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What Happens when Influencer on social media is inappropriate–Learn from Listerine

Life goes on, but mistakes are marked and recorded by social media.

Last week, I have shared my concerns on “utilizing influencers” in my blog “How to stay on the content marketing game despite the trend in social media”. To recap, I have stated, “Besides making geographic and demographic appropriate, brands should also take influencer’s political viewpoints into consideration when picking influencers.”

Listerine, an internationally well-known mouthwash brand, always striving to protect oral health and increase the social confidence of its consumers, has assisted me in proving this point with its “bold” campaign incident in Hong Kong.

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In the summer of 2016, Listerine launched a global multichannel campaign naming “Bring Out the Bold”, in which they were aiming to promote confidence, adventurous, and the readiness to take on challenges.

While everything is moving forward, on May 27, 2016, Listerine Hong Kong posted on its Facebook Page their campaign featuring Hong Kong pop singer Denise Ho Wan-Sze.

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Normally, this is the first but a very essential step to start a campaign, which has probably been prepared and organized for quite a while. However, Ho, the featured influencer on the poster, is not only known as a pop singer, but also known for her political advocate and bold statements in the separation of Hong Kong.

This “Bold” is not that “Bold”. There comes the trouble. 

The second day, their physical posters were up on buses, stations, and buildings; their social media campaign continued. Within the second day, Listerine was questioned and accused for “supporting independence advocate”. Then suddenly over the weekend, these posters were taken off, except her photos were still on Listerine Hong Kong’s social page for a while.

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People in Mainland China were not happy, Beijing was not happy. Using an influencer who is known for “Hong Kong Independence Advocate” is not what so called “political correct”.

Lancome cancelled its sponsorship with Ho, thereby cancelled Ho’s concert on June 5th. Other brands that have direct connections with Ho, such as Watsons were also affected.

Given the “affected” area and amount of poster Listerine has put out, I believe that Listerine Hong Kong had put in a lot of effort in getting everything off within such short period of time and at the same time put up new series of posters and photos to continue its “Bold” campaign.

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To be able to stand neutral and welcomed, brands really have to pay careful attention to its influencers, statements, media channels and corporate partners.

We call these incidents crisis because they do affect brand images in a direct and rigid way. Months and years accumulated effort to promote brand images can be ruined completely by these incidents. Meanwhile, social media acts as a ratio; whatever is positive, social media times its positivity by the ratio. On the other hand, whatever is negative, social media also times its negativity by the ratio.

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Situations like this can be avoided; it’s the matter of attention and curation. Careful attention and appropriate curation is what every marketer should work on. Given the power of social media, there is no separation between content being promoted and influencers you choose. There is also no separation between marketing and PR, especially when crisis comes.

If marketing team were to hand over the crisis to PR team when it comes, then it will be hard for marketing team to pay more attention next time to learn from the mistake. If marketing team had to handle the entire crisis itself, then it would be hard for them to think out “bold” ideas next time. Therefore, I believe that PR and Marketing teams should collaborate in every major press and campaign.


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