When Social Media Fuels a Controversial Issue How Do Marketers Respond?

It is safe to say, marketers in almost all industries, and especially those that market products to consumers, must pay close attention to social media. For marketers, social media offers a number of valuable benefits such as quickly getting messages out to their market, conversing one-on-one with their customers, and monitoring market response. However, unlike advertising or personal selling, which are highly controllable by the marketer, social media options generally cannot be easily controlled and, consequently, some aspects of social media can come back bite a company. This is especially the case when there is a controversial issue. Not only will the marketer’s social media outlets be inundated with customer reaction, the news will spread quickly through social media operated by others.

Controversy is especially prone to spreading when what is communicated is more than just a text message. For instance, a good target for fast spreading reaction is when advertisements become controversial. With advertisements, it is hard to describe a potential problem without experiencing the advertisement. That is why social media is so effective in building controversy. People can rapidly and easily share the advertisement through images, video and links.

From the marketer’s end, there are two schools of thought when it comes to responding to advertisements that generate controversy. One school says the best response is to remove the advertisement as quickly as possible and beg for mercy. The other school takes the position that controversy raises product awareness and, while some people may not like or may even object vigorously to an ad, in the long-run more people will know about the product thanks to all the social media sharing.

As an example, this story from Time reports on a new advertising campaign for Veet, a hair removal cream targeted primarily to women. Some people who have viewed the ad are taking a stance against the message being presented, namely that women with body hair are more like men. Over the next few weeks, it will be worth watching how social media and other media respond, and if things turn negative, which of the two strategies Veet adopts.