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Are social media blackout stunts still impactful in an 'always-on' digital world?

Are social media blackout stunts still impactful in an 'always-on' digital world?

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Luxury beauty brand YSL Beauty recently readied itself for a new look by deleting all content on its social media page. The luxury beauty brand took five-days of silence and came back with a teaser and later on, a revelation of British pop-singer Dua Lipa as its new brand ambassador.

It is a trick as old as time, where brands and celebrities run what is known as a 'social media blackout' to catch attention and hopefully, spark some form of discussion. Most famously, musician Taylor Swift went on a blackout before coming out with her 'Reputation' album. The success of Swift's blackout, hinged on the trifecta of clout, audience engagement and solid strategy - all of which Swift mastered in her years in the music industry. 

Blackouts, according to Melantha Tan, strategy director at We Are Social Singapore, aren't groundbreaking to seasoned Internet users. This is because a blackout stunt typically follows a predictable arc of a quick recess, a dramatic reveal and bold reinvention.

What can make it a good play though, said Tan, are the steps following that blackout. 

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It's a classic play, sure, but it's all about timing and making sure you've got something epic to back it up.

In YSL Beauty's case, it's revelation of Lipa as its new brand ambassador made the anticipation worthwhile. In tandem, the brand managed to broaden its appeal to not just existing fans, but fans of Dua Lipa too. 

"Evidently, they aim to capture Gen Z at their entry point into luxury—through beauty products. It's a strategic lure, brilliantly positioning YSL as the first taste of luxury for a new generation," said Tan.

This is important to note particularly because 78% of Asia based marketing communications professionals are positive about their ability to capture and grow opportunities for their business clients. In a digital first world, nearly half of all respondents (47%) view digital marketing as the biggest opportunity to capture market share.

Interestingly, when it comes to Gen Z respondents, 83% view digital marketing as the single biggest way to obtain audience cut-through.

A method to the madness

Saying that, according to Tan, there is a method behind the blackout madness, and it may not be applicable for all brands, personalities and causes. 

For example, in 2020, Malaysia former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad launched a blackout initiative on social media to protest against the current prime minister and president of the Bersatu party Muhyiddin Yassin.

Mahathir was seen changing his Facebook profile picture to a black and white version of the Bersatu logo, as compared to its original red and white colour.

While it garnered thousands of likes, comments and shares on Facebook, his protest did not change any leaderships within the Bersatu party. 

Hence, a social media blackout stunt may likely largely benefit big brands with a big audience that has mastered the act of storytelling rather than as a one-off. 

"Translating this success blueprint to brands reveals a high-stakes game. For newcomers lacking a robust fanbase, a blackout could spell invisibility, not intrigue," said Tan, adding:

For the big hitters - established brands with a devout following and a knack for compelling storytelling - it's game on.

Simply put, Tan called a blackout "going incognito with style" and a strategic move that boosts anticipation and allure. 

She emphasises that it's the sheer audacity of going completely dark that ramps up the excitement and sparks conversations and speculation about what's coming, but it's what comes after that makes an even more powerful teaser. 

It's not the blackout duration that keeps us hooked—it's what you come back with that counts.

True enough, bold moves such as this do help to create talkability as followers and people in the industry will notice a huge move like this, at least in social terms because content is social currency, according to Jude Foo, general manager and partner at Nine:TwentyEight.

However, grabbing attention isn't enough in determining success. The true test, according to Foo, boils down to how much sales a brand makes following a blackout. 

"The majority of the world spends all their time online and because of that, a social activation like this, however impactful and attention-grabbing, is fleeting," said Foo.

"The real test for the brand is how they continue to engage the customers and fans and convert them to sales," he added. 

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

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