Chumming Down

I'm turning into an old curmudgeon. Either that, or the new wave of social marketing has severely missed its intended target.

Let me ask you a question, do you want to be friends with your utility company? Your phone provider? Your soft drinks manufacturer?

I don't mean "follow-on-social-media" friends - I mean actual buddies.
On the face of it, that's a ridiculous question. You can no more be friends with a conglomerate than you can trust a politician. When your local MP comes knocking on the door, she's all smiles, friendly language, and we'll-be-with-you-thick-and-thin - yet you know once your vote is secured, they really couldn't give a stuff.

That's what companies are now trying to do - be your best mate. They want you to feel like you have a relationship with them and that there is something more than a boring business transaction.

Let's be honest, the only reason companies engage in friend-washing is to make you feel guilty when you want to leave them for another supplier.

I first noticed this with Innocent Smoothies. They were just so nakedly desperate to have people notice their "quirky and independent" schtick - anything to avoid those awkward questions about the multinational Goliath which owns them.

More recently, my energy company is getting in on the game.

I like Ovo because they have cheap prices and their website isn't as piss-poor as their competitors'. That doesn't mean I want to be their friend.

When I joined them (on the basis of price) they sent me through a cheerful welcome pack which included a tea-bag and a small slice of cake. Ostensibly so that I could "put my feet up and have a cuppa on them" while waiting for the boring business of a utilities switchover.

Does anyone fall for this utter guff?

Well, yes.

Is it just me?

I don't want to be friends with the anonymous call-centre drones who are rushing through the prescribed faux-matey script.

  • I want to pay you some money - as little as possible - and for you to do a competent job.
  • When something goes wrong - I want you to show genuine empathy and help fix things.
  • If I decide to leave you for a competitor - I expect you to take it with good grace, not start acting like a deranged and jilted lover.

I have enough real friends.

It's all daringly postmodern and social and there's lots of academic or marketing wankery to justify it, I'm sure. You can't force jollity on people, and you can't fake genuine humanity.
-Tom Morris

I get that the waitress in a café is friendly to solicit tips. Salesmen want to close a sale. People, in general, are friendly and polite. But this "chumming down" of communication is insidious. It is specifically designed to bypass the rational parts of our brain and prey on the prefrontal cortex. It tries to moderate our social behaviour in a way which is beneficial to the brand - and detrimental to our wallets and wellbeing.

You know where this chumming down ends, don't you?

9 thoughts on “Chumming Down

  1. This reminds me of 'Eddie the Shipboard Computer' with a 'Genuine People Personality' from Hitchhikers Guide. Each one gets more annoying than the previous one 🙂 Interestingly enough ... if you assume (rightly/wrongly) that one day you will have robots around your house ... what personality do you want them to have? (or not!) If they are connected devices, and you ask one for a coffee, imagine how it makes a decision and then tries to advertise coffee at the Starbucks around the corner from you.

  2. says:

    it's an interesting brand direction - and there are few that it would suit. Ovo is actually interesting because if you look at their site, it's obviously an overall brand position, not just a 'let's be friends on social media' position where there is a disconnect. The proof will be in how they deal with issues, is it prompt, efficient and friendly, or do they fall into the same traps as everyone else.

    If a brand is going to go down the 'friends on social media' route, everything else has to be in the same area, otherwise it's false. I would potentially expect it in local businesses - eg a bar or restaurant. Some larger product brands may be able to fit into this area. But service brands I'd expect to be the furthest away.

  3. As your post perfectly highlights, it is quite obviously extremely subjective. That said, if brands had the back-end to deal with it, they would know that 'tweet from @edent = no chummy language'.

    But they don't, yet.

    1. I'm not sure it's just that. I want to follow my electricity company on social media so I can see their latest deals, hear about outages, etc. That doesn't mean I want them clogging things up with "OMG! We *love* House of Cards! #EnergyLolz"

      Perhaps they need to provide @...._serious for grumpy farts like me 🙂

      1. says:

        That's why the good ones tend to split 'service' - offers, outages, deals etc - from branding. So you can take your choice.

  4. Stefan Constantinescu says:

    This article, from 2009, landed in my Twitter feed today.

    It's a piece from Russell Davies about how our internet connected future is going to drown us in every day objects trying to communicate us using human language. You think the companies that supply the services you use talking on Twitter are annoying? Just wait until your banana tells your fridge to send you a text that says it's going to go bad in 24 hours.

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