Ubaid Zargar
Points of View

Dealing with deinfluencing: lessons from Bournvita’s encounter with the trend

As deinfluencing gains traction, how do brands navigate a safe passage away from consumer backlash? Here is what experts think.

After a Twitter user posted a video reviewing Mondelez’s malted beverage, Cadbury Bournvita, the brand was pushed into posting a statement across its social media handles to pacify the claims. The original video had remarked that the brand was using excessive amounts of sugar in its product, while positioning itself as a healthy diet for kids. 

The video quickly went viral on Twitter, clocking nearly half a million views. The creator of the video even threw shade at Bournvita's tagline ‘Tayyari jeeti ki’, saying the slogan should read ‘Tayyari Diabetes ki’. All of this, because the reviewer couldn’t bridge the discrepancy between the ingredients of the product and its claims of healthy nutrition.

This isn’t the first time a brand has had to deal with outrage at the expense of deinfluencing, the phenomenon of influencers demoting a brand through their content. In fact, many influencers are now actively warning consumers away from products that they deem unworthy, while promoting their preferred alternatives. 

While Bournvita’s response was restricted to a social media post highlighting all the vitamins and minerals in the product, one may wonder, what else could the brand have done to dilute the claims of the viral video. 

It is safe to assume that a lot of brands will find themselves in the same predicament going into the future. With Bournvita’s encounter with the trend serving as a case study, we explored how a brand could effectively navigate a safe passage away from consumer backlash during such instances?

Here is what industry experts have to say:

Edited excerpts:

Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus PR

Tarunjeet Rattan
Tarunjeet Rattan

This is where crisis communication preparedness comes into action. Ideally , this should have been a scenario they would have been prepared for. Apart from the yearly crisis communication plan in place, a PR team needs to update brands they work with on recent trends and how it would impact them. As soon as the de-influencing trend began, the comms team’s needs to go over their brand promise and understand if any of it is open to a possible public thrashing. 

In hindsight, now that this has happened a brand first needs to assess the level of response a situation demands and then act accordingly. Given the level of the influencer’s pull, this particular situation demanded a piece by piece analysis of the allegation that should have been met with facts and science merged with a heavy layer of emotion that re-iterated their brand values and retained brand reputation.

This particular brand relies heavily on emotion and is dealing with a very sensitive age group - children. An age group that if harmed can have dangerous consequences for the brand. Their response has been weak and misses out on important elements of the allegations. Apart from a generic statement posted everywhere, what needs to be done is give a human face to the same and address it head on. You deal with a brand high on human emotions. In times of crisis you cannot remove the human element out of it.

Another very important thing that a brand can do is invite the influencer to their R & D facility and take him through the process. Drop the gauntlet into the ring with a tinge of humour and take the tone of a parent dealing with a difficult child. This could be the start of a famed twitter battle of words. 

Let them come to you. If you believe in your brand promise with conviction then invite the critic into your home. Converting a critic into an ambassador is one of the strongest wins for a brand reputation. Without showcasing that it indicates that there is something to hide. As of now, the tepid response is not going to cut it without risking the loss of consumers in droves.

Shoebahmed Shaikh, director and head of content, Ideosphere consulting

Shoebahmed Shaikh
Shoebahmed Shaikh

As a strategic communications advisor, nipping negative conversations is easily the most effective strategy. I'm sure someone will mention the old adage - the lie travels around the world before the truth has time to put its pants on. That is not necessarily the case in the hyper-connected digital universe. Listening becomes essential to understanding where criticism and negative brand voice is coming from to control the narrative better. Instances like these test any brand's ability and agility to stay ahead of the conversation. To paraphrase their own campaign tagline, every brand needs ‘taiyyari crisis ki’.

There seems to be a gap of about 5 days between the original post and the brand's response. The response is clearly articulated, but it is questionable why a simple text-based answer should take that much time. Of course, any reply needs to be verified technically and written from a place of honesty, but it is symbolic of the agility of the response mechanism. 

Another noteworthy point is the lack of context - many of the brand's loyal customers and digital followers may not have seen the video in question and hence would be baffled to see an advisory-type clarification in the middle of an extensive campaign involving a lot of India's upcoming sports superstars. 

The first question a brand should answer is - whether it is worth responding to? Again, preparation is the key. A product that enjoys a high degree of loyalty will have an army of brand ambassadors rising to its defence. But nurturing that army is an ecosystem play that should always be the top priority for brands. You only understand the value of evangelists in the most challenging crisis.

Sonam Shah, founder and CEO, Treize Communications

Sonam Shah
Sonam Shah

The best step to take in any crisis situation is to send an official statement addressing the concern and this has been done by the brand. For a brand which is a mass brand and followed by young kids and students, there is bound to be some panic and questions raised. But at the end of the day, it is just another viral video and public memory is low, so it will fade away with time.

In such a situation, what is more important here is to calm the audience and be available for any queries. A brand or a company will always be well appreciated in the long run based on how they perform under pressure or undesirable consequences, and this will add to their brand recall value in high capacity. What makes PR a valuable tool during any crisis is the ability to bring any business back into the game. Ups and downs are bound to happen if a brand is in the public eye, and there is no running away from it.

Also, one should understand that any consumer food product, which has a legacy of many decades is in the market, has passed multiple layers of industry body approvals. So instead of raising fingers at only the brand, one should also question the processes involved. There may be competitive products in the market, are they being questioned too?

This is a great example of de-influencing, which is a new marketing trend picking up these days and this video is a consequence of that. At the end of the day, it just shows that the public can be influenced and de-influenced very quickly in today’s time and social media is taken very seriously, which should not be the case. What is important here is to focus on strict regulations around advertising and influencer marketing and ensure they are followed.

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