When Chapstick posted an ad featuring a woman's posterior instead of its usual images of empowerment, fans objected. And in an enormous social media faux pas, Chapstick deleted all negative comments from its page and called its fans spammers.
ChapStick, we’re through. My family will not be using your brand again. I tried to tell you why on Facebook, but you deleted my comment. You deleted the comments of many, many women who spoke out against your objectifying ad ”Where Do Lost ChapSticks Go?” prominently featuring the back end of a woman bent over a couch. In fact, before you deleted it, the photo file uploaded to your page by some intern was labeled “Ass”.
But the issue with the ad being interpreted as sexist rather than empowering was the least of the brand's problems. Every brand at some point tries something new with a campaign. And sometimes the quirky humor falls flat or simply doesn't resonate with the brand's most devoted fans. The fact that the ad garnered a negative reaction isn't Chapstick's worst offense. As so many brands have learned before (remember Motrin Moms?), it was Chapstick's response to the criticism that showed its awkward, opaque social media feathers. Adweek covers the backlash in a nutshell:
ChapStick posts weird image on Facebook of a woman, ass in the air, looking for her ChapStick behind a couch. Blogger is disgusted, blogs about it. Blogger tries to reply on Facebook too. ChapStick deletes her comments. Others object to the image. ChapStick deletes their comments. ChapStick's ads with the line "Be heard at Facebook.com/ChapStick" start to look foolish. People keep commenting. ChapStick keeps deleting. People get angry. ChapStick gets worried.
That's not the worst of it
The most offensive element of the fiasco was Chapstick's clueless and naïve idea that by deleting negative comments on Facebook, somehow the objections to the ad would magically disappear. Apparently, the brand was unaware that fans who are denied a voice on one social media channel will flock to their own channels, and the maelstrom of negative press will only gather speed and force. The internet and social media sites exploded with criticism of the brand's handling of the controversy, notably with it's lackluster, it's-not-me-it's-you "apology":
We apologize that fans have felt like their posts are being deleted and while we never intend to pull anyone's comments off our wall, we do comply with Facebook guidelines and remove posts that use foul language, have repetitive messaging, those that are considered spam-like (multiple posts from a person within a short period of time) and are menacing to fans and employees.
So, AdWeek concludes, to those ChapStick fans whose comments were deleted—it was all your fault, you obnoxious, foul-mouthed, menacing spambots! Seriously, maybe just shut down the whole page at this point.
Blaming your fans for justified criticism when the campaign was claiming transparency and asking for engagement? Not Chapstick's finest moment. Accusing its fans of being foul-mouthed spammers in no way supports the brand's stated goal of transparency and open conversations. In social media, the general rule is to take the bad with the good. If your brand is strong, your own fans will defend it against unreasonable attacks.
Instead, the apology only increased anger and outrage because of its misdirected attack on the brand's own fans.
Forbes blogger Samatha Ettus included a "dream apology" that Chapstick should have made:
We are so sorry for using poor judgment in putting up this ad. Thanks to social media, our awareness of the reaction emerged speedily and we were able to respond immediately by taking it down. Our consciousness has been raised and for that we are grateful. We have taken this lesson to heart and will not be creating any advertising that is or could be construed as objectifying women in any way. Just like you might forgive an old friend who messes up for the first time, I hope that you will return to us, unscathed from our mishap. Thanks for your understanding.
How the apology should have read
I disagree. I don't think Chapstick or any brand is best served by rolling over and begging for forgiveness when it simply tried a campaign that didn't go over as anticipated. It posted an ad in good faith that simply didn't happen to resonate with its brand ambassadors; a groveling apology isn't necessary. Social media is about relationships, and this apology provided a golden opportunity not only to reinforce the brand message but also to build stronger relationships with its fans. Chapstick would be better served by speaking to its fans on a personal level, just as the Facebook campaign claims the brand is open to doing:
Thanks to everyone who gave us feedback on this ad. We intended the ad to be whimsical and didn't intend any disrespect with the image, but we are listening to those of you who have shared with us your negative opinions regarding the ad and have made the decision to remove it based on your feedback.
At Chapstick, we recognize that our fans are our most valuable asset. When we create something that doesn't resonate with you or doesn't suit your needs, we want to hear it. Likewise, when we do, we want to hear that, too. We're listening. It takes strength to stand up and say "you're wrong," and it takes strength to hear it and say "you're right."
As for our Facebook response, there was no excuse for that. With a goal of transparency, we should never have deleted the negative comments and have restored all comments to the site, positive and negative alike. We're sorry. In the future, all comments (that do not include obscenity) will always be posted. Comment away!
And our moderators have been punished: we put Chapstick in their jeans and ran them through the wash.
That is what I would have liked to see from Chapstick: the honesty, empowerment and a dash of humor that have been the hallmarks of the brand until now.