Brand Image and Public Perception
Brand image and its potential pitfalls is a topic we’ve examined here before. The idea that one misstep might forever tarnish your company’s reputation in the public eye is a frightening notion. And oftentimes it becomes a fine line to walk when taking in all your organization puts out for public consumption, from advertisements to supply chains to even employees’ behavior.
Some of the more common ways this manages to surface recently is the stray tweet, public statement or even advertising campaign that offends a segment of the company’s target market. Nowadays these seem all too common and a new example emerges from social media every couple weeks.
Take December 2018’s Dolce & Gabbana advertisement, which featured a Chinese woman attempting to eat pizza with chopsticks. This immediately sent Chinese social media into an uproar with accusations of racism and nationwide calls for a boycott of Dolce & Gabbana products. Unfortunately, the tweets that later emerged on co-founder Stefano Gabbana’s Twitter account did nothing to ease the situation.
Although, in fairness, this kind of rampant call for bans happens relatively often on Chinese social media, commonly spurred on by a political or nationalistic sentiment. Similar incidents occurred when Korean brands Lotte and Hyundai were shunned after South Korea implemented the THAAD missile defense system in 2017. Or in 2016, when members of the Chinese public began smashing their own iPhones in public displays of protest after the Hague’s ruling on the South China Sea.
It’s not only events like these occurring in China, though. Such a political stance from a company will garner passionate responses in markets like the United States as well. Take Chick-fil-A’s highly publicized religious stances or Nike’s deal with Colin Kaepernick, which have both ignited support from one side of the political aisle and protest from another.
Enter Outrage Marketing
And here is where the theory of intentional outrage marketing comes in. More and more, companies are seeing the way that brands appear in the public eye through such scandals. Embracing the “any press is good press” idiom, there is now a suspicion that many companies are purposefully putting their worst foot forward (and possibly their brand image at stake) for the chance that they’ll suddenly be thrust into the public eye, even if for entirely the wrong reasons.
Take another recent example from the clothing store Forever 21, who, in December 2018, released a Christmas sweater which read “Wakanda Forever”, based on Marvel Black Panther character. The Black Panther film released earlier in 2018 was heralded as a milestone for being the first such major motion picture to feature predominantly actors of African descent.
The sweater advertised on Forever 21’s website and the product’s associated Twitter post, however, was worn by a white model.
This caused social media such as Twitter to flood Forever 21 with criticism and ridicule, some of which is best not repeated here. Forever 21 soon removed the heavily disliked tweet, but the product remains for sale on their website. Although, the model has since been removed and only a photo of the shirt remains.
You are free to draw any conclusion from this you so choose. However, the fact remains that, whatever the intention of Forever 21 in this matter, many tens of thousands of people who would’ve never known this shirt existed were unexpectedly exposed to it through this story. And in the end, Forever 21’s reputation is none the worse off, as the story faded away with the fleeting speed of most Internet fads.
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