The provocative headline “Brands Are Not Your Friends” popped up on my iPad yesterday evening. So I had to check it out.
The gist of the article (from blog site gawker.com) was that people should not be sucked into treating brands as “Friends” on social media, because brands “exist solely to distract, deceive, and manipulate us out of our money.”
Their example was Coca-Cola’s “MakeItHappy” Twitter campaign aired during the Super Bowl. According to AdWeek.com, the brand’s goal was to encourage Twitter users to “mark negative tweets with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. Then, Coke turned those words into cute art images using ASCII lettering code.”
All well and good … creative and harmless you might say, and very much in line with the frothy, friendly good-time image Coke likes to project. But Gawker apparently was nearly struck dumb with the perceived idiocy of the campaign, which they presumed was designed to “trick you into buying more Coke,” although company marketers likely would not have put it that way.
So Gawker, which appears to trade in provocative takes on celebrities and media, came up with some digital skullduggery, which I will allow AdWeek’s writer to explain out of my fear of inaccurately describing something I barely understand:
“Gawker created a Twitter bot, @MeinCoke, which tweeted (quotes from) Mein Kampf at Coca-Cola to see if the brand would turn lines from Hitler's autobiographical manifesto into art.” It worked, and Coke quit the campaign.
“It's unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn't,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told AdWeek. “Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign."
All this collective mindlessness got me to thinking about brands and whether they are, in fact, our friends. And my conclusion is … sometimes. Is Coca-Cola my friend? Not really. Their product does not nourish and even may be harmful, given the 800 cans of soft drinks that American males consume every year, according to recent stats. Consumption by both males and females reportedly has been rising since the ‘70s.
My point here is not to make trolls out of Coca-Cola or any other soft drink marketer; we are free to make, sell and consume most anything we want here in this country. And if we consider some products to be harmful, we also are free to not consume them.
In synch with what I have termed Marketable Truth in blog posts on this site and in my consulting work, it may be useful to have consumers decide whether brands actually keep their promises. If somebody sells you a tool and it breaks, their brand claim is not authentic – but if it lasts for 25 years like our Maytag washer did, it earns a high score. If a retailer claims great service but doesn’t deliver, they get a low score, which may prompt them to improve.
So why not place brands on a “promise continuum”? Call it the Brand Performance Index (or the Real Thing Index, should you prefer) – and you be the judge.
Products like fresh fruits and vegetables likely would score high, except maybe for broccoli if you’re under 10 or are George H. W. Bush. Soft drinks would score low -- or would they? They might score high if people believe they’re getting the refreshing promise they expected from their Coke or Pepsi or Mountain Dew, or even a lifestyle boost. Same goes for my favorite single malt whiskey!
So it’s up to us to decide, not some marketer … or even Michael Bloomberg. Brand promise is best measured by consumer experience.
TakeAway: How would your brand score on the Real Thing Index?
Content © by Brian E. Faulkner