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How negative publicity can buoy product bottom line

An artiste performs at a past launch of a product in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
An artiste performs at a past launch of a product in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Personal care brand Nivea last week came under attack from consumers on social media after it was accused of promoting skin lightening in its advertisements in West Africa.

Yet while the negative publicity could now harm its sales for a short period, it may well gain over time from the raised brand awareness.

The advertisement features Nigerian model, Omowunmi Akinnifesi: in it, she is seen applying the lotion which turns her skin lighter and claims that it made her feel younger, accompanied with a slogan reading visibly fairer skin.

This led to consumers from across the region flocking to social media to highlight their disapproval of the message portrayed in the advertisement.
In such an aggressively competitive industry, brands are bound to monitor their competitor’s moves in the market, in a bid to pull ahead of the other by outdoing its marketing strategies.

However, Nivea’s controversy comes barely a month after its global competitor Dove also sparked the same outrage globally.

“The PR saying that all publicity is good publicity is true to an extent when it comes to growing a brand’s visibility. When a product becomes the topic of discussion among consumers even those that do not use it, will be curious to find out what is going on, conducting “extensive” research on the product growing its brand awareness,” said Stella Kimani, a brand strategist.

“If it is bad publicity, yes, it will hurt sales during the period, the company will issue an apology and when the backlash subsides, if it is an international brand such as Nivea with different consumer segments globally, it recovers and, in some instances, even gains new customers due to the publicity it received.”

In the Dove advertisement, it depicted a black woman morphing into a white woman. The advertisement showed a black woman taking off her brown shirt to reveal a white woman, who then took off her lighter-coloured shirt, revealing a woman of colour in a slightly darker shirt.

It was criticised for suggesting that black skin is dirty and white skin is clean, and it was not the first time that Dove had aired such an insensitive advertisement. In 2011 advertisement it showed a black woman standing in front of a ‘Before’ sign while a white woman stood in front of an ‘After’, depicting what happens when you use its products.

Both beauty brands issued an apology after the incidents, but the wheel had been set on motion.

In research on why bad reviews can boost sales, Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, found that even terrible publicity can bolster the bottom line of a product. However, it largely depends on whether or not consumers are already aware of the product.

Berger analysed the sales patterns of nearly 250 hardcover works of fiction reviewed in the New York Times from 2001 to 2003. Good reviews, increased sales from 32 per cent to 52 per cent. For books by established authors, negative reviews caused a drop of about 15 per cent, on average, but for books by relatively unknown authors, bad reviews caused sales to rise, by an average of 45 per cent.

“The reason? Our analysis showed that by making consumers aware of a book they would otherwise not know about, even the harshest review can be a boon. Time plays a role as well.

In follow-up experiments in which participants were asked how likely they were to buy various books, we found that negative reviews hurt well-known authors regardless of any delay between the review and the purchase decision,” reported Berger.

“In these studies, negative reviews initially hurt unknown books as well, but the detrimental effect quickly diminished.

“For purveyors of obscure products that get poor assessments, this is good news, suggesting that product awareness often lingers after the memory of the bad evaluation fades.”

- African Laughter

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