May 22, 2012
The era of the empowered consumer kicks into high gear
Consumers are mad as hell, and increasingly they’re turning their gripes into collective action, mobilizing the masses to pressure corporations into changing their policies and practices. And as the impact of these grassroots efforts mounts, marketers are becoming more sensitized to emerging concerns, swiftly tweaking messaging and pricing, and launching initiatives to head off new attacks. Since our post on the Facebook-driven backlash against cottage cheese prices in Israel last summer, consumer activists have been scoring victories unimaginable even a few years ago, whether vilifying “pink slime” in ground meat (an issue that came to the fore with a food blogger’s petition on Change.org), decrying monthly user fees for debit-card holders or protesting any number of other issues.
These crusaders are relying on social media tools (Facebook, Twitter) and, increasingly, petitioning platforms like Change.org, which recently added a U.K.-specific site. Marketers are learning that a rapid response to mass protest is paramount. When Starbucks was lambasted for using bug extract to color its strawberry Frappuccino, it made a quick switch to lycopene, a tomato-based additive, and promised to “do better” (although the ingredient is common in red food products). A viral tirade against Verizon Wireless’ plan to dun customers who paid bills online or by phone with a $2 charge prompted the telecom giant to nix the plan within 24 hours. Other brand stewards are implementing more regional rollouts and focus groups in a bid to prevent costly missteps at the outset of a product launch—before the first keystroke of an online boycott can be typed.
Image credit: change.org