Last week, Diageo, the parent company of the spirit brand Smirnoff, apparently killed the website brosicingbros.com. Diageo executives, one assumes, are not entirely thrilled with the growing online meme of people “icing” people – when someone surreptitiously presents another with a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, and the receiver (victim/ice-ee?) drops to one knee and drinks the bottle rapidly.
No doubt, other brands and products have experienced unusual public relations phenomena beyond their control. “Spam” describes both the food product and junk email. “Xerox” describes both the document management company and the act of making copies. “Google” is both the search engine and a verb to describe innocent stalking. Usually when a brand name is appropriated into lexicon or metaphor, the brand owner reaps significant public relations value.
But, there are exceptions. It’s one thing if mention of your brand causes a playful eyeroll or knowing wink, but it’s another if that brand risks permanent association with a potentially negative and intractable trend. Diageo obviously reached this conclusion because it had lost total control over its Smirnoff Ice brand.
Simply put, having a site that promotes unsuspecting people rapidly chugging alcohol is not good PR for any alcoholic brand. Liquor and beer ads push the idea that booze is sexy, but these commercials also balance that appeal with the continuous refrain to “drink responsibly.” In the age of growing interest in corporate citizenship and CSR, alcohol brand managers certainly frown on images and video of their products being used irresponsibly. Imagine the nightmare PR scenario of kids icing kids at a party, and then one of them overdosing, with everything caught on video that is bounced around online. That’s enough to keep any sensible CEO up at night.
As a brand manager, you may not be able to swat away a bunch of YouTube videos, but you can certainly cease-and-desist the most notorious sites out of existence – the key is understanding the difference between what’s innocent promotion of you brand, and what is potentially lethal in the world of public relations.