A recent article in Ad Age posed an interesting question for businesses in the age of social commerce: Can one bad tweet taint your brand forever? The premise of the article was that the influence of a small group of people can prove powerful for advertising – “their judgment can quickly become the lens through which thousands of additional individuals view ads online.” Is one person’s commentary online more powerful than multi-million dollar corporate marketing budgets?

Social the new advertisingThe article highlighted a couple of examples in which a few consumers’ perceptions of the ads led to word of mouth that outweighed the intended ad message.

  1. An ad for Motrin showing potential back pain for moms wearing baby slings came under fire when several “attachment parenting” enthusiasts posted complaints online. The complaints were picked up by two bloggers and tweeted within hours. A week later, as many as 300 tweets per hour about the ad were hitting the social web. Johnson & Johnson nixed the ad shortly after.
  2. Method’s viral video parody ad about the chemicals in other cleaning solutions received praise at the National Advertisers Conference and on several environmental blogs. But after two blogs representing a large part of Method’s customer base took offense, complaining that the ads made light of sexual harassment, many customer complaint emails eventually led Method to pull the ad.

ABC News recently discussed how misuses of products can spread via social networks. For example, the tweet, “Finally over my cold. Summer colds suck. Thank you Z-Pack antibiotics,” reached 850,000 people. The information is wrong; antibiotics are not intended to treat colds.

How much time and money would these brands have to spend to generate the same reach and impact that a handful of consumers accomplished in an afternoon on Twitter? “The average consumer mentions specific brands over 90 times per week in conversations with friends, family, and co-workers,” says John Moore of WOMMA. Think about that for a second – one consumer generates more impressions than your media buyer could ever hope to afford.

Now think about the reach and power of that consumer online, with their social networks and consumer content mechanisms like reviews and Q&A. With the social web, this conversation overshadows your brand marketing in both volume and impact. As Scott Cook, founder of Intuit and member of the P&G Board of Directors puts it, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what the consumers tell each other it is.”

As a brand marketer or advertiser, how do you reconcile your brand marketing initiatives with the voice of the consumer? How do you hit the market with a message that reinforces your brand? Through the lens of traditional marketing and advertising, this is a really tough nut to crack. But adopt the “social is the new advertising” paradigm for a minute, and the answer to these questions becomes simple. Give consumers a channel to speak to each other via your brand properties, and tie it directly to the natural purchase process.

Don’t be afraid to let consumers be the voice of your brand. Yes, there are negative opinions about your brand online, but there are thousands to millions of consumers who like your brand enough to buy from you. What if the brands in the examples above had sought authentic consumer proactively – content that turned out to be positive? What if they then published this content on their brand site, retailer network sites, and social media sites? What kind of media impact and ROI could that have driven?

Do you agree? Do consumers control today’s brands?

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>