December 22, 2015

Pub Talk: Brand-made Rumours

By Grace Nuttall

A new grind to the rumour mill

From sandwiches to satsumas, breakfast cereals to makeup, it’s been almost impossible to avoid the hype surrounding the latest offering from the Star Wars franchise, which topped box office records this weekend. However, there is also a more interesting story to be found in ‘behind the scenes’ marketing.

Fans have loved being teased by director JJ Abrams, with trailers that prompted more questions than answers and maximised intrigue, while limiting spoilers. He is a master in feeding the rumour mill, increasing expectation which peaked with each new ‘leak’s’ release.

From Luke Skywalker’s notable absence in posters to ‘leaked photos’, fans dissected every possible clue, piecing together new theories and predictions for the film. The clamour to know more reached fever pitch and ensured weekend box office takings of £347m globally.

These clues are (another) stroke of genius from viral marketing expert JJ Abrams, whose mysterious online campaigns for Cloverfield and Star Trek similarly increased people’s appetite for the real story pre-release. He understands the social value of rumours and that they are a great way to engage. Knowledge and gossip remain valuable social currency, and people’s thirst is unquenchable. Having access to seemingly exclusive content (particularly secrets) makes us feel part of a special group, separate from the crowd – a powerful feeling brands can create.

Brands can learn from this coyness. Recent years have seen the rise of engineered rumours and we’re happy for brands to play with us, as long as it is done in a smart way and never patronising. We expect to see more brands flirting with us – even duping us – in the future. And we’ll be delighted – as long as the reveal is worth it.

We’ve noticed a new trend emerge recently, which plays with this concept: faction – a marriage of fact and fiction. We are now becoming more responsive when brands play with fantasy and narratives, turning away from authenticity and towards a more imaginative take on reality. Rumours can have an important part to play in this.

With major film releases next year including Pixar’s Finding Dory, we expect brands to continue following Hollywood’s lead. The best will tickle their fans – and be smarter at giving oxygen to publicity, without giving everything away.



In one of the more public ‘leaks’, Pizza Express admitted to teaching its staff how to flirt with customers.

Karl James, a classically trained actor and founder of The Dialogue Project, ran a series of bespoke workshops with employees to improve their conversation skills in the Richmond Living Lab. The training was an attempt to redefine the restaurant experience for customers, helping them feel more comfortable and relaxed. The art of banter is, according to Karl, a ‘teachable skill’.


Hardware chain B&Q made the news earlier this year due to a ‘leaked memo’, in which staff were alerted of a probable rush to ‘buy rope, cable ties and masking or duct tape’ in the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey film. The memo, allegedly circulated amongst store managers, warned of the need to anticipate extra stock and for staff to ‘familiarise’ themselves with the contents of the book – copies of which would be distributed to stores. Despite the letter’s request to keep it confidential, copies quickly spread across social media.

The company’s PR team soon owned up to the ‘spoof memo’, admitting it was just a bit of fun – but not before adding to the joke with a blog post on safely using rope and cable ties.


Paddy Power

As World Cup Football Fever kicked in, Paddy Power took the opportunity to show their support for the England team with a very controversial post – an image of the Amazon rainforest with trees apparently deforested to say ‘C’mon England – PP’.

The picture immediately sparked fury in the media and the social media world, with users condemning the action and expressing outrage. The betting chain, known for other controversial stunts, merely fuelled the fire with other light-hearted responses.

Eventually, when all eyes were on the company, they admitted to using digital trickery for their original post, taking the opportunity of capturing everyone’s attention to shine the spotlight at the real issue at the heart of the stunt: the true statistics related to deforestation, provided by Greenpeace.