Engagement smells fishy

by Tom Albrighton 27 October 2011 Digital and social, Popular

Have you seen the @ShippamsPaste Twitter account? Purporting to come from the ‘social media intern’ at Shippams, it promises that its Tweets will ‘help you engage with our brand’.

In fact, the feed is a stream of gags about sandwich pastes, Chichester and what being an intern at a firm like Shippams might be like, all delivered in an engagingly naïve tone with adventurous spelling and punctuation. It’s surreal, inventive and very, very funny.

On one level, the feed is an in-joke, almost certainly created by a marketing insider. It brutally satirises the doomed ambitions of dull-as-ditchwater brands like Shippams to ‘engage’ via social media. (In reality, Shippams has wisely opted to have no social presence at all.)

Everything is there – the lame invitations to contribute user-generated content…

…the attempt to hijack trending topics…

…or establish self-serving hashtags…

…’helpful’ ideas for enjoying the product…

…and ‘interesting’ facts about the company and its ranges.

Naturally, @ShippamsPaste has been a runaway success. As I write, it has 2300 followers, having gained about 800 just yesterday (when I first saw it). It’s generated the sort of viral social publicity that brands would kill for – which is why Shippams would be well advised to let it run, rather than sending a crabby cease-and-desist letter. (Always assuming, of course, that it’s not an absolute marketing masterstroke from the brand itself.)

What’s interesting, though, is how the feed has whipped up such interest. Although it’s finding popularity through social channels, @ShippamsPaste is an interruptive phenomenon, not an engaging one. Like the Old Spice campaign, it uses the product and the brand as the starting point for some inventive, memorable humour that grabs our attention with both hands. But that’s got very little to do with ‘engagement’.

Normally, we’d never want to connect with a brand like Shippams, but we’re definitely up for some LOLs and WTFs at the expense of its products (or pompous social-media delusions). @ShippamsPaste offers the sort of content that makes the sharer look cool just for sharing it.

And, ironically, we’re far more likely to try the product as a result of reading @ShippamsPaste than if the firm’s marketers really had tried to engage us in some fun activities or content generation around the brand.

@ShippamsPaste rarely replies to its audience, but that one-sidedness is the whole point. As with other Twitter wits (@sixthformpoet, @jacques_aih, @OhLookBirdies), the feed preserves its superiority and mystique with one-way communication, rampant creativity and strictly rationed audience interaction – the exact opposite of what most social campaigns deliver, on all three counts.

Such refusal to compromise is hard to achieve once suits and client anxiety enter the frame – but our real-life experience of social media proves its worth. The social content that people genuinely respond to is much closer in spirit to a traditional interruptive TV campaign than it is to ‘engagement’ – however that hazy term is defined.

And that’s why this funny, fishy feed can tell us a lot about what people really want, what really interests them and what really makes them more likely to buy.

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