Hyundai, Mountain Dew, DELL: most social backlashes are caused by brands' own marketing – Top 10 social media lessons

Hyundai, Mountain Dew, DELL: most social backlashes are caused by brands' own marketing – Top 10 social media lessons

Lesson number five: 70% of social media backlashes originate from brands' own marketing content.

For the last three years, our Wave blog has been providing you with weekly insight into how brands are using social media. We recently reached our 500th article and commemorated this by picking the top ten social media lessons. Last week lesson four looked at how brands are being more personal on Twitter and Facebook.
Lesson five investigates a more daunting scenario, when social media backfires. Brands have become well aware that the digital space is not one they can control at will. However, we wanted to look back at why most social backlashes occur and whether brands can do anything to prevent them.
The first social backlash case we analysed was Microsoft’s ‘Gmail Man’ ad attacking Google’s privacy policy. Similarly, Easyjet suffered a backlash in September 2011 when they turned British Airways’ “To Fly. To Serve” motto into their own “To Fly. To Save”. This revealed that brands can anticipate a backlash if their marketing criticises competitors.
Since then, many brands have suffered a similar fate, but our analysis shows that backlashes have a common cause. Looking at backlashes across the last couple of years shows that 70% of them are caused by consumers taking offense towards brands' own marketing content:
Proportion of social media backlashes by cause
  •  70% of backlashes are a reaction to brands' own content: This includes adverts criticising competitors, bringing up sensitive issues, or alienating certain demographic groups (see second chart)

Sexism and racism are the main reasons for brands' marketing to backfire:

Proportion of backlashes against marketing content by topic


  • Racial stereotypes, violence and depicting health issues can cause backlashes: For example, Hyundai, Mountain Dew and ING Direct were all forced to pull their adverts for showing controversial topics such as suicide, mental problems or racial stereotypes

Understanding which issues cause negativity can help marketers know what to steer clear of in their advertising. However, it is possible that some brands are deliberately seeking controversy, saying that negative buzz is better than no buzz at all. Either way, brands should make sure they are ready to respond to a backlash should it occur.


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