An Inevitable Marketing Car Crash When Multinationals Let Local Managers Jump on the “Jingoist” Brand Bandwagon

I have already written about this. But then the kind of thing that made headlines last week has happened before, too. A quick recap. During the 2013 Super Bowl, the biggest live sporting event in the United States involving their variety of “football” (which rarely sees feet involved), there was a power outage in the stadium. The blackout lasted quite a while. Many brands have jumped at the “instant marketing” opportunity. But one brand has taken the crown.

The cookie company’s social media marketing team (Americans call it “cookie”) Oreo tweeted “Power Out.” No problem. You can always dive into the dark.” The tweet and subsequent social media posts featured a simple visual of a dark spot with an Oreo. The tweet was retweeted 15,000 times and the Huffington Post awarded Oreo the Super Bowl crown for most trending ad that year.

Every brand is looking for that “tweet spot” – when an advertising message can garner a million impressions for a brand. And then there is the other side of the coin: a simple tweet can come back to bite companies where it hurts.

Automakers Hyundai and Kia, fast-food walas KFC and Pizza Hut were among global brands that found themselves at the mercy of an ungentle storm last week for tweets commemorating ‘Kashmir Day’ spread by their dealership partners in Pakistan for Pakistani consumers. After an outcry in India – Kashmir Day is a national holiday in Pakistan in which support is given to Kashmiris, separatists included, in Indian-administered Kashmir – all had to apologize – in India.

Thus, social media offers great opportunities to interact with your customers. But where do you draw a line of control?

A corporate communications manager for an international pharmaceutical company once told me that it took him 7-10 days to get approval for a social media post. Why? As a pharma company, they need to have a position approved by their compliance officer in India, their legal officer and their medical team. Then it has to go to the corporate headquarters for authorization. I asked him how often his company posts on his various social handles. He says he’s lucky to post one a month.

Admittedly, this may be one end of the spectrum. The other end is where a company creates a handful of social media outlets and that handful is left in the hands of a local social media agency with very little oversight. Marks can get in trouble wading through dangerous terrain. We have seen this happen with some brands in India that have come under attack for crossing the religious “Lakshman rekha”. The ‘Kashmir Day’ mess is an example of how a tweet can backfire if you don’t look at all sides of the issue and the clientele. In this case, it was literally on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border.

It is right, even welcome, for a brand to celebrate a holiday or a universal cause. But when a brand takes to supporting jingoist causes, not expecting a backlash in today’s connected, globalized world is foolishness. Many international brands have a well-established protocol on who approves a social media post, without undue delay. They need to be aware of sensitivities. And which momentary marketing opportunities they should run with, and which ones they should ignore.

It’s surprising that Hyundai, of all companies, had this problem. It has been named as one of the smartest automotive marketing companies in the world. During the 2008 recession, this South Korean car giant ran a campaign in the United States promising car buyers a “no questions asked buyback” in case they lost their jobs. They repeated it at the height of the Covid pandemic.

For such a company, it is indeed a counter-current crushing in a pole that it has not realized cross-border and inter-market realities. Wringing hands while driving is a difficult maneuver to perform.

About Deborah Wilson

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