It’s 2010, and LeBron James sits on a stool in a room full of children ready to announce “The Decision” live on ESPN. Every narrative says he’s staying in Cleveland: local boy, best player of his generation, beloved in the community, backed by a solid team and a popular new coach. Why would he get on TV just to break his fans’ hearts?
Then the words, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” and “The King” became the most hated man in sports. The velocity of negative sentiment on social media turned LeBron into a selfish, self-absorbed, self-promoting jerk.
Cut to yesterday, when, over my strenuous and vehement objections, I was informed that my security deposit would not be returned following a vacation rental on HomeAway. The landlord had falsely claimed that my family broke a garbage disposal and pocketed my $1,500.
My blood boiling, I clicked “Write a Review” on the HomeAway site, then did the same on Yelp and VRBO, eviscerating the property owners and telling the world about my crappy experience there. If I was going to get screwed, I wasn’t going to go without leaving a digital trail of fury.
While the only similarity between me and LeBron seems to be our affinity for checked button-down shirts, our experiences illuminate the cultural obsession with calling bullshit. Everyone now has the tools and the platform to merrily call bullshit on whatever they like. Got a beef with a product? Destroy it on Amazon.com Customer Reviews. Had a bad experience at a car dealership? Facebook all your friends away from that dealership. Feel like a food product is making false health claims? Drop by the Leanwashing Index and reveal the truth. Think Ray Lewis, Manti Te’o, or Lance Armstrong isn’t telling the whole truth? You know what to do.
Calling bullshit has become our national pastime.
In a world where spin is wound tighter than ever, it’s only fitting that there’s a democratic and community-oriented impulse to unravel it. Today, our antennae are always up, and we’re ready to pounce with a kind of manic glee when we feel like we’re not getting the truth.
Brands are especially vulnerable when they’re relentless in their spin. Remember Toyota’s dishonest response to their safety issue? Or BP’s disingenuous response to the spill? Those brands are still recovering their brand health. More recently, Maker’s Mark’s decision to lower its alcohol level (and its flimsy “too much demand” rationale) sparked a social media riot and PR disaster for the brand.
So, how to survive and flourish when calling bullshit is just a click away? It’s simple, really:
Living in a world of constant bullshit calls does work both ways. Because we’ve been trained to quickly and openly broadcast our criticism, we’ve also become a nation that’s quick to point out the good. Staying honest, transparent, and vigilant can also lead to the rewards of stronger trust, loyalty, and ultimately interaction. And it’s tough to call bullshit on that.