Staples Loses Their L: Twitter’s Effect on Marketing and Branding

January 8, 2014 | Branding, Social Media

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You just can’t escape the fact that Twitter has had a profound effect on marketing strategies.

Hashtags

Hashtags, those things that #looklikethis, started with Twitter. They are now in use on Facebook and other places, but Twitter is what started and still dominates the world of hastags. It amuses (annoys?) me that there is now a #hashtag displayed over the picture during so many televsion shows, sports events and other programs. For some programming it does seem to draw in audience participation in a way that was previous unheard of.

Also as you see ads on TV or in print, that use hashtags in addition to Twitter handles to try and engage viewers.

#WhatTheL Twitter Avatar for StaplesNow Staples is doing a marketing stunt that relies heavily on Twitter and hashtags.

They’ve changed their avatar on Twitter to highlight the use of their #WhatTheL hashtag. They kept their bright red corporate color, but changed to a text-based rendering of the hashtag.

 

Tweets from the public become marketing

Staples is running a promotion that they’ve marked with the #whattheL hashtag. They’ve removed the “l” from their logo and using that place to highlight the fact that they’re “so much more than office supplies.”

When I heard about the Staples campaign, I went to their web site to check it out. This is what I saw:

Stap es #WhatTheL campaign screen shot.Look at that Twitter feed. I’m guessing it was pulled in via the hashtag, but the Tweet says: “Never shopping at @Staples again #WhatTheL” I looked back at the Twitter user’s timeline and it’s unclear if he meant to be negative or funny. That is the problem with the written word, especially when condensed to less than 140 characters. But it certainly doesn’t make Staples look good.

As another example, there was ad that ran in the New York Times that was just a Film Reviewer’s Tweet. The public can now write your copy for you, 140 characters at a time, but do you want them to?

5 comments

  1. Mike Maddaloni - @thehotiron | January 9, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Hi Emily:

    I am glad you are talking about this, and maybe you can help make some sense of it for me too!

    In general, I get the idea – Staples is a huge, international firm that provides just about everything but the building for a company. I am guessing an inspiration for this was Yahoo’s “transparent” presentation of its logo options, but I digress on that one. I also get the hashtag – it’s a cute play on “what the hell.”

    First and foremost, you never let tweets or any content generated by someone else appear on your Web site’s home page without any moderation or review. This has burned many companies and individuals. Also, changing your Twitter picture/avatar to a font that looks blurry when it appears in your mobile device or Web browser is not a good idea for branding. Plus Staples has changed their logo on email newsletters as well as their Web site – and if someone doesn’t follow Twitter, they may wonder what is going on.

    And even if this is a short lived campaign, will it even be effective in convincing their prospect customer base they are more than legal pads and, um, staples? Will this campaign go as far to say Staples is right up there with the major players in high-end office furniture and environments?

    Don’t get me wrong – I love Staples, have been a customer of theirs since store #6 opened in West Springfield, MA in the late 80’s and was once a shareholder too. I just wonder if all of this effort is more or less effective than a direct mail campaign with a bunch of coupons in it?

    mp/m

  2. Emily Brackett | January 9, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    @Mike, you bring up many issues that get at why people are questioning this whole campaign. While Twitter is growing more mainstream every day, there are lots and lots of people who don’t use and say they don’t “get” it. I bet a lot of these people are Staples customers.

    I, too, get the idea of expanding people’s perception beyond basic office supplies. And putting something other than a staple in the logo is an interesting tactic. I believe that would have been a stronger brand identity than changing to #WhatTheL. It would still tie to their known logo yet expand upon it. I think trying to capture people with a play on What the Hell doesn’t make sense. The Easy Button made a lot more sense.

  3. Emily Brackett | January 9, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    I reached out to @BrianWagner22 and he gave me an equally perplexing reply to when I asked him if he had a comment: https://twitter.com/BrianWagner22/status/421040253471043585/photo/1

  4. fred | January 31, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    in todays society when you try to teach children respect for others and espically for authoriy,and to temper their speech with kind words, only to have a large company run commercials with people saying ” what the l” ,is quite disheartining. I have been a staples customer for many years,but no more. Office max is now my supplier.

  5. Emily Brackett | January 31, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    @fred, thanks for your comment. I didn’t even get into that whole angle, and it’s an important one.

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