Should Brands Have Stood with France?

On Friday evening, when my phone started to buzz, I could not believe what my eyes were seeing. More hatred, suffering, fear and loss… and in a country that many of us consider to be close to home.  One that many of us have visited and that we quickly fell in love with; one we would return to in a heartbeat and whose spirit nobody could ever destroy. “The event” had unfortunately happened – the type of event that previous IS6621 classes had experienced and would likely never forget.  An event that came alive through social media (if you haven’t seen it yet, you should take a look at the video of thousands signing “La Marsellaise” as they were being evacuated from the stadium) and that demonstrated the power of this medium to bring us together.

I had not intended to blog about Paris but today I felt compelled to, particularly as it related to the topic I’ve been exploring throughout the semester – brands. Throughout the weekend, many brands took to social media to express their sorrow, support the French and offer assistance. As we all know, the French red, white and blue took over Facebook, Jean Jullien’s “Peace for Paris” logo went viral and many brands leveraged trending hashtags such as #prayforparis, #parisattacks and #porteouverte to express their solidarity.  As you can see below, these expressions came in different magnitudes – from a tweet, to turning over home page imagery (like Amazon did) to promoting their disaster relief programs (as Airbnb did).

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Airbnb’s reaction was very notable – they capitalized on the strength of their sharing economy by asking renters to host displaced Parisian citizens or tourists free of charge and in return, the company would reimburse them for any stays between November 13 and November 17.

Communication companies such as Sprint, Verizon and Skype also stepped up by offering free calls/texts to and from France. And Google followed suit by announcing free calls to France via Google Hangouts.

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Yet, many known brands had very minimal reactions and some we still haven’t heard from.  Tim Cook posted “Prayers for Paris, the victims and their loved ones. Nous sommes tous Parisiens” on Twitter but we didn’t see much more from Apple. LinkedIn has yet to show their support  and while Twitter has been a key information hub, only their @TwitterFrance handle has been actively expressing support.

I asked a member of a brand’s legal team (my source preferred to remain anonymous) why she thought such disparate reactions happen and why some brands will stay completely silent on social after huge events take place and she shared some interesting thoughts.

While she completely sympathized with the tragic events that unfolded, she explained that with great visibility comes huge scrutiny– and that the larger and more conservative the company, the harder it can be to get any form of message approved. Often, the strategy IS status quo. Not commenting can bring a small amount of attention, but oftentimes, this is the best course of action for a company not willing to expose itself to risk or who couldn’t really contribute much besides a sympathetic message.

As we can learn from what happened to Facebook, either you never react or you always react, but when you start to stand behind certain events, causes, countries and not others, you inevitably expose yourself to criticism or greater fallout. Oftentimes the choice is simple – if a company is based in France, has employees working there and/or derives significant business from the country, it could be insensitive not to react. But for those more removed, it may be best to stay silent.

After chatting with her I do agree that it truly depends on a company’s strategy, level of risk taking with regards to posting on social, geographic presence and key consumer targets. Airbnb had the means and local connections to help, but the same wasn’t true for LinkedIn. How much more could they have contributed after Facebook activated Safety Checks? Did you even mind? Where you surprised by another brand’s lack of response?

 

12 comments

  1. Definitely a very controversial topic, and you’re absolutely right that this event was “The Event” of our Social Media semester.

    I’m tempted to think of a company like Uber as trying to cash in on the zeitgest. On Saturday morning (after social media had already taken off) , I noticed that the icons of Uber’s taxis were depicted with the colors of the french flag, rather than their standard black. Uber has had a challenging and controversial history with their service in France. They have no true connection with the city of Paris, yet they were one of several brands that you mentioned that “stood with France”.

    What are we to make of such decisions such as this? An attempt by Uber to penetrate the French market? Uber trying to gain popularity align themselves with their views of their dominant market (aka Americans)? Or simply an attempt to show solidarity with a city in the wake of an attack? The answer is likely some combination of the three. For me personally, this change did not feel genuine, but I also do not feel like it harmed Uber’s reputation.

  2. This is definitely a controversial decision for companies. I feel like with any decision a company makes in regards to the situation, there will be some criticism. People may get mad if they don’t post, some may get mad at what the company posts. If a company posts something simple, such as #prayforparis some may judge it as insensitive, but if a company does a long post, they too may be criticized for ignoring other issues.
    I agree that it depends on the companies strategy and their consumers. Red Bull for instance only does social media posts that reflect their brand message, “Red Bull gives you wings” obviously the Paris attacks do not relate to this message. Therefore the company did not post about the attacks, however I found it appropriate that they did not post during the time information about what was happening was being released. This made it seem like the company was not simply ignoring the tragic event.

  3. I agree, this is a very insightful and controversial blog post. Facebook, came under scrutiny after activating safety check and the French Flag Filter on Friday evening. The day before the horrible attacks on Paris, Beirut was rocked by a series of equally horrific explosions. However, Facebook failed to activate safety check for Lebanon which caused a large social media uproar and criticism. In the wake of these terror event, companies have to be incredibly mindful of their actions, and for smaller and lesser established companies, saying silent may be the appropriate benefit for their brand. Instead, they can encourage their employees to personally offer their condolences or offer aid on their personal behalf. It’s an interesting topic, I’d love to discuss this in class.

  4. I think in this case, if a brand doesn’t have connections to the tragedy or can’t do anything to help, they should just be silent. Like you said, getting criticism for not doing anything is probably better than being criticized for the wrong move, which can backfire and cause more damage. In terms of Google+ and Skype, I think they made a great move with offering free calls because even if they don’t have connections to Paris, they are doing something to help. And regarding Facebook and the criticism it’s receiving…well…it is valid. Why did they activate safety check only for Paris? Why do they only offer the French flag filter for profile pictures? I also agree with your source that when you’re looking at a huge company, it’s just hard to get messages approved, and no matter what decision you make, it’s hard to be right and be 100% supported.

  5. Nicole, I really enjoyed reading your post about how brands are supporting or remaining silent in wake of the Paris tragedy. What happened last Friday was completely devastating, and social media had a huge impact on the events and the aftermath. I was traveling out of the country on Friday, and I would not have known the details as they unfolded had it not been for social media. As it pertains to brands, I personally liked seeing the brands that I am loyal to showing their support for Paris. The support resonated with what I was feeling, and I suppose it is important to me to associate myself with brands that can show sympathy (and even empathy) during tragic events such as this. That being said, I understand that some brands would not want to risk saying the wrong thing/coming off as insensitive, or even choosing to remain silent solely because they do not think that their social media support would provide much impact to others.

    I personally have been to Paris before and have loved the idea of the city since my childhood obsession with Madeline, which then turned into one for Audrey Hepburn and all things Parisian chic as I grew up. Because I was out of the country with limited wi-fi service, I “chose” to remain silent with regards to my support for Paris on social media. Had I been home with access to my computer, maybe I would have been tempted to look back on old pictures from my trip to Paris and to post some of them on Instagram/Facebook. It seemed that everyone I knew was doing just that, and it might look insensitive for me not to participate in that social media support. In retrospect, I am glad that I remained silent on social media because I feel that I was able to more so fully appreciate the totality of the tragedy and to keep my attention on the thoughts and prayers I was sending to those directly impacted by the events (rather than shift any attention to myself and how I had been to Paris, or even for a spit second slightly care how many likes or comments I received). That being said, I can understand why some brands would choose not to actively participate in showing their support on social media, and I think that your blog post does a great job of explaining the business implications that could arise from taking either course of action.

  6. Hi ngandia — great post, thank you for sharing. I had first noticed the message on my Amazon app, and that was when I realized the vast difference in the social response I was seeing from personal accounts vs. branded one. Certainly interesting to compare this reaction to the Gay Marriage ruling, where most of the brands that you mentioned and many others temporarily changed their logo to a rainbow to show respect and support for the Gay Pride movement.
    I can understand that not every brand manager will be compelled to show support for the French this week, but I personally appreciate the ones who are. I was pleased to see at my mba internship that EMC had changed it’s logo on EMC.com (http://www.emc.com/en-us/index.htm). Certainly well-established global brands may feel more compelled to show support.
    Should this turn into a witch hunt, where we start boycotting the brands that did not switch to a red, white, and blue stripped logo? Of course not — but I may be more likely to support the brands that do. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGaqI20WHyk

  7. Hi Nicole, great post. I loved that you got to talk to an expert about her views and insights. I think she and you both have hit the nail in the head. Strategy really matters, and what I think also matters is the issue of authenticity (for lack of a better word here). As you point out, Skype, Google, Airbnb, etc. all had the right presence and infrastructure in place, and their responses made sense and felt real, as they ultimately not only aimed at getting the brand’s logo and name out there, but rather helping people in this dark time. Service-oriented and tech companies fit better here than any CPG company I can think of. Who benefits if Coca Cola or Levi’s put a blue, white, and red filter over their logo? It would seem mostly insincere and opportunistic for these kinds of brands, whereas those firms we’ve seen most prominently get involved had something more to offer than just their sympathy. Phone carriers offering free calls so that customers can check on loved ones in Paris makes sense, creates goodwill, and helps the brand seem authentic in that they’re doing what any good, reasonable person (corporations are people, right??) would do in such tragic circumstances.
    Thanks for this post!

  8. Great post, Nicole – I’m glad to see people blogging about the issues that have arisen this week. While it seems that brands should show some empathy for the French people, it is important to walk a fine line – if the gesture isn’t genuine, firms may face backlash from consumers. I actually saw one brand that changed its logo to include the Eiffel Tower, and for some reason, it really rubbed me the wrong way. (It may have something to do with the fact that I used to work for said brand, and often found the company to be anything but genuine.) I think brands ultimately need to evaluate if any message they send is genuine and consistent with their brand image if they want to avoid consumer backlash.

  9. ashleighpopera · ·

    I think its great the brands support Paris through this tragedy. It’s great that Airbnb decided to use their company solely for the good of people displaced by the event, and weren’t trying to capitalize off of it. The same goes for Spring, Verizon, and Skype. I read an article about how there was a rumor that Uber had a surge charge in Paris after the attacks since so many people were trying to get out of the immediate area. Definitely glad to hear that this was a rumor.

    This is definitely a controversial topic, and I can see why brands may face criticism if they post and if they don’t post. Some may criticize a brand for posting even though they can’t help, but I don’t think this is any different than civilians posting in support of Paris even though they can’t help. Sometimes in the wake of tragedy people are simply looking for a sense of community, comfort, and support, and if a brand can give its followers that, then why not.

  10. Great post. I’m sure we will discuss tonight!

  11. Excellent post! I would have to agree. It all depends on a company’s brand strategy. I’m sure there is a risk analysis that goes into a community show of support. Amazon’s show of support was very intriguing. It gave me this sense that the platform was somehow sensitive, as if it was real in a way. It was surreal. I utilize Amazon as a portal for instant shopping gratification meanwhile, I am getting hit from every direction with ads and little animation banners that are headlined with, ‘you might also like these’. My Amazon user experience is summed up as buffet time and when I saw the French flag, it made me pause for a moment. I am grateful that an eCommerce giant conflicted its interests or took a chance at letting it’s community know that the same community members exist behind its digital veil.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this post, Nicole. It was well-written, informed and thoughtful. Thank you for sharing the efforts of Airbnb, Google and Skype. I often get frustrated with the filters and sentimental pictures that friends and brands will use and post because they do not accomplish anything. I’m glad that those service companies that could do something for the people of Paris, did. I previously had very few examples of a company effectively showing support and aid through their social media responses so I’m glad I was able to read this and reconsider.

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