WHO ARE TROLLS AND SHOULD THEY BE GIVEN AIR TO BREATHE IN A MARKETING CONTEXT?
THE CHANGING ROLE OF THE TROLL
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Summer is finally here and so is the WINGPerspective… slightly more welcomed than a visit from a certain someone last week.
We had a busy but brilliant May with shoots for our friends over at ECB and Aberdeen Standard Investments. If that wasn't enough, we've dived straight into June with a trip to Mallorca - no, not to stalk the cast of Love Island you might gasp! - we're embarking on a fantastic new adventure with TUI.
As you wait for the release of these sizzling hot new films, we've got another WINGperspective to keep your mind churning and your industry knowledge cutting-edge. This month we analyse the dreaded internet troll.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a troll is "(in folklore) an ugly creature depicted either as a giant or dwarf." But we don't live in a folklore world, so why are trolls still present in today's society?
We've all seen them. Scroll down to the comments of any YouTube video and there'll be some nasty comments spurted boldly and anonymously from behind a generic avatar, intending to provoke and sow discord. This is, of course, generally accompanied by a litany of swear words and spelling mistakes.
Taking the form of pixels on the internet, most closely associated with social media, their weapons are opinionated, occasionally ugly remarks, but they can have giant consequences by dwarfing people and brands who put themselves out on open platforms.
Although the "sticks and stones" argument could be applied here, the issue has grown so serious that in 2016 the UK lawmakers legislated on the most extreme cases, with links being made to suicides and substantial company disruption. Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions defines the legislative justification as: "if you are grossly abusive to people, if you are bullying or harassing people online, then we will prosecute in the same way as if you did it offline."
Although this legislation is supposedly set out to protect "people" from harm, it does not extend as far as brands. But it's just one guy's opinion, right? Well, some brands are so un-enamoured of these public opinionators they even take the precaution of playing 'clean-up' or not allowing these comments to exist at all. Are brands right to ignore the troll's pervasive presence, or is there something to be learned here?
With trolls impaling fear in to every digital marketer's mind, brands seem to be fighting back, but are the trolls retreating?
According to the EU Commission figures, there's been a 42% rise in hateful content being removed from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube since 2016. Social agency We Are Social reports that brands are finding it increasingly difficult to tread the fine line between encouraging debate and tackling hate speech, with 89% of them silencing hateful comments by deleting or hiding them. In combating this recent trend, brands are clearly playing it safe, but does it mean that they might lose their edge?
Although we don't disagree with the removal of certain comments – I mean what does 'ya mum' really have to do with anything? - timidity towards public debate could also suggest a spill-over in outputs. Ask any creative team: aside from the majority of clients all too often jumping straight to the cheaper option, they go for the 'safer' option too. But trolling can't be the only thing to blame: ASA have faced protest in the last few months for harsh regulations - need we mention the ice-cool ape for the 100 billionth time?
Brand Trolls & Fo' Reals?
Trolling of brands, rather than individuals, demands an almost complete redefinition in some circumstances. It is not a personal attack on someone's appearance or character, it is an attack on a corporate identity. This is less defamatory because it is an opinion placed on a collective. Because of this, brand trolling doesn't fall under the same jurisdiction because the law serves to protect "people" – it can be damaging, but not to the same degree.
A recent incident with Gucci is a perfect way of demonstrating how exactly the two differ. Gucci's latest collection included a Sikh-style turban; the prosecution in Twitter court pledged a multi-faceted attack on the brand, labelling it offensive cultural appropriation of the highest degree, owing to its religious symbolism. The brand was sentenced to boycotts.
Online pressure is powerful; this incident was enough for Gucci to pull the $800 offending article from online stores. We're also reminded that this isn't Gucci's first run-in with the law of cultural sensitivities: their 'blackface' turtle neck the other year also had its day to be debated online, leading to a discontinuation of the product once again.
It would seem that sometimes trolls are becoming a sort of live focus group for brands. It's almost human testing, with social media acting as the scientific institute delivering the results. The issue for brands is that it's totally out in the open for all to see (although live testing could suggest a lack of earlier research and plentiful ignorance on the part of brands).
Either the entire creative team have grown up under a rock (I mean c'mon, a for-real turban in today's PC-conscious climate?) OR the brand isn't phased by likely criticism and still wants to 'push the boundaries'. Perhaps they wanted to cause a bit of raucous debate, and 'accidentally' PR the sh*t out of the new collection without spending a penny (see our earlier WINGperspective on The Art of Controversy). Perhaps Gucci haven't lost their bolsh at all.
…Or perhaps, just perhaps, they need to take a long hard look at their recruitment policies. In-house diversity can prevent unintended offence, as well as being a good thing for a hundred other reasons. Future reference: articles which could be associated with certain cultures and religions will probably piss off members of said cultures and religions. Unfortunately not even major fashion houses can sashay away from that one. Ahem, D&G vs China.
Focus for Good
As much as social media gets a bad wrap (rightly so in some cases), it allows important debates to emerge to the fore. Groups can represent themselves where they deem fit as we've seen in the case of Gucci. This freedom of text is generally better for everyone socially when used appropriately and means that brands/bodies/organisations do not dictate conversation.
For example, let's take a look at Gillette's recent Venus campaign featuring plus size model, Anna O'Brien. Some slammed Gillette for promoting obesity in the same way that some brands are criticised for using anorexic models. At the same time, people brandished the photo as flying the flag for body positivity. Despite the pressure from 'trolls', Gillette responded:
"Venus is committed to representing beautiful women of all shapes, sizes, and skin types because ALL types of beautiful skin deserve to be shown."
Surely in this sense, being unafraid of being brash on your platform, opening yourself up to this conversation and potential trolling should be seen as a good thing. Brands who are unashamed to live by their values and principles have got branding down. Small print: but of course exercise caution without causing offence to marginalised groups and minorities. Because brands should be bold, not spineless (which, brands who delete comments, is exactly what you look like).
Think of it socially: generally people are drawn to confidence and self-assurance, NOT timidity and diffidence. Suuuuuure, that confident person might turn out to be a douche in the end, but the ephemeral peacocking had its desired effect right? You're drawn.
Sometimes the social media focus group that is 'trolls' are even enveloped in the campaigns themselves. This is not a new tactic, in fact one of the first campaigns was created by Under Armour in 2014 which featured supermodel Gisele combating the negative comments she's faced over the years being in the spotlight.
As WING have noticed, highlighting the hate speech and underlining trolls as figures of hatred can cast a positive light on your brand, as in the case of UA - with many expressing their support of Gisele and the brand - and in the case of Vita Coco...
As part of their "Impossible to Hate" campaign, the brand identified the internet's worst trolling offenders and invited them to try their latest concoction because the brand is so confident in its harmonious success with both lovers and haters. "Because if even internet haters don't hate it, no one will."
One serial offender named simply 'Tony' responded "save that nasty s--- for someone else. I would rather drink your social media person's piss than coconut water." Vita Coco then rebutted with a person holding a jar of what looks like urine titled #NewProfilePic. Afterwards they explained that "at Vita Coco, we'll go to great lengths to prove a hater wrong."
The picture was liked over 6k times on Twitter and it seems users positively received the pic, stating the likes of: "Well I don't even like Coconut water and I followed and am going to buy some @VitaCoco now just because of that Tweet," and "I can't believe I'm going to end up trying Vita Coco solely because someone pissed in a jar."
Either Vita Coco's 'giveashit' attitude has just uncovered an outbreak of urophagia or they just checkmated a troll whilst simultaneously increasing their fan base by being brand-true and ultimately, brand-proud.
Brands' stance against trolls attracts publicity and support by appealing to emotions and a sense of togetherness. A recent trolling on a dating app which was made public by the victim on Twitter kicked ASOS in to action. Commenting on an ASOS dress the woman was sporting, the troll commented that the dress "was not doing any favours." The online clothing brand retaliated by making the victim the model for the dress and as a result found much acclaim publicly.
Check Channel 4's #TogetherAgainstHate campaign - the premise was based around victims of serial online abuse. Issues such as racism and ableism are raised with actual troll comments documented, comments that are so cruel they warrant a 'shock' disclaimer during the intro to the piece. This underlined C4's value for diversity and inclusion, something for which it's known via its association with the Paralympics.
As a figure of utter hatred, the troll has become an important means for brands to express their views on body positivity, racism and ableism. So for those brands, like ASOS and Channel 4, trolling the troll is a pretty effective method.
As 'do no harm' world famous troll Ken M. states, the term 'troll' "has been expanded so widely that it's beginning to lose its meaning." Hate speech should not be confused with opinion.
People who have fair opinions and wish to express themselves on public platforms should not be brandished under the guise of a figurehead ugly mythical creature. Often these are real views and real people - they should not be uglified with such a term or pigeon-holed and ignored with the legions of bad-mannered individuals.
The role of the troll has changed indeed; they are targets of utter hatred, they are centres of campaigns, they are orchestrators of coups but are they are also people with opinions. Ultimately the problem here is the feeble definition and brands should not be entirely afraid of the fable 'troll'.
- For brands wanting to show a more human side, don't be afraid to engage with consumers or take a stance in outputs. In most cases deleting comments can make you look ashamed & uncomfortable in your brand – eff the h8rs and all that tripe. So how about employing more inventive, witty, human and brand knowledgeable social media managers like Vita Coco, ASOS and Channel 4?
- Some comments just shouldn't be given air to breathe. Instead of pretending truly defamatory opinions don't exist and hiding them, brands have a responsibility to report them to end the cycle.
- If you're going to take a stance, weigh up whether it's worth offending and limit the chances that it could be taken as down-right rude (cough cough Gucci).
- Diversity in your team is going to minimise the chances of unintended offence, bring new voices to attract a new audience, and ultimately benefit your business.
WINGers Top Three Pieces of Content.
Hong Kong Ballet
To celebrate HK Ballet's 40th Anniversary Design Army have produced this wondrous piece of moving art which is as witty as it is beautiful. The agency have sympathetically demonstrated the skill and personality behind each dancer.
Out of all the brands taking advantage of the upcoming Women's World Cup in order to demonstrate their I&D, we like this one the best. Although not at the same level as the evergreen and every creative's "I wish I came up with that" LDNR piece, we like that it's not got as manycliches.
As part of their #CrocodileInside campaign they created this beautiful allegorical piece in which "the heroes seek the inner strength to overcome adversity." AKA the featured couple look like they're having a barney which they work out/get over in the end. It's something completely relatable but presented in such a refreshing way.
Hope you enjoyed this month's perspective. Until next time!