See if you can work this out: What do Pepsi, BIC pens, Shea Moisture and Nivea all have in common? If you said they have all fallen foul of the general public on social media, then you would be right. In particular, they have all been criticised for advertising campaigns. Unfortunately they are just a few of the many advertisers who don’t get it right.
From Pepsi, which was criticised for trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement in their latest advert starring Kendall Jenner, to BIC, whose adverts have been branded as sexist, and on to Nivea, whose tagline ‘white is purity’ was not at all well received, the public is quick to respond to adverts they consider just not right. Shea Moisture’s situation was a little different: the brand was slammed for including white women in its advert (as the brand is seen as generally targeting black women only), and was accused by many of selling out from its core audience while trying to broaden its consumer base.
Why advertisers get it wrong
The question has to be asked, why do advertisers often create and broadcast an advert which draws them criticism? Marketing and media analyst Chris Moerdyk believes it often comes down to ‘the big idea’ method advertisers employ. The idea is conceived but without the use of any formal research, which client deem as too expensive. “The result is an advertising campaign devoid of basic checks and balances. This has become a global problem. In South Africa every year approximately R50 billion is wasted on bad marketing decision-making and a significant contributor to this is bad advertising. Some time ago a local research company concluded that 20% of South African advertising expenditure was not only wasted but actually damaged the sales of the brand it was supposed to be promoting.”
The common factor
Aside from their adverts receiving a social media public backlash, the situations have another element in common. In each case the brands stated after the fact that the public’s perceived message was not the one that they had intended. In hindsight, it is obvious what was wrong with all the adverts, but before they are flighted, brands should take a second look, and perhaps some fresh eyes, to assess whether the message could be misinterpreted.
Tshepo Sefotlhelo, director of operations at Vuma Reputation Management, says reputation management requires understanding of stakeholders “from consumers to regulators to both a direct and indirect audience (the latter is those that you are not targeting with the advert). A lot of brands test their message before flighting an advert. It is important to remember to always have your stakeholders in mind and not just the direct ones”.
Moerdyk agrees. “Do the homework. Spend money on research. In this day and age no brand can afford to alienate even the smallest portion of their target market.”
An instant connection with consumers
The other problem is the closeness consumers have with brands, thanks to social media. In the past, if a person wanted to complain about an advert, they had to go through the Advertising Standards Authority, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, or the Ombudsman. Nowadays, customers can hop on to Twitter and voice their displeasure directly to the brand, taking their Twitter audience along for the ride.
Moerdyk believes that this closeness is actually a positive for brands. “Social media is an absolute godsend for marketers because it delivers instant consumer feedback which, if acted upon, can often nip brand damage in the bud. Regrettably, far too few brands actually bring social media into their measurement data.”
And if the brand is not quick to respond, they could find themselves on the receiving end of a hashtag backlash or the joke of a stream of memes. Sefotlhelo explains: “Social media has globalised us. A person can get involved with a conversation happening anywhere. It’s important for brands to be mindful of this”. He adds that this also means that an advert can be shared globally even if it was only intended for a single market. For example, the Pepsi advert was only going to flight in America, but people in South Africa could watch it on YouTube. “Sometimes brands need to learn the hard way that they are not advertising in isolation,” Sefotlhelo says.
The human element
For Moerdyk, another problem which leads to bad advertising and potential public backlash is the human element. “Far too many brands in South Africa have suffered from the marketing brain drain over the past few decades to the point where those in charge of marketing or advertising lack the skills to do the job properly. Too many marketing or advertising managers have been promoted to their positions without the necessary training and more often than not are just successful salesmen. Which is like asking a successful dentist to perform brain surgery,” he comments.
The best way to respond
If a brand finds itself on the end of a social media public backlash, it generally has three options. Firstly, it can respond to every single individual who contacts it, though this is time consuming and complicated. Sefotlhelo questions whether it is practical for a brand to engage with people on a one on one basis particularly if the backlash has been widespread.
Secondly, it can send out a general official response, though this leaves little room to address specific queries from customers and may miss out on the key complaint. Sefotlhelo advises, “As a brand you always need to be authentic when you’ve done something seen as insulting or derogatory. Recognise it and apologise for it. People are willing to accept someone who’s done wrong and apologises.”
But he stresses that this is not enough and that in their apology brands need to also highlight what they are going to do to correct the situation, what they learnt from the experience and what they will be doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again in future.
“If you just apologise and say nothing else it comes across as you didn’t learn anything and your apology isn’t genuine”.
Thirdly, it can completely ignore social media, though it does so at its own peril. “Brands could get away with not apologising in the past, but social media is an always-on platform, brands have nowhere to hide these days,” Sefotlhelo adds.
In the digital world we live in, social media is a key component of brand communication, and if done correctly, can save a brand from toppling into the abyss, if it’s on the brink of crisis.
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8
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