The Independent raised an interesting debate over the editing of a brand’s perception online by PR agencies in their article yesterday.
Portland Communications, a reputable PR firm, was revealed to have edited Wikipedia pages that linked their client to a negative association. Portland removed the reference of Stella Artois from the ‘Wife Beater’ Wikipedia page and from Stella’s own page in an attempt to help rid their client of this detrimental association. However, when users realised there had been a change, they reverted it back. Outraged that a PR agency had altered the content they even wrote a blurb about it on Portland’s own Wikipedia page in retaliation.
But surely Portland has every right to alter these pages, as after all Wikipedia itself states it is “the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit”.
Portland Communications acted professionally – they were transparent, editing the pages with the username Portlander10 which they had previously used to set up their own Wikipedia page.
If Limelight were ever found in a situation where they were being linked to a negative attribute, I would want to defend my brand whether it was myself who edited the damaging link, a member of the team or even another company. Everyone has a right to input into what has been said about them online. For this reason, even if it is an organisation voicing the opinion, PR agencies can make an impact online as long as the company is acting transparently.
Dr. Stephen J. Gould, the late American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist had a theory called ‘punctuated equilibrium’. His theory states that when species undergo change, it’s new and happens as a spurt that occurs at the fringe of the ecosystem.
Whilst Gould was probably referring to Darwin or dinosaurs, his thinking can be applied to so many trends in social, political and commercial society. McDonalds, for example, started life as a little restaurant in San Bernardino just as Wal-Mart was once a small convenience store called Walton’s in Iowa. And, more recently, Facebook went live in a student dormitory.
So by applying the thinking of Gould to Middle East communications, change in a person’s buying habits and authentic brand loyalty will only ever happen if you can deliver something new – something that starts a trend and is a shift away from the status quo. This means breaking away from the ‘equilibrium’ that has come about from balancing Western ideas for a regional audience. It might even mean breaking away from the types of advertising listed on Wikipedia and creating new products or ideas that market a brand by improving a customer’s life. I mean, most other industries offer assistance, help or value – why can’t advertisers!
Breaking the equilibrium might seem a risk too far but as Gould suggests, most social systems exist in an extended period of stasis and are only punctuated by sudden shifts or radical change. So whilst the advertising and PR industry in the Middle East has its valid reasons for being more risk adverse than other geographies, how can it ever expect to have an impact if brands are too afraid to challenge anything that might be outside the status quo?
Referring back to Kroc, Walton and Zuckerberg as examples; they had a vision that was so different and defining, that they were forced to begin on the fringe of society by the naysayers. But they were adamant people would identify with their concepts and had they not rebuffed the sceptics and continued fighting for what they believed in, life would be very different without their respective companies and the trends they created.