Welcome to the web world of Brand Terrorism.

I think most of
us consumers welcome the new regulations laid down by the ASA over web
advertising. Alas, it’s not really the ads that concern me. In fact looking at
statistics, unlike TV ads that we do notice, web ads are largely ignore. Their
response rates are so rubbish you have to wonder why some clients put so much
faith in them.

 

I have written
many times about the power of the consumer online and their capability to bring
down a multi million dollar campaign with a 600 dollar computer, an act known
as ‘Brand Terrorism’.

 

I think most of
us would agree there’s nothing wrong with the truth defeating lies. With often
limited powers, trade bodies and groups like the ASA can only bite so hard,
whereas the public can bite like a crocodile and not let go.

 

When a bunch of
school kids in America discovered that a well known fruit juice company brand
had a lot less vitamin C than they claimed, they exposed them.  What started off as a harmless science
experiment caused a major disaster for the brand.

 

For generations
there’s been groups lobbying for less sugars and crap in our foods but now with
the web theses groups can gather far greater mass and influence. And when kids
and mums are involved, any brand should be very aware. Mum’s’ Net, for example,
won’t run ads for McDonalds or Nestle. Personally I think McDonalds suffers
from too much anti-hype whereas Nestles has a lot to answer for.

 

When P&G
launched a new Pamper’s nappy in the US they did it with a new ad campaign. In
the UK they just slipped it into the old packets and let mum’s discover it. The
backlash was great. “Hell has no scorn than a mother upset.” The product seemed
to cause a lot problems for babies in both the US and UK and online groups soon
formed against Pampers, mainly on Facebook. (I was interviewed on Watchdog and
asked to pass comment, “madness” was my comment, “P&G should have known
better”
.) Upset mums exchanged stories of rashes and sores.

 

Then one used the
term ‘chemical burns’. That was the tipping point. Suddenly the mood changed
and panic set in. It hit the press and no matter what P&G said mums
everywhere felt their trust had been abused. I have no idea of the long term
damage but as Nestle has learnt, the consumer doesn’t forget quickly,
especially when babies are concerned. Trust is the hardest thing to win back
once lost.

 

Sunny D was
another classic, and VitaminWater is mindlessly going down the same route. Why?
Cash before common sense I suspect. Sunny D lost £80m of sales in one year
after it was exposed. Watch VitaminWater go the same way.

 

There cannot be a
CEO who does not fear the power of disgruntled consumers using the web. If
there is one who doesn’t, they should, it’s far more powerful than any
marketing budget.

 

The next level is
when organisations use the web to promote their beliefs with force. The
Greenpeace vs Apple battle resulted in Greenpeace providing its members with a
tool kit of Apple ads they could re-voice, write headlines on and use to mock
Apple. The take up was high and finally Steve Job’s had to admit defeat and be
a little more environmental. He may be a great innovator but he miss judged the
mood of consumers and their growing passion with ethics.

 

Many charities
and organisations use the web effectively for cultivating support and
motivating supporters. The trouble is when those organisations become more extreme
and start to spin or even blatantly lie. 
How can we know what is true or false? Animal rights organisations or
extreme vegetarians for example claiming all meat is anti-environment (a
totally untrue fact, paddy fields produce more methane than cows do by the
way). I’ve written a blog previously on this containing the real facts. Proof
that even when organisations claiming to be in the common interest lie the
public can fight back with truth.

 

So what about
Wikileaks? If the truth is out there they’ll publish it. I think we all agree
that corrupt politicians and beaurocrats deserve to be exposed. And the
revelations about Middle Eastern politics showed how little we can trust
politicians and even the media. Weapons of Mass Destructions were really a Web
of Massive Lies
to cover up a dark political agenda to gain oil and power.

 

It also revealed
the dirty politics behind the Iranian nuclear bomb scaremongering that has been
fed to the press (with Israel stirring it up and using it’s influence over
America). The world of ‘Dark Marketing’ (propaganda) flourishes in the press
and we are living in a time when there’s a lot of it about. And a time when we
need to be extra careful about what we read, what we are fed and what we are
asked to back. Dark Marketers play off our fears, they demonise an enemy so
they can act out the hidden agenda of politicians. Ironically, a study of the
current anti-Iranian propaganda is similar to what the Nazi’s did to demonise
those it disliked.

 

My view – believe
nothing until you’ve checked out anything you read. No matter who says it. But the
good news is that it is the web that finally reveals the truth, because if you
look you’ll find those not gagged telling it as it is.

 

But when
information is revealed that endangers life or national security, where do we
stand? That leaves us all with a dilemma about truth. What price are we
prepared to pay? Newspapers have always argued that publishing controversial
stories was “in the public interest” (rather than admit it was really in the
interest of increased circulation). Has Wikileaks gone too far?

 

And what about
the online activist groups like  Anymous?
A bunch of super techs who use their skills to attack brands, hijack sites and
manage to keep one step ahead of the security services.

 

When a leading
security company foolishly claimed they had discovered the names of some of
their top players the group overnight got into the
company’s website and hijacking its CEO’s Twitter account. They also took over
all the company’s e-mails, erased files, crashed their phone systems and put
copies of many secret documents online.

 

In
support of Wikileaks they disrupted services at MasterCard, Visa and other
companies that had withdrawn support of Wikileaks after the controversial
posting in December.

 

Are
they good freedom of speech fighters or online terrorists? Depends on who you
listen to. This is the problem. They said “We are trying to keep the
internet open and free but in recent years governments have been trying to
limit the freedom we have on the internet.”

 

But
when they orchestrated strikes on government services in Tunisia and Egypt, in
support of popular protests, they stepped into the murky world of politics and
that’s a dangerous place to be. Whoever they are, they are very smart so you’d
hope their motives are more about truth and fairness than using their skills to
exercise an anger problem (like some animal rights activists).

 

I
worry that what we may see is increased attempts by the powers that be to
corrupt the internet with lies while the public fights back to keep it free for
speech and truth.

 

My
dad brought us with a simple philosophy, “Half of what you know is truth, the
other half are lies. The trouble is we never know which is which.”

 

ANONYMOUS

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12380987

IRAN

http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/arnold_on_ethical_marketing/archive/2010/11/15/iran-misunderstood-and-a-missed-opportunity-for-uk-advertising.aspx

PAMPERS

http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/arnold_on_ethical_marketing/archive/2010/05/21/pampers-gets-a-pounding-from-watchdog.aspx

COWS & METHANE

http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/arnold_on_ethical_marketing/archive/2010/02/01/go-green-eat-the-pet-dog.aspx

  • Max Harrington

    Great article Chris. Very thought provoking.

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