I have been preaching to people/brand managers that those who think that they can protect their brand “old skool style” will fail big time. Just the fact that if you search for the top 20 brands on the world via Google, 25% of the results are user generated, and so not made by the branding manager, tells the story.
For long the credo has been: think global, act local. I think with the internet generation having reached into every part and person of the world, this act local is sooooo last century. You can no longer act local. Because if you make a faux pas, it will resonate globally, or elsewhere locally. The only thing you can do to protect yourself as brand, is to stay FAR away from politics. You should focus on positive things (and politics are not positive, never) and be more abstract. You should support brand values like: love, happiness, freedom etc etc. And politics should not be a brand value, ever. If you do not do this, than you will be punished for this in some way in a place you had not thought of before. Let me explain.
Interesting case in Holland. The global food company Friesland Foods is selling dairy, juices etc worldwide. They are based in Holland (or Friesland, rather). And with the international turmoils around certain political or cultural different point of views, they have made a wrong move. It is already a classical example for future MBA students.
Holland is in certain regions of the world under attack because a Dutch politician made a movie that was seen as too liberal. In these regions, this is mixed up by boycotting products coming from Holland. Holland is a country with an enormous amount of different political parties representing every little niche in its country. Including the Dutch animals, as we have a party in parliament especially for animal rights.
Because of the fact that in these regions a blacklist was made for Dutch products, some brands got panicky. The company Friesland Foods decided to declare locally, in these specific regions, that they do not support the actions of this one politician. In fact it feels they condemn it.
Why they do that? Are they a political movement? No, they declare this, because they want to make sure that they will not get boycotted with their products in these regions.
But local is global nowadays. So the Dutch “consumers” heard about this action. And now the first Dutch consumers started boycotting the products of this company. That is a down right PR drama.
As a dessert, Friesland Foods make those as well, the internet bloggers started researching their worldwide business and their intentions. It seems pretty bi-polar what this huge conglomerate is doing. Had they not gone political, this would not have happened. But some short sighted brand manager made this move. He finally made it to the better marketing and communication books, but for the wrong reasons.
Let us learn from this.
note: there is also another company that made the same mistake: Zwanenberg (sausages).