Will marketing with morals cause a social media backlash?

Brands need to tread very carefully when marketing with morals as missing the mark is likely to do more harm than good.

You are reading: Will marketing with morals cause a social media backlash?

The recent surge in awareness of societal, economical, and environmental issues has been met with more brands than ever before adapting their messages to communicate a more human-focused image. But for this to resonate correctly, the messages must relate directly to the brand’s original values.

One thing for sure is that modern consumers are savvy, and will not hold back from voicing their opinions through social media when brands are missing this all important mark.

The power of social media

Pepsi is one such brand that found itself in the firing line last month. The release of its ad featuring Kendall Jenner partaking in a social protest lead to a fierce social media backlash with mentions of the company soaring 21,675% between 3-5 April. Many consumers claimed the brand was belittling the Black Lives Matter movement and Pepsi pulled the ad fairly quickly, stating “Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise”.

Experts have concluded that Pepsi was unable to deliver a credible story in this advert because they lost sight of what they are truly about.

Image via: independent.co.uk

A similar story unfolded for McDonald’s last week, with consumers blasting its latest advert on social media for “exploiting childhood bereavement” to sell fast food. The company made a swift decision to withdraw the advert from all media within a few days of its launch stating “The public told us clearly we had got it wrong and there was no decision to be made other than apologise and pull the advert”.

Senior media relations officer for Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Matt Wilson, believes McDonald’s reaction to pull the ad was more concerned with social media reaction, rather than the anticipation of a ban, stating “it’s unlikely this ad would have broken the rules”. He went on to suggest “There’s a slight trend in terms of increasing frequency of brands doing this [pulling ads pre-ruling]”.

But, not all brands have been so quick to cut their losses and call it a day when falling victim to social media backlash. Risking the potential reputation damage can actually reap reward.

Rewind back a couple of years to 2014; Sainsbury’s came under extreme scrutiny for its Christmas advert that recreated the story of the First World War truce between British and German soldiers, with many consumers dubbing the use of war imagery to promote a company as offensive.

Image via: telegraph.co.uk

Despite generating 727 complaints (400 more than the aforementioned McDonald’s advert) Sainsbury’s did not bow down to the wave of criticism, and instead emphasised the flood of positive reactions its advert had received.

Brands react, consumers react

According to a recent survey of 2,000 consumers, people are becoming more concerned about the ethical practices of the brands that they purchase from, often leaving their conscience to sway their final decisions. Around half of consumers said they are willing to pay more money for a brand that shows support for a cause that is important to them.

In line with this, a growing number of brands are taking the plunge to offer their opinion on political and social issues, but failure to get this right can spell disaster, with one in five consumers admitting they have boycotted a brand following scandal or negative press. Although some of these boycotting consumers do return their custom eventually, the majority (67%) do not.

Treading carefully

Buzzfeed is currently providing regular updates of the fake news that’s been circulating around the recent attack in Manchester, and people have been quick to accuse them of trying to capitalise on the horror through ad revenue generation from pageviews. Defending Buzzfeed, a spokesperson claimed the intent of the article was to be genuinely helpful, and not relating to revenues.

This highlights how important it is for brands to tread strategically when promoting a social purpose to ensure they come across as authentic to their audiences. Delivering these goals in a way that appears genuine can be particularly challenging for well-established brands that haven’t clearly communicated a sense of morals from their outset. The case of Pepsi above highlights how things can quickly backfire if consumers smell a rat. Perhaps if a more eco-rooted brand had run a similar style of advert, the sentiment would have been better received.

Of course, taking a particular position on current affairs is likely to divide opinion, particularly on social media, but through having the right insight, and striking the right tone, this isn’t always a bad thing.

Latest from the blog