Appeasing the angry social animal

| Updated on: May 19, 2016




When a campaign goes viral for the wrong reasons, what should brands do?

Last week, US-based dating application Tinder released a digital advertising film hoping to increase its presence in India. The ad features a mother who approves of her daughter using the dating app.

What ensued was a barrage of comments on social media which were for the most part, scornful. Some were cutting. Not only did people liken the ad to a popular matrimonial website, they also felt it was far removed from reality in India.

Clearly the ad didn’t receive the “right swipe” the brand had hoped for. But Tinder isn’t alone. In the past, brands such as Starbuck’s (Race Together campaign), Belvedere vodka (Always goes down smoothly), and closer to home, Airtel (Boss) and Kurlon mattresses (Bounce Back: Malala Yousafzai) have shared its fate.

Even Dove (Real Beauty), considered by many as the best ad campaign of the 21st century, wasn’t spared. Instead of projecting itself as a mere purveyor of personal care products, Dove, with this campaign sought to position itself as a brand that looked to not only challenge but redefine the prevailing tone of the beauty industry – one that exploited women’s insecurities. But in case of ‘The Real Beauty Sketches’, large sections of the media, especially social media, felt the ad lacked diversity and continued to perpetuate the belief that physical beauty was paramount. Some called it a “fake empowerment ad.”

The right response

In the face of criticism, brands until now had two choices: They either staged a comeback or they waited till the dust settled. But the omnipresent nature of social media today (and the immediacy of the onslaught, in case a campaign isn’t well received) necessitates instantaneous damage control. “It is inevitable that at some point in a brand’s existence a marketing misstep will ignite a rapid negative response on social media,” says Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director at Landor Associates.

When a social media backlash occurs, removing the ad or post in question isn’t enough. “The online community is savvier than ever before, so brands must quickly own up to mistakes and take responsibility to make consumers feel valued and heard. Apologies should be clear, concise, and empathetic — avoid corporatespeak or formal language to establish sincerity, she explains.

It’s important to be genuine in the subsequent communication, believes Venugopal Ganganna, CEO and Partner at digital agency Langoor.

The key is to be transparent and honest, and refrain from defensive or argumentative remarks that can make the brand’s response seem dismissive or superficial, says Landor’s Raghavan.

Acknowledge, act

Apart from resisting the urge to brawl with the customer, Zafar Rais, CEO, MindShift Interactive, warns, however strong the temptation a brand’s social media managers should never delete a negative comment. “Take criticism on the chin, responding where appropriate if correction or clarification is required. You may delete a post if it is extremely offensive or inflammatory but acknowledge the same and highlight what you wished to communicate,” he adds.

After a well-worded and earnest statement or apology, taking positive action should be the next step, says Lulu Raghavan.

However, if the situation gets out of control, and the negative comments are getting out of hand, influencers are roped in to come to the rescue. According to a spokesperson at Team Pumpkin, influencers highlight the positive aspects of the brand which helps dilute the negativity that has come to surround it.

Belvedere Vodka faced a massive backlash after releasing a suggestive ad which bore the text: “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” People were outraged and accused the brand of supporting rape culture. “Belvedere struggled to respond appropriately at first, issuing a trite two-sentence tweet before releasing an official apology and making a donation to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. “This positive action acted as proof of the brand’s sincerity and helped consumers come to grips with its mistake,” explains Raghavan.

Once a brand has responded to the social media backlash, it’s important to keep abreast of the situation so that any additional issues can be quickly addressed. “The brand should then carefully consider its social and advertising content to avoid similar errors in the future,” says Raghavan.

Published on January 20, 2018

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