How to Avoid Geopolitical Brand Damage
Nobody wants to get caught in a fight between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, least of all if you’re the brand guardian of the most popular global carbonated soft drink on the planet. In December 30th a massive outrage erupted in Russia after the publication of a seemingly innocent map designed to celebrate the end of the New Year.
It’s no laughing matter to get caught in the middle of an argument between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, especially if you’re the brand guardian of the most popular carbonated soft drink on the planet. At the end of 2015 Coca-Cola published a seemingly innocent map depicting Crimea as part of Ukraine, sparking outrage amongst VK (Russia’s most popular social network) users.
Russia without Crimea: Russians offended
Russia’s bringing Crimean territory back into the motherland is highly popular with the local population. And while Coca-Cola’s link with Ukraine may please the American administration, it offended Russian nationals.
Is Santa an American provocateur?
VK was instantly saturated with fury against the iconic American brand, suddenly seen as an “Evil Imperialist” out to humiliate the Russian people. Could it be that Santa, the beloved figure popularised by Coca-Cola, was actually an American provocateur in disguise?
Although an innocent faux-pas, the map was all the more damaging as the brand was making a deliberate effort to tap into a local mindset via Russian cultural references.
Crimea part of Russia: Ukrainians offended
In response to the VK community seething with outrage, Coca-Cola made a somewhat perplexing, 180-degree marketing translation turn. Instead of defusing the situation, Coca-Cola released a new version of the map that included Crimea and several other disputed territories within Russia’s border.
The move angered Ukrainians, who called for a boycott of Coke products. Following a barrage of angry tweets and images of Coca-Cola being flushed down toilets, the soft drink giant apologised and removed the offending map altogether.
This is far from an isolated incident. With frontiers quickly shifting in various parts of the world and cultural sensitivities running high, brands cannot afford to rest on long-held assumptions about national borders.
What to do?
The CIA’s website is a good source for marketers to track geopolitical change
Microsoft has led the way by establishing a division that tracks geopolitical and cultural risk: all marketing executions are vetted by it, and its database of cultural issues to avoid is gradually enriched over time. Unfortunately this resource is not publicly available: the software giant sees it as a strategic asset.
The CIA’s website (www.cia.gov) is probably the best resource to stay up to date with geopolitical change. It provides some of the most accurate intelligence in the world, openly publishes a surprising amount of information, and is free!
Textappeal can help keep marketers and their agencies safe too, by systematically checking brand materials for cultural and geopolitical issues, validating executions for travel, and advising how to deal with cross-border dilemmas that may result in brand damage.