If you aren’t fully aware of just how much power social media places in the hands of consumers, then allow me to help you catch up on things.

The Ketchup War of 2016’s first skirmish was a small but particularly intense predicament which left the ground stained in red.  It began when Orillia Ontario resident Brian Fernandez made an incredibly popular Facebook post describing that the Heinz operation in Leamington had shut down to the sad song of 740 jobs.  Poof.

In that same post (which netted over 100k shares by the way), Fernandez informed friends and Facebook users alike that French’s (known primarily for their mustard) had taken over the Ketchup facility.  In doing so, French’s restored not only the jobs of their competitors former staff – but also that of the Leamington agricultural economy.

This news caused a significant amount of hype, which caused grocery stores to entirely sell out of this debut condiment.  Everything seemed to be going fine until grocery giant Loblaw’s came out of left field with a bizarre left hook.  They decided to throw French’s under the bus – selling off their remaining inventory and no longer carrying the product.  Their reason?  The brand wasn’t selling well enough.

Cry Havoc!  And Let Loose the Dogs of War!

In less than 24 hours, it’s safe to say that social media lost their shit – and took Loblaw’s to task.  The majority of consumers called foul – yet there were those in the various comments section(s) who attempted to come to the grocery giant’s aid.  “President’s Choice’s Ketchup also uses local produce” was their argument.

Oops!  Wait a tick…  Loblaw does have their own proprietary brand of ketchup!  Of course, this is when the tinfoil-hat-variety types joined the melee with cries of:  “CONSPIRACY!!”  

The Plot Thickens…into a thick runny paste

Of course… It didn’t help matters when a certain leaked memo popped the lid on – or rather,suggested that the supermarket chain did indeed ditch French’s nouveau ketchup to eliminate a new competitor who’s brand had just hit popularity on the viral scale.

Again – social media had a bird, leaving Loblaw’s with no choice but to concede defeat and do a complete 180.  In the end, French’s will be back on the shelves at Loblaw’s stores and partnered retailers as though it were never pulled in the first place.  The only traces of this bloody battle is the press that followed and a lot of angry comments on social media.

Key Takeaway of the Tomato Tussle

The most important lesson here is one for anyone in the business world from a lemon-aid stand to a multi-national corporation. I’ve said this before – and that is that social media has shifted the power scale in the consumer’s favour.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a soda brand or software giant.  There is a new golden rule to abide when it comes to conducting one’s self in the digital era.  It can be summed up with one statement:

If you screw around, the audience will sink their teeth in like a deer-tick on a hound’s ass.

The question I pose for discussion is whether or not this is a good thing.  For the customer, it is without a doubt an intoxicating amount of raw power – to be able to bend entire companies to their collective will.

For those of us ‘in the field’ it means we must represent our clients with a newfound vigilance.  To be aware of this power.  Study the positive – and most definitely the negative case studies which surround this topic.  Respect this power.

Help guide the brands and organisations who’s public images we safeguard toward success, and clear of folly.

For the client, it is a good time to heed the warnings of their marketing managers, consultants, and advisors. Know that the ever watchful source of your monetary sustenance is the very same one who holds a spear to your breast.

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