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BW Businessworld

The Margin Of Error For Brands Is Diminishing

Marketers are truly living in interesting times. The recent experiences of Pepsi, Nivea and the airline wars are all proof that the consumer is watching, and in many instances, not forgiving…

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

May you live in interesting times,” someone must have wished this upon the marketing and advertising folks at some point, because the Chinese proverb is considered a curse in popular references. If you are even remotely connected to anything social media related, you already know the Pepsi-Kendall Jenner story by now. Onliners took to all forms of social platforms to make Pepsi regret the ad that some Adlanders have dubbed as the most awful ad ever made. From questioning the very choice of the ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ star in a protest, to leveraging a protest scenario itself, consumers across the world have unanimously criticised the film. Even though Pepsi duly apologised and took down the ad, once on the Internet, nothing really goes away. This faux pas is going to hurt brand Pepsi for a while.

Earlier this month, Nivea too drew flak for its campaign for ‘Invisible for Black and White’ deodorant. The slogan ‘White is Purity’, which Nivea later explained was one half of the next phase that was going to be ‘Black is Strength’, created a controversy for being racist. Nivea too had to apologise and pull down the ad from its social feeds. Needless to say, the ad images are plastered all over the Internet.

The United Airlines epic PR disaster, after ill treating a passenger, and the ongoing ad wars between the Middle Eastern airlines is yet another example of the fact that not only everyone is watching every move that global brands are making, but they are also vocal about their responses. Consumers are not in a forgiving mood.

What does this mean for marketers? The very, very wrong answer is, ‘play it safe’. Consumers have raised the benchmark, and just any yardstick used to measure good advertising won’t work. They are not just looking for ads that entertain or are informative and genuine. They are seeking basic sensibility along with some sensitivity. And that is not a tall order. In fact, this really should be hygiene.

On the flip side, anyone can make a mistake, and brands and corporates are, or at least should be, allowed their share — may be less than others, given the power and resources they wield, but they should be. The over exposed world of today, where everyone may as well be living in a fish tank, has made that part difficult.

Recently, Indian e-commerce giant Snapdeal attracted some misdirected criticism for just sounding like a brand (Snapchat) whose CEO Evan Spiegel made a ‘poor market’ comment for India.

The more such instances come to light, the more evident it becomes that the margin for error is diminishing.

That, from a marketer’s perspective, is one scary situation to be in. Marketers today are faced with significantly more pressure, than any of their predecessors, to deal with an attention-deficit, not-really-willing-to-be-convinced and spoilt-for-choice consumer. Yes, there is the power of data and technology that has armed the marketer with sharper guns and stronger ammunition, but let’s face it — these are areas that are still being understood. The moment marketers think they have figured out their ‘strategy’, something new lies in wait to shake it all up.

It is important today, more than ever before, for the marketer to become the ‘Tin Man’ who succeeds in his quest — a machine powered by artificial intelligence searching for a heart. All they need is to find Dororthy Gale and a wizard.