Digital Intelligence Is a Powerful Tool When Advertising Gaffes Rear Their Ugly Heads

Reebok dropped rapper Rick Ross’s song because it refers to drugging a woman and having sex without her knowledge.

Mountain Dew pulled a video created by rap artist Tyler, The Creator because it depicts a battered white waitress identifying her assailant from a lineup featuring black men and a goat.

Nike initiated a social media uproar by running an ad featuring Tiger Woods proclaiming, “Winning takes care of everything.”

In an effort to stand out and be remembered, brands and their advertising agencies walk a fine line. And sometimes, they cross it, veering into the edgy and outright offensive. The public outcry can be immediate and overwhelming in the digital age where everyone has the opportunity to voice an opinion. Brand executives aren’t going to base decisions on gut reactions to media headlines, so how should they formulate a response? Which analytical tools can help them make informed decisions?

Digital and social media analytics combined with sentiment technology is the answer.

GenSent Insights conducted an in-depth study leveraging General Sentiment’s proprietary natural language processing and text analytics technology. The study analyzed each brand’s online volume and sentiment score, which measures the tone surrounding a topic on an indexed scale that ranges from -100 to +100.

Reebok’s sentiment score began to fall on March 27, soon after its controversial commercial ran. Sentiment fell first on Twitter, dropping from +69 to -65 in just two days. News media sources followed suit a few days later, falling from +64 to -34 in six days. For the next two weeks, sentiment remained negative as women’s activist groups protested and Rick Ross issued half-hearted apologies. The real media storm did not hit until April 10, when Reebok finally acquiesced to the public outcry and terminated the relationship. Online mentions spiked to more than ten times the average on April 11, with Twitter peaking at more than 14,000 posts and bottoming out with a sentiment score of -75.

By April 24, Reebok’s sentiment had returned to +50 as the crisis began to fade. However, just a week later, Reebok’s CEO sent scores plummeting again when he criticized Ross’s advisors and a published photo of the two together fueled speculation about a reconciliation. With no further news or comments, Reebok’s sentiment gradually recovered, nearly reaching pre-controversy levels on May 7.

Mountain Dew contended with simultaneous issues in May. Its controversial commercial using a Lil Wayne song caused sentiment to drop to an average of -75 on May 2. News media sources reached a shockingly low score of -86. The volume of online mentions rose six times above the norm. Pepsi apologized and terminated its relationships with Lil Wayne and Tyler, The Creator and let the issue run its course. As a result, Mountain Dew’s sentiment returned to the positive range within two weeks.

Nike’s controversy had a relatively minimal effect on its brand. Its sentiment score fell slightly, dipping from +72 prior to the ad to +58 afterward. While online mentions rose during the period, the issue never dominated the conversation on any single day. Nike did not apologize and chose to defend the ad with a short statement. Its sentiment score more than recovered, reaching +76 exactly two weeks after the ad originally aired. In fact, Nike’s sentiment score was more significantly impacted when Nike-sponsored Olympian Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend. At the time, the company’s sentiment score fell to a low of +9.

What can digital analytics and sentiment technology teach us?
•Measuring the extent of the public response can help determine the best course of action to take: a proactive and aggressive response to get out ahead of an issue, a short and simple conciliatory apology or no response at all.
•Had Reebok listened to the online conversations surrounding its brand, it would have been able to react as soon as sentiment began to fall and potentially mitigate the severity of the controversy.
•Tracking conversations over time can indicate when it is safe to go back in the water. Once Nike addressed and resolved its issue, the public’s perception returned to normal fairly quickly. Other times, issues beyond a company’s control can delay a return to business as usual.
•Pepsi acted decisively in resolving its controversy and was rewarded accordingly. Prolonging an issue only delays the recovery of a brand’s reputation.
•Analyzing the source of the negative conversations, such as Twitter, news media, blogs or other social media sites, can direct tailored responses through the appropriate channel to reach the target audience.

Brands and their advertising agencies will always try to produce cutting-edge ads that will break through the clutter and truly stand out. Sometimes, they will succeed. Sometimes, they will cross a line. Digital analytics and sentiment technology can help brands make smart, timely decisions.
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