Written by Renske Wolters
Killer Coke, and other bad news you WANT to hear, acknowledge and act upon as a brand
Part 1. The Nature and Impact of Anti-Branding Hate Sites
Tourism, studying abroad, foreign trade, spread of technical knowhow… Globalization has brought so many great advantages. But WAIT! When you think about that, have you ever thought about the drawbacks? And what about the effects of those drawbacks? Let us have a look at a few examples of globalization drawbacks that Ger and Belk (1996) pointed out. It brings social inequality, class polarization, stress, materialism and threats to health and environment. There is an increasing awareness that global companies play an incredibly big role in this negative globalization points. Noami Klein’s (1999) “No Logo” book has played a big role in raising awareness and spun together a global anti-branding movement (Holt, 2002).
These days, many anti-branding movements take place on the internet through, for example, complaint sites and anti-branding hate sites (Krishnamurthy and Kucuk, 2009; Kucuk, 2008). The internet provides communication methods for people around the globe so action strategies and coalition building are not limited by geographical space and/or time zones anymore (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2006). The hate sites are growing in number and can have significant influence on the company’s performance, yet research has not fully covered the nature of these hate sites (Krishnamurthy and Kucuk, 2009). This article focusses therefore, on anti-branding hate sites, it explores hate sites nature in depth and gives suggestions on how the movement should be handled by marketing managers. By doing so this article will contribute to a more complete understanding of this phenomenon and will provide information for marketing managers that find themselves under this unpleasant attack. There are two main questions and four sub questions that will be answered in this article:
- What exactly are anti-branding hate sites?
o Who are the people that set up anti-branding hate sites?
o What are the motives of setting up anti-branding hate sites?
o Who are the anti-branding hate sites targeting?
o What effect do anti-branding hate sites have on targeted companies?
- How should management react when under attack of an anti-branding hate site?
The last question will be answered by using the example of Killer Coke. I will show how Coca Cola responded to the Coca Cola hate site and I will show you an alternative of how the company could have responded.
Note: Hate sites are increasingly used in social media to attack individuals as well as political and ethical groups (Lohr, 2010). This article will solely focus on the anti-branding, alias the corporate hate sites.
So, anti-branding hate sites… What exactly is meant by that?
The internet has shifted the power balance between corporations and customers greatly. The customer has more power than ever and the un-dreamed opportunity to be forceful with big corporations (Pitt et al., 2002). According to Kucuk and Krishnamurthy (2007), the consumer power has increased in four areas through the internet: technologic, economic, social and legal. These lead to an increase in several core benefits for customers like convenience, value, connectivity and protection. Because of the internet, increased connectivity customers can now influence and encourage, but also pressure a company by collectively organizing themselves online. Often this happens in the form of brand communities. There are the pro-brand communities, which can be created by a company to interact with customers (McAlexander, Schouten and Koenig, 2002) or created by customers with a common passion for the brand (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). But there are also the, just as passionate, anti-branding communities.
Now, this anti-branding communities are what it is all about in this paper. These anti-branding communities have members that all detest the brand and are looking for social justice (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2010). Often hate sites creators have personally experienced bad customer service or other problems with the company that made them extremely angry, so angry that they devote a considerable amount of time in creating and maintaining these hate sites (Wolrich, 2005). However, other creators have something bigger in mind. Many hate sites are directed to analyse social irresponsible actions and questionable business practices. In order to facilitate anti-branding collective action, voice discontent, facilitate the exchange of anti-branding information, organize boycotts and coordinate lawsuits, they need a forum. And that forum are hate sites (Krishnamurthy and Kucuk, 2009). The hate sites focus on drawing negative attention to the brand and are primarily targeted at strong brands. Attacking strong brands is a great way of drawing attention to persistent industry levels, impact market share and strong brands have often more incentive to react (Krishnamurthy and Kucuk, 2009). Strong brands so to speak “pay a price” for being in the online landscape (Kucuk, 2008; Krishnamurthy and Kucuk, 2009). Hate sites creators use the brands most powerful online branding tool, the ‘domain name’, to anti-brand. All hate sites have catchy names like Starbucks “Starbucked.com” and Coca Cola’s “Killer Coke”, where I will get back to in the second part of this article. By using the domain names for hate sites, the anti-branding sites benefit by sharing link popularity, brand awareness and web traffic targeted at the brand’s site. Surprisingly, using a domain name for these purposes is legally allowed and does not fall under trade mark infringement as long as the hate sites do not make a profit (Kucuk, 2008).
So how does this affect companies, you might ask yourself. According to DK Matai (2004), the executive chairman of Mi2g:
"A lot of bad press or negative commentary on hate sites can engender significant volatility in share price, damage stake-holders' confidence, and all that makes the business revenues melt away.”
Furthermore, it affects the consumer’s perception of the targeted brand’s identity, image, consumer purchase decisions and eventually the company’s market share (Kucuk, 2008). As you can imagine, the anti-branding hate sites can have severe effects that can keep even the most senior managers awake at night. That brings us to the next question, how should managers handle these anti-branding hate sites? This will be discussed in part two of this report.