Namah Chawla
Points of View

Do brand managers secretly love trolls?

Could the earned media and publicity brands get out of being trolled, be a silver lining their custodians have come to enjoy?

In the recent past, trolls have kept brand marketers, social media managers and journalists very busy. Ceat, Zomato, Fabindia – they're all in the eye of the same storm. Our coverage over the last few days has all the details; now, we're raising a slightly provocative question: have brand custodians come to acknowledge the upside of being in the public eye like this, even if the collective gaze is hostile and unfriendly?

Of course, no brand manager asks an agency to "Make something that will get trolled" the way they ask them to "Make something viral", but might there be some sort of silver lining to being discussed so widely and intensely, even if it's in a polarised manner? We're all familiar with the old adage 'There's no such thing as bad publicity', but does it hold true in the context of being trolled on social media – a reality thrust on brands in today's ridiculously sensitive socio-political times?

One may argue that trolling is not just limited to discussions and opinions, but may have a real, tangible impact on sales and revenue. But many are quick to counter that; there might be a short term backlash – hasty app deletions and clarion calls to boycott – but no discerning consumer who belongs to the brand's actual TG will base a purchase decision on the public discourse around a brand he or she is considering buying.

So does controversy give marketing companies mileage? And have brand managers come to secretly appreciate this mileage?

Edited excerpts:

Karan Kumar, SVP & chief marketing officer, DLF

Karan Kumar, DLF
Karan Kumar, DLF

I don't think any brand custodian will welcome their brand to be shown in poor light. However, given how media platforms today make communication easily accessible, one should also be aware that reactions will come thicker and faster than ever before.

Constructive feedback should always be welcomed. However, brands should also be prepared to engage with at least some that may be otherwise. Execution strategies must incorporate such preparedness and the brand custodian must always be on the ball.

Lloyd Mathias, business strategist, and former senior marketer at HP Inc., Motorola and PepsiCo

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

Trolling of brands and the boycott culture is sadly becoming commonplace these days. Increasing polarisation and social media access make it easy to incite audiences. In the short term, there is some degree of disruption. But in the long run, if a brand continues to do what is right for its customer base, it can easily tide over social media trolling.

It is always some sections that react violently, accusing brands of taking sides. I really think that easy social media access and activism provide the much-needed oxygen to keep these issues alive.

Unfortunately, many brands are being caught in this crossfire. Brands should always be sensitive and respect public sentiment, but this should not stop them from doing what is right. Also, it is important to remember that issues and trends on social media are mostly ephemeral and die down quickly when trolls divert attention to the next thing.

Most mainstream brands will not use this (trolling) strategy to get into controversy and increase awareness. There are much more ethical and sensible ways of being in the consumers’ minds. However, it is not unlikely that brands might resort to such kinds of shortcuts.

In the long run, it is not an advisable strategy. Ethical marketers will not use fake controversies because most customers value brands for their trust, values and the reputation that they have built over a long period of time.

Harshil Karia, founder, Schbang

Harshil Karia, Schbang
Harshil Karia, Schbang

I think it is important to understand that these trolls are real people too – potential consumers for a brand. When we bucket them as trolls, we de-humanise them. It is important for the brands to be vigilant and ensure that all checks are in place.

Going by the volume of chatter and seeing how brands become an unnecessary part of the national conversation, it has some impact for sure. I think ‘any publicity is good publicity’ is a dangerous way to think about social media trolls.

Artthi Ponnuswamy, VP – brand solutions, Zensciences

Artthi Ponnuswamy, Zensciences
Artthi Ponnuswamy, Zensciences

Personally, I think trolls are a brand manager’s nightmare. It is like treading on a landmine. The entire situation is unpredictable. You don’t know from where you will be attacked, and you have no control over how it will impact the brand and the business.

The reason why a brand is trolled in the first place, determines how it will be affected. For example, if the national sentiments are hurt, then the impact on the brand will be long term. On the other hand, if the religious/regional sentiments are hurt, the impact will be hard-hitting in the short term, but not so much in the long term.

The kind of impact will also depend on whether the brand retracts or stands by its stance. Either way, the brand image will take a beating in the short term and, depending on how the brand responds to the trolls, the impact will be felt in the long term.

In the short term, when the emotions are at their peak and the issue is fresh in the customer’s mind, the business may be hit. If the brand can regain the confidence of the customers through its actions, then the impact will be momentary and it will be business as usual.