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In today’s social age, brands can’t control how they are perceived, says MHP Brand’s Mark Perkins

3rd June 2013


Imagine if a man walked into a doctor's office and declared, with all the dignity he could muster, that he wanted to “own the colour pink“. He would probably be sectioned. If a group of people went public with a declaration that plan to “own the family dinner table'“ or “take over the half-time conversation” they would be locked up as some sort of dangerous new-age cult.

Yet these are the conversations most of us have been party to among in creative sessions and client briefings without the blink of an eyelid. Latterly engagement has become the new buzz mode of brand behaviour and that's because we've all realised that in the social age you can't dictate the terms on how a brand can be consumed, enjoyed, shared and adored by its advocates.

As anyone knows, you should work hard to a create loving relationship (a trip to the pictures, steak dinner, Barry White playlist on Spotify), but it should be mutual. A desire to own and dictate the terms of a loving relationship, well, that's a bit creepy.

Millions of pounds and working hours are spent each year in all-agency meetings around the world trying to trigger unconditional brand love. Yet seldom will any group of creatives and marketers produce anything that has the halo, charm or authenticity as something crowd-sourced from the grassroots itself. If that should happen nurture and cherish it but don't try to 'own' it or, much worse, snuff it out.

Nutella got itself in this particular pickle recently when it issued a legal order to blogger Sara Rosso to close a site and end her World Nutella Day campaign – which had been running since 2007.

Any agency would love to deliver a Sara Rosso to their client: a passionate, digitally-savvy evangelist who had managed to mobilise and unite a global community of 40,000 fans dedicated to celebrating one brand. This is Holy Grail stuff.

News of the order to close the site and end World Nutella Day went viral and became a cause celebre for social media through online leaders shocked at this old school approach – not since Carol Middleton was left alone in a room with a dithering Prince William had such pushy and impassioned cases been made for swift engagement.

Happily and sensibly the situation was amicably resolved. Ferrero contacted Ms Rosso, issued a statement announcing it had immediately stopped the previous action and was giving its full support to World Nutella Day. Nutella quickly acted to get rid of the open goal that a suitor brand could have taken advantage of, by seducing a bewildered and hurt community on the rebound. The opportunity doesn't need spelling out.

What could've become a permanent split will, one expects, be a soon-forgotten tiff. In fact, everyone’s a winner. The international coverage raised the profile of World Nutella Day to new heights – a few cynics even accused Rosso of staging a stunt with Ferrero. As a result expect 5th of February to be bigger and better next year than ever before. Lessons have been learned – for one, you don't need a sledgehammer to crack a Nutella nut – and it’s likely the relationship will be even stronger for it.

Mark Perkins is director at MHP Brand



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