Tag Archives: consumer backlash

Sometimes you really do have to join them

We’ve discussed what happens when user-generated content departs from a company’s desired brand image. In this post, I discuss some of the factors that brands should consider when deciding how to deal with unexpected consumer responses. These guidelines offer a framework for brands who may be trying to decide whether to address negative responses in hopes of changing perceptions, redirect them or shut down the content completely.

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Consider the product category you belong to, as it can have a large effect on how consumers expect you to respond.  Car manufacturer Chevy had to deal with parody ads attacking its negative effects on the environment after inviting consumers to make videos showcasing their favorite attributes of the Tahoe.

In this case, it’s more appropriate to deal with the situation by addressing consumers’ concerns and misconceptions through public relations and direct response. You’re still connecting with consumers in a meaningful way and showcasing your company’s engagement without endorsing the messages.

Companies like Smirnoff, however, are in a product category that’s more focused on entertainment.  They could have easily connected ‘Icing’ with their fun and laid- back personality, which they showcased a few years earlier in their viral ‘Tea Partay’ video.

This brings up a second consideration.

2. Think about ways to translate existing messages into positives.

Although icing was based around the idea that no one would voluntarily drink Smirnoff Ice, had the company embraced the conversation they could have turned attention to the positive aspects of the campaign – like the hilarious, highly sharable experiences it promoted between guys.

By joining the conversation, Smirnoff could have diverted conversations about the bad taste to discussions on ‘most creative icings’ and the ‘counter ice’, which were already happening organically. For example, consider these consumers’ comment, “The worst Icing’s I see are the one’s where some dumb@*$ just runs up and hands it to him. I’m not a big fan of the game but the only good ones are where people get real creative”….”Definitely supposed to hide it. That’s what makes it fun.”

3. Staying above the fray doesn’t always mean you’ll stay out of it.

Consider whether the trend has long-term potential or will pass relatively quickly.  Companies often try to avoid engaging in conversations they think are detrimental, but doing nothing can sometimes have more repercussions than simply making the best of the situation.  Smirnoff’s apathy towards the fad actually hurt some consumers perceptions by making a company that was once regarded as trendy and fun seem anything but.  Smirnoff’s silence was criticized by many consumers as being disappointingly uptight and conservative.

A 24 year-old male college student agreed, saying, “My opinion of Smirnoff has actually gone down from what it was before icing was popular.  Sure, people still make jokes about the awful taste and ridiculous amount of carbonation, but people would have thought those things whether icing came about or not.  It would have been awesome if Smirnoff would have just joined in the fun – it might have actually encouraged people to stick with the brand after the fad was over, or try some of their better products like Smirnoff vodka.”

As long as consumers are talking online, there will always be the risk of negative comments being directed towards brands.  However, as more companies are forced to deal with these situations it has become clear that the companies response effects consumers’ long-term brand image more than the original viral content.  Modern consumers are displaying a strong affinity for brands that connect in a real way – and unfortunately, this sometimes means having the grace to suck it up and laugh with them.

It’s all fun and games until someone gets iced…

Although a number of high-profile companies have had success with user-generated content, it is not irrational to fear that these types of messages could damage brand equity. Inconsistencies in the way consumers portray the brand and how the company strives to portray the brand can create tension and ultimately degrade the company’s reputation in the market. Companies that invite users to create content can take steps to protect themselves to a certain extent, but what happens when consumers take it upon themselves to start the conversation?

Smirnoff faced this dilemma in the early summer of 2010 when it discovered a drinking game website based around its malt beverage, Smirnoff Ice. The game challenged ‘bros’ to punk their friends by presenting them a Smirnoff Ice, which they then had to chug while taking a knee. At first, consumers thought it was a clever marketing campaign gone viral – until the website mysteriously shut down, leaving its fans with the message ‘We had a good run bros.’

Smirnoff’s parent company, Diageo, eventually responded in an article to AdAge, saying “Diageo has taken measures to stop this misuse of its Smirnoff Ice brand and marks, and to make it clear that ‘icing’ does not comply with our marketing code, and was not created or promoted by Diageo, Smirnoff Ice, or anyone associated with Diageo.”

Consumers responded in droves, slamming Smirnoff Ice for shutting down the site and discouraging consumers from having fun with the product.  Besides expressing disappointment, most comments had a common thread; they thought Smirnoff had made a big mistake.

“I think it’s a bad move on Smirnoffs part to just take down the site. I understand they don’t want any liability associated with irresponsible drinking behavior, but honestly, this site created some sort of dialogue for Smirnoff within a group that probably wouldn’t have even touched the stuff prior to the site. Most of the guys I know have heard of the site, think its funny, have participated.”

“This is just stupid on Diageo’s part, both from a business standpoint and branding standpoint. The only people that drink Smirnoff Ice are younger consumers that have nothing but love for brosicingbros.com.

I went into a liquor store a week ago and bought a sixer to ice some bros on my kickball team. I asked how smirnoff ice sales were. The owner said they had skyrocketed.  Money is money. Smirnoff ice is a goofy brand to start. They have been trying to sell the stuff to guys from the start. This is a win-win.  Mike’s hard lemonade……here’s your window bros!”

This highlights a key issue in the user-generated content debate: should companies let consumers own the brand, even when it doesn’t go along with their strategy?  There’s no clear-cut answer to this, but in the next post I’ll discuss some guidelines that can help brands decide how to best address unexpected user-generated content, whether it results from a sponsored marketing campaign or a consumer’s spontaneous creativity.