opinion

In 2012, It's All About Brand Protection

Stephen Yagielowicz

Once upon a time, a company had little more than its copyrights and trademarks, product safety and the CEO’s indiscretions to worry about in regards to the consumer brand protection arena. Today, however, every voice is heard — from the highly paid CEO sitting in his executive boardroom, to the lowliest janitor, who spends his dreary days swabbing out the company’s dirty toilets. Both are given equal weight online.

A side effect of the democratization of thought enabled by the Internet, social media makes it infinitely harder to stay on top of your brand’s image, by allowing friend and foe alike to be seen as “a representative” of your company — whether authorized or not.

A side effect of the democratization of thought enabled by the Internet, social media makes it infinitely harder to stay on top of your brand’s image.

Many online adult entertainment companies have grappled with this issue, usually in the form of an owner, employee, affiliate or other “representative” making inappropriate or otherwise ill-advised message board posts; underlining the importance of maintaining strict corporate communications policies and monitoring employee forum postings and overall board behavior — among other factors that may reflect poorly on a brand.

Sometimes, however, it’s your competitors, disgruntled employees, “social activists” and other enemies that are to blame for a public relations black eye. At other times, it is a company’s own negligence that opens the door to its woes. Occasionally, it’s both.

For example, by not securing a desired domain name when the opportunity presented itself; or by ignoring various (but admittedly transient) “it” venues, such as Facebook; or underutilizing the latest features of other outlets, such as Google+ — a lesson that corporate giant Bank of America recently learned the hard way, when an imposter took the brand’s vacancy from the platform as an opportunity to attack, using a bogus profile.

Among the satirical posts on the spoof page were messages to the OWS protestors:

“Starting tomorrow, all Occupy Wall Street protestors with Bank of America accounts around the country will have their assets seized as part of BofA’s new Counter-Financial-Terrorism policy,” one malicious posting read. “You will sit down and shut up, or we will foreclose on you.”

The site also displayed unflattering photographs of former Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis and is, according to experts, an example of “brandjacking” — a term that describes unauthorized persons or groups impersonating the online identity of another.

Writing for Social Times, CJ Arlotta explains that while Bank of America shares in the blame for its own failure to keep up with the times, Google is the real culprit for not protecting the authenticity of brands on its social networking platform.

“Even though Bank of America is mostly at fault for its failure to protect its own brand, Google will eventually need to address the authenticity issues at hand,” Arlotta states. “Google cannot afford to lose large brands on its social networking platform, if it wants to compete with Facebook.”

“Instead,” Arlotta adds, “Google needs to put together a plan to authenticate brands.”

The author opines that above all, a brand needs to lookout for its own self-interest.

“Google, as most of us are aware, is to blame for its lack of oversight on the authenticity of brands, but to protect your brand from future platforms, be sure to make your presence known,” Arlotta concludes. “If not, be prepared to deal with the Bank of America scenario.”

Google removed the fraudulent page at the bank’s request. You may not be so lucky.

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