Fake opinions – what should brands do when they are in a Durex-DelhiPolice mess?

Does Durex offer better ‘protection’ than Delhi Police? That’s what the very, very viral meme claims and it went viral for a reason. It is topical, makes a point (whether you agree with it or not is a different topic) and makes it in the usual tongue-in-cheek manner that Durex is known for, on social media.

Only issue – it is not officially from Durex. It is created by someone not connected with the brand or its agency.

After it had gone massively viral, on Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram (among other channels), with very few people even wondering if it is really by Durex and more people merely sharing it as a way of making a statement/expression, Durex (RB – Reckitt Benckiser Group) finally tweeted that they did not create this.

The Durex-Delhi Police meme is only one of many such memes where something has been created to make it look like it is from the brand. Why? Because it is so very easy to create such things these days.

Back in 2015, Lenskart made a horrendous gaffe of using the Nepal Earthquake to offer a promotion!

Lenskart realized their mistake eventually and blogged an apology.

But the next day someone else created a message that looked like it was from Lenskart, and that went viral too!

Not just brand messages, it is very easy to ‘create’ even a tweet from any brand – just take their actual tweet, cut the tweet out and add anything on top of it in the same font as the tweet. This happened to CNN-IBN news in 2015.

And they had to explain that it was a fake tweet.

Is it ‘fake news’? Or, can it be called ‘fake news’? Not really. It is not ‘news’, but an opinion. It is also satire, whether it is from the brand or not. It intends to make people laugh/smirk at the chutzpah of connecting a brand in context with a topical opinion. The only element of ‘fake’ is that it is created in a way to make people believe that the brand was behind it.

Why is this dangerous? Because ‘offended’ people can start outraging against the brand and perhaps cause real-world damage (in terms of 0-rating on app stores, calls for boycott etc.) to the brand depending on how non-essential the brand’s products and services are. If the product is essential, those damages would be limited to mere online shouting (like a boycott on Chinese products is completely impossible).

The bigger problem for brands: what should they do? Rather, when should they do what?

Look no further than Netflix India, given its recent rejoinder on Twitter. When pro-CAA folks used Netflix’s name to garner calls to a toll-free number, Netflix was very fast to offer a disclaimer, and also coat it in self-deprecating humor to make it go as viral as the fake message. The point was to be clued in to what is being spoken about the brand and intervene swiftly.

This is one of the most purposeful use-cases of social media monitoring. To be able to ascertain potential risks to brand reputation and intervene at the right time. What is the right time? It is as close to the damaging message as possible so that people who are sharing the damaging message are more likely to see the clarification as well. More the delay, more the damage since the damaging message travels far and wide without a clarification being pointed out in response (not necessarily by the brand alone, but by people who may have seen the clarification and add it to their friends’ shares of the damaging message, as a way of feeling pride about fact-checking).

Think of social media monitoring like insurance. Brands need to spend money on it and keep at it even in the face of no immediate or tangible/visible returns. But it pays off itself more than adequately during a crisis.

As far as clarifications go, here’s one from Yamaha Japan, not over fake news, but for a trend that damages its reputation!

It seems people are having fun with ‘playing Ghosn’, imitating former Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn, who fled Japan by hiding inside a Yamaha musical instrument case! So, Yamaha has (been forced to) issued an advisory against the practice!

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