Commentary

Brands Beware Social Media's 'Thoughts Police'

We are living in an age where brands have to be increasingly aware that what I call the "thoughts police" are ever present. Any person who is vaguely in the public eye can have private emails and texts reproduced to show them to be guilty of a wide range of modern-day sins but now that the unsavoury charge of racism or sexism has been added to. Today, it would appear, it's improper to have an opinion that may differ from the typical customer of a brand that employs your services. 

It's rather like the teacher in The Simpsons secreting away her "independent thought alarm" button to alert the principal should Lisa have the audacity to both think an original thought and voice it. The left-leaning social media bullies are out there waiting to petition against anyone they disagree with.

I'm talking -- in this instance, of course -- about Myleene Klass. For those who missed it, one of those awful "let's be angry at anyone richer than us" petition Web sites is urging miserable people who resent someone else's success to call on Littlewoods to drop her as its brand ambassador. The reason? Well, horror of all horrors, it turns out that Klass is not only a talented musician, but she also has a brain. Worst of all, she used it to tell the opposition leader on a BBC show that £2m, in her opinion, was too low a threshold to bring in a mansion tax. Perhaps she may have let herself down by suggesting it could only buy you a "garage" in some parts of London, which did come across as a little condescending to those of us who would love to have the problem of which £2m "garage" to go for. Her main point, though, was entirely correct. If you set a £2m threshold across the country, London will be hit harder than any other city because of its crazy housing market.

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These are all details, of course -- such as how you would get around the fact that the super-rich oligarchs are too clever to put a house in their own name. They're generally owned by companies. The real issue is whether Klass can represent Littlewoods customers and hold a view they may disagree with -- or even worse, consider condescending.

It's time that brands grew a proverbial pair and turned this around to ask -- is it not a little condescending to believe that all their customers think the same? Do customers who shop together share more than a weekly newsletter? Okay, so if you want to delve into demographics, you'd arguably find that the average Littlewoods customer is probably a blue-collar female. I don't know if this is correct, but I'm assuming that's the picture of the brand we all have in our head. Do all those customers have a single view? Isn't it possible that some -- maybe even a lot -- agree with Klass that a tax on property is unfair, or at least it's unfair if it doesn't take in to account London's hugely inflated prices? Is every Littlewoods customer going to vote for the same party next May? Can they not stand to associate with someone who may have an opinion that is different from theirs?

Doubtless the person or people who started the petition are ramming a stick into a hornet's nest to get someone they consider to be a snob ousted from her position of fronting Littlewoods' Christmas campaign. Considering it's the end of November, the chances of that are minimal.

So, just as brands have to aware of all modern trends, from fluctuating currency prices to the rise of mobile video, they need to be ever-wary of the rise of the "thoughts police." Sad though it is, brands will have to not only weigh up what they think a celebrity stands for, but also factor in how those views may develop during the lifetime of a campaign. It's sad, but maybe celebrities will have to sign disclosures that for the length of a campaign they won't publicly discuss a political viewpoint -- and certainly not accept an invitation to go on a political television show.

Or, as I say, perhaps there's a brand out there that will be brave enough to say everyone's entitled to an opinion.

The way of turning this around, surely, is by asking what's more condescending -- saying £2m doesn't get you a lot of house in the capital or a group of people who believe that all Littlewoods customers think the same and can only bring themselves to buy from a shop that has a pretty face but no opinions?

Brands be warned -- the thoughts police are out there pounding the beat for anyone they disagree with. You can shy away or you can grow a spine.

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