Brands are targeted so activists can maximise publicity, not because they behave badly says latest research
Date: 14 August 2012 13:53
According to a recent study looking at which brands are most targeted by issue campaigners, the companies most criticised are often not the ones that have behaved worst, but rather, the ones that are so powerful campaigners can most easily use them to increase publicity for their cause. This has important implications for PR professionals defending brands or trying to guess which will be hit next, says Robert Blood, managing director of the company behind the research, SIGWATCH, an international consultancy that tracks the impact of campaigning groups on companies and their brands.
Shell tops the list of the 10 most criticised brands globally in 2012 according to latest SIGWATCH data, followed by Monsanto, Apple, Bank of America, BP, Amazon, Chevron, Novartis, ExxonMobil and Microsoft.
“Four of the top 10 are oil companies, but none are coal, although coal burning is the biggest source of carbon pollution” says Blood. “This is because oil companies present well-known global targets, while coal companies tend to be low-key national or regional brands.”
“Apple, Amazon and Microsoft figure so highly in activist hit lists because environmental groups believe campaigns against them will get more media coverage and thus generate more corporate embarrassment on issues like energy sourcing and chemicals. Yet these three firms’ actual energy and chemical use is tiny on a global scale. We call them ‘koala bears’ – cuddly brands which are perceived as vulnerable because they are fashionable and their customer base overlaps closely with the supporters of the campaign groups attacking them.”
Blood believes a classic mistake in issues management is to prioritise issue risk by the significance of the issue to the company’s operations. Nestlé internally downplayed Greenpeace’s criticism of its palm oil sourcing in late 2009 because it used little palm oil in its products. It was taken by surprise when in April 2010 Greenpeace focused its entire campaign on the issue on its iconic Kitkat brand. Greenpeace did this because it wanted to make an example of Nestlé so the rest of the food industry would be frightened into changing. Blood labels Nestlé a “lion” company – a company that activists love to bring down because it behaves as if it were untouchable.
Top 10 Companies Most Criticised by Activists in 2012 Globally
5. Bank of America
8. World Bank
10. Rio Tinto
Top 10 Companies Most Criticised by Activists in 2012 in Europe
5. Deutsche Bank
7. Repsol YPF
10. Dow Chemical Company
Top 10 Companies Most Criticised by Activists in 2012 in the UK
4. Rio Tinto
8. JBS-Friboi / JBS S.A.
9. Coal of Africa / CoAL
SIGWATCH uses a global network of researchers to monitor the world’s major and emerging economies in over a dozen languages – and identifies groups and individuals involved in environmental, consumer, and both human and animal rights, plus related issues and their potential impact on individual corporations and brands. Issues tracked cover an extensive range of potentially sensitive and controversial areas across several global industries. Data gathered daily is processed by SIGWATCH’s editorial centres in London, UK, and Freiburg, Germany, and distributed electronically to its subscribers. It is also analysed quantitatively, for example, criticism of brands by activists is scored for hostility and prominence, similarly to the way media coverage is measured. See www.sigwatch.com.
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