Apparently, 59% of respondents in a survey said that they would stop buying the products or services of a brand, even one they “loved” if it shared “fake news” with them. The connect of a brand with such “fake news” does not even have to be so direct to hurt-mega brands like Kellogg’s saw a public backlash when it was revealed that their ads were appearing on sites known to thrive on conspiracy theories and wild speculations, no matter that the ads were served to these sites by faceless ad-server algorithms. Clearly, people do not like being taken in by semi-plausible stories that swamp their social media feeds. The fact that consumers care enough about this is great news.

The “Fake News” phenomenon can be devastating for a brand. Even if the brand resists becoming a purveyor of such news -it could become a victim. Rumours like, “There is plastic in those snacks; or that bank’s license is going to be cancelled soon”, have been doing the rounds for years now and have often hurt brands. But that is a flesh wound, the brand bleeds a little, feels stiff for a while, but recovers and moves on soon enough. The bigger problem in today’s social age is that everyone is a broadcaster with access to an audience primed by its eroding trust in all kinds of institutions, always ready to believe the worst. The brand’s slightest mistake gets amplified and broadcast, the brand ambassador’s actions get twisted and quoted out of context, the CEO’s stupid joke begins to resemble a racially-charged diatribe, and even routine decisions become presented as politically or religiously charged symbolic gestures -for eg., a holiday cup is not red because the brand is part of a war against the faith of people. The impact? Well, the audience can lose trust in the brand and that’s very hard to recover from. And, that’s the bad news.

So, what can brands do? Well, as with everything else, the key is to stay committed to your core values. Ensure that everything that you do is driven by a strong Purpose and that the same is communicated proactively to your customers all through their engagement with your brand. This builds trust, which eventually yields loyalty. Once that happens, the customer is less likely to be distracted by such “Fake news”.


(This Perspective was originally published on August 13, 2018 by Shekhar Badve on LinkedIn)