Should You Care If People Hate Your Brand?
Peter Panda

I know what you’re thinking: Um, yes. Obviously you don’t want people to hate your brand.

*Insert polite chuckle directed at the 20-year-old copywriting intern*

Well, you may be right. If people don’t like your brand, they’re not going to empty their pockets for you—and judging by the fact that you’re reading this right now, that’s probably something you care about.

But hear me out. I think there is something to be said as to why you should not care if certain people hate your brand. Let me tell you why.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my short stint in the real world of marketing, it’s that building a brand is about building relationships with consumers. I’ve also come to realize it’s about making sure your company stands out in consumers’ minds when they think of a product or service. Easier said than done, obviously, but a step in the right direction would be to think outside your field’s typical boundaries in order to distinguish yourself from your competitors.

But now I want to ask you: if nobody gets a little pissed off or annoyed by your brand and its content every once in a while, are you really pushing any boundaries? After all, building brands means building relationships—and where there’s good relationships, there also has to be bad ones, right?

Think about these well-known campaigns that (to say the least) pushed people’s buttons:

  • Nike’s “Believe in Something” ad with Colin Kapernick
  • Anheuser-Busch’s “Born the Hard Way.”
  • Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be”

What do all of these brands have in common? They took a stance. What else? Thousands of people hated them after these bold campaigns while thousands of others applauded them. Either way, both sides fueled a narrative.

A recent example of this can be seen in all the backlash surrounding Burger King and its student loan pay off sweepstakes. The company hosted this $250,000 contest to help a lucky few pay off their student loan debt, but rather than receiving praise for their contribution to help ease the national problem, they’ve faced ruthless backlash.

Many have shaken their heads at the company and accused BK of “exploiting customer’s financial woes” to sell their fast food, leaving a well-intentioned effort that was not well-received. (See the full story here.)

Unfortunately, this contest wasn’t the only recent PR stunt that has backfired on Burger King. The company also sparked retaliation after releasing a divisive ad that featured customers attempting to eat burgers with chopsticks. While ethnically-biased ads, such as this one, are careless and are not the reason you want to stir up controversy, the company certainly pushed (yes, probably too far) past the boundaries of a typical burger ad.

In both situations, Burger King wanted to do something to stand out against competitors like McDonalds, Wendy’s, and so on. While both attempts clearly failed, isn’t there something to be admired about inserting the brand into the conversation about the student loan debt crisis, or not putting out yet another “Don’t miss this deal! $2 for a double cheese burger!” commercial?

While using a cultural symbol, like chopsticks, as a mockery is not the way to do it, I believe the intention behind the ad and the contest, to push the boundaries and make a splash, was warranted.

If there’s an opportunity for loving (or hating) a brand, that means that there was something different about the company that gave someone the opportunity to begin any type of relationship with them in the first place. If you sit complacent behind unoriginal ads or stunts, your brand won’t be hated. But, it certainly won’t be remembered either.

So, back to the question at hand: Should you really care if people hate your brand?

I guess that’s up to you. But if they do, that means that you’re doing something different, or at least trying. And (to me) that seems like a step in the right direction.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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