Businesses love to participate in just about anything they can get their money-grubbing hands on. There's not a single brand that doesn't make a holiday-themed campaign, and if there's no holiday to campaign around, then they invent their own. Yeah, we're looking at you "National Drive-thru Day." It seems that brands just can't help but insert themselves into every single human moment, conversation, or hashtag that hits the trending page. It's obnoxious, to say the least, and I mean the least. At most, brands can become incredibly self-destructive and tone-deaf by trying to participate in things that they really really should just leave alone.
Probably the most cited example of this is that infamous 2017 Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, where Pepsi decided that a can of soda could end racism. (Can of Twisted Tea maybe ...)
For a huge company, you'd think Pepsi would have the means to run this crap by a focus group.
Of course, this is an example on a large scale, but it was a humbling lesson for many brands on learning to keep quiet and not comment on every single thing that happens to be at the forefront of the conversation.
Well ... most brands, at least.
We saw an uncountable amount of brands, businesses, and entities make this same mistake again last year, which I'm sure is unsurprising for many of us. 2020 was a benchmark year in many ways, with conversations about racial justice, police brutality, healthcare, and climate change rightfully taking up a large amount of the forefront of the American dialogue. And as always, corporations sought to make claims and participate in this conversation.
Now don't be fooled at all. Remember -- brands aren't human, they aren't your friends, and they don't have your back. Businesses exist for one reason, and that is to sell products and make money. That will always be their guiding force. So when your Twitter feed is suddenly full of corporations providing commentary on what major event happens to be the flavor of the day, look at it with more than a healthy handful of contemptuous skepticism.
The events of January 6th were no exception. So many businesses did not heed the lessons that 2020 had been teaching about learning to read a room. Many corporations were quick to Twitter to weigh in on the Capitol Siege. Now we get to play my favorite game: brands that opened their mouth when they should have left well enough alone.
Starting in our line up of failed tweets is Chevron. You know Chevron, right? The oil and energy giant currently facing lawsuits for environmental damage and climate change, and dumped 800,000 gallons of oil in California in 2019? Yeah, that Chevron. Well, they tweeted out this statement:
"Also ... fill up your tank, we guess?"
Perhaps the $180 billion company really stands for peaceful democratic transfers of power. Or perhaps the reason they're looking forward to working with Biden has more to do with the Trump administration telling them to pull out of the oil fields in Venezuela as part of a strategy to introduce a free and fair democracy to a currently politically tumultuous country that is struggling to have a peaceful transfer of power ... Clearly, Chevron is a shining beacon for advocating fair democracy with no other motives, but then again, when do we look to Chevron for advice on morality?
Next up on our hitlist is AXE, the makers of the scented spray that terrorizes high school locker rooms everywhere. The company decided to use a photo of AXE body spray that got left behind following the storming of the Capitol as a photo op.
As if this whole shit show didn't stink enough.
Perhaps it was a prudent move of the social media managers running the AXE account to cut off any commentary about the stray can before Twitter really went wild. I mean, is it really unsurprising that AXE is the preferred deodorant of White Nationalists and Alt-Righters everywhere? Couldn't really have asked for a better product placement.
The Coca-Cola Company also weighed in, following the action from Business Roundtable, which the company is a part of.
Truthfully, I'm surprised that Coke weighed in. I mean, last time a soda brand thought they should jump into the conversation about 'unlawful and violent events,' they got thoroughly roasted and rightfully outcast by everyone. At least a tweet is a lot less dangerous and costly of a move than a failed million-dollar ad campaign, *cough* Pepsi.
But Coke wasn't the only member of Business Roundtable that jumped up to bat. Bank of America's CEO dropped the following statement:
Words like these should fall on deaf ears. First, who cares what Bank of America has to say. They're a bank; just do bank things (but, you know, maybe less ghoulishly than normal). Second, we should look skeptically at all Business Roundtable CEOs who are coming out in 'support of a peaceful transfer of power,' especially since they are not saying clearly that they are against the actions of the insurgents. Even though they have now come out in support of a peaceful transfer of power, Business Roundtable has been notably supportive of Trump and his actions. Any attempts to distance now is just a play at garnering some good PR now that he's on his way out. Third, Bank of America counts itself among many corporations that have donated money to Republicans who came out in support of the attempted coup. Judd Legum of Popular Information reported the following:
"... Mainly because there's no way to convey awkward throat-clearing in email form."
Bank of America is not the most notable on that list, falling 16th in spending on Popular Information's top 20 corporations who are supporting Republican members of Congress who attempted to subvert democracy. Let's be really clear: brands ... you can say whatever you want on social media; it's just always going to fall flat. If you actually believe in these stances you're adopting -- and it means more to you than just seeming 'woke' to the social scrolling masses -- then put a little money and action where your mouth is. Don't do it because you get to write off your donations or make back that money 10-fold because of the good PR. Take a loss and own it. Maybe we'll believe you then.
We could sit here and list every single corporation that has used this event as a publicity opportunity, but we'd be here all night. Remember, if, say, an underwear brand takes a stand on something, it's just because the people who sell underwear think it'll win them brownie points.
However, there's one more company on the list we should hit as an example of bad social management: Morning Brew. There comes a time during major events like this that you should really consider whether you ought to be posting, and more than just like the examples above. You really should strongly consider hitting the pause button on all of your scheduled posts. It's tough deciding to halt a whole social schedule that you worked so hard on, but it's hardly the time to be peddling your products and sharing your regularly broadcasted materials. Morning Brew seemed to see the situation and let their posts, now deleted, carry on uninterrupted in spite of the incredibly surreal events going on that day.
"... So if you're trading today, we're bullish on guns and bearish on representative democracy."
We kind of hit the perfect storm with that tweet series of a company really not knowing how to read the room. Looks like all these businesses and brands have to spend 2021 learning it all over again. The question of should you pause or not is an easy one in my book -- there are far bigger things at stake than your readership or your bottom line. Just take a break from social for the day. Your audience isn't going anywhere, and there are far bigger things that they have to worry about.
In what is probably the best advice you can get as a brand, and likely my single favorite brand response to the Capitol Siege, the company dbrand said it best:
Some wise words, ironically.
Surprisingly enough, though, there are ways businesses have been striking back at Trump for inciting violence and working against our free election process. The soon to be ex-president has been kicked off or restricted by pretty much every social media platform, from Facebook to Twitch and Twitter. However, Shopify did do one better. They fully removed several of Trump's eCommerce sites, including a campaign store.
Now that's a good example of what we were talking about earlier -- a company standing by something they believe in by presumably taking a profit loss. This is a good example of a brand putting action behind their words and, as far as I can tell, has yet to get on Twitter to brag about it and attempt to churn out some new followers.
As much as we hate brands for pretending like they're real humans and fakely rallying around issues and causes we care about, we do have a little bit of recourse when it comes to how we want businesses to act -- money. We vote with our dollar. The only reason why brands keep up this charade is that they still get our purchases. Their tweets still get high engagement, and there are still some people who don't realize they're getting played, cheering them on in the comments. If we stop and their metrics drop as a result, then they'll likely end this fakeness because there's no positive feedback loop to bring into a strategy meeting. Maybe a bank can go back to being just a bank, or a can of soda, just another sugary soft-drink.
But hey, a guy can only dream when we're living in the landscape of late-stage capitalism.
Top image: In Green/Shutterstock