Just as I had set my heart on dedicating a blog post to the low tolerance I have #Beliebers, #OneDirectioners, and Kim Kardashian fans, this happened:
Ever since Oreo‘s success with their Superbowl tweet, better known as “The Tweet Heard Around the World,” brands have been trying to replicate this type of “real time advertisement” with big news event or trending topics on Twitter. There is not a single holiday that goes by when I don’t see a brand promoted post on my newsfeed. On days of remembrance like 9/11, the behaviors of some of the brands that engaged with the hashtag #Neverforget, peeved me as they crossed the line between recognizing the importance of the holiday and masking their disingenuous marketing efforts behind their messaging.
AT&T and the LA Lakers were the brands that caught my attention on 9/11. AT&T was first on initiating the shocking graphic with the hashtag as the Twitter community quickly responded with waves of angry tweets about its inappropriate post. The brand displayed a photo of the 9/11 Memorial “Tribute in Lights” on the screen of a Blackberry Z10. The tweet rendered enormously bad press that the company quickly deleted the tweet.
Then the LA Lakers (see above). They featured a picture of their star shooting guard, Kobe Bryant, with a very minute commemorative ribbon and an American flag with the text “#NeverForget” strewn across the player’s photo, the nebulous image was received poorly by the public and soon was deleted.
These two brands exemplify one of my Twitter pet peeves, as corporations attempt to brand and commercialize holidays. Twitter‘s platform reflect Nancy Baym‘s characteristics of new media mentioned in her book “Personal Connections in the Digital Age” that allow for brands to take part in this “real time advertising” behavior that runs rampant on major holidays. All seven of her concepts when approaching new media, which include interactivity, temporal structure, social cues, reach, storage, replicability, and mobility, come into play when dissecting some brand’s behavior on 9/11.
Several other brands other than the two mentioned, attempted to partake in real time advertising that would gain attention organically by including a hashtag on their branded content. For brands, being at the right place at the right time has become the goal, particularly due to Twitter’s technical interactivity, “a medium’s capability of letting human user manipulate the machine via its interface,” allowing you to “talk back to the big company or you can talk back to individual citizens” (Baym 7). This type of immediate communication afforded by Twitter is called synchronous communication. Twitter has changed the structure of temporal structure of communication between big companies and consumers. In AT&T and Lakers’ case, as the negative publicity garnered for the brand on Twitter, the brands quickly reacted by deleting the tweet and responding to their consumers by tweeting an explanation for the post, demonstrating the synchronous communication within advertisement that was not possible before.
These branded graphics often lack social cues that Baym also mentions– the extra bit of information that offers more context when interacting that makes meaning. The public misconstrues the intent behind these graphics and because there wasn’t enough context to relay their message. Rather these brands relied on the trending hashtag to give meaning to the picture that was ultimately in bad taste on a sacred day of remembrance like 9/11. The featured two examples demonstrate the lack of these cues as they deleted their messages and had to issue a statement to clarify their intent.
Lastly, it is interesting to note that the power structure between the advertisers and the consumers has changed drastically. As mentioned before, technical interactivity of the social media allows consumers to respond and make the traditionally asynchronous lines of communication into synchronous ones. Twitter has given a place for consumers to aggregate and transcend their message into one strong voice that makes for a more effective response from big companies. Consumers now wield some power over big companies because they are able to control the last four of Baym’s concepts of new media. This single tweet from Justin Stangel, who is the executive producer of the Late Show with David Letterman, demonstrates the intricacies of these concepts.
Stangel’s tweet denies the ephemerality of AT&T’s tweet. Even though the brand deleted the tweet, Stangel’s screenshot of his phone and his call to action to his followers ensures that the tweet will endure and be replicated (retweeted). Although the number of retweets does not compare to his huge followership (65,116 followers), it is the fact that he has important influencers, such as the New York Post and Mashable, who follow him that allows for his reach of his audience to go well beyond the 172 people who retweeted him. Thus this kind of behavior makes it harder for brands to recover from their mistakes and relinquishes their power to the consumers when their bad messaging lingers longer than they had intended.
With the shift of the advertising landscape to the world of social, brands are trying to distinguish how to use the medium to their advantage and determine the lines of etiquette of advertising on national holidays. However given the recent activity, brands should take extra precaution when posting branded content with duplicitous messaging, especially on days dedicated to remember a tragic point in history. Though we live in a data cluttered world where people’s attention is the highest commodity, there should still be a respectable and appropriate way for brands to take part in days of remembrance like 9/11. Perhaps after these year’s brand fails on Twitter, their mistakes will help distinguish the line for future advertising efforts and learn to #Neverdothis again.
*original GIF composed of brands who engaged with #NeverForget