July in reputation #fail: Thou shalt not insult thy customer

July was a monumental month of failure, with brands tripping over themselves to dis-please. Over in the UK we had the pleasure of Barclays, and its Facebook campaign featuring hapless Dan clashing mightily with its rate adjustment scandal. Then there’s fashion site Celeb Boutique not checking hashtags before tweeting, and therefore thinking that when #Aurora started trending, it was the result of its Kim Kardashian inspired dress.

But if there was one theme of social media brand failure in July it was this – utter dis-respect for fans and customers. Whether intentionally, or not, a few brands have found themselves in the duck and cover stance as hugely irate ex-fans lob insults and criticism their way, and not all of them have known how to handle it.

Take Bittylab. In its attempt to reach out to the ‘man trapped in the 1950s’ demographic, it sent the tweet:

Bittylab reclaim your wife tweet

Sensible Twitter folk weighed in:

Twitter response to Bittylab

Naturally, this tweet didn’t stay on Twitter. It was posted to Facebook, where some people didn’t seem to find it funny, while others didn’t see the harm. It was repeatedly debated and blogged about. Finally, the brand responded with this beautifully crafted statement saying sorry about creating a campaign that was so easy to miss understand [sic]:

Bittylab response

Now, as some social responses pointed out, this is one of those things that some may find offensive, while others find funny. For every four or five people posting critical comments there was at least one person asking what the big deal was. This is why it’s so risky for brands to engage in humour that can be seen as sexist. Even the response was sexist – when we can clearly see that men were also offended by the tweets. The lesson here is to try and not offend or belittle your target market. In this case, parents.

Where would brands be without the figurehead, headline-grabbing CEO or President? One of their main roles is to get the company name in the news, to make it a national or even a global name. In a, you know, positive way. Unfortunately, the President of U.S. fast-food chain Chick-fil-A didn’t read the memo on 21st century media relations, choosing to go public about his and the brand’s views on same sex marriage. Oh well, at least he choose to speak out about a non-divisive issue, that wouldn’t risk offending any of the brand’s customers. (We really, really need that sarcasm font…)

The ensuring social media storm has raged for two weeks now, and shows no signs of stopping. Tweeters are still coming out (no pun intended) in force against the brand.

Chick-fil-A Twitter

The Chick-fil-A Facebook page is also seeing some sterling work from those the brand offended:

Chick-fil-A Facebook

Allegations of Facebook astroturfing have arisen. After The Jim Henson Company pulled its toys from the brand’s kiddie meals, one lone teenager sprang up to defend the beleaguered brand against the onslaught of Facebook comments. It didn’t take long for the commenters to find out that the girl took her profile picture from shutterstock.com and that she’d had a Facebook profile for a grand total of eight hours. Yet more negative coverage was generated about the brand before it issued a denial that it had anything to do with the account. (The brand has since taken to Facebook to claim the toys were recalled for safety reasons, which has prompted 32,043 comments – mainly heated religious debate – and 46,055 likes.)

Our next example is courtesy of Starbucks in Argentina. Poor Starbucks.  All it wanted to do was be polite and thoughtful to its customers, and it just ended up being mildly offensive instead, when it tweeted:

Starbucks unbranded cups tweet

As reported by The Next Web, the Spanish tweet reads: “We apologise, as due to a temporary supply shortage, some shops are using national cups and sleeves. Salutations.” Nothing wrong with that, right? WRONG.

You see, Starbucks made the rookie error of assuming that people would be so overwhelmingly, clothes-rendingly distraught at the absence of their branded cups that they would need to let them know right away and apologise, so that people were prepared for the shock. In fact, people didn’t read it that way. They read it as, ‘we’re really sorry, but we’re being forced to use your crappy locally produced stuff’. People were mightily dis-chuffed and took to Twitter to mock the brand, creating the hashtag #pedimosdisculpas (we apologise) which became the top trending topic in Argentina.

How could we not include the mighty screw-up of epic fail that has been NBCs coverage of the London 2012 Olympics? It’s been criticised for everything from cutting out the 7/7 tribute section of the opening ceremony for not being relevant to the U.S. audience, to going to too many ad breaks at the wrong times, focusing too heavily on U.S. competitors and ruining the events by running spoilers.

When NBC tries to engage fans on Facebook with Olympic themed posts like the one below:

NBC Facebook

It gets responses like these:

NBC Facebook response
Using the hashtag #NBCfail, the disgruntled U.S. audience turned to Twitter to vent their rage further:

Twitter response

Tweeters are also directing each other to us a VPN to watch the BBC online coverage instead. As data from Radian6 shows almost 66 per cent of social sentiment around the NBC brand has been negative since the start of the games. NBC’s response has been interesting. Apparently, it doesn’t show the events live on TV because the (presumably very late at night or early in the day) time slots are not when it makes its greatest ad revenue. So in this case, it looks like the mighty Dollar trumps allowing as many viewers to participate in the Olympic spirit as possible.

#FAIL, #London2012, brands, , fans, reputation management, ,
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