The Conversational Brand

2 09 2012

There’s an old adage in business that says retailers follow rooftops. Build houses and apartments, and the retailers will follow. It makes perfect sense, because people need to eat and buy clothes, and retailers need customers. It may sound chicken-and-egg, but if you do it the other way around, the retailer will likely founder.

A corollary is quickly becoming established in social media. Companies follow clicks. We have seen how thousands of companies, organizations and individuals have embraced Facebook and Twitter (and, once upon a time, musicians on MySpace). Even corporate YouTube channels have become de rigeur. But that’s all old hat now, because the new hot spots are in the fringe-but-growing suburbs.

Take Instagram, for example. The quirky throwback to Polaroid has captured the curiosity of many an iPhoneographer (be sure to use a cool retro filter with a dollop of tilt-shift). Fort Collins CO-based New Belgium Brewing Company has been using Instagram as a way to colorfully feature its products, and in a way that sneaks right in under consumer advertising radar. JUmp over to Pinterest and the same thing is happening. While the Pinterest crowd is about 85:15 women to men, smart companies are figuring out how to appeal to the legions of females actively pinning recipes, home decor, clothing and more to this highly social bookmarking site.

And now the latest site to attract corporate interest is Spotify, the music listening (and sharing) site that appears all over our Facebook News Feed. “Nick Gerlich is listing to Storyville Radio on Spotify” is what my Timeline now says as I write this blog (“You gotta dig some Austin blues to understand,” he says).

This all became news to me last night while escorting my 14-year-old daughter to the Urban Outfitters store on Albuquerque’s Central Ave. While she tried on every top and skirt in the store, I busied myself looking at the wacky collection of books and kitsch (ever notice how UO has an almost juvenile fascination with anything bearing the F-word?), and stumbled upon a sign at the cash-wrap saying “We’re on Spotify!”

Instant conversation starter!

The clerk was not busy, so I engaged him in conversation. Yes, Spotify has its own fave artists and playlists, and they are all part of the branding of Urban Outfitters.

“So is this music I hear right now from your Spotify site?” I asked.

“Yes it is,” Mr. Tattoed-in-a-Tank-Top beamed. (“How is this guy ever gonna get a real job?” I thought to myself.)

Trick question. Either he was wrong, or they were violating the law and Spotify’s Terms of Service. Turns out the folks at BMI and ASCAP don’t like the public broadcast of their music without payment of royalty fees. It would be nice on paper to plant earworms and send folks home, but it’s not quite that easy without first paying the piper.

But I digress, for there’s a broader point to be made. You see, branding these days is not about companies telling you who they are, but rather it is a conversation…between you, me and the company. And this conversation is playing out on the social graph. It’s an organic process, one that must be cultivated carefully like a friendship. Gobe forever are the one-way Brand-to-Customer monologues of old.

As for Spotify playlists, they give customers a chance to see inside to the personality of the brand, but it also gives us all a chance to interact, applaud the music, or tell them we think their tunage sucks. More importantly, they also give folks a chance to continue the conversation…the interaction…whenever and wherever. Dig that Spotify playlist? Fire up that app on your phone and jam away. Stop by sometime and buy something, too.

So important have Spotify accounts become that President Obama launched one in January of this year. You, too, can rock out to the Prez’ favorite tunes, or at least the songs his staff think will resonate with voters.

If you recall, in 2008 the Obama team kicked McCain’s rear primarily on the basis of social media acumen. McCain was still trying to figure out email, while Obama was stirring up a tweet storm. This time around, the GOP has figured out a lot, and Mr. Romney also has his own On The Road campaign channel on Spotify.

The tough thing about all of this is that Marketing communication is infinitely more nuanced than it ever was, and with those nuances come the risk of falling into a pothole. A Marketing staffer who only knows traditional media may as well look into cashing out that 401(k) and settling in Florida. This thing is changing every day, and while Spotify is the newest kid in town, I suspect that by this time next year the hype will be directed to a site the likes of which we haven’t yet heard.

But the conversation goes on, regardless of the channel. Keep talking to me, baby. I need to vote. I need to shop. And I want to engage with you.

Dr “The Beat Goes On” Gerlich

Ink Stains

30 08 2012

We live in dangerous times. In days of old, whenever we experienced something with which we did not like agree, we simply told our friends, family and acquaintances. These stories spread slowly, if at all.

Today, all it takes is a few posts and it’s Katie bar the door.

As a researcher of corporate communication crises, I have seen a lot. Last December, Lowe’s Home Improvement got its backside kicked after it dropped its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim. Thousands and thousands of people posted their (dis)approval on the Lowe’s Facebook page, with the vast majority being those who despised the action. What did Lowe’s do? It ran from the controversy and simply deleted all 28,000 comments.

Yeah, smart move. Lowe’s a bunch more heat, and then wound up launching a new thread with a fresh apology for the initial debacle.

A few weeks later, the Susan G. Komen Foundation stepped on a landmine when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood. Once again, the social graph lit up and howled its disapproval. SGK more or less ignored it, and to their great harm, for donations and race participation this year are down up to 30% in some markets.

The latest to fall into the social media trap is Bic with Bic For Her pens. While they have been available online at Amazon for nearly two years, it is only recently that citizen reviewers started lambasting Bic for insulting women with special pens. Worse yet, Bic has no Twitter presence, and has thus far ignored comments on Facebook.

To ignore social media in 2012 is courting disaster. Companies cannot afford to dwell in the halcyon days of a Facebook-free internet. It is here, and it will hurt you if you do not attend to it.

Never mind what the heck Bic was thinking in the first place by offering pens for females. Are women somehow unable to write with “man pens?” Do women need different colored pens? In other words, are there legitimate reasons why women would prefer these pens over, say, a regular old ballpoint pen?

Now before you start citing instances in which companies have successfully marketed male and female versions of similar products (Bic comes to mind, in fact, for male and female razors), it is highly unlikely that there are sufficient differences between the sexes to warrant a full-on marketing effort to sell gender-specific pens.

If all Bic wanted to do was perhaps appeal to women with more “feminine” colors, they could have done so without drawing attention to the packaging. Lego made a similar mistake earlier this year when it launched a line of pastel-colored blocks for girls, but made a big deal of it. The simpler path would have been, for both companies, to just sell the same product in multiple colors. End of story. Let the boys and girls figure out what they like. If a little boy (or grown man) prefers softer colors, so be it, or if a little girl (or woman) likes bold colors, then more power to her.

But for Bic to be completely aloof in the social media era is just risky business. The biting sarcasm on the Amazon page is telling, and Amazon is not appear to have any intention of removing those comments.

And if you’ll be careful to not slip on the irony, in many ways Bic is penning its own future. Except that they handed the writing instrument over to the masses. Allowing them to write the ending to a story is just plain stupid.

Dr “Write On” Gerlich

Prints Charming

28 08 2012

Film is dead. Processing is dead. Heck, Kodak is almost dead, too. But printing is a whole other proposition. Turns out there is still a present and a future in printing photographs.

Anyone who visits my office will instantly see my walls covered with gigantic canvas prints of my photography made by and Just the other day, I saw a campaign for a startup called Instacube, through which users will be able to wirelessly beam their Instagram pics to a desktop digital viewer. And then they can contact CafePress to order canvas prints of those same Instagram snaps.

Yeah, we really are enamored of our photographic skills, aren’t we? Ansel Adams would have loved living today.

So I was instantly intrigued this morning to read about the new Walgreens Facebook photo app in which you can send your Facebook photos to Walgreens, and it will even include all the Likes, Shares and friendly comments.

“Hey, there’s your next canvas!” my research partner and most excellent friend Dr. Kris Drumheller poked.

“And then again, maybe not,” the nonplussed Marketing professor replied.

But it’s interesting nonetheless. Photography took a sudden turn around 1996 with the introduction of digital cameras. Film, processing and printing started a precipitous decline. Apparently we secretly yearned for printed pics, though, even if all our pics were reduced to a bunch of code. And that’s how and why companies like CafePress and PictureItOnCanvas are doing gangbuster business.

Except for one little problem, in my estimation. Who wants their photos, complete with artistic angle, sepia tone filter and tilt shift blur, to be printed along with FB commentary? I’m not sure I want that on a 5X7, much less a 24X30 canvas print. Furthermore, I’m not sure my FB friends want their comments hanging on my wall, either.

But I do have to credit Walgreens for a very clever app, one that leverages the changes around us, the technology, and the highly social aspect of our computing lives. This is a home run, even if it is near the foul pole.

Sure, some will cry they have been quoted without permission, but that’s the risk we all take with social media. If you don’t want others to Share or Retweet, then don’t post it. Which means that given this latest wrinkle in FB partnerships, we had all better be a lot more careful with what we say in response to other people’s pictures. The last thing you want is your so-called friend with a drinking problem to print pics from your last party together. Worse yet, let’s just suppose you replied with a hearty “Party on, dude! That was one awesome night!”

So as we continue to evolve in the social media era, let us use more caution in all that we say and do, and especially what we do in front of someone else’s camera. While I still applaud Walgreens for a timely novelty, there are some things that you do not want or need to be in print. Or one someone’s desk or wall.

Because your future should not hinge on a photograph from the past, no matter how witty your comment may have been.

Dr “Present Tense” Gerlich

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

27 08 2012

Often, it is hard to know how far you’ve come until your look over your shoulder. It’s kind of like going mountain climbing. The path is steep and rocky, and the air getting thin. But just one look back affirms everything as you see the trail behind vanishing into .the blur of horizon.

Kind of like how things are with the Internet.

Of course, for those of you keeping score, the Internet has been around a very long time. Electronic computers, introduced in the 1950s, and ARPANET, developed in the late-1960s, have both evolved to the internet we all now take for granted. But even the last 10 years have produced an enormous amount of change. Just take a look.

Hey, is that our path I see way off in the distance?

It really is hard to believe we once lived in a land without Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Blogs. If we wanted to share something, we had to meet at the grapevine, or forward it to all of our friends. Liking something meant holding an intense affinity, and more than likely just keeping it to yourself. And real comedians appeared in comedy clubs and occasionally on television. Heck, now they think they are rock stars and have their own YouTube channels.

But perhaps most importantly, it means that everything has changed for marketers. Gone forever are the days of traditional media only campaigns, like TV, radio, print and outdoor. Sure, we still use those media, but nowadays companies hire social media managers to oversee all of the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube feeds the company runs. Oh yeah…and let’s not forget Instagram and Pinterest.

Must be nice to be 22. They’re the ones getting all those cool jobs.

Let’s not forget shopping, either. While BAM (brick-and-mortar) stores will probably never go away, their roles are being redefined. They are becoming more and more showroom, and less and less inventory repository. Which is another way of saying that Amazon is kicking some major league booty these days.

Today’s marketing-savvy professional cannot afford to be without social media nor mobile devices. Anyone wishing to call him or herself a marketer must be on the cutting edge of technology, not the dull back side. Any company wishing to prosper in this hyper-advanced internet era must embrace the changes, or risk losing everything.

And while the path feels like it is only getting steeper, turning around is an option reserved for those whom we otherwise know by this word: Quitter.

Yes, that’s a hard pill to swallow, and perhaps I am being harsh, but this is the new reality. Ten years ago you could get away with having an e-commerce site, and quite possibly nothing at all.

The rarefied air of today’s high-altitude internet may cause us to stop to catch our breath, but it’s the only choice we have. Keep climbing. Suck some air. Trip every once in awhile. It’s OK, because we’re all in this together.

And that really is our path way down there at the horizon. Doesn’t it feel good to have come so far?

Dr “Three Miles High” Gerlich

Pavement Ends

3 07 2012

This is one of my favorite road signs. For those who know me, they know that signals the beginning of real excitement. No telling what my means of transport will be, I become like a kid in the adventure candy store. My SmugMug site holds the keys to some of the adventures I have had the last few years, and not a one of them involves coloring between the lines, so to speak.

And so, in this last blog of the summer term, I hasten to advise you that any paving I may have provided since the 4th of June is coming to an abrupt end. You’re on your own now. Lace up your boots, strap on a helmet, and grab a flashlight and machete. The going may get rough from hereon.

And then again, maybe not. It is up to you to continue the learning adventure. Perhaps you do not desire a career in Marketing, which is perfectly alright. My point (and as Ellen still proclaims, “I do have one!”), is that whatever your chosen field is, keep on keepin’ on. Don’t let speed bumps slow you down. And if you have to, don’t allow fences and gates to keep you from moving forward.

Part of me wishes that I could do what Joe Garner did in Craigslist Joe, a documentary coming the 3rd of August. In it, Joe goes off the grid for a month, living off the land. And Craigslist.

Carrying only a laptop, toothbrush, cell phone and the clothes on his back, Joe seeks to survive exclusively by the good will of people he has never met before…but finds on Craigslist.

I know. This sounds like another A. J. Jacobs book waiting to be written. And I do not wish to be disrespectful to my family, because I would never set out to do this. I think.

Although the subject is compelling, it wilts a little in that the big experiment actually happened w-a-a-y back in December 2009, when Facebook was languishing with only a couple hundred million users. The social media dinosaurs still trod the interwebs.

But it still sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. Garner was out to make a point (and it is a point some are still trying to make today): he uses technology and social media to break out of the bubble that critics say we have created for ourselves in the networked era.

Garner definitely went where no pavement exists, and in the process, had all of his needs met. By strangers. Maybe not extravagantly, but certainly pragmatically. To be sure, the denizens of Craigslist are often scammers, spammers and creepers. OK, and sometimes murderers. This place is not for the faint of status.

Yet I admire Garner for venturing beyond the sign. For crawling through the barbed wire. For climbing the gate. Because beyond those little inconveniences lay true adventure. It is Life. Lived. Large.

And so as we bring this term to a close, may the laces of your boots be unfrayed. May the batteries of your mental flashlight be fresh. May your machete be sharpened, honed on the stone of knowledge prior. And may your fuel tank of adventure be pegged on F.

Because the road does not end.

Dr “What’s Next On Your List?” Gerlich

Students And Their Phones

3 07 2012

I think I must be one of only a few professors who allow students to use their phones while in class.

Of course, I must add a side note clarifying that I seldom, if ever, actually teach in a classroom. But when I do (and if I ever do again), phones are allowed. I know that SXSW attendees tweet with reckless abandon throughout speeches; it is likewise OK if my students are updating statuses, tweeting, texting or surfing the web.

Except on tests.

I think my lax policy stems from the fact that I use my phone wherever I go also. Multitasking is my middle name. As long as it does not disturb others around me,then I am OK with it (and with you doing it as well). I don’t use it in movie theatres (the light is annoying), but many other places are fair game. Oh, and for the record, I try to not use it when in the company of other people (such as dinner), unless there is an absolute emergency.

Notice also that not once did I say a thing about talking on the phone. No, I am referring to using it for its myriad other purposes. If my 14-year-old is reflective of her cohort, talking is so lame anyway. No one actually talks on phone these days, Dad.

The fact of the matter is that college students are in a relationship with their smartphones. Judging by Mashable’s Infographic, they would essentially be lost without them.

The implications are huge, because as today’s college students grow older and are replaced with yet another generation of tech addicts, it means that there will be an increasing number of people for whom living and using the phone (for whatever purpose) are synonymous. It will be up to businesses to figure out how to speak to a growing number of people for whom television and computers have less and less relevance.

Which is another way of saying that the future invariably holds much more marketing coming at all of us via our smartphones. It may be the only weay some companies have of reaching their target markets.

Does this mean that advertising budgets must increase? No, not at all. As each new communication medium has come along, it simply means the advertising pie gets sliced into ever smaller pieces. And businesses will have to decide how to allocate their budget dollars.

This does not necessarily mean that more and more companies are going to start shifting money from traditional media to social. In fact, it may not happen at all, depending on the company, their product(s), and the effectiveness of the advertising vehicle. Earlier this year, General Motors decided to cease advertising on social media, and instead take a more old-school approach. But while they have ditched Facebook’s paid ads, it doesn’t mean a thing about their free corporate Pages.

As I have too many times lately, why pay for something when you can get it for free?

Still, the general trend will continue to be toward smartphone advertising (in one form or another), because that is where people’s eyeballs are glued. And if you do find yourself in one of my rare campus courses, use it freely but with discretion. I mean, unless you happen to receive a really compelling coupon or something, at which point I may have to confiscate your phone.

Dr “Professor’s Perogative” Gerlich

Happy Holiday

3 07 2012

Another holiday has come and gone. No, you did not miss Fathers Day (I hope). And no, you have not just awakened from a coma and missed Independence Day. Actually, the holiday was right under our noses today. The only problem is that few people even knew it.

In case you missed it (and most people did), today was Social Media Day. Mashable started the tradition in 2010 in recognition of the growing significance of the medium in our daily lives. So far, 17 cities and three states have jumped on the bandwagon and observed the holiday, not exactly enough to get the folks at Hallmark excited, but a start.

The irony is that, while the holiday went unnoticed by most, our usage of is higher than ever before.

Not that social media have been around that long, mind you. For folks like Mashable and geeks like me, social media are as much a part of the day as brushing teeth and getting dressed. And while I am not totally bonkers over it, no doubt there are some who would tweet these daily rituals.

Still, there is an extremely wide variance among users regarding how much they use social media. Even among my relatively young MBA Evolutionary Marketing students, there are a handful who use social media little or not at all. Others say they often go several days without checking in.

And then there are people like their teacher (ahem) who considers social media to be the Great Aggregator. It has been life-changing for me, ever since I first signed on to Twitter in 2007, and later made FB my more frequent home. Rare is the day in which I don’t post something. And given the project I am launching tomorrow with my oldest daughter at EverydayPic, it looks like the next 365 days are already spoken for (dangling preposition and all).

But the prominence as well as redeeming value of social media are best understood as that aggregator: It is my news source, not just of friends who brushed their teeth, went on vacation with their family, or took a new job, but also breaking news, “Shares” my friends have gleaned elsewhere, and company press releases. In other words, it is my chief information source.

Which is another way of saying I watch a lot less news television these days, and read a lot fewer magazines. Why? Simple. I do not need to. Facebook gives me everything, I mean everything, I want and need.

Sure, I am likely to then click over to a news website, or run to a television for expanded coverage, but my primary source of all things informative, interesting and yes, sometimes banal, is now coming to me via social media. Between tablet, phone and computer, I am seldom more than a few seconds away from my information drip irrigation system, a steady supply of knowledge (some good, some bad, some ridiculous) coursing through my brain.

And I like it. No, I am not hooked (although I have been told otherwise). I know how to walk away from it, and will do so in late July when we go to the mountains for two weeks of off-the-grid camping. Yes, I know where to go if I want my fix. I also drop down into town for a beer every few days, and can easily hop on if I need a fix.

More than anything, social media have simply changed the way we communicate…inter-personally, with companies, entertainers and news outlets. It has been a paradigm shift the magnitude of which we may not fully understand for years.

But that’s OK. We are still clearing our way through this jungle. Given that was technically the first social media site in 1995, we are all still babes in these woods. We have much to learn. And we still have much to shed. It was a nice holiday for me. I posted quite a few pictures to various private groups to which I belong, but only after having some fun on my own page earlier in the morning. Oh, and I spent some quality time with Becca, my oldest daughter and EverydayPic partner. You see, while I think I know this stuff, all I have to do is hang out with a 14-year-old for the afternoon. In the words of TV’s venerable Sergeant Schultz, “I know nutting!” (insert thick German accent)

While there were no fireworks to mark today’s occasion, we were aglow knowing that we could not launch such a project had social media not come along. And Hallmark can just settle down, because as this holiday takes off, it will be one celebrated without printed cards. After all, with all the funny e-cards people are posting these days, there are going to be a bunch of unemployed greeting card illustrators in Kansas City. Maybe they need to update their Facebook Profile and start looking for a job.

Dr “What’s Your Status?” Gerlich

London Calling

3 07 2012

I remember watching the 1968 Summer Olympics that were hosted by Mexico City. My family and I would gather around the 19″ black-and-white television in the basement den my parents had built. That Olympiad is remembered today for the Black Power salute, which at the time came amid much racial strife here in the States. The reception was fuzzy at best, yet I marveled at the notion of being able to watch coverage that originated all…the…way…down in Mexico.

Go ahead and give a bored-to-tears 21C slow clap.

Last year, I was fortunate to visit London with two colleagues and a couple of dozen students. We were treated to tours of the Olympic village, and got to see first hand how $16 billion can be used to host what amounts to the world’s largest sporting event. In a few short weeks, the entire world will be watching the Summer Olympics, not on miserable little black-and-white televisions, but state-of-the-art flat panels.

And mobile apps and online..

NBC, the Official Broadcaster of the Olympics (or whatever their title is), is pushing 3500 hours of live streaming video to a special website as well as mobile apps. Which is another way of saying that NBC is making sure we’ll be able to watch from wherever.

Dang. Too bad they don’t have curling in the Summer Olympics. I’d be all over that.

But NBC is also adding a huge social component to its coverage, which has both positive and negative implications. As we all know, using social media is the fastest way to attract bees to honey. Their admission of turning this into a Twitter Olympics says that NBC is committed to putting international athletics into the hands of everyone.

But it also says that NBC really does not understand social media, because these things can get out of hand. When Alan Wurtzel said, “…and we’re going to spend a lot of time trying to understand how people are connecting with each other, and what it means,” he was really saying, “We have no idea what’s going to happen here, but we think it could be big.”

Yeah, like inviting matches to a refinery.

NBC had better tread carefully, because Twitter is the internet’s loose cannon. Lowe’s learned this the hard way last December when it canceled its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim,” and Twitterers created the #loweshatesmuslims hashtag. The same thing happened after Susan G. Komen made its bonehead move earlier this year. Oh, and when McDonald’s put its own hashtag on the griddle and served it between two buns.

Einsteins, all of them.

As long as NBC social media managers monitor things, they might be able to utilize social media for its strengths. But if Twitter users around the world unite for a gigantic bitchfest over who won or lost the gold, it’s a riot waiting to happen. And faster than Usain Bolt can run the hundred meter.

While I praise NBC for pushing the limits this year, I have to say a silent prayer for them. This one could be tricky.

Kinda makes watching it in black-and-white sound like a pretty good proposition after all.

Dr “Medal Head” Gerlich

Why Buy Milk When The Cow Is Free?

3 07 2012

It’s hard to get people to buy things when they can get it for nothing. Sure, there are numerous companies that have convinced us we need to buy our drinking water, and others who entice us with trendy (and pricey) oxygen bars, but let’s face it: there’s little point in going to the dairy section if you’ve got a cow at home. Worse yet is when a company lets others milk that cow, but then turns around and try to sell them more milk.

Kind of like Facebook is doing with advertisers.

The farther Facebook gets from its IPO, the more important it becomes for the company to show profitability. The only problem is that it has given companies little reason to pay for advertising when they can create their own Pages for free. It’s kind of like having a second (and in the case of some companies, several hundred) web site(s) for nothing. It has gotten so bad that, while marketers swear by Facebook, they just don’t want (or need) to advertise there.

Given the simplicity of creating a free Page, it is worse than leaving your house keys under the mat. Facebook has gone off and left the door wide open. Come on in. Take what you like.

Worse yet, there are numerous third-party providers providing turnkey custom FB Pages, either for free or premium versions (like Wix).

Given the huge number of scams that still appear on Facebook regularly (“Find you who has been viewing your pictures!”), users are increasingly reluctant to click things. And that includes the ads on the right-hand-side. Never mind if those ads might have been placed there legitimately (and after much wrangling of keywords). The 900 million residents of Facebookland are more likely and willing to simply Like a company’s page, and then see updates on their News Feed.

Which means, for all intents and purposes, that the News Feed has become the most valuable real estate on the Facebook screen, followed by the company’s Page, for those who want to learn more. It’s almost like having the newspaper delivered right to your front porch, because the News Feed becomes your day-long drip irrigation of information. Friends. Family. Organizations. Celebrities. And companies.

Tell me again why companies should be paying for this?

I can see it coming. Just like the dotcom darlings of the late-90s and early-2000s had to cave in to shareholder pressure and hire old-school managers with a few ounces of common sense, so, too, will Facebook have to acquiesce. It’s a great idea and all that, but if it can’t make money, it has no economically redeeming value. A bunch of hip, cool 20-somethings may totally get social media, but they simply do not get the money part.

Believe me, shareholders would rather lose a couple hundred million users if in the process the company could just figure out a revenue model.

Facebook wrongly assumed that the Google approach to ad placement would also work in social media. The only problem is that search is very different from social networking. One is very purposive and specific, while the other is more general in its entertaining and information gathering.

And if this dairy is going to make it, young farmer Zuckerberg needs to figure out how to quit letting companies milk him for all he’s worth.

Dr “Moovin’ On” Gerlich

Cookie Monster?

26 06 2012

Sometimes I wonder about companies and organizations. They do funny things. Not funny “ha-ha,” but funny “what were they thinking?” Like Lowe’s when it canceled its advertising on TLC’s All American Muslim last December. Like the Susan G. Komen Foundation when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood last January, and then later flip-flopped. Like McDonald’s when it created its own Twitter hashtag and expected people to play nicely with it.

In all three, social media played a significant role, and mostly not good. Things get out of hand. People go crazy. And the companies and organizations get crazier.

Which explains my wonderment with Kraft Food’s decisions yesterday to announce on its Oreo Fan Page that it supports gay rights. Now before typing another sentence, let me be clear that I have no problem with gay rights, and I wish to ensure them the same rights that I have as a heterosexual. The rainbow Oreo was a mighty attractive image on the page, and made it perfectly clear of its support.

I furthermore have no problem with Kraft Foods supporting gay rights either. It’s just that, by making this announcement, it unintentionally opened a can of worms. Unleashed a tempest in a tea pot. Invited the cookie monster inside.

And boy did it ever create controversy. Naturally, comments were as far apart as night from day, but like all too many a good party turned bad, the conversation turned to religion.

Watch where you step. There’s dogma on the floor.

Let me also state that I have no problem with people having their own religious beliefs. I have mine. You have yours. And let us keep them that way. But I am sure the last thing on Kraft’s collective mind yesterday was their Facebook page being turned into a biblical debate.

Which leads me to wonder why Kraft felt the need to come out with its support. Certainly they had to know that someone, somewhere, would disagree, and do so in a very vocal way. The public commons we know as social media, though, not only invite everyone to join the dialogue, but gives them a stage, microphone and amplifier along with it.

Kraft could have supported gay rights without opening itself up to invective by not broadcasting on its Facebook page; instead, it could have sponsored events, made donations, etc., to causes and activities central to the LGBT community, and perhaps done so in a way that would not alienate other customers.

The court of public opinion often has a hung jury, and sometimes the unwitting defendant hangs itself. Kraft did just this yesterday. Sometimes it is better to love everyone without giving someone a reason to hate on you.

Because in this case the Cookie Monster has a bigger appetite for destruction than he does cookies.

Dr “Make Mine Triple Double” Gerlich