Polarizing brands Image Credits

Polarizing brands – how to convert strong feelings into success

September 24, 2017

When engaging into a digital marketing campaign for the client, any marketer starts by building the best strategy from the existing premises. There are cases where one of the premises might be that the brand itself is what the industry identifies as polarizing brands. The public has strong feelings versus that specific company and its products or services, and while strong positive feelings count as a plus, the equally strong negative feelings raise a challenge for the marketing specialists.

Social media for polarizing brands

Social media may be considered the tip of the iceberg in these cases: it is the element visible from afar that brutally reveals a certain dynamic and may clearly suggest what lies underneath. The public opinion, from outright individual reactions to organized ones (like petitions, group actions, viral reactions) rules social media and cannot be avoided, but rather appeased or elegantly dodged. Alternatively, in the most outstanding cases, a strong negative feeling may be used to fuel even more interest for the brand and its image.

A few guidelines in approaching such an edgy campaign, according to Hootsuite, would be these:

  • Focusing on educating the public is important; the brands that qualify as “hated” often choose to provide and maintain information about themselves, and establish their vision in a way that may one-day appeal even to some of those who usually react negatively; it is extremely useful to never lose sight of the company’s values and make those values reachable for anyone interested in finding out more on what the brands’ goals, hopes and contribution to society are;
  • Avoiding tactical mistakes would be another thing to guide the digital strategy by: when there are plenty of watchful eyes that might turn every mistake into a social media disaster, it is clever to leave the sensitive topics aside, to keep your eyes to the road ahead and also to consider whether your messages can be perceived as provoking or not – play the enemy’s lawyer and double-check any materials before releasing them, unless you want to see them being publicly disputed; any exaggerated, self-praising, one-sided messages are better left out from a social-media campaign you might be planning for a disputed brand.
  • Remember that you should capture the public’s attention, not fuel the people that dislike your client’s brand; it is your campaign that should establish the leading topics, engage and entertain, not the exchange of acid replies between a brand’s marketers and its ferocious adversaries.

Negative feelings and segmented marketing

When a brand determines a negative perception, there must be reasons. Not necessarily all reasons are logical, can be understood or built upon – but it is a wise move to take time and lay down the main possibilities. Making a Q&A session with the marketing team could help in examining who and why hates the brand. Don’t get this wrong – just by looking at the above-mentioned social media strategy guidelines you may clearly see why focusing on the hate is not the way to go: you would lose energy and efforts into actions that can be easily turned against your campaign in the end. But just to see what you have to take into consideration and maybe to incidentally eliminate future mistakes and miscommunication, this exercise might prove useful.

For example, Millenials love to hate certain brands – there are studies on this issue, there are yearly tops of the most hated and most loved brands in various world regions. This target segment is clearly not monolithic, nor is it further indivisible. Six different segments integrate the American Millenials, according to The Boston Consulting Group as quoted here. The same source mentions how Millenials hate Apple (reason: lack of partnership), Electronic Arts (reason: lack of transparency), McDonalds (reason: internal policies and wage issues) and Walmart (reason: unethical approach of the labor force).

Another example of most hated brands dating a year ago makes no mention of the age, or other segmentation criteria of the survey subjects, but lists General Motors (reason: product unreliability and financial exemptions) as the winner, followed by Sony, Dish Network, McDonalds (again) and Bank of America.

Moreover, if you are further curious about another top on the same topic listing slightly different “winners”, you may check it here. The general vibe coming from the top listed brands would be that the public reacted to some of their past actions deemed as “terrible”, be these related to their products’ quality, employee policy of just the effects of their presence in various communities.

Sometimes the feeling can be motivated and, as weary as it sounds, a marketer one cannot do anything better but “red tape” and completely avoid the calamity areas in the process of campaign structuring. Ignoring them is not advisable, since unwanted surprise incidents that sprung out of seemingly nowhere is something you might want to avoid.

Therefore, it is useful to ask all the right questions in the planning phase: What is the customer segment that hates the brand?  Do they have anything else in common? Are they fans of which other brand? How do they interact with social media? Are their reactions genuine or do they copy influencer opinions? How much do they know about this brand? Are they vocal or silent? Do they actively protest or do they boycott?

Motivational facts in polarized brands

  • There are cases where companies have actually increased their sales by monetizing their growing number of product haters. Sounds paradoxical, but this source encourages interacting with haters: placating (trying to change their minds), and poking (with the plan of indirectly stimulating responses from the brand lovers) are both strategy moves. It is however recommended to master these game-like dynamics before engaging in a proactive strategy; otherwise you may have consequent damages to repair.
  • Another fact in taking care of a hated brand’s image is that haters may actually point out some less awesome characteristics that the company could do better acknowledging and assuming than leave un-tackled.

For example, Crocs, the shoe-manufacturing brand embraced the accusation that their design is “less than optimal” and turned it into a representative quality: less emphasis on design while the comfort is what matters in their products.

  • Finally, if the marketing team has any soft spots for underdogs, here’s a unique incentive: while a powerful and uncontested brand might not be your usual underdog, an unappreciated-by-the-public powerful brand actually is a particular type of underdog. Working this angle might stimulate creativity for the team and for the campaign itself – so turn this (perhaps) de-motivational factor into an incentive and raise to the challenge.