In the court of public opinion, failing to identify and effectively combat a negative rumor doesn't make it any less harmful to the brand it's targeting. Through social media, these persistent brand myths are often read by millions of consumers in a matter of minutes and can seriously threaten the integrity of a brand. In fact, 81 percent of consumers are influenced by their friend's social media posts, so if a brand allows public opinion spiral out of control, word-of-mouth could lead to a lot of lost business. Two companies that have been seriously threatened by negative and untrue rumors are Starbucks and Heineken. When faced with potentially damaging blows to their reputations, both Starbucks and Heineken focused on a key demographic of fans to help dispel these threatening myths: their advocates. By identifying potential threats, getting to know their brand communities, and building a base of advocates willing to rise up in a time of need, brands can combat persistent brand myths and come out stronger for it.
Types of brand myths
In order to defend against an enemy, a brand must first understand what it's fighting. There are two main types of myths.
Heineken's stretched truths
In 2012, Heineken learned the hard way that a picture is worth a thousand words when a photo surfaced of multiple Heineken banners hung above a dogfighting match at a Mongolian nightclub. Heineken's brand team soon learned that the photo was taken after a Heineken sponsored event in the same nightclub the night before, but the club failed to take the banners down before the dogfight. Animal rights activists immediately sent the photo on a viral loop, leaving the global beer brand defending its reputation against an angry digital swarm.
Starbucks' misinterpreted values
In 2004, a Marine Sergeant circulated an email accusing Starbucks of being unpatriotic. He asserted that they didn't support the war in Iraq when they refused a group of Marines coffee beans they had requested in a letter to the company. In contacting the author, the company learned the email was based on nothing more than hearsay and spread quickly through the passionate network of veterans on the Marine Sergeant's distribution list. This brand myth has been spreading across social networks since 2004, and has gained so much steam since that the company has officially defended itself both in 2005 and in 2013.