Brand “Hijacking” of Nestlé Anything But a Takeover

Nestlé has captured a great deal of publicity recently, most of it unwanted. The company has come under fire from Greenpeace for its practice of buying palm oil for its Kit Kat candy bar from a supplier that it alleges engages in forest destruction and endangers orangutans. The battle is being waged in social media. A video depicting someone unknowingly eating an orangutan finger out of a Kit Kat package has been downloaded more than 160,000 times (see video here). Also, Nestlé’s official Facebook and Twitter pages have been inundated with posts from consumers incensed with what they perceive as the company’s arrogance and indifference. Among comments posted on the Nestlé Facebook “fan” page include “enjoy a Nestle-free Easter” and “love the planet, hate Nestlé.”

An interesting take on this issue is that some observers are calling the consumer backlash against Nestlé as a brand hijacking. Such a view would suggest that Nestlé owns the brand. Although Nestlé is legally the owner of brand names and marks, its ownership actually ends with these more tangible elements of the brand. It is consumers and other stakeholders who own the brand. How? Brands are perceptions, images in our minds comprised of brand associations we hold. If people view Nestlé as uncaring about the environment, more concerned with profits than social responsibility, then the brand will be perceived negatively. No amount of advertising or product promotion by Nestlé will overcome the negative brand perceptions.

Social media give the public a channel to voice their opinions, both positive and negative. For marketers, social media is a channel for listening as well as talking. It is important for businesses to allow customers and others to voice their concerns. Practicing extreme brand control à la Tiger Woods is history. Consumers own your brand, get used to it. Give them a voice… then listen to it.

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