Published by Lewis Crutch on December 4, 2016
In the wake of the political spectacles of Brexit and the U.S elections, people online are still frenetically discussing the somewhat controversial results. Although the political sphere seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the moment, this post hopes to look into why talking politics online might not be a smart move for your brand.
The Controversial Voice of Twitter
Social media platforms such as Twitter have been praised since their creation for their facilitation of free speech – and in turn provided a voice for countless people. Controversial topics in particular, such as same sex marriage, political ideas and drug legalisation, were gifted a new channel to create discourse and discussion. Today, corporate and marketing industries have proliferated these platforms, and they have to consider whether or not to wade into the mire of controversy that is ever-present on Twitter.
Twitter is a fantastic resource for businesses to organically grow their identity online. However, there is always a risk that you could lose control of your brands reputation when you try to connect with an audience online. A great example came in the form of Marmitegate – where a row over prices between household brand supplier Unilever and UK supermarket giant Tesco spilled out onto Twitter. Unilever were looking for a 10% price hike on their products, reasoning that the falling price of the pound was the primary driver. With Tesco unwilling to negotiate a deal, many of the products that Unilever provided Tesco – including Marmite – were temporarily discontinued across UK stores.
Twitter users were quick to bring in some comedy to this potentially problematic price row, mocking both brands in the process.
With Brexit meaning no more Marmite, at least we now know that the ratio of people who hate v love it is 52% to 48%.
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) October 12, 2016
Although there was a great deal of fun tweets shared, the real takeaway is how both of the brands reputations could have ended up as a result of the fracas – and it is not good. Tesco picked up flak for not being able to provide some of Britain’s most-loved products, such as Marmite and Pot Noodles. Unilever, however, are being heavily criticized for using the Brexit fallout as an excuse to re-negotiate for higher prices – even on products made on British soil.
The aftermath of this little online kerfuffle left two big brands reeling – both Unilever and Tesco had to air their dirty laundry in public. When the Twittersphere dig their teeth into a topic, no brand is safe. This is a prime example of an online audience taking control of some bad press and playing with a brand’s reputation in the process. In this instance, at least, it seems as though everyone came out on top. Britons had their Marmite, Tesco kept their customers and Marmite sales rose some 60% throughout #Marmitegate.
As far as bad press on Twitter goes, the #Coalisamazing campaign was one of last years most discussed social media mishaps. The Minerals Council of Australia ran a social media campaign that focused on the benefits of coal as a useful fuel resource. This included stylistic videos of coal up-close to make it appear like extraterrestrial landscapes, and peppered with slogans such as, ‘Coal. It’s an amazing thing’.
The campaign, which was initially intended to put a positive spin on coal, was quickly dissected by environmentalists online. In fact, their entire campaign was essentially hijacked, with their hashtag #Coalisamazing used to highlight how damaging fossil fuels were to our planet. When the dust had settled, the Minerals Council of Australia played their gaff off, stating that the social media backlash was, ‘totally predictable and expected.’ In reality, the already tarnished reputation of coal was made a little dirtier as a result of this cringe-worthy campaign.
#PancakesvsWaffles and the 2016 U.S Elections
Generally speaking, politics is a relatively high brow affair. It is important, holds a great deal of weight socially and affects people directly. So wading into the world of politics – especially U.S politics – is not for every brand. Waffle brand Bisquick learned this lesson the hard way on Twitter when they attempted to elbow their way into the 2016 U.S presidential debates with a Twitter Q & A session.
The campaign ran under the hashtag #PancakesvsWaffles, and asked their followers to ask them any questions they had during the debate. Unfortunately, with heavy topics that included accusations of Donald Trump sexually assaulting someone on video, the light-hearted Bisquick campaign quickly dissolved into a tacky marketing promotion.
— Steak Reel (@AdamUltraberg) October 10, 2016
This sentiment was shared by their followers, who were more concerned with the debates and did not want to see a Bisquick Q & A session on their Twitter feed.
New Balance, Trump and the White Supremacists
Unfortunately, guilt by association can land your brand in some seriously hot water on Twitter. Clothing and sportswear company New Balance came under fire when they responded to a question pertaining to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – an agreement that is detrimental to New Balance because it helps their competitors.
The TPP has also been openly criticised by the president-elect Donald Trump, which lead New Balance to state that, ‘with president-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction’.
Now, this statement was by no means radical – until a group of Neo-Nazi’s decided to get involved. A popular Neo-Nazi website, known as the Daily Stormer, officially dubbed New Balance the brand of the ‘Trump Revolution’, following the sportswear company’s statement of support for Trump. Through no real fault of their own, New Balance instantly became the unofficial brand of white supremacy in the United States.
The unfortunate result of this slightly offbeat situation left New Balance with quite the mess to clean up. Twitter brigades hijacked the #NewBalance hashtag to link images of New Balance shoes in the trash and tweets denouncing the once innocent sportswear brand.
— Katherine Garcia (@garciatx10) November 11, 2016
As a result of an innocent comment made outside of Twitter, and a series of unfortunate events, New Balance are having to deal with a lot of negative press. Which is unfortunate, because prior to this bizarre event the brand was praised for keeping their manufacturing in the USA. If there is a lesson to learn out of all of this, it is to keep your brand far away from politics, and be vigilant with your online presence.
Avoid the Dirty Conversation
Political opinions are contentious at the best of times, but when you try to inject your brand with discussions about domestic and foreign affairs online then you are asking for trouble. This post has taken a look at problems that some of the biggest corporations out there – like New Balance, Tesco and Unilever – have had by being political on Twitter.
It is safe to say that unless you deal directly with politics, your brand is much safer avoiding the topic of politics on Twitter entirely. It is a polarising point of discussion that can divide your audience, and is often riddled with mistruths and unfounded allegations. Have your business rise above what has the potential to be a dirty conversation and instead focus on your industry, your audience and how you can accommodate them.