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Communication lessons from The Steve & Nancy Saga: A Sorbet Story

Let me first admit two things: 1. I'm a groomer. Big time. I polish. I wax. I whiten and straighten and tweak. 2. I do a fair chunk of this at Sorbet salons, making me what they call a 'guest'...
And yet, when I saw the troublesome Sorbet billboard, I shook my head in irritation.

The much-criticised Sorbet billboard featuring Steve and Nancy.

Not because I was offended by the billboard - I wasn't. I was irritated because I foresaw a world of viral drama and because, as a writer, I found the strategy weak and the messaging (that is, the copy itself), poorly executed.

So here are some communication lessons from The Steve & Nancy Saga:

1. Don't jump onto the campaign bandwagon (in this case, Steve) of another brand (in this case, FNB) just to be topical. Other companies' campaigns have their own associations, and these don't always complement yours.

2. If you do decide to jump onto another's bandwagon, research the hell out of it first, to ensure that it hasn't already offended its own audience (in this case, a whole lot of Steves are peeved about the verb 'un-Steve'; a phenomenon that Sorbet has now accidentally extended to people called Nancy).

3. Ensure that your unspoken messaging (in this case, 'Go on - spoil yourself') is supported by the copy, or your audience will miss your good intentions.

4. Don't deviate from your style and tone. In this case, the phrase 'unpolished, unwaxed and unloved' runs counter to the Sorbet ethos. It also creates the impression that Sorbet hopes to convert non-groomers into groomers with guilt. It doesn't. I believe Sorbet when it says "we believe in regular manicures and pedicures, waxes, facials and massages - not only because it looks good, but because it promotes the "feel-good" factor we're all after." It does. And because Sorbet is so affordable, it is possible to groom more regularly. Which should have been the campaign's key message all along, perhaps?

5. If the campaign goes to hell, culminating in a social media sh*t-storm, act quickly to apologise and explain. Stay in theme, though. Don't default to boring in your crisis communications, just to show that you're sorry.

6. When you apologise, don't use the dangerous word 'if', as in 'if we offended'. Just say sorry. Unconditionally and authentically.

A screen grab of my advice regarding how to phrase apologies.

7. Use the opportunity to make good. Make sure your audience knows about your good-making. And then stop going on about the issue and the good-making. There is such a thing as defending too much. Let people move on.

8. Don't be afraid to take bold steps in future. Just quiz yourself carefully before you do, to make sure it's the right bold step.

Good luck. And go have a pedicure. It'll make you feel wonderful. I promise.
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About Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a highly opinionated copywriter, copy editor and writing trainer who has worked for over 300 clients worldwide. She hates misplaced apostrophes, old-fashioned business writing and the word ‘revert'. She loves generous paragraphing, art, skulls and black coffee. Read more at, email , follow @tiffanymarkman on Twitter and sign up for her newsletter.
Kevin Bassett
Hey Tiff, Thanks for explaining that one ... when I read it I didn't have a clue what was going on so I just drove on confused and ignored the whole message.Marketers have also got to realise that when I am driving past a billboard at 60kmh I don't have time to decipher a message. KISS.
Posted on 26 Nov 2014 14:41
Jacques van den Bergh
Tiffany, I take your point. Yes Sorbet should not have gone off-tone, they should not have used if, they should not have used FNB's property to market themselves BUT give Sorbet a break. They took a chance. They tried to give us some Nandos-type magic. They were being fun. When did we all become so thin-skinned and easily offended? Everything is analysed to death, and every marketing or PR mistake earns a relentless public hiding that is often disproportionate to the crime. I think it kills the spirit. And please, I am not having a dig at you. My comment is just the opinion of another pizza and pina colada lover about how we (myself included) beat others down to market our own services.
Posted on 26 Nov 2014 14:49
Tiffany Markman
Thanks for the reply, Jacques. Don't worry. No offence taken. Neither at what you said, nor at Sorbet's billboard. I applaud agile, cheeky, bold advertising. And I dislike preciousness, verkramptheid and thin skin. BUT the execution of this idea was weak, and that's what annoyed me. Plus, I didn't like the copy. I guess I'm precious like that ;) Ciao.
Posted on 26 Nov 2014 14:57
Nigel Fox
As usual, Tiffany has got to the non-furry, overgrowth-removed, neatly trimmed truth of the matter. I'm not familiar with her waxing procedures, but I have witnessed her ruthless analysis of communications that fudge the essence of the brand. Bandwagon hijacking, concept borrowing, audience deceiving, lazy thinking, they all reveal the bankruptcy of the creative input. Good on yer, Tiffs, I hope the people who want to communicate hear your pleas for some stand up, stand alone, stand proud originality.
Posted on 26 Nov 2014 19:21
Anton Ressel
Amen Tiffany...
Posted on 26 Nov 2014 22:24
Tiffany Markman
Goodness, I'd forgotten how fantastic your writing is. Kudos for this beautiful phrase (which I intend to use/steal): 'some stand up, stand alone, stand proud originality'. And thanks for the lovely comment.
Posted on 27 Nov 2014 07:28
Hip Xup
hahaha i have been looking for the answer!
Posted on 22 May 2018 17:40

Read more: Tiffany Markman, Sorbet