What do companies do when consumers are #notbuyingit?

It’s all about leveraging the power of consumer engagement, right?

From the opening pages of Brand Media Strategy to the Effie Award-winning Old Spice campaign to our evaluations of the integration of respective brands, 541 has focused significantly on engaging with consumers and allowing their feedback and conversations and activity guide the trajectory of current campaigns and inform future product enhancements and launches.

But what do you do when that feedback is decidedly negative and, furthermore, organized?

Some companies have had to answer that question with the advent of the #notbuyingit Twitter movement. Organized by missrepresentation.org, a non-profit social campaign aimed with the goal of shifting cultural mindsets and ending gender discrimination, the #notbuyingit movement “calls out sexism in the media” and “challenges the misrepresentation of women and girls.”

While the #notbuyingit hashtag has been in use for several years, the movement picked up considerable steam during the 2013 Super Bowl, when some 10,000 people tweeted to decry the sexism they saw in ads by Go Daddy, Audi and Budweiser, just to name a few:

Go Daddy Budweiser audi

#notbuyingit attracted even more participants in the days after the game as media outlets including CNN and The Boston Globe reported about the campaign:

cnn Boston Globe

And now missrepresentation.org is upping its own game with the #notbuyingit app, which organizers say makes it even easier to call out companies they feel are degrading women.

app

missrepresentation.org expects the number of #notbuyingit tweets to soar with the ease of the app, development of which has been financed in part by $13,000 from interested consumers donated through the indiegogo website.

So what should companies do in the face of such intense consumer blowback? Corporate reactions have been mixed, ranging from this humble post from the founder of Solid Gold Bomb clothing to accusations of extortion:

hyper

Negative consumer feedback appearing online certainly isn’t anything new, as anyone who has ever read walmartsucks.org or ihatedell.net can attest. But what makes #notbuyingit a little different is how quickly a campaign can pop up and spread. Just by watching #notbuyingit trend on Twitter, consumers can form opinions about multiple companies and products — no need to visit individual gripe sites. And as we all know from the astonishing billions of Tweets sent each week, retweeting is as easy as click and send.

missrepresentation.org and the consumers who Tweet #notbuyingit say they’re working toward a less sexist culture, something to which companies certainly don’t want be seen as opposed. So how do they respond?

About the Author

Lynn Tefft Hoff is the Assistant Director of Communications for the Radiological Society of North America, a society of 53,000 radiologists based in Oak Brook, Illinois. Lynn is in the Fall 2012 cohort of the Masters of Communication Management program at the University of Southern California. She lives in Aurora, Illinois, with her husband, 10-year-old stepson and 3-year-old son, who doesn’t believe that “writer and editor” is an actual profession and is waiting for her to decide to be a doctor or fireman “when she grows up.” Lynn chronicles life as a mom, middle manager and master’s student at mommyhitsthebooks.com.

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14 Responses to What do companies do when consumers are #notbuyingit?

  1. amonda says:

    Hi Lynn,

    I really liked your post, as it succinctly touched on many salient points regarding the wave of advertising that I feel is getting too close to crossing the line from humorous to disgusting. At the risk of sounding prudish, I must say, I was appalled by the GoDaddy SB ads, and despite having what I believe is a relatively good sense of humor, I found nothing funny about them, and would intentionally refrain from using their services simply because of the way the ads made me feel. My gosh, don’t these companies realize young children do watch the Super Bowl, and what kind of messages do risqué ads like those GoDaddy displayed send out? Call me old fashioned, or as I prefer to call it, tasteful, ads like these don’t resonate well and are more of a turn off than an inducement to want to support the organization from which they are touted.

    Thanks for the very interesting blog – you did a great job.

    Al

    • lynnhoff17 says:

      I don’t think you’re prudish at all … I have always found the Go Daddy ads pretty sick. I hope that with continued pressure from campaigns like #notbuyingit, Go Daddy and others will start to understand that ads can be funny without being sexist.

      Thanks Al!

  2. Justin McAneny says:

    Interesting post Lynn. I interviewed for a telecommunications company a few years ago that only used Twitter to defend itself against allegations and communications that it considered unfair or false, but for nothing else. I thought that was an interesting use of Twitter.

    • lynnhoff17 says:

      That is an interesting use of Twitter — only reactive but not proactive. I guess for some companies that might make sense, but most I would think could find some use for reaching out in non-crisis times.

      Lynn

  3. kcn13 says:

    Hi Lynn,
    Thanks for this interesting post. I had watched the movie, MissRepresentation, at Sundance a few years back and was touched by the movement but hadn’t heard much about their continued work. Interesting to know how they are using social media to drive forward social equality. You have definitely renewed my interested in following the organization and their current efforts.

    -Kristy

    • lynnhoff17 says:

      Hi Kristy–

      I too was really touched by the MissRepresentation movie (it also made me a huge fan of Metric’s music). If you’re interested in following their work, they do a good job with their Facebook feed.

      Lynn

  4. calandry says:

    Very interesting read, Lynn. This is the perfect example of how social media can drive the conversation and take it right where you don’t want it to go. I must admit, the #notbuyingit hashtag is pretty smart. It gives consumers a voice and allows them to take their displeasure directly to the brand. But from a business standpoint, it’s enough to make you watch your steps. I’m certain that somewhere out there, a company has changed their approach to marketing and advertising after seeing the power of the #notbuyingit movement. In that sense, missrepresentation.org is achieving their desired goal.

    • lynnhoff17 says:

      Hi Christy–

      Missrepresentation.org has documented some cases where companies have changed direction after having to confront a #notbuyingit campaign, though I think the companies that have been tweeted the hardest — Go Daddy more than anyone else — have chosen to either ignore it or, as in the case of Hypermac, use the outrage as a feather in their cap. The reactions to #notbuyingit really are fascinating, and I’m sure we’ll get to see more, as the app will probably give the campaign even more oomph.

      Lynn

  5. milissa_douponce says:

    Great post Lynn. The only voice we are typically bombarded with from marketers and these social campaigners help balance the message. The way they aggregate comments and points of view really gives some power to the people versus a single editorial comment. Thanks! Milissa

  6. lynnhoff17 says:

    Yeah, that’s what struck me about the #notbuyingit campaign from the beginning–the way it aggregates comments and makes them harder to ignore or write off as just a few unhappy campers.

    Lynn

  7. kull says:

    Lynn,

    Thank you for the thorough post about #notbuyingit. I hadn’t heard of this group and it’s important for communications professionals to think about all types of activist groups when devising campaigns. It’s amazing how quickly such groups can take down brands or, at the least, ruin their reputations.

    On the other hand, I wonder if the type of consumer that enjoys the ads put forth by the brands you highlight would rise to the defense of their brand for not caving into PC forces? It’s a jungle out there these days!

    I really appreciate all the examples you show of the posts and the opinion page discussion. Thanks, Lynn.

    Amy

  8. Nikolos Gurney says:

    Lynn,

    Great, thought-provoking post. I really appreciate the utilization of social, media to accomplish various ends in our consumptive lives, but especially expressing group opinions regarding things like sexism and other social movements. One opportunity for future research is how social media like Twitter has given voice to many consumers like those using the #notbuyingit hashtag that would have otherwise gone unheard, or maybe even not had that opinion at all because there was no venue for it to develop in.

  9. yeirang.lee says:

    Interesting post! Thanks Lynn.
    It’s my first time heard about this #notbuyingit on Twitter, but certainly can be powerful and intimidating to the company.

    There has been disputes between Republic of Korea and Japan over years on the territorial debate over the Dokdo island. Koreans start sharing information about the Japanese companies who supports this disputes on Twitter for not buying the products. (quite similar to #notbuyingit) It went viral in few days on various social networking sites. However, those companies did not really care about those negative comments and it did not last for long time. #notbuyingit is simple and easy to share people’s negative comments on Twitter, but at the same time, people forget about it so quickly. Maybe that’s why most of companies just ignore and just keep doing whatever they want. Just my thought.

    I hope #notbuyingit or missrepresentation.org movement can reach their goal toward less sexism in the media.

    Yeirang.

  10. aflores says:

    Great post, Lynn! I wish I had known about the campaign during the superbowl commercials. It is a great for the consumers to have their voices heard. I recently learned about bzz agent, I wonder if there is a similar service to help fix a company’s image…just a thought.

    Adriana