Social Media – an Offensive or Defensive Weapon?

Last week Nivea discovered how quickly the twitterverse and blogosphere can react to an ad deemed “offensive”.

I am not going to go into details about the particular ad that upset an element of the liberal fringe except to say that it pictured a black man and the words “Re-civilized”. If you want more details go to this Mashable post. What is interesting is that a similar ad showing a white man and words “no excuse for looking like hell” was almost completely ignored.

That to me indicates a political agenda rather than a concern over advertising standards.

I don’t think the ads are spectacularly good, but equally I cannot understand what all the fuss is about. Before I am tarred with a racist brush, remember that I also lived as a member of a very small minority and lost everything in a government’s racially motivated campaign of violence.

What does concern me is the almost grovelling apology that Nivea trotted out when criticism of the ads surfaced. I am not for a moment suggesting that a brand should not apologise, and do so quickly and sincerely when necessary. Nivea may well have decided that this was the best way to defuse the situation. They deserve credit for taking quick and decisive action.

I am not criticising Nivea, just expressing my amazement at how  “political correctness” is destroying common sense.

My real concern is with the implications of social media being used to attack brands on a broader front for political or other purposes that have nothing or very little to do with a brand or company’s actions.

I published a post “Social Media Warfare” on my other blog which described the boycott of a consumer brand in South Africa years before the advent of twitter, Facebook  or any social media, even before cell phones. That boycott was politically motivated and triggered by a labour dispute. It had absolutely nothing to do with the brand’s products, quality, price or treatment of consumers but it did harm the company’s sales.

So one of the dangers of social media is not what a brand or business says or does in social media. But what it does in “old” or regular media getting reported on, and then attacked in social media – perhaps unfairly and in support of a totally unrelated agenda.

I am not in favour of increased government control in any area. There is already far too much of that in most Western democracies. This increased interference in our lives has led to the “Nanny State” syndrome, where we must all be protected from every real or imaginary risk, insult, deprivation of “human” rights or even ourselves. Doubly so, should there be even a hint of anything to do with a minority race, nationality or religion.

The absolute last thing we want is more government control of any media, new or old.

social media control

Social Media Control

Back to social media, if I don’t like a particular brands advertising, I have a choice and the right to buy an alternate product. I am not sure that I have the right to encourage others to wage war on that brand through social media. If the business and the product complies with all safety and industry standards, then it is up to individual consumers to make their own choices.

There is an old saying that “You can’t please all the people all the time.” No matter how good or “safe” a business’ policies and advertising, some one, some where, will find a real or perceived reason to criticise it.

Some industries or market segments cater to the needs or wants of small sections of the population that are often seen as anti-social by the mainstream. Does this mean that gun and ammunition suppliers for example, should not advertise their products because they might trigger an avalanche of condemnation in social media.

What about sports car manufacturers, luxury goods suppliers?

We have just seen a protest against the construction of a pipeline to bring oil

Social Media Sensitivity


from the Canadian oil sands to the USA. The protesters obviously preferring that the USA buy its oil from despots in the Middle East or South America who have little or no regard for “human” rights and the environment.

What if these protestors use social media to stir up opposition to oil and pipeline companies? They are probably big enough to defend themselves, but what about small independent gas stations or small suppliers of components or services to the pipeline or oil sands projects?

We need our normal marketing strategies and strategies to counter “normal” competition. We also need “defensive” strategies to counter possible special interest group attacks on our brands and businesses using social media.

At some point in the future we may also have to draw a line in the sand and say that this is what my business or brand stands for, this is the loyal group of consumers to which we provide value. A group that is  not offended by our advertising or communication style, therefore we will look after them and recognise that there will always be a fringe for which we will never have any appeal.

Just a few more things to consider when thinking about social media!

Wishing you success in all your endeavours.

Peter Wright



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  1 comment for “Social Media – an Offensive or Defensive Weapon?

  1. August 25, 2011 at 3:16 am

    A Free Market Economy would fix it. Just let the people decide with what they buy. That’s what fuels the niche market strategy. Keep It small keep it all. Not new but effective.

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