Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Are All Opinions Created Equal?

Sorry to be MIA for a bit, but the past week has been much busier than I anticipated. I currently have content in the pipeline now, so hopefully I won't have to disappear again for a while :]

The story I want to write about today may be dated, but this is something I have wanted to address for some time now. In one of my early entries, I touched on how crucial it is to know one's audience; then in my post The Importance of Being Transparent I spoke to how those participating in social media should be honest and upfront in their interactions. In this entry, I plan to marry the two aforementioned topics. 

It all started with a simple ad campaign. A couple weeks ago, ChapStick got itself into quite the pickle with the accompanying advertisement featuring a woman searching behind the couch for a lost ChapStick. A blogger wrote about how she deemed the picture offensive and degrading to women, which then triggered a social media disaster. When the same blogger left comments on ChapStick's Facebook fan page, the brand began deleting comments. Users continued to post, demanding to know why their comments had been deleted, and the interactions started to spiral out of control. The article I read about the issue suggested that ChapStick should simply issue an apology, remove the image, and move on. In accordance with my policy on transparency, I agree that ChapStick was wrong to delete user comments; however I disagree that the brand needed to cower, tail between its legs and apologize. Personally, when I first read the headline and then saw the picture, I was confused. I was thinking THAT'S the image that is so offensive? Really? Compared to many of the advertisements selling sex today, this picture seemed pretty tame to me. Additionally, it is an advertisement I can relate to. I absolutely LOVE strawberry ChapStick. I buy a three pack every time I go to Wal-Mart because I can't find that flavor anywhere else. I have one in my purse, on my desk, in various jacket pockets, you name it. Part of the reason why I have so many is because they are easy to lose! So for me, I look at this picture and think, Yep. I have definitely been that girl before. And apparently, based on some of the user comments to the blog post that started it all, I am not alone. 

Which makes me wonder, Are all opinions created equal? 

The originating blog post was from a feminist source which regularly speaks to women and sexuality in advertising. My guess is that this was one more way to keep fresh content on the site. Also, as I mentioned in my post Hooray for Cross-Promotion, posting links to other platforms such as Facebook is an important practice for bloggers, as it helps to drive traffic. The author was certainly smart to use ChapStick's Facebook fan page to draw a wider audience to her own blog. But did ChapStick respond appropriately? I think not.

I have not done the market research on who ChapStick's consumers are, but my guess is that there is a small intersection between those who buy the product and those who would be seriously offended by the advertisement. Social media is wonderful because it gives everyone a voice and can make anyone an expert. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and has the opportunity to be heard. However, I do not think that means everyone deserves to be listened to. There is no way that a brand can please every individual with an advertisement, and there will always be someone who wants to complain. I think that in this instance, ChapStick should have let the issue go. Leave the disgruntled user comments and recognize that they are probably in the minority. The brand could have perhaps joined the conversation by apologizing to the blogger for offending her lady like sensibilities and then letting her know that the advertisement was not meant to sell sex. I think removing the advertisement is a bit far though. I recognize that in some situations, a brand needs to backtrack when they have created an advertisement that offends a large group of people, but I do not think this was one of those situations. 

Which brings me to the biggest lessons that I think can be learned from ChapStick.
  1. BE TRANSPARENT! I don't think I can say it enough. Be who you are and let your audience be who they will be. Don't delete comments. Instead, use them to build brand equity. Even complaints are an opportunity for interaction. 
  2. Really work on identifying your audience. If you are speaking to a group of feminists, maybe an image of a woman with her butt in the air is not the best choice. But if those same feminists are only a handful of people who object to an advertisement that resonates with a majority of your consumers, then maybe there are other avenues you should explore rather than pulling the advertisement. Perhaps not all opinions are created equal...
What do you think about this issue? Was the advertisement so extreme that ChapStick needed to remove it?

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