Brands, Current Events, and the Risks of Bad Taste
Caitlyn Jenner and Social Media
Donné Torr has an article up on Hootsuite titled "3 Social Media Marketing Lessons from the Kardashians" that investigates Caitlyn Jenner recently coming out as trans, and the ensuing social media reaction. The bit of the article that most struck me was the first of Torr's three points: "Brands don't have a place in every conversation." As Torr's sage advice to brands in the article continues, "if you can't add value, stay quiet: not every event is a bandwagon moment."
The article provides an exception to this rule, however, for brands that have a long history of support or involvement in a specific are, such as Gap, Inc. has done with LGBTQ issues. But one has to ask: should there even be an exception here? Just because Gap, Inc. or other companies have policies and branding strategies that fishtail with the support of certain social issues, does that somehow make their branding on that issue okay? Not everyone thinks so.
For example, on the most recent anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Twitter user Mike Monteiro made it his mission to create biting satirical responses to brands attempting to capitalize on the day, even with brands that published tweets some might have considered 'tasteful.' As Sean Bonner, who shared a similar mission with Monteiro, said in an interview with AdWeek about why these tweets were wrong, he stated "Brands are not people. Brands do not have emotions or memories or condolences or heartbreak. People have those things, and when a brand tries to jump into that conversation, it's marketing."
What fresh hell is this?
While it must be noted that there is a huge difference between Caitlyn Jenner coming out and, you know, the anniversary of one of the worst days in American history, Bonner's point remains a powerful one. A brand's stance may be compassionate and progressive, but brands still gotta brand. They're still trying to sell you something.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with brands trying to market themselves. But the question of taste is always raised when it comes to companies inserting themselves into the public conversation about current events. There are some logical ways to decide if something a brand puts out is tasteful, like when a brand is supporting something positive, like Gap is, or if it is just trying to bandwagon onto a subject that everyone happens to be talking about. This difference can mean the world to how branding efforts can come off to the public. I would assert that for a brand, the answer to the question "Is this tasteful?" is simple: If you have to ask, it probably isn't.
Perhaps Newsweek had the best take on the issue of taste in their article "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 9/11 Brand Tweets" where, under 'Good' section, they had the entry "N/A*" and then at the bottom of the article they noted this: "*Kudos to all the brands that did not tweet about 9/11 today. You're all the real winners." As you can see below, Verizon gets it, why can't everyone else?