5WPR CEO With Risks & Digital Marketing

Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR 

In 2017, a ski resort located in Utah, Snowbird Ski Resort, received a negative review online. The review lamented the difficulty of the slopes, and user Greg from Los Angeles wrote that the tracks were “too advanced”. Instead of hiding behind this negative review or ignoring it, however, the resort took a risk. It created an entire advertising campaign around this review.Soon, print materials were released that simply showed a photo of the ski slope with the words Not for beginners printed underneath. The campaign quickly went viral and was complimented by media outlets such as AdWeek for its ingenuity and, yes, the risk the resort was willing to take. 

The following year, the state of Nebraska launched a new marketing campaign in hopes of driving up visitor traffic. They also went all-in on the idea of honesty being the best policy, creating the slogan “Honestly, it’s not for everyone” to adorn the marketing materials. The campaign admitted that Nebraska didn’t have all the frills and attractions that other, more tourist friendly destinations might offer. 

But, the tourism bureau said, it was just right for some adventurous folks.  This policy of honesty is a risk, as odd as this sounds. In most traditional campaigns, the best, most attractive or beneficial features of a product, place, or service are typically what is played up the most. After all, why would a potential customer want to see anything negative? Isn’t that counter productive? 

Not always. 

Risk is not always something to avoid. Of course, not every risk will pay off, but by measuring the associated risk with the potential benefits can often yield some eye-opening results. By measuring precedent — look at case studies of similar campaigns that have been well-received — digital marketing professionals can make a case for an edgy or otherwise “risky” campaign effort. 

Of course, this goes back to the foundational concept of knowing a brand’s audience. An audience that’s more open-minded, has a sense of humor, or is generally well-mannered will be more receptive than an audience with very strict beliefs and guidelines they prefer to adhere to. Any brand has a target demographic of customers. How will they respond to a different type of campaign? 

One way to find this out before jumping ahead full steam is to utilize A/B testing. By selecting a smaller, but still measurable, group of target audience members to test content in front of, marketers can assess and adjust the campaign as needed. These results are key to determine the ongoing impact and the benefit of running such a campaign. 

Perhaps the A/B test will reveal that the risk likely won’t pay off and could, instead, be damaging. Or, the test could reveal that the risk might actually be the gold mine the business has been seeking. Conducting the necessary tests and research is key to getting a risk right. But don’t shy away from a bit of extra legwork, as both the Snowbird Ski Resort and the state of Nevada will tell you that their risks paid off in a big way.

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency. He recently presented at Harvard Business School on crisis PR.About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.  He recently presented at Harvard Business School on crisis PR.