You cannot be loved by everyone. It’s a lesson we all learn at some point in our lives and it applies as much to brands as it does to individuals. Too often marketing teams try to appeal to everyone, acting as people pleasers in the process, by placating every voice and opinion on social media. It makes for a bland recipe that diminishes their brand identity. Instead, a little bit of “hate” may be the secret ingredient to success.
The digital age is a labyrinth, where every move is scrutinised, and every misstep amplified. Brands must tread carefully but one of the most important lessons to remember is that social media is a two-sided conversation. It can be tempting to turn off comments or ignore criticism. However, that can do more harm than good, making a brand look cowardly or shady.
So, what’s the alternative? Social media teams sometimes give in and concede to every angry tweeter. Of course, there is always merit in using social media as a tool for listening to legitimate criticism and using that information to improve your product. That said, the wheel of criticism on social media never ends.
Falling into these traps may stop you from standing out for all the wrong reasons but it also stops you from standing out at all. Brands risk going unnoticed and falling under the radar. Some brands, like Yorkshire Tea, have realised that ‘playing it safe’ is the antithesis to innovation. The tea brand recently told a user on X, formerly known as Twitter, to “please stop buying our tea” after they posted an anti Black Lives Matter post. It’s risky, but now you know what the company stands for and those with similar values will love the brand even more for it.
Brands can take it one step further. 'Hatevertising' is the rebel child of modern marketing that is all about turning sneers into cheers. Here, hate is not an adversary but a muse, inspiring brands to craft narratives that resonate with audacity and authenticity. Few do it better than KFC. After suffering crippling supply chain problems that left its shops without chicken, it published elegant newspaper ads proclaiming ‘FCK, we’re sorry.” It has also incorporated widespread criticism of its chips into adverts for new and improved flavours. You can’t accuse this brand of being in denial. It glides with grace through waves of criticism, turning scorn into brand loyalty.
There are risks for companies when their hate filters fail. When incumbents are asleep at the wheel, challengers can erupt onto the scene. In 2018, Billie, a woman’s razor company depicted women shaving their body hair. Up until then, women’s razor adverts often showed women shaving already clean-shaven bodies. Women have long found this ridiculous. Billie was plugged in. It read the mood and called out this absurdity in its advert, reaping the benefits in the process.
In the digital age control is but an illusion and universal adoration a mirage. The bravest brands are those that dance with the dragons of criticism, that find harmony in the cacophony of hate, and in doing so, craft narratives that are not just heard, but felt, and not just seen, but remembered.