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September 15, 2009


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Nice round up David, I actually didn't see this one and the brand is actually from my home town.

I keep a keen eye out for brands that have a go at social media, some do well, some do poorly and most make the mistake of not really being social...

From all the failure case studies I have seen the real car crashes are the companies that go into head burying mode at the first sign of consumer engagement.

Would be an interesting research piece to look at social media sentiment / outcome against response approach.

Cheers Brett


Some would say: "It's a publicity stunt". Regardless to the company's social media activity, it looks like they have created an emotion-evoking campaign, right or wrong is irrelevant, because the idea was to evoke a strong emotion and get people talking about the brand(in this case - Outrage).
Cotton On maybe not so good at responding to the angry mob, but what they are good at is using the social media gods (AKA @DMscott)to write about them, and put up pictures of their other products, and link to their website... you get my point.
It is always easier to get forgiveness than to get permission. They will probably eventually say "sorry", we'll forgive them and buy other cute T-Shirts with slogans about boobs.

If the company had to respond to the outrage on Twitter, I think it would have made matter worse.
My approach would have been:
Let everyone get it all out, then come up with a public apology, explaining it was all a mistake, and giving a nice public donation to the appropriate charity.

Gordon Weakliem

My first thought was that for a company selling to people who'd buy a "Living proof that my mum is easy" onesie for their baby, there may be no such thing as bad publicity.

David Koopmans

One of the things about this online thing is that everything stays visible, permanently. In the regular media, this blows over in a day or two.
online, a search for "Cotton On" will still turn this stuff up in a year and beyond. Really that smart?


I absolutely agree that it is imperative that companies are proactive about using the social media to react to this kind of crisis.

Once more, it is all about to listening to customers and engaging in the conversation rather than simply posting promotional messages.


Absolutely right! I never said what they were doing is smart, but if they have an online debate, this topic will definitely get good page ranking. Better not respond online, respond offline, and get bloggers to talk about the response.

Steve Jones

Twitter, and social media in general, certainly raises the profile of the issue of responding to your customers concerns... but it is by no means a new issue.

Tylenol dealt with it long before social media in 1982 and proved that by being direct, honest, and responsive you can rebuild a brand that - literally - killed people.

Maple Leaf foods did the same thing last summer in Canada. Tainted meat products killed people, yet the company recovered significant market share by responding honestly and directly to their customers.

It is amazing that some companies have not learned this lesson, especially when responding directly and honestly is so damn easy thanks to social media.

The very tool that gives the consumer power also makes it much easier for an aware company to respond to complaints and solve problems.

David Meerman Scott

Interesting discussions. Thanks all for participating.

While what Raz says is true -- people like me and Jonathan write about the issue and that gives Cotton On some "buzz" (I had never heard of them before... but now I have). However, David Koopmans is also correct that this stuff does live on.

And clearly Cotton On is NOT engaged, and they have NOT learned from this because nobody from the company has bothered to respond to all of you on this blog.


Wayne Key

I have to say that I think that Gary Vaynerchuk of winelibrarytv dot com has it right. He is constantly engaging with his customers. His comment is "when can a businessperson not afford to be engaged with his customers?" And I definitely agree, they should have been out there watching and responding and engaging with their public.

Chrıs Anton

Let everyone get it all out, then come up with a public apology, explaining it was all a mistake, and giving a nice public donation to the appropriate charity.

Tony Matheson

I would argue that the silence has probably stimulated more chatter from social marketing commentators than if Cotton On did respond.

This issue is over a month old, the line was withdrawn and we're still talking about it!

Omar Halabieh

As others have mentioned companies must realize that social media is a two-edged swords and you must be able to work with either end. It can be used effectively to promote one's company and at the same time it can serve as the gasoline that spreads complaints/issues. I believe that companies should create positions, to manage interactions with the public on social media as this is one crucial marketing aspect with a huge potential upside/downside.


I can't help but think back to other examples where companies haven't monitored social media closely enough (Motrin Moms, for one). Companies must learn to repond - and be quick about it. It's a nightmare to think that your whole brand perception could collapse in less than 24 hours, yet it's entirely possible.

Yes, the "mob" mentality online can be a little scary at first. Companies must overcome that fear if they are going to regain/ rebuild their reputation.

Matt Arbanas

David, thank you for the engaging post. The Cotton On example very clearly illustrates the negative role social media can play in shaping a consumer’s perception of a brand. The swift spread of the incident across the web demonstrates the power of Twitter, and validates its use as an agent for online marketing. With a different containment strategy, Cotton On could have saved its image in the eyes of valued consumers. Unfortunately, like many brands, Cotton On failed to see the relevance social mediums like Twitter pose as a forum for discussing consumer sentiments. I am reminded of the recent actions of musical artist Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech and the subsequent barrage of unfavorable responses from fans regarding his behavior on social networking sites. However, the difference between the outcomes resides largely in West’s efforts to reconcile the situation via online mediums, communicating directly with his fans and those calling his character into question. He clearly recognized the impact social networks like Facebook and Twitter have in perpetuating negative press. You rightly identify that Cotton On’s downfall was ultimately “because company representatives did not send a tweet, nor did they comment on the blogs that were critical of the company’s actions.” They did not have the foresight to recognize Twitter and other social mediums as engines for brand promotion, ultimately resulting in their image being tarnished.

Cotton On's Twitter debacle is a perfect example of a big brand utilizing social media the wrong way. Simply using it to market promotions without interacting with consumers demonstrates their lack of understanding. It is an important lesson for companies looking to monetize marketing on social media. Brands must realize they are not the sole voice in the conversation, and that interaction with the consumer is the key to success. I am curious whether you think companies will adapt and learn from Cotton On, or continue to make similar mistakes when marketing to the consumer? What suggestions do you have for companies looking to extend their marketing strategies to social media? It is imperative that companies recognize a small dissatisfaction can grow virally via these mediums into a real business threat, and they must take steps to safe guard against this.

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