When Social Media Turns Bad

Marketing, April 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

When Social Media Turns Bad


The avenues for instant feedback afforded by social networks often result in a stream of negative comme nts from consumers, but how should marketers react, asks David Benady.

The proliferation of social media has offered marketers an unprecedented opportunity to become part of 'the conversation' and amplify their media investment.

However, it has also allowed instant reactions from consumers, often in the form of vitriolic criticism. Last week, a flurry of negative comments appeared on Twitter about the latest Mars ad, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, featuring a Mars-bar-eating steward who saves a penalty for England from Holland striker Robin Van Persie. Tweets included comments such as 'one of the cheapest, worst ads ever,' and 'the most pitiful ad I've ever seen'.

These were balanced by comments praising the ad as 'brilliant' and 'hilarious'; Mars claims the overall reaction on social media has been positive. It says that it welcomes conversations about the brand and 'recognises that social networks are a forum for discussion and debate'.

However, the damning commentary of a minority can take the shine off an ad, not to mention the marketing director's 'moment'. John Lewis discovered this with its Christmas 2010 ad, featuring a shot of a dog kept by a kennel in the snow, sparking accusations from dog lovers on Facebook that it encouraged mistreatment of animals. The shot was cut as a result of the feedback.

While campaign feedback traditionally comes from in-depth pre- and post-testing, the ability to gauge public reaction when an ad breaks is too tempting to pass up. How should marketers respond, however, if the commentary on Twitter or Facebook turns sour and risks undermining a launch?

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer at More Th>n's parent RSA Insurance Group, argues that brands need to avoid knee-jerk reactions 'As an individual, you may only see a dozen comments, so you need proper tools to judge it. In the More Th>n Freeman campaign, just 6% of comments on social-media sites were negative, but there is a danger you might overreact based on that,' he says. Markey adds that care needs to be taken to distinguish the social-media audience from the target audience, as they may be poles apart.

While the temptation might be to try to shut down the commentary or question the ads in light of negative reaction, marketers and ad agencies would do better to hold their nerve, according to Robin Grant, global managing director, We Are Social.

He points to the experience of pain-relief brand Motrin in the US, which axed a campaign in 2008 after negative comments from 'mummy bloggers' on YouTube and Twitter. These were picked up and amplified by paid-for media. Further analysis revealed that only a handful of mothers were critical, and it was generally felt that the company had been too hasty in pulling the ad.

Meanwhile, in the case of the Mars ad, Grant says: 'The important thing is to quantify and qualify the response. If there is an outcry about an ad, the advertisers need to take note. If it is during sarcastic commentary about a football match, that is not what I would call an outcry.'

Mobilising advocates

When there is divided reaction to an ad, brands should trust that their best advocates will rush to their rescue (see box). When Molson Coors launched its Jean-Claude Van Damme ads for Coors Light, it attracted a huge number of 'likes' and 'dislikes' on YouTube and became the most-shared beer ad in the UK.

Glen Price, senior brand manager, Coors Light, says: 'If there is a negative side, advocates will come in with a more positive view Advertising is polarising, so marketers need to understand the effect it will have on non-target consumers as well.'

However, if the groundswell of opinion moves decisively against an ad, the marketer responsible may feel they have little choice but to pull it. …

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