Using Social Media to Freak Out Brands

Jonathan sent me an interesting article from Adage about how a few vocal people can give an impression that something is a much bigger deal that it really is. (Remember the Motrin scandal?)

From the article:

“The data is a really compelling reminder that a lot of our target consumers are not the people who are sitting on Twitter freaking out over a packaging design that they don’t like,” said Diane Hessan

So, I find I’m asking a number of questions. For starters, why is this happening? What compels a group of people (in the case of the Motrin ad—Mommy Bloggers) to get so worked about something relatively meaningless?

The internet has made it easier than ever for consumers to get their opinions heard — and for marketers to listen. But it also creates real challenges: Do marketers know who they’re listening to? And at what point does the echo chamber of social media drown out the real opinions of the people who buy your brand?

Lastly, why are brands so completely afraid of these (relatively few) vocal people, so much so, that they’re willing to yank ads for them? 

(Thanks to reader Jonathan for the link!)


  1. Because the squeeky wheel gets the grease.


  2. Remember the Rachel Ray “Arab scarf” thing almost a year ago? Same deal.

    It’s just plain more entertaining for readers and more satisfying for writers to complain about things rather than offer anything really constructive.

    It’s Neighborhood Gossip 2.0 – now it’s published, archive-able, and spread to the masses before you even give it a second thought. And it’s going to continue because it’s easy but powerful. You don’t even have to make a totally coherent argument because it’s harder to refute whatever you’ve presented than it is to climb on board with it.


  3. That whole Rachel Ray thing would have been completely laughable had it not also suggested that at least some Americans are ignorant enough to believe that that scarf suggested “terrorist” when it’s worn by Muslims all over the world.

    Scary. See, that’s dangerous. That’s a perfect example of something bordering on dangerous.


  4. Michele Chaves April 1, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    the whole thing is scary and also exciting. to see how a few people can make this huge stir is fascinating. it is just too bad that more people aren’t using that for more productive activities. i’m no different, it is far easier to complain than it is to seek more positive pursuits…but think about the potential all around. we always focus on the negative or outrageous impacts, but the positive ones are a little more quiet, a little more subtle, but i know they’re out there.


  5. I saw this on the subway this morning, and immediately sent it to Michele…

    reading it, i remembered this hullaballoo on your blog –

    I remembered how vocal some people were on that thread… and how Michele has often received really mean messages whenever she said something that didn’t agree with the sensibilities of a mean spirited loudmouth.

    I thought it was neat that this article showed numbers that prove those people are inconsequential.

    So whenever you get a mean message , you can think of this article and remember that these are just loudmouths, idiots, and people who don’t matter.


  6. The weirdest part about this story is one I can’t tell because I’m sworn to secrecy about it. I know! Then why am I even hinting at it now? I can’t help myself!

    Perhaps I’ll write the folks involved and see if I can finally tell it.


  7. I think there are a couple of reasons why marketers pay more attention to the high-tech feedback than they might ought to. One is that the demographic producing it (the feedback) is probably much akin, if not identical, to their own demographic: educated, professional, affluent, concentrated in metro areas where tech has high saturation and availability. Second is that they believe there is or could be a “tipping point”-like effect, and that what they’re hearing is the voice of trendsetters and early adopters and tastemakers.

    Also, brand shepherds of all kinds tend to be a nervous lot to begin with because there’s something ineffable about their metier — so much of it is ephemeral, immeasurable, unpredictable, beyond their control; and yet they operate in a busness climate and environment that demands constant demonstrations of control, competence, and expertise. The budgets also tend to demand these things. Cognitive dissonance and insecurity are built into the biz.


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