As the world waits for News International to take some responsibility for the appalling story that the News of the World (NOTW) allegedly hacked into Milly Dowler’s answerphone, an interesting reputational issue is unfolding for the brands that advertise in NOTW. A campaign has sprung up on Twitter, encouraging people to tweet brands (among them easyJet, Renault UK, Weight Watchers, WH Smith, Virgin Media, Carpetright, the Body Shop and Philip Clarke, Tesco’s CEO) asking them whether they will continue to support the paper following the hacking story. (At the time of writing, none of these brands have responded on Twitter, nor, as far as I can see, on their websites.)
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mass brand attack like this one, and on so many brands who are clearly not prepared to deal with it. They have been caught in the crossfire of a scandal totally outside of their control, but suddenly have enormous power to influence NOTW. I’m sure there are furious discussions underway within each to decide the appropriate response. I’m also sure that each brand will be evaluating how it manages its Twitter feed during a situation like this.
Each brand will have to make one major decision: whether to pull advertising, or whether to continue. The communication of that decision will be interesting. Brands who pull advertising to distance their own reputations from that of NOTW may well not be able to stop the flood of campaign tweets (I’ll bet that the majority of people tweeting won’t have looked at the Twitter feed for each brand they target), so they’ll have to allocate resource to stay on top of their feeds and to make sure other issues (such as service messages) don’t get buried.
Those that don’t pull advertising will have two options: ignore everyone and hope the problem goes away (it won’t), or explain their decision publicly. That’s going to be a pretty hard call.
If I was advising a client who advertised in NOTW? I’d advise them to pull. People judge you by the company you keep. Right now, NOTW isn’t looking like great company.
Update: as news is coming in thick and fast on which companies are or aren’t pulling advertising, I thought I’d share this link – a live blog from Brand Republic on how the story’s unfolding and how brand advertisers are now responding: http://richsutcliffeblog.brandrepublic.com/2011/07/06/news-of-the-world-live-blog/.
This blog first appeared on www.bunkerbriefing.com.