Communicators, marketers and advertisers are continually being told to create ‘stories’ that resonate with their target market. They are also urged to engage with social issues and to tackle activist projects of resistance, to develop as ethical brands, to stand out from the crowd.
Most brands are quite terrified of negative stakeholder perceptions, especially when it comes to expressing controversial views. So they tread the safe path and remain the same.
Not Nike. In keeping with its Just Do it slogan and its fearless philosophy of facing sporting challenges, Nike launched its 30th Campaign by featuring brave sports celebrities in its ads.
The most recent Nike ad features the face of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL super star-turned-activist against racism and police violence, with the text “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing something.” And boy, did it cause outrage amongst critics and conservatives, #justburnit became their slogan, urging people not to support Nike, not to buy Nike sport products, to even burn the ones they had.
Just in case you missed the background story: In the USA it is common practice for players in The National Football League to stand and sing the national anthem before an important match. However, following the spate of police violence against black youths and other racial incidents in 2016, some of the NFL players decided to mark their protest by not standing with fists on hearts, but rather to bend-a-knee during the anthem. The purpose was to highlight the racial injustice in the country. President Trump weighed in, calling the players disrespectful and unpatriotic, even suggesting punishment and non-payment of player-activists.
Yes, perhaps Nike shares did drop a little initially, due to the raging debates, but within two weeks they were up again and Nike recorded 31% increase in online sales.
So Nike’s corporate activism – mixing politics with sport – has been vindicated, showing that taking a stand or doing good is good for business. A host of recent surveys and reports proves Nike’s controversial move makes total business sense. Marketing lecturer, Williams says, “Nike wants to be on the right side of history and the right side of its core consumers.” And these happen to be mainly sport enthusiasts and millennials.
A 2017 Edelman poll found “The majority of Millennials (60 percent) are belief-driven buyers,” – they want their brands to take a stand on social issues.
So companies – Just do it! Take a stand.
Global movements affecting company Reputation
Some thoughts on responsible leadership, public activism and reputation
Right now trust in mainstream media, government, business and NGOs is lower than it’s ever been. Organisations have to work extra hard at building trust, loyalty and reputation, and to avoid crises that may cause harm to their operations and reputations.
Management and Leadership changes
In the past, management would decide on its company culture, inform stakeholders and the public what it stands for and how it does its business, sometimes explicitly stated in a company’s vision and mission. Once done, the company would brand itself in terms of its culture and its products. And we, the public, would believe everything it said.
However, over time the public would rate a business on the extent to which its products and actions matched its goals. Too often public perceptions and ratings were ignored, leading to loss of reputational capital, while managers and leaders focused only on the other ‘capital’ – profitability. Today, because of the glaring evidence of crises resulting from public reaction to irresponsible leadership, organizations are being forced to act more ethically.
The public expects organisations (including government) to keep their promises. Individuals want to trust a business they deal with. Their perceptions of and attitudes towards a company must be positive before they can trust it. And business certainly needs loyal customers and stakeholders. No company can afford to ignore the reactions to their behaviours. They do so at their own peril. Managers and leaders must listen and adapt.
Social Media and Advocacy
Meanwhile globally, the rise of social media, and the grassroots engagement it affords, has contributed to the growth of people power. Companies are constantly being watched and evaluated by the man in the street who happily shares his perceptions, based on what he sees and hears in the media. These perceptions gain momentum and can lead to mass action, causing negative outcomes for the businesses concerned. There are so many examples of this, but H&M’s recent crisis over an alleged ‘racist’ advert is one. With the growth of public and employee word-of-mouth marketing, research has shown that advocacy statements by activists and ‘influencers’ on social media are far more powerful in terms of engagement and belief than content that comes directly from the brand or company.
Ethical branding is crucial as companies become aware of the importance of good corporate citizenship, responsible behaviour and transparency in all their dealings with internal and external stakeholders. More than ever before, building public trust is crucial to any business operation and its survival. Managers and leaders must ensure that the company performs well economically, ethically, legally, environmentally and socially, that is, as a corporate citizen.
The King Report, now in its 4th form, is regarded as the ‘go-to guide’ on corporate governance for large companies. Government and SMMEs too would definitely gain by consulting the document. Basically, it highlights key aspects of creating a corporate environment for the 21st century and beyond where corporate citizenship and responsible leadership are key. Only by focusing on its role in society and behaving with transparency can an organization ensure its reputation and sustainability.
What is ‘fake news’? And how does it affect us?
Have you noticed how this ‘catch-all’ confusing media term is being used every day? Donald Trump uses it to describe any news he doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with, or that doesn’t come from his own tweets. And although we associate the term with Trump, stories involving ‘fake news’ have been around for a while. But what does it mean in our hi-tech social media world and how does it affect our own interpretation of news and how we respond to it?
Is it propaganda, deception, misrepresentation or just plain you-know-what?
All of the above. One definition of fake news, or hoax news, is “false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word-of-mouth” (www.webopedia.com/TERM/F/fake–news.html).
Wikipedia defines it as news which is “completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit. News satire uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive. Propaganda can also be fake news” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news .
In The Guardian, Elle Hunt explores ‘fake news’: “Until recently, there was news and “not news” (referring to human interest stories or features). Now there is ‘fake news’, said to be behind the election of Donald Trump as US president. The US election result was influenced by a widespread belief in fake news among Trump supporters. 73% of Trump voters thought the billionaire financier George Soros paid protesters to disrupt the Republican candidate’s rallies – a fake news report later repeated by the president-elect himself.”
Other fake news includes a report that Democratic senators wanted to impose sharia law in Florida, and a false report that Trump supporters chanting “we hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back” at a rally was reported as true on election night.
Fake news in SA
According to Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at Shepstone and Wylie’s social media law department, “Fake news – which previously targeted celebrities – has shifted to politics; Donald Trump’s election shows the impact of this growing trend on politics”.
Xolani Dube, from the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, believes what is now termed fake news has been around since the inception of power. “Pre-information age, fake news was called propaganda and preserved in print media and radio. It existed by other names before that. For anything to sustain itself it needs to rebrand, so it is appearing now as fake news, electioneering sabotage.”
Sabotage had allegedly been the aim of the work of an ANC team called the “War Room” in the run up to the local government elections. Allegations that its goal was to create posters depicting opposition political parties negatively, were contained in a court application by Sihle Bolani. The public relations strategist fingered Shaka Sisulu, Walter Sisulu’s grandson, as her recruiter, as did Thami Mthimkhulu, a Durban man who claimed – on Twitter – that he had been sent slanderous posters of EFF and DA leaders to share and “push” on social media.
The proliferation of fake news targeting political parties and politicians is “new-age propaganda” that is not likely to stop and political leaders have to brace themselves for the online onslaught. This is according to a social media lawyer and a researcher, who were responding to allegations that the ANC spent R50 million to spread fake news and pay social media “influencers” to discredit the political opposition. Many commentators agree that as the ANC succession debate heats up, South Africa could expect even more fake news. So be aware….
Should we be worried about fake news?
Social media expert, Arthur Goldstuck, believes fake news completely destroys public discourse and undermines democratic values: “Anyone who participates in this in order to advance their objectives should realise the long-term damage. It ultimately renders everything they put out untrustworthy.” He believes there should be consequences but “until someone is caught and prosecuted, it will go on”.
Hunt says, “These stories – compelling to click on, and with a “truthiness” quality to them – soar on the social web, where links are given the same weighting regardless of source, and particularly on Facebook where there is a potential audience of 1.8bn.”
Analysis by BuzzFeed found that fake news stories drew more shares and engagement during the final three months of the US election campaign than reports from, for example, the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. The power of this ‘fake news’ is clear.
So, how do you tell what is fake news?
Surely it’s easy to tell fake news from real news Actually, no. A recent study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed more than 7,800 student responses on their ability to assess information sources. Researchers were “shocked” by students’ “stunning and dismaying consistency” to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles (from The Guardian article by Elle Hunt).
Soon, Facebook will flag stories of questionable legitimacy with an alert that says “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers”. Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled this list of websites that either purposely publish false information or are otherwise entirely unreliable, broken down by category.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel, pressured Facebook to introduce a fact check button to try to deal with fake news. This is already effective in the US as well and whether Facebook is going to mobilise this across the globe remains to be seen.
“I don’t believe there is a political will in South Africa to put up the same kind of pressure,” said Oosthuizen. “Trying to prosecute the creators of fake news sites would be extremely difficult. You’d end up chasing leads in different jurisdictions.”
And what can we do to stop its spread?
So we’ve deduced that fake news is intentionally created and can discredit stories and the people in them and lead us to believe that something is true when it’s not. So we need to be smarter at recognising and combating news that is fabricated.
“Share responsibly”, says Hunt, “you are an influencer within your own social network: put in the legwork, and only post or share stories you know to be true, from sources you know to be responsible. You can help shape the media you want, too. Withhold “hate-clicking” on stories you know are designed to make you angry”.
Pay for journalism and news that have real value.
In the past week, I’ve been bombarded by articles on matric results, with people giving their take on how to deal with this never-ending problem and the way forward.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed by all this, what of those poor matrics, having to cope with their success, achievements, failure, the future and joblessness?
Let me add my bit, gleaned from all my article readings…… My advice for school-leavers:keep moving, dreaming, creating and doing…you’re in the driving seat. Three key words: purpose, creative thinking and doing.
“Are we pilots or passengers” asks, Are we just drifting or directing our lives? The word agency is defined as “our power to affect the future” and the writer goes on to say we all have more agency than we think we have and we need to realise this and use it to steer our lives in the direction we want to go.
Using the ideas of Albert Bandura, We are advised to focus on our intentions, vision and purpose for our lives and then use our agency to work towards achieving our goals. We do have the ability and power to make things happen by planning and acting.
So, school-leavers entering the real whole need to be guided in some self-reflection to tap into their own purpose or goal and to plan how to fulfil it in a relevant way.
Another article, based on an education and entrepreneurship report in the UK, focused on the value of daydreaming or “relaxed attention” in exploring alternative solutions to challenges and problems. Our school systems neglect this type of thinking and hence produce matriculants who can’t think for themselves, critically and creatively. This is a key ingredient in developing innovators, entrepreneurs and motivated citizens and engaging them in the social and economic (and yes, political) sectors of our society.
“From Thinking to Doing” explores the ideas of Edward De Bono, the creative thinking guru. The three aspects of thinking: “what is; what may be; and what can be” are used to show how creative ideas emerge from changing what is already known to a new idea or product. “Finding a different use for an existing product or developing it into something completely different is what entrepreneurship is all about.”
Without detailing the cognitive process, suffice it to say that according to De Bono, “In education we are concerned with literacy and numeracy. That leaves out the most important aspect of all, ‘operacy’. The skills of action are as important as the skills of knowing. We neglect them and turn out students who have little to contribute to society.”
Change our education system, focus on skills of thinking and action, and we won’t experience this annual crazy frenzy of opinions about the state of education and how students should learn and be taught to become useful and productive. Students would feel more empowered to steer the course of their lives in ways that suit them, their knowledge and skills, their circumstances and their own goals for their future.
And, by the way, everything I’ve said applies to young, old, individuals and businesses too….. have a brilliant 2015!
My monthly copy of The Media magazine arrived this week and, as always, I read it from cover to cover with great interest and curiosity. I love keeping up with trends, ideas and debates in this exciting field.
There are two articles in particular that got me moving – one by Jos Kuper (whom I regard as one of my mentors), the other by Julian Rademeyer. And the one common issue or concern was this: journalists don’t check their facts properly before publishing.
Kuper, who has been a highly respected media researcher for many years, wrote Who do we trust: media or politicians? She was reporting on her latest research findings in a South African study. Examples include: “87% believe that ‘whistleblowing’ is a good idea, and 83% of South Africans believe it is the duty of the media to expose corruption among politicians and business people.” But the negative that emerged is that about 80% of people said “that journalists often harm people’s reputations because they don’t check their information sufficiently.” (www.futurefact.co.za)
According the journalist’s code of ethics, verifying facts is core to the job. However, with news media cutting back on staff, together with the increased demands of producing non-stop content, journalists may be getting slack in the rush to produce. But that is no excuse. The implications and consequences of publishing inaccurate information can be permanently damaging to both individual and organisation.
Just a couple of weeks ago one of the cell phone companies was ordered to change the wording of an advert in which it claimed to the best at something, when in fact it wasn’t. That was an example of how a media watchdog can keep tabs on ‘storytelling’. It could also indicate the company’s attitude of ‘try your luck – even bad publicity is good publicity’.
Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address was filled with facts that were delivered out of context and somewhat misleading. Who checked that speech?
In his article, Getting it right, Rademeyer, the editor of Africa Check, maintains that fact checking is a necessary and growing industry worldwide. Companies like his aim to investigate claims made in the media to check if the facts are accurate. By doing so they hold politicians and business people accountable. For example, when a politician claims that “90% of South Africans have access to ‘clean and safe’ drinking water, does the average reader, listener or viewer believe him? If not, they now can access www.AfricaCheck.Org for the facts.
With an election coming up, I suggest we keep our eyes and ears open for promises made by politicians and check out claims to separate fact from fiction. We must demand accuracy and accountability from our politicians. And, on a daily basis, we should become more critical of seemingly unreasonable product promises too and more proactive in seeking and exposing the truth.
That’s what the media is supposed to do and if they don’t we can do it ourselves.