Should brands bow down to social media ‘bullying’? Fleurieu Milk & Yoghurt Company, a small dairy in South Australia, has provided a good case in point. In order to secure a contract with Emirates Airlines, Fleurieu was obliged to stamp its yoghurt range with a Halal certification. Little did the company know that this would trigger a hate campaign.
Australia has a vocal anti-Muslim fringe. After the Halal-certification became known, Fleurieu was swamped with hate mail and its Facebook page became a sounding board for racist and bigoted sentiment. The company, citing fear for their staff and loss of revenue, was ‘forced’ to drop the certification, thus losing the contract.
Fleurieu isn’t the only brand that has received the wrath of anti-Halal lunacy in Australia. Four n’ Twenty Pies, a classic snack food down under, has also been a target. (With Indonesia a major trading partner, Halal foods is a booming business in Australia). But blessed with greater resources, their reaction has been calm, patient and considered. Each negative tweet or Facebook post has been answered personally, pointing out that Halal pies only make up 5% of their range, so the great Aussie icon is far from in danger of becoming Islam-ified.
Dealing with adverse social media is testing for any brand. As this article points out, there are no hard and fast rules, though in general, digital bullies should be dealt with in the same way as any other. Knowing when to respond (on a personal level), walk away or simply delete is key. Yet brands and their marketing departments are also in a unique position to turn the abuse into something engaging and entertaining, as these examples show. Sometimes just a witty tweet will suffice (Old Spice to Taco Bell: ‘Why is it that ‘fire sauce’ isn’t made from real fire? Seems like false advertising.’ Taco Bell to Old Spice: ‘Is your deodorant made with really old spices’?)
Fleurieu found themselves in the eye of the anti-Halal storm when South Australia’s investment and trade minister declared that prejudice had no place in Australia and urged brands to resist cyber bullying.
So in hindsight what could this small, local company have done? Creating an ally with Emirates themselves (a competition for flights for example) or providing an on-line platform for considered Halal debate are just two routes they could have taken.
Fleurieu’s Facebook page is still filled with odious comments, with as many lauding their decision as those criticizing them for bowing down to the bigots. Either way, the company has unfortunately, in many eyes, lost credibility.
So is responding to cyber bullies a case of ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t’?. No – it’s a unique opportunity to get your brand’s creative juices flowing, so always better if you do.