Businesses walking a fine line with social network exploitation

A former colleague of mine at Berkeley PR wrote a thought-provoking blog post this week about Gap’s logo redesign.

In case you haven’t heard; the fashion retailer recently trialled a new logo that was swiftly slated by social media users. I added a comment beneath the post:

It seems to me that the logo fiasco was actually a PR success for Gap. Whether you believe that “all publicity is good publicity” or not, it certainly got everyone talking about the clothes retailer and its strong, well-liked, established brand.

It also showed the world that this company is listening to its audience via social media. That’s a positive, forward-thinking message to be sharing with the market.

Not a bad result for such a naive branding error!

While my comment demonstrates that it initially seemed like Gap had made an honest mistake, people quickly began to wonder whether it was actually a sly move by the retailer designed to simply grab some headlines. The question on everyone’s lips became: is it a publicity stunt or a terribly misguided re-branding exercise? We may never know. It seems highly unlikely that the Gap team will come clean if it was a sham.

It has left me wondering, though, whether PR “stunts” will continue to succeed as people become savvier about how organisations can manipulate users on social networks. Could these kinds of exploit increasingly backfire, with companies being resented for employing such sly tactics?

It’s certainly food for thought.

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