fascinating, as a night-owl who has worked in marketing and PR for over a decade, to find that my colleagues are heading to bed before 9pm – while I’m here at midnight tapping out blogs and juggling project updates. It’s almost as if this whole story was generated by a company with a commercial interest in making you question the quality of your sleep…
The survey of 4,000 Britons – commissioned by Bensons for Beds – also looked at bedtimes.
House buying news now, with the report in the Mirror and the Daily Mail that the younger generation are increasingly taking loans from their grandparents to try to get deposits together as they aim to get on the property ladder:
The bank of gran and grandad helps first-time buyers: One in ten rely on their relatives to help them get onto the property ladder
Some eight per cent of first-time buyers rely on cash from their grandparents
Compares with 13 per cent of existing home owners asked family to help
On average people planning to buy first home expect it will take them five years
Nearly one in 10 aspiring first-time buyers are turning to the ‘bank of gran and grandad’ to help fund their deposit, a survey has found.
Admittedly, the Mirror’s coverage tips its hand a little, running the name of the company behind the story in the first paragraph after the headlines: Santander bank.
Miguel Sard, managing director of mortgages, Santander UK said: “Despite having to use alternative income streams over and above their salary – such as relying on the bank of gran and grandad – today’s first-time buyers are demonstrating resilience and determination to achieve their home ownership goals.”
While it’s almost certainly the case that millennials are having to borrow money from their elders – whose mortgages were more aligned to their income – it’s also the case that this story is just a way for Santander to advertise their services to first-time buyers.