This week the internet grossed us out again with another scandal! This time, it was owing to the fact that gay pastor, Jordan Brown of Austin’s Church of Open Doors, claimed that the cake he ordered from Whole Foods had an extra gay slur added to it. The cake read “Love Wins” and according to Brown, underneath was written a gay slur we don’t care to repeat on this blog. If you’re curious, you can find out here what the fuss was all about.
It got us thinking- how has the internet put brands at risk? In today’s social economy, you can tweet at Taco Bell and feel like you’re getting a response from Taco Bell itself (even though deep down we both know it is some poor intern). People are able to connect with brands via Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. And in a way, it has allowed consumers to interact with the businesses they love in a way that has never before been seen.
It can be beneficial at times, because it holds these businesses up to a higher standard. Remember when that NJ car dealership was caught berating a pizza delivery guy on camera, only to have the internet respond by flooding their Yelp page with negative reviews? Or that time a bakery was forced to close it’s doors after receiving so much negative backlash over refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding? The internet provides us as a collective consumer base a sounding board to voice our concerns, our complaints, and most importantly, our praise.
However, in this instance we can see how quickly social media can turn on brands. There has been a lot of discussion whether Brown added the slur himself to gain notoriety and assets or not. We’re not here to discuss our opinion on that matter, instead we’re here to meditate on how quickly social media can go from a brand’s best friend, to it’s worst nightmare.
If Brown did indeed fake this stunt, Whole Foods now has to deal with the slew of negative PR it has gotten from those who took Brown’s words instantly to heart. Furthermore, if Brown did lie then the damage has already been done. It is currently impossible to google “Whole Foods” without 14 articles on this event popping up in your results.
Is there a way to sift through the people who are lying and those who are genuinely using social media to force brands to listen? We’re not sure.
It may be impossible to know who is genuine and who is taking a hot-button issue and turning it into an opportunity, but the reality is that it happens. Social media may provide brands a way to interact with their consumer base, but it also leaves them vulnerable to backlash like this. In regards to Whole Foods, this is an event that will haunt them for the foreseeable future. News stories may come and go, but SEO optimization will ensure that the internet remembers this event for a long time.