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What #Marmitegate and Toblerone taught brands about Brexit

Love it or hate it, the spike in Marmite’s price this autumn gave customers the first opportunity to have a tangible reason to respond to the implications of Brexit.

Unilever’s controlled and muted response across the press and social media meant they emerged as a measured, reasonable negotiator in the argument – even though it was Unilever themselves (not Tesco), who were threatening a price rise.

Their positive, calm and collected tweet once the dispute was resolved cemented this: ‘We’re pleased to confirm the supply situation with Tesco UK&I is successfully resolved. To those that missed us, thanks for all the love.’

It was clever copy – which suggested that sentiment toward the brand had not been impacted. And of course, it was irrefutable that Marmite was still loved.

Mondelēz, the manufacturer of Toblerone, however, attributed rising ingredient prices to their changed product design of Toblerone and excluded mention of Brexit. They denied the connection as the day unfolded.

But a social media storm took up, seeing them join a growing list of companies reducing their costs in the wake of Brexit. Something that was seen to be punishing the British public and disregarding brand loyalty.

When the news hit, there was a palpable rise in conversations about both Mondelēz and Toblerone online. Mentions of the corporate online were up a huge 837% from the day before and 41% of all mentions of Mondelēz included the term Brexit.

And it is no coincidence that 75% of the online conversation around Mondelēz, and 52% of the conversation around Toblerone was disparaging – with huge shifts in reputation from the days before the news broke (when negative sentiment stood at 25% and 15% respectively).

How Mondelēz dealt with this social media crisis is key to the response it received.

No holding statements were placed on either the Mondelēz or Toblerone website, and a response to the crisis online was only posted on the Toblerone Facebook page hours after the conversation had soared on Twitter.  An ‘official statement’ was released days after the main event – which could have been prepared for and posted far before that time.

When the tide got too strong, Mondelēz abruptly stopped responding to individuals. Other brands, though, have started to become wise to the importance of social media corporate response.

A month after #Marmitegate and a few days before the Toblerone fiasco, Walkers crisps openly blamed their recent product changes on Brexit and controlled the small amount of backlash online, with a muted and measured approach similar to Unilever.

Mars also announced the size of Maltesers bags were changing two weeks after the Toblerone episode, and gained far lower traction than Mondelēz, with a rise of only 9.1% in engagement with online conversations about Maltesers from the week before the news broke. Their response was also muted online.

So, how can brands manage the implications of Brexit on social media?

Respect your audience, and the power they hold. Social media has enabled everyone to have a voice, and consumers – especially as we navigate through the uncertain waters of Brexit – will enforce their right to be heard.

Of course, Mondelēz is the anomaly example here: increased costs and reduced pack sizes are one thing – and in fact a theme consumers are familiar with, and almost desensitised toward nowadays – but the (not insubstantial) redesign of a much-loved brand, a decision entirely beyond the customers’ control, was likely to provoke upset, and online noise.

But preparation is everything. Messaging is vital, and holding statements and information are one of the first things the online audience will see when they gravitate towards owned channels. These need to be clear, robust, and in place as soon as is required.

Each case is unique, but consistency is key. Set your engagement plan, response rate times (if indeed responding), tone of voice for said responses – and uphold.

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