Categorization of Brand Backlash Storms

While brand backlash (one example of a Groundswell) from social media tools are certainly an impact to the reputation of companies and how their consumers react, there are many different levels of severity from each.

First, see this list of brands that were punk’d from social media, I’ll add some categorization to each of them as I can best gauge in coming days.

To help gauge the differences, I’ve constructed these categories of brand backlash storms (leaning on the Hurricane categorization)

Category 1: Consumer revolt and use social media tools (Twitter, Blogs, YouTube) to tell their story, the brand doesn’t flinch, and there is no mainstream media coverage. Examples: A weekly, if not a daily occurance.

Category 2: The backlash extends beyond just social media tools (Twitter, blogs, YouTube), the brand makes changes based on consumer feedback, and coverage extends to mainstream media and press. Examples: Louis Vuitton brandjacked, Exxon Mobile’s Twitter experience.

Category 3: Consumers use social media tools to spread backlash and there is considerable mentions from mainstream press. the backlash is more severe resulting in significant changes from the brand (hiring, firing, processes, policies or new teams put in place). This becomes a case study for social media books and is often discussed in social media culture. Examples: Dell Hell, Comcast Cares, Kryptonite Locks, Wholefoods CEO.

Category 4: Number three plus short term financial impacts to the brand resulting in reduction of sales, revenue, increased costs, or impact to stock price less than 30 days. Examples: Apple Stock temporarily sinks from blog rumors.

Category 5: Number three plus brand backlash from social media tools resulting in long term financial impacts to the brand including reduction in sales, revenue, increased costs, and most importantly, stock price lasting over 30 days. In the most extreme cases, it causes closure of the business or bankruptcy. Examples: None.

I hope this puts things into context when we see brand backlash incidents occur.

31 Replies to “Categorization of Brand Backlash Storms”

  1. I think we’re seeing a lot of category 1 happening. Although to people like us it seems that brands are getting demolished by the public online, if you go and have a chat with one of your family members they probably have no clue what the issue is and are CURRENTLY using the product in question. (Motrin anyone?). In specific cases where tactics are used primarily online, its key to quickly react to these types of negative brand issues but when such an occurrence takes place among a much larger campaign, I think these small pitfalls are usually absorbed by the broader messaging.

  2. Jeremiah,
    According to these categories you seem to view traditional media as the primary means of validating a brand backlash. If that’s the case, the Motrin moms situation from the last 48 hours would be a category 1, yet Motrin’s website is still down and their VP of marketing has already started apologizing. To my knowledge, that all happened without any traditional media intervention. When it’s all said and done, this Motrin thing could be a category 3 without any traditional press (though the traditional media will probably pick up on it.)

    I don’t think traditional media is dead (yet) and I know a lot of companies don’t feel the heat until the traditional media, but I think we have a very current case study that seems to go against your categories. Do you view it differently?

  3. The company I used to work for was heavily damaged though negative stories on Forums circa the year 2000. That was before Web 2.0 explosion but Forums were at their height and one single person managed to bring down the company to the point where it had to change its Brand name. Their stock value plunged to near zero. They lost 90% of the business. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to mention the brand.

    95% of what was said on the forums was utterly false but the company did not want to respond. “It will just die by itself” was their motto. But the opposite happened, it became bigger and bigger until the company finally sued the person and he had to stop posting completely. he also had to publicly apologize for the false information he wrote. That did not change anything at all since anyone who searched “name of the company” on Google was directed to hundreds of negative posts on forums. There was no Google priority given to the apologies.

    The whole thing was a miserable adventure. Definitely a Category 5! The power of web 2.0 is undeniable. Responding immediately and decisively is extremely important for Corporations. It can also be a unique promotional opportunity as well if the response is well crafted.

  4. Bill

    Traditional is just one way of measuring, and it’s a good one as it’s a bell weather about about the information going ‘mainstream’ but the ultimate measure is the impact to the bottom line.

    I’m looking for true business impacts here –beyond angry bloggers.

  5. Thanks. That helps clarify it. Do you think Motrin overreacted by pulling the site down and already apologizing or that it was the best move for them to make? I feel like they did the right thing as a preventative measure to stop the bleeding while they figure out what to do next.

  6. I now realize how to eliminate or reduce the category 2’s impact. In fact, when I make a search trying to find some info about Louis Vuitton brandjacked, the first results were occupied by Jeremiah’s blog and the article’s related.

  7. @Bill Seaver:

    I do think that Motrin over-reacted to the swift social media ire.

    While I love social media and am very fond of the empowerment it brings, I am very concerned about consumers abusing that power. I think this Motrin example is a case in point.

    In a world that is already excessively PC, will companies become beholden to the whims and emotions of every long tail consumer, lest they be reproached with the force of social media? I don’t think its fair or in the public’s interest.

    Social Media is a powerful weapon that needs to be used properly. Using social media to uphold the RIGHTS of consumers, and to ensure a fair balance of power between corporations and the public is a noble use. To use it to express how you feel about a company’s policy or marketing message is also fair game; however, to use it to bring a company to their knees for a fairly benign (perhaps lame) marketing message is overboard, and corrupts the otherwise good nature of social media.

    The great irony here of course is that the very people who are now reproaching Motrin are giving it more organic national attention than Motrin could have generated itself; and not in a definitely negative way. What would happen if Motrin bucked back?

  8. PS – I think an important corollary to the point I was trying to express above is this:

    What happens when consumers feel differently about a marketing message or corporate policy?

    The problem is that people who take offense are much more likely to express their ire through social media, where the people who enjoyed the same content are less likely to organize. Companies therefor, are only getting some of the feedback, and reacting only to the stronger emotion, more active emotion.

    If you look at the YouTube comments, a lot of people are saying “whats the big deal.” But that’s not the voice that getting organized or being heard. Again, this has to do with the problems of political correctness, improper use of social media, and forcing companies to conform to the whims and sentiments of every long tail player. Doesn’t sounds like fun.

    Jeremiah, what do you think?

  9. I know this is old news, but I have just seen this post (love the Categories by the way – very helpful).

    I just wanted to point out that the Motrin debacle is an even better example of not marketing to women effectively.

    I feel Social Media actually worked to Motrin’s advantage in that they found out quickly that the ad was offensive. If someone argues that Motrin reacted too swiftly by taking it down, they are missing the fact that the spots completely missed the mark in the first place.

    Most every site I have been on and read comments where people felt Motrin over-reacted “ the comments are typically from men. And while not at all scientific, I would guess at about 90%. Problem is… men don’t buy baby slings, wraps and carriers. Women do.

    So, I guess it is all in how you view it, but I would suggest that this is a better example of using Social Media as a focus group, albeit costly.

    And I would argue that Motrin did not react hastily, but instead in a prudent manner because I would also venture to guess that “some” knew in their “gut” that it was the wrong message. The reactions merely confirmed it.

    Quick action was the right move…but it should never have gotten that far.

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