Why social media should still have a conscience and why maybe not all marketing is good marketing.

In an era when social marketing demands a certain proclivity towards the immediately relevant, it can be hard to decide what is ‘on brand’ and what is not. That is, what brands are able to ride the wave of the latest hashtag, or identify with their audience through social media posts geared towards assumed relatedness. Alternatively, brands who attempt to weave their way in to complex narratives of moral standing can very easily walk the line between misguided sentiment and poor taste.

As such, it has become necessary to ask questions about whether or not effective marketing needs to reassess its intentions when it comes to leveraging online trends first. This being said, many publicists will cry from the heavens that ALL marketing is GOOD marketing, but is this always the case? Also when did it become ok for shares, likes and engagement to gain priority ones moral place in the discussion?

The question here is really more aligned with entitlement and voice – whether your brand has a place in the latest trending topics or whether it should just sit this one out.

Two such examples have been brought to the media’s attention over the past week and both beg the questions of what is acceptable and what is being plainly dismissive of its lack of relevance to ‘the latest’.

Earlier this week, following the aftermath of the tragedy that took Stephanie Scott’s life, a social media campaign saw #PutYourDressOut bring together women all around Australia. On what would have been Stephanie’s wedding day, women took to social media platforms to voice their solidarity in mourning the life of Stephanie Scott and paying tribute to what should have been a day of celebration for Scott and her family.

Whilst this event saw little to no brand involvement outside sharing public sentiment, Mortein’s Louie The Fly, was thrown into the distinctively female space, creating an almost instant uproar.

The post, that showed Louie “putting his vest out” in a supportive gesture, was more than a misguided attempt at placing brand sentiment into the larger discussion, it was speaking up – out of place.

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That is not to say the strategy was purposely offensive, it was quite the opposite, but the fact remains that this was a misstep into a territory that reeked of intrusion.

A subsequent example of insensitive marketing and brand management came from Australian supermarket brand Woolworths.

In an ‘attempt’ at providing an ‘on brand’ sentiment for ANZAC Day, the supermarket giant inadvertently created a pun out of what is a very serious part of the Australian narrative.

The epitaph of “Lest We Forget” was followed by “Fresh In Our Memories”, a play on Woolworths central branding tagline of being the “fresh food people”.

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The website that was built to support the social media campaign was swiftly removed after The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs was made aware of the situation.

What makes this strategy even more problematic is the legal bindings surrounding the use of the word ANZAC for marketing purposes. The Minister was quick to denounce the company by stating that “permission for the use of the word ‘ANZAC’ in any such material must be granted by the Australian Government”, under an act instilled in our law since 1920.

The Minister went on to explain that “in this instance, permission was not sought by the campaign proponents, nor would it have been approved.”

The company has been accused of exploitative marketing and trivialising the word for commercial gains. All claims of improper handling were denied by Woolworths and a statement released by them noted their regret at, unintentionally, causing offence.

What many have an issue with, is that the apology was met with questions about the unfettered development of the marketing strategy that made it into a campaign in the first place.

Other brands including News Corp, Ancestry.com and Target have also been lambasted for their misuse of the ANZAC sentiment.

Both of these examples provide a vital insight into the perpetually changing nature of social media and how what is ‘trending’ or ‘relevant’ is more often than not, deemed to be synonymous with brand expansion. This mentality of chasing relevance, does not always need to be adhered to and examples like these should act as a deterrence to campaigns that act before they think.

Critical thinking needs to still be a part of the digital landscape and identifying places and spaces for brands to weigh in to, should be considered, just as much as the marketing opportunities are.

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