The Streisand Effect strikes again

The Streisand EffectIt’s every marketer’s dream come true – your products so inspire people that they voluntarily organize around your brand. They meet, converse, share ideas, inspire one another and, most importantly, buy more of your product. All without you having to lift a finger. They connect online and in person from all parts of the globe, and all because of you. Your products become part of their lives – indeed, they help define an entirely new lifestyle.

This dream scenario can quickly turn into a nightmare for some marketers, unfortunately. Even worse, it does so because of their own actions.

Some companies, it turns out, don’t take too kindly to strangers appropriating their identity without asking first – or paying for it. They see their name being appropriated unofficially by this group – no matter their positive intentions – and demand, usually through lawyers, that they cease and desist such unsanctioned and unbridled fandom immediately. As a result, they draw additional, much more negative attention to themselves, looking like a big bully picking on the small guy who only wants to be his friend.

It’s called the Streisand Effect – calling more attention to something by trying to eliminate it. IKEA found itself falling victim to this particular phenomenon recently when it sent a takedown notice to an unofficial website,, which served as a vibrant community of enthusiasts, sharing ideas about how to “hack” a wide variety of products you could find at the Swedish purveyor of furniture, accessories and meatballs.

The story quickly spread online, and IKEA became the big, bad bully in the eyes of the public. Things got especially bad when the site’s purveyor announced she’d have to shut it down completely rather than pay expensive lawyers. The outcry grew from there until finally IKEA relented and worked with the site on a compromise that would allow it to live another day.

This most recent example from IKEA is representative of what can often happen when brands encounter this unfamiliar new territory of a group of devoted fans – they feel the need to do something to acknowledge that passion and loyalty. Problem is, that something tends to backfire – or worse.

As can often be the case, the best solution is the easiest (and, at the same time, most counterintuitive): sit back and watch your growing, passionate fan base connect and engage organically. Look for opportunities to support and strengthen, of course, and then get back out of the way. Otherwise, you may be next to fall victim to the Streisand Effect.

Friendly reminder – You do not own your brand

Well, technically you own it. You hold the copyrights and trademarks and service marks for your logo and name and all that good stuff. What you don’t own is much more important and valuable – the perception of your brand.

You can – and you should – do everything you can to shape and positively impact how the public perceives your brand, of course, but at the end of the day it’s up to them how they view it and what it stands for.

In the “good ol’ days” of traditional media (print, TV, radio, etc.) this was a bit easier for brands to accomplish. Nowadays, however, in the world of social media and real-time conversations with consumers and customers, brand perception is a much more fluid, subjective concept. A brand can devise of a campaign centered on a hashtag or phrase, for example, only to see a concerted effort by a group of consumers or activists derail it by connecting the phrase to negative perceptions of your brand – or worse.

Chevron found this out the hard way recently – and also found out that Twitter is prime real estate for this type of brandjacking, as it’s often called. Unlike other examples of brandjacking, however, what was most eye-opening was that the hashtag (#AskChevron) wasn’t even started by the company.

No, this time, #AskChevron came out from a group of Twitter users that wanted to point a list of transgressions it believes Chevron is responsible for. As you might imagine, the hashtag took off on Twitter, catching Chevron completely off guard as the phrase shot to the top of trending topics on the site within hours.

Chevron brandjacking

What does this mean for you and your brand? While you probably don’t have to worry about a Twitter hashtag trashing your brand going global any time soon, it certainly serves as a reminder just how much the game has changed when it comes to how we shape public perception today – and how much easier it is for those who don’t own your brand to still play a very important role in owning how it’s perceived. What it also means is that hyper vigilance – always being aware of what’s being said or shared about your brand – and reacting when necessary is as important as ever, and will only become more important in the coming years.