Is The Lad Bible a Brand Rehabilitation Success Story?
In 2012 ‘Lad Culture’ was at a high, pages like The Lad Bible were racking up tens of thousands of likes and causing controversy in newspaper pages and in Student Union meetings across the country. Whilst the claim to be about harmless ‘banter’ didn’t ring true for many their success was a testament to the appetite for a new form of publisher that could fill the shoes of likes of Loaded, Zoo and FHM that were quickly becoming dinosaurs as we raced past the first decade of the 21st century.
That initial success has been dwarfed by the media giant that The Lad Bible has become. Such success would never have been possible without serious change to The Lad Bible’s image and publishing habits. How did a media entity so tied to ‘Lad Culture’ somehow not only survive it’s wane but rise to be one of the biggest Social Media entities publishing in 2016?
A conscious effort to move in a new direction
In 2012 The Lad Bible was acquired by 65Twenty, a media company that is also responsible for The Sport Bible and Pretty 52 which is a website similar to BuzzFeed or ElitleDaily targeted toward female Millennials. The Lad Bible’s new owners already knew that a brand that constantly caused controversy simply couldn’t generate the kind of reach and revenue they envisioned. A simple strategy of ramping up the content output whilst staying away from the most controversial aspects of the ‘old Lad Bible’ was undertaken.
When put side-by-side the pre-acquisition 2012 Lad Bible and the current 2016 Lad Bible are almost unrecongisable. The ‘Saturday night speeches’ galvanising young men across the land to go out and drink to excess and get up to disreputable antics are long gone. As are the majority of the slurs and pejorative language when anything is coming directly from the mouth of the brand. The transition was slow and until 2014 there was still a heavy focus on traditional ‘Lads Mag’ areas, such as pictures of scantily clad women. However in 2016 you’d be hard-pressed to find any hint of the much derided ‘Lad Culture’ that The Lad Bible was born out of on it’s pages.
Across it’s various Social Media accounts The Lad Bible has over 17 million followers, in 2015 it’s website attracted more visits than The Guardian or LinkedIn in the UK. The companies Marketing Director claims that half of males aged 18-24 and 20% of females aged 18-24 follow The Lad Bible in at least one iteration on a Social Media platform.
A reach of over 150 million people per week and a total of over 1 billion video plays in 2015 cement The Lad Bible’s claims of being a true monster on the Social Media scene.
What’s their secret?
They’re really good at what they do, they’re unapologetic and they were one of the first people to get it right. Beyond that, well it’s not exactly a strategy I’ll be heaping praise on as someone who is a proponent of proper Content Marketing!
The Lad Bible is a content factory. Actually that’s not true, that would imply they create a good portion of what they publish, which they don’t. Content they ‘create’ themselves is a very small minority of what they publish. Rather than being a publisher in the traditional sense The Lad Bible collates content from across the internet and posts almost anything they think will resonate enough to garner a share or a like from a reasonable portion of their fan base. Whether it’s cute cats (always an safe bet on the internet) or a drunken escapade captured on film or a heartwarming human interest story The Lad Bible will post it.
The sheer volume of content pushed out by The Lad Bible means that most people will see something that appeals to them in a normal day. Despite knowing exactly what their business model is and having my issues with it I know I personally probably ‘like’ at least half a dozen Lad Bible posts a week on Facebook. Interaction is not limited to the normal ‘Likes’ ‘Shares’ and ‘Comments’ with Lad Bible as users are actively encouraged to submit their own content. Some of their best content comes from young men doing silly things and submitting the resulting videos, this gives them an unparalleled opportunity to truly feel like ‘one of the lads’ in a young man’s Social Media feed. Along with the idea that said young man might be able to create something that will appear featured before millions of his peers.
By staying away from the most controversial material and enthusiastically getting involved with virality, click-bait & ‘list-posts’ The Lad Bible has become a Social Media behemoth seemingly unhampered by a past that could have very easily scuppered any brand trying to push into the mainstream.
They don’t get it all right
Because of the nature of The Lad Bible’s content model, ‘get it and re-post it before it’s big,’ they often improperly credit content and sometimes neglect to source at all. Much lower journalistic standards than traditional media have also lead to them reporting false information in many circumstances. Supposedly both of these issues are being addressed as they increase their team size but the effects of this action are yet to be seen. For anyone involved in Content Marketing hearing of a giant like the Lad Bible having issues with their sourcing and crediting should rightfully cause a slight shudder. Never think it’s ok to improperly source or credit information because a big brand like The Lad Bible does. The Lad Bible isn’t the kind of place anyone would go for trustworthy information and this is one of the main reasons, you often simply don’t know where they’ve gotten their information from.
The recent controversy around a post, made by The Lad Bible and directed toward Wentworth Miller showcased how easy it is for a brand engaged in comedy and with seemingly few editorial checks to get into hot water. You can read the full story here, the summary is The Lad Bible made a post mocking Miller’s weight gain unaware of his battle with mental illness. Miller made a response detailing his struggle with his weight and mental illness and there was a backlash against The Lad Bible. Though the original post was clearly ill-judged the Lad Bible response was a great showcase of how to respond when you are wrong as a business.
The Lad Bible issued a full and frank apology from their main Facebook account, open to the public but addressed to Miller. They acknowledged their mistake, seemingly sincerely apologised and moved the whole incident in a positive direction by using the publicity it had caused to promote debate around Men’s Mental Health. A masterclass in handling negative feedback on the public stage. Admitting a mistake is often very hard to do but when it comes to Online Reputation Management trying to lie is the biggest mistake you can possibly make. A potential customer is far more likely to look on a brand favorably if they see they are honest, they can admit fault and will try to make any mistakes right. If they see standard customer service deflection and canned ‘deescalation lines’ then this builds no trust.
Can we learn anything from The Lad Bible?
Honestly, not a huge deal. But they do prove some of the things we often say. Very few brands can engage in the kind of intensive deluge of content that The Lad Bible pushes out every single day. Let me also make it clear that The Lad Bible are not engaging in Content Marketing, this would be awful Content Marketing! They are a publisher and so all the rules are different for them.
The Lad Bible does show the importance of thinking not only about your core demographic or persona. Some estimates say as much as 20% of their traffic comes from females, decidedly outside of their target demographic. Pretty52 obviously addresses the female Millennial demographic but The Lad Bible remains popular with many different personas. Being aware of your secondary Personas allows you to gather valuable information on them and set up separate streams to maximise their value.
Because of the nature of their business model The Lad Bible have been involved in a few high profile apologies and climb-downs. These have for the most part been handled incredibly well often receiving a lot of admiration and support from their fans. People know how hard it is to admit fault and apologise, especially as a brand who might be able to ignore the problem and hope people forget in a few days. Lad Bible responses have exemplified the key aspects of a great response to negative feedback and how when handled correctly even a mistake can be positive for your reputation. An online presence is always going to have blemishes, it’s how these are dealt with that’s important.