Written by Marija Paulikaite
In recent decade we experienced a tremendous shift in social media as well as in its usage. One of the primary objectives of social media is to increase brand awareness through building stronger relationships between companies and customers (Hening-Thurau, Hofackerm, Bloching, 2013). However, due to the consumer empowerment, and rise in social and political awareness within society, social media platforms are used not just to show the loyalty and love for a brand. It is as well a tool which allows to express and share disappointment, unethical actions of the company, organize boycotts and spread the word of hate within the society. Such negative word of mouth (WOM) distributed within different platforms could be very harmful for the brand. However, empirical studies and Apple Inc. case showed that anti-branding does not necessarily harms brands. If company manages them well, it can be converted into valuable information source for future development of the brand.
Anti-branding and its activities: what is that?
Anti-branding is global movement against brands formed by large number of society members in order to spread the word of disapproval and dissatisfaction of corporate actions (Holt, 2002, pp.70). Such movements where present even before the online social media took place. Technological improvements, consumer empowerment, and ability to interact through online platforms allowed to transfer such activities into anti-brand web sites with specific focus on targeted brands (Bailey, 2004).
Anti-branding covers different aspects of negativity. Anti-consumption, word of hate, consumer rebellion, boycotts, counter-cultural movements are just few areas which are present as a common purpose in the minds of activists (Cherrier, 2009). Increased awareness of corporate social responsibility, health and environment issues, definitely are few main aspects which drive anti-branding activities.
Question: Anti-branding, harming vs helping brands?
It is clear that anti-branding activities, as well as any other negative social media messages, directly or indirectly influences consumers’ attitude towards the brand (Kucuk, 2008). Such WOM can lead to the confusion between loyal customers. This phenomenon in worst scenario can effect companies’ market share as well as produce necessity of direct “head to head” competition (Kay, 2006, pp.745).
Moreover, anti-branding communities serve as archival domain where individual can find old and new material which proves failure of the brand in one or another aspect. For this reason, these anti-branding communities act as a consumers’ agents and information source in term of historical accounts of accusations against the firm (Hollenbeck, Zinkhan, 2010).
Anti-branding and other platforms created by consumers are changing the nature of communication. Instead of building the relationship between brands and consumers, one-to- many mass communication, such platforms create consumers-to-consumers or in other words many-to- many communication (Kucuk, 2008). In this way consumers not only gain co-creators status but as well it enables them to create co-haters communities.
On the other hand, anti-branding platforms serve as objective judges of the brand. By monitoring and researching anti-branding platforms, company can reveal its weaknesses and find strategies which would help to reach improvement and prevent possible future attacks (Kucuk, 2008). Moreover, objective opinions from outside could provide company with innovative brand opportunities serving as competitive advantage (Hollenbeck et al, 2010).
Smart management team can convert symbolic haters into brand lovers. Uncovering the main motivators behind anti-branding might help to find a way to satisfy needs of disappointed consumers’ (Kaynak, Eksi, 2013). Positive and credible information spreading, monitoring and building one-to-many online communities, and setting well established complain and support system, could serve as a solution and as symbolic haters’ converter into a brand-lovers (Kucuk, 2008).
Anti-branding boycotts and negative publicity are not a durable phenomenon in a case of strong brand. It is true that in short run such activities could create a big fuss between consumers, as well as, create uncomfortable and maybe even harmful situation for the brand. However, in the long run these campaigns do not really have a significant down turn for the brand (Awasthi, Shama, Gulati, 2012). In other words, brand which has a strong positive awareness and large groups of loyal customer communities in a long run manages to neutralize the anti-branding effect on itself.
Apple Inc. as a brand
Apple Inc. is a massive multinational corporation, one of the most successful consumer electronics companies in the world, which shares are worth more than 626 billion dollars (Colt, 2014). Its technological improvements, clear purpose, and position in the market and in the minds of consumers allows to call Apple one of the strongest brands which existed throughout the history.
Apple Inc. pays close attention to its products design, technological advantages and other features. As well, being one of the strongest and most valuable brands in the world, Apple Inc. works on Corporate Social Responsibility. It deals with environmental issues by making its products and its company less harmful for our world; it also takes certain responsibility on suppliers by imposing ethics and regulations standards in terms of employees’ rights (Apple, 2015).
However, despite of having enormous amount of loyal customers spread all over the world and the brand attitude towards innovation and CSR, Apple Inc. is not excluded from anti-branding targets.
Anti-branding: case of Apple Inc.
Apple Inc. as any other strong, well-known brand has to face some criticism, negative publicity and anti-branding campaigns. By analyzing social media platforms and individual websites couple of key arguments against apple can be defined:
- Inflated prices
- Lack of Innovation
- Undelivered promises
- Arrogance of lovers of the brand and employees
The list could be continued, but these topics are the most present in each social media platform related with anti-branding campaigns against Apple Inc.. By looking into some examples certain observations can be made.
Facebook one of the biggest and most popular social networking platforms contains quite a few pages dedicated to spread the word of anti-apple. For example, page called Anti Apple (Brand) Company has more than 3,000 page likes. Its creation purpose was to “Protect Earth & Environment and save your MONEY!”. It targets all people who dislikes apple products and the brand itself. This page acts as archival domain which gathers all articles related with Apple Inc. failures in one or another aspect. For instance, articles about poor Apple Inc. production quality and innovation; statements questioning Apple brand’s trustworthiness and responsibility against customers’; articles highlighting undelivered promises for customers as well as attitude towards employees especially in manufactures.
Another example from Facebook domain is page with more than 1,000 likes called We hate Apple Community. This community has totally different atmosphere than the previous one. Pro-android campaign immediately catches the eye. Cover photo and each post is dedicated to degrade Apple and to aggrandize Android. Moreover, this page tends to humiliate Apple users highlighting their arrogance and glorification of Apple.
Looking at other social media platforms such as Twitter, blogs, GooglePlus Apple haters are not as active. However, there still exist some people who want to share their dissatisfaction and anti- apple attitude. From all Apple haters’ accounts on Twitter the biggest one has around 300 followers. Those accounts contain a lot of irrelevant information and unappropriated language. From observation of twitter the credibility and aim of these Apple haters’ accounts can be questioned. They seem to fall into a category of those platforms which use brand’s name to benefit from its popularity (Kucuk, 2008, pp.211). Moreover, by looking into blogs just one active and dedicated to anti-apple theme blog was found. It has more than 87, 000 visits and covers topics related with apple controversy. As a result, this blog can be used as information source by Apple Inc. too. Furthermore, since 2012 there is ongoing tag #BoycottApple on GooglePlus which is considered to be the longest lasting and one of the most popular tags ever used (Kapil, 2012).
Anti-branding concluding remarks
Taking into account all pros and cons arguments on anti-branding topic it is clear that there is no straight answer to the question whether anti-branding is just harming brands. Depending on the nature of the campaign, its arguments, and its content such campaigns can harm brand or it can be used as information source for improvement of the brand.
In case of Apple Inc. observation of main social media platforms showed that there is no aggressive anti-branding campaign going on against apple except the one on GooglePlus. Other platforms especially those which collects discreditable material against Apple Inc., and those where people are expressing their objective dissatisfaction on one or another aspect of the brand, can be used as information source by Apple Inc.
All in all, this topic rises couple of questions which could lead to further discussion in the future. How brand could protect its name? Ban its usage for those social media platforms which use it just to attract more people to their domains? Moreover, should Apple try to find the way to communicate with anti-apple domains or act as observers and information collectors?
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