It is not every day that a brand gets tested such. It’s an uncanny coincidence that a brand which bears the name Amazon, a name depicting the legendary female warrior race, believed by ancient Greeks to exist on the edge of the known world, comes face-to-face with a modern day social warrior living on the edge of her beliefs. Like every human or brand battle, this one too is about courage, convictions and beliefs.
It is important to bring the episode to fore, lest the discussion become an anesthetized one about a brand and its ambassador. The incident which Swara Bhasker tweeted about is a blood curdling gang-rape of an eight year old, by a man, his son, his nephew, and his friend, repeatedly over four days. The girl was kept alive with this single gruesome purpose and finally strangulated, and her head stone-bashed to doubly ensure her end. Swara tweeted “I am Hindustan. I am Ashamed. #JusticeForOurChild #JusticeForAasifa. 8 years old. Gangraped. Murdered. In ‘Devi’-sthaan temple. #Kathua and lest we forget #unnao Shame on us! #BreakTheSilence #EndTheComplicity #ActNow”
I too should have tweeted, written and shouted against such a barbaric act. I didn’t. Many more should have. They didn’t. But Swara did. She showed courage in her convictions. However, there were the many others who felt that her tweet was unpatriotic, and some reflected that it was against their religious sentiments. Try as I did, I could not read any such meanings in Swara’s tweet.
A brand and human are similar in many ways. To have a strong identity, both need to have fortitude and grit to stand by their convictions, values and beliefs. A brand and a person reveal their character by the stand they take, and it gets even more exposed when the stand taken is in the face of extreme adversity.
We already know Swara’s stance. Amazon’s reaction, when it faced the brunt of ‘uninstall’ threats by belligerent sections of the audience who bandied her association with the brand was to, swiftly but discreetly, disassociate with Swara by deleting the promoted tweet she had been signed up for. With this one muted delete click, Amazon ended up displaying a character of their brand, which many will paint as insensitive. Some even went to the extent of calling the brand spineless. The threat to ‘uninstall’ came again - this time from a more deeply hurt customer base of Amazon who were aligned with Swara’s tweet and thought.
Customers buy brands (and from brands, in this case) they perceive to reflect their own personalities. And when a brand personality dissonance is encountered, the pain felt can be real and deep, often leaving lasting trust wounds. The immediate solution for Amazon in such a complex damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-
don’t situation is not easy. The only way to handle it, in such a case, is by clearly acknowledging the brand character Amazon wants to project of itself, and then to take a strong, convinced stance on it. No matter which stance Amazon takes, it has led itself into having a sharply divided audience. That cannot be undone. Now it is just a matter of knowing and understanding which side it wants to be seen with.
The need to protect the brand’s customer trust at any cost is perhaps best understood only by those who have lost it. Regaining trust for brands after losing it can be extremely tough and tedious, apart from it being costly, causing direct and real market erosion. Amazon or any other brand for that matter, if they want to avoid such ignominy in the long term, must strongly consider giving a brand trust expert a seat on the high table along with their other top management. The real need is of such a voice for the brand in its own internal debates, one which can give a sane but strong opinion in all matters which impact the customer trust quotient.