Credibility and authenticity

In my previous column I had argued that credibility and authenticity are the two key areas where the brands will face a big issue. Especially when the lines between public and private spaces are blurring at a rapid pace. Brands too have kept a marked distinction between private space and public space. And the brands will want to keep it that way, as this allows them to ‘control’ the communication, show the good face and create the right impression. Obviously social media is putting pressure on them to blur this distinction. Let me illustrate this through two examples and two contrasting strategies that brands followed. One worked very well, the other never weathered the storm The first example is from Domino’s. Two of its employees posted seriously grossed out videos over the net of them spoiling the pizza. If you have the stomach for it, you can access them at you tube. No wonder there was outrage over what the two employees had done. The response from the brand was swift and they allowed it to be played out over social media where it started from. The brand apologized and uploaded apology videos on you tube. It also took penal action against the two employees for destroying the reputation and trust of the brand. The blog sphere initially ridiculed the brand but came around to champion the brand’s cause. The second example is of Nestle and the pressure it from Greenpeace for using Palm oil in its chocolates. When Greenpeace uploaded videos on you tube accusing the corporation of destroying rain forests, the world of social media went into overdrive. The brand first bullied the sites and got the video removed, and then it also removed ‘offensive’ comments from other sites. The controversy soon became a firestorm that singed the brand. Even after pledging that it is snapping ties from tainted palm oil suppliers, the firestorm kept on raging. Clearly the strong arm tactics of a big brand did not help and it only further fuelled the fire Both these are examples of how the boundaries between private and public space is diminishing. In both cases the trouble started when the private space became public. In one case the insiders demolished the line, and in other a pressure group forced the brand to let the private space become public. I am not saying if this was right or wrong, all I am saying is that this seems to be the new way. In the case Domino’s the brand narrated a story of credibility. It acknowledged the problem, addressed the issue, allowed people to peep into the private space of the brand and didn’t hide behind the curtains. The consumers believed in the authenticity of the story and reposed their trust in the brand. In today’s world where consumers play voyeurs a peep inside was a great way to regain trust. In case of Nestle, the brand told a story that wasn’t authentic. Instead of allowing a peep in, it hid behind dark curtains. It made it difficult for consumers to see what really was happening. By the time it allowed the public to peep in, much of the damage was done. And because the story was not authentic the story was never credible. Despite being a large and respected brand, it decided to be bully and not an engaging story teller. The best example of this diminishing line is the new Nike communication where the Facebook fans of the brand were accorded ‘insider’ status. Nike unveiled its “write the future’ campaign to Facebook fans before it took to mass media. Over 100,000 fans saw the three minute ad before it was aired. Nike allowed access to its fans to not only the brand story, but also the key characters of the story i.e. the iconic footballers. In this new paradigm where brands need to be great story tellers, brands have to be about authenticity and credibility. It is not that this is necessary in this day and age of social media only. Social media may not be the in thing tomorrow, authenticity and credibility will always be the currency for the brand to transact in.

Published in 4Ps of Marketing and Advertising, 4rth June, 2010

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