Like a Brand, Lose a Lawsuit? Read Your Social Media Small Print

General Mills logo

Image Credit: Wikimedia

A General Mills update intended to provide clarity for customers is raising more legal questions than answers this week, as new wording in its privacy policy suggests that joining the brand’s “online communities” will now prohibit them from taking the company to court.

The company has subsequently clarified that it isn’t targeting the likes of Facebook fans with this policy requirement for arbitration over lawsuits to resolve complaints, saying simply that “arbitration is an efficient way to resolve disputes.” Even so, the language is broad enough that it could apply to any number of online spaces where customers gather to interact with General Mills and its products.

Whether or not “forced arbitration” clauses will actually be enforceable could vary from state to state, and clause to contract, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of concerns from both media and customers. The relationship between brands and fans on social media is coming under closer scrutiny as a result.

social media under a magnifying glass

Image Credit: ePublicist

Examining the legal side of social media often focuses on the considerations that brands must make before they take the plunge on any particular platform. These channels are relatively new to everyone and naturally involve much more interaction between brand and customer than previous broadcast media, making the relationship all the more complicated, legally and socially.

The General Mills case reminds us that consumers are also faced with terms and conditions at almost every turn of life online.

While it’s far quicker to just click, click, click through, perhaps it’s time to start scrutinizing the small print a little more closely. This is especially true when it comes to mobile apps and social networking tools that know so much about the user; where we are, what we search for and what we buy, all this and more is up for grabs if the terms of use require free reign over that data.

So don’t take the legal side of social media lightly, whether you’re a company or a customer. As with any sign up decision, big or small, the devil’s in the detail (and the detail is in the fine print!)



Is This Snickers Ad About Sexism Sexist?

After calling out generic ads last month, it’s only fair that we make mention when a brand challenges the status quo. That’s exactly what this Snickers ad which takes on sexist stereotypes does… at least it seems to, until the close.

The social media stir is caused by the implication that these construction workers need to eat a Snickers to revert to type, which with a bit of mental gymnastics can be used to conclude that the brand is sexist.

The reality is that the video has clocked up several million views in a couple of weeks and been shared around the world, despite being an Australian advert. It takes a risk, but prompts discussion and amusement, two factors which make it prime viral content.

Only the most obsessed brand advocates will share a tired ad that relies on standard industry cliches. To reach wider audiences and make the most of social media, it’s important to craft content that surprises people and which makes some kind of point.

This is one case that should prompt brands to ask the question, “are we playing things too safe?”

Rebranding: One Giant Leap or Many Small Steps?

The Maxwell House brand reboot raises an important question for any major name considering the change: should the transition from old to new be gradual, or instantaneous?

Or, to follow the coffee maker’s lead and stick with the classics, is rebranding several small steps for a brand, or one giant leap for brandkind?

Maxwell House Good to the Last Drop Ad

Back to the classics? | Image Credit: Wikipedia

Trusted or Tired?

Most brands require refreshment every so often, as logos become tired and imagery becomes outdated.

But equally, fans become attached to what’s familiar. Even when a rebrand is necessary, changing too quickly runs the risk of alienating more existing fans than it gains new ones.

So much investment goes into creating, developing and protecting brand assets that in most cases it makes sense to make changes gradually. There have been plenty of examples over the years of brands that changed their identity too quickly, only to be forced into an embarrassing retreat.

More Money, More Problems

Even the biggest brands have made mistakes moving too quickly. The often referenced example of Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” and, more recently, Gap’s hasty retreat on a new logo, show just how badly established brands can get it wrong.

No matter how well-intentioned a brand update is, fans will make it known in no uncertain terms when they disapprove. This can easily leave the company in question with not only a significant write-off in the marketing budget, but a dent in its public credibility. Given that this is what rebranding is generally intended to prevent, it usually makes sense to move slowly and monitor how well each step to a new brand identity is received.

Swinging back to Maxwell House, the return to its classic “good to the last drop” theme seems like a solid, if slightly uninspired idea.

The decision to use that creepy “SNIFF” video, though? More distressing than de-stressing.

Teen’s Terror Tweet Finally Makes an Airline the Good Guys on Twitter

Airline brands are regularly the subject of poor practice on Twitter, but it’s rare that they’re the ones that come up smelling of roses.

American Airlines Boeing 777 taking off

American Airlines comes out on top | Image Credit: Sergey Kustov

American Airlines achieved that by simply following protocol this weekend, when a 14-year old girl posted a terrorist threat aimed at the airline’s Twitter account.

AA was curt and to the point in its response, making clear that it treats every threat as a security issue and referring the case to the appropriate  authorities.

[EDIT 4/15/14: The teen has since been arrested by Dutch authorities. And this wasn't even the biggest social media story of the day for the industry, as U.S. Airways suffered a major NSFW Twitter blunder.]

That tweet has since been deleted but, as with almost everything posted online (take note, brand managers), it was captured and the story started to spread.

AA deals with teen Twitter threat

American Airlines’ response | Image via Twitter

Although it didn’t really do anything of note, the brand in this case has come out on top and relatively unscathed. That’s not always the case for brands in social media, and especially airlines.

A few example from the recent past:

  • United famously “breaks guitars,” according to one of the first – and still favorite – viral social media complaints.

Once again, we’re reminded that brands are out of control when it comes to social media, making it all the more important to understand the legal boundaries and have policies to guide personal responses specific to each case.

Sometimes all it takes is common sense. But, as this teen tweet exchange demonstrates, that’s not always in good supply when it comes to online interactions.

Rebranding an Entire Genre? Stephen Colbert Set For Letterman’s Late Slot

Only two weeks ago we were talking about Stephen Colbert going into damage limitation mode over a social media campaign to #CancelColbert.

In an amusing turn of events, the controversial host will indeed be calling it a day with ‘The Colbert Report,’ but only because he’s been handed the late night slot that David Letterman is vacating next year.

CBS Late Show with David Letterman -- now Stephen Colbert

Image Credit: Rob DiCaterino

Sure to infuriate critics and delight fans in equal measure, the decision is another that will impact not only the show that Letterman has crafted over 20 years, but is set to rebrand the late night TV landscape  entirely.

Redefining Late Night

The appointment of Jimmy Fallon to replace Jay Leno earlier this year has already paid great dividends for NBC.

Where Leno had a more traditional late night style of light-hearted satire before diving into interviews, Fallon has added a playful streak that leans heavily on short-form skits which translate well to social media. He often brings celebrities into the fun, making these sections all the more viral and playing to the younger audience NBC was looking for. Already, viewers and media pundits have heralded him as a breath of fresh air for the late night genre.

The appointment of Colbert to a similar slot is set to shake up the genre once again. Letterman himself defined the role along with Jay Leno in the early nineties, but their respective late night brands have proved impressively resilient to stylistic changes over the years. Even the niche popularity of Conan O’Brien failed to oust Leno just a few years ago, making this sudden shift in late night names all the more disconcerting for long term viewers.

Rebranding Colbert

Stephen Colbert Portait

WIll the real Stephen Colbert please stand up? | Image Credit Wikipedia Fr

For Colbert himself, the re-branding will be even more extreme.

His Comedy Central show has been running since 2005 on the very left-leaning network, fueled by a character that the host has crafted since his time on ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.’

Brand Colbert is almost entirely made up of this parodic character. To some extent that viewers really don’t know what the real man behind it is like.

Although it will want some of that special sauce that made him so popular on ‘The Colbert Report,’ CBS won’t be letting him port the persona directly into the new ‘Late Show’ role. This will require Colbert to begin the rebranding process before he heads to his new employer. Unlike Fallon, who could simply translate his existing style to the ‘Tonight Show,’ Colbert will be redefining not just the show, but his own stage persona.

How does one go about crafting – and legally protecting – a personal brand? We might be about to get another branding lesson from the school of Stephen.

Social Goes Gaga for Game of Thrones Season 4

game of thrones facebook memeSocial media trends come and go, but Game of Thrones has an enduring appeal that keeps us all coming back.

The premiere of season 4 this past weekend proved that, as fans and brands alike went crazy and creative to mark the hit show’s return. As usual, social media provided the perfect outlet for comments, insight and opinion, whether good, bad or indifferent.

There was very little neutrality, of course, but the negative sentiment did kick in for a time, when HBO’s Go service crashed under the weight of demand to watch the season opener… and even that’s a problem with a major silver lining.

Brands Get Their Game (of Thrones) On

Television events are exciting marketers more and more, as brands continue to search for new ways into our social streams. There was plenty of competition and those that manage to add to the conversation around the show fare best.

Time Warner Cable had an attractive competition and promoted a tweet to boost it, but appeared to get little traction in terms of social shares or favorites. Perhaps the entry numbers looks better than the engagement.

Burger King tried its hand at real-time image marketing and saw some positive comments, if limited sharing for this ‘Big King’ graphic:

Burger King Game of Thrones

Even HBO itself got in on the act, jumping on a bandwagon of its own making to promote another. This cross-promotion to its series ‘Girls’ was posted on Instagram and got some serious attention, showing that opposites definitely do attract.

But best of all – and perhaps unsurprisingly – was a social media management brand itself. Hootsuite went to a great deal of effort to present this  alternate version of the Game of Thrones opening sequence on YouTube, set in a world where social media rule the realm.

It’s still an ad, but one that fans are watching and sharing in their thousands. Nicely done!