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It's a surprise to very few brands that when you spill a bunch of oil, treat your customers like crap or put your foot in your mouth, there's a decent chance the social mediasphere is going to react.

Social media firestorms are a headache for brands and a boon for PR firms and agencies well-versed in responding to crisis. And with use of social media platforms only growing, they're not likely to go away any time soon.

But not all social media firestorms are the same.

Bic is learning that as it faces a unique social media backlash. As detailed by Adweek, the maker of ballpoint pens is dealing with a flurry of reviews on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for a pen that has been on the market for some time:

...women (and some men) are flooding the Amazon.co.uk product page for "Bic for Her" pens with comically reverent five-star reviews, and some just-as-funny one-star ones. The pens—which are described right there in the technical specs as being "designed to fit comfortably in a woman's hand" with an "attractive barrel design available in pink and purple"—have been around for a while, but this wave of backlash is just gathering steam.

Most of the reviews have a sarcastic bent ("Finally, a pen that's perfect for her birthday/anniversary/christmas/etc."), but a few are serious ("There is nothing special about these pens. They are regular, cheap Bic pens that come in pastel colors that supposedly appeal to women.").

And while these reviews may have been sparked by a 2011 Jezebel.com blog post, as Adweek notes, it appears something has prompted a growth in reviews in the past several days.

What should Bic do?

The big question: what should Bic do? As with most social media firestorms, the answer isn't obvious.

At this point, the 'backlash' against Bic for Her is better described as an exercise in sarcasm, and while this could be the start of something bigger, it's worth keeping in mind that, at this moment, there are still under 200 reviews for the Big for Her pen on Amazon.com.

This said, Bic for Her highlights several important things that all brands should keep in mind:

  • Social media isn't just Facebook and Twitter. Any site that provides for user-generated content can be a platform for protest.
  • Firestorms don't have to be an acute phenomenon. As noted, Bic for Her is not a new product line and its existence wasn't first observed in a major way yesterday. Yet, for reasons not entirely known at this time, consumers have decided to take to Amazon now to point out the absurdity of Bic's creation.
  • A backlash isn't always angry. Many social media firestorms are to varying degrees angry. But not every firestorm will have fire. Here, consumers are poking fun at Bic using sarcasm, not anger.
Patricio Robles

Published 29 August, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2377 more posts from this author

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Nick Stamoulis

"Any site that provides for user-generated content can be a platform for protest."

Good point! Any site that accepts reviews is prime space for positive and negative UGC. Even 1 personal blog with a very unhappy blogger can be the match that starts the whole firestorm. Obviously you can't monitor every single site for every single negative comment but you need to keep your ear to the ground.

almost 4 years ago

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Sandra Pickering @opento

Good article and good advice.
I'd like to add the advice to understand the rules of brand extension and brand architecture before launching.
When you launch something called "Bic for Her" it implies that (the real, original) Bic is actually "Bic for Him".
If you examine the sub-branding approach, it depicts 'for Her' in lovely pink flowing script as a sub-brand.
A bit like Diet Coke (implies original Coke is not for dieters) or Nivea for men (implies original Nivea is for women).

almost 4 years ago

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Sandra Pickering @opento

BikeRunYoga - yes, I agree. The response was witty and humorous. More effective as a result I believe.

almost 4 years ago

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Meg Robinson, e-Marketing at SHL USA

From the other side of the pond.... Bic has recently launched a television ad campaign in the U.S. for Bic for Her, aimed at (apparently vapid) young women. You can see the video on Youtube here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8c23dUWATaY

There are numerous and similar comments there. The Amazon backlash could be related, and timing would make sense since they just launched the campaign for back-to-school.

almost 4 years ago

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Tyler Vautier

I see no major issue with this. I think they should ride this out and enjoy the publicity.

It may have been a poor choice in product naming at the creation of this product, but to pull the product now would show that they feel shame for the product.

Let's be honest, Bic makes boring products that involve little to no product research. Although they have a strong brand name already any bit of publicity will help me remember them in the future. Best case scenario, this blows over in a few months and I still recall their brand, but forget the issue. Worst case, they pull the product and major news sources pick up on this and turn it into a shame Bic day. More likely to harm them in the long run.

Ideally, they embrace it and use it to push their social media channels. Imagine that, a big brand that isn't afraid of poking fun at itself. Bic has shown their cheeky selves in the past before, this is a prime chance to create a fun brand experience.

Disagree? Let me know

almost 4 years ago

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith, Director at eschermanSmall Business

Talking of Amazon reviews, I'm curious to know how sales of Veet for Men Hair Removal Creme Gel are faring:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Veet-Men-Hair-Removal-Creme/dp/B000KKNQBK/

The mickey taking reviews have now passed the 500 mark and been going on for nearly 8 months (though I'm sure most of them are written by people who've never tried the product).

Perhaps Bic should talk to Veet to find out what they did (or didn't do) in relation to this kind of Amazon review?

almost 4 years ago

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Anna Corp, Online Marketing Manager at Debenhams

Bic pens have been receiving funny reviews on Amazon for years.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bic-Crystal-Ballpoint-Medium-Point/dp/B000JTOYLS/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1346314730&sr=8-10

It's all just good fun.

almost 4 years ago

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Sandra Pickering @opento

BIC is a $2bn company and no doubt has a sophisticated and well-resourced marketing team.
Their culture appears to be product-centric and, to be fair, they don't make over-inflated claims about being in the forefront of equality and diversity.
http://www.bicworld.com/en/bic-group/bic-culture/

I'd love to see the product launch ppt deck for BIC 'for Her' and I wonder if the idea was initiated in Paris or in the USA.

almost 4 years ago

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Matt

"it appears something has prompted a growth in reviews in the past several days"

I saw it on the B3TA newsletter which has a regular section for ironic Amazon reviews. Its one of my favourite features within my favourite email subcription. http://www.b3ta.com/newsletter/issue543/

almost 4 years ago

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Stephan Jaeckel

There are three misconceptions I think about the social communication world:

1) Consumers do not decide. There is nothing like a sudden movement and coordinated communication wave. It is a spontanous thing happening or spoken more scientifically indivisual systems start moving into one direction creating a gravity point in a system of systems.

2) That there is a closed world. As Meg Robinson has hinted out, there is a TV campaign in the USA by BIC running now. The social world is global due to the nature of its platform: The internet. Basically any campagin anywhere could cause a local or national backlash visible on a global scale.

And with English being one of the most spoken languages its more than likely that many people can read, write, post, repost and share information given in English, protest voiced in English language.

3) People do not alway show their discontent in hatespeach. Human beings are by nature positive minded and spirited people. If we wouldne't be, we would have not made it through the iceage. So if you do something really stupid or do act in ways where even someone with the IQ of a peanut can see the stupid effort to manipulate them, then people will make fun of your stupidity. I wonder what is actually worse: Your clients hating you or your clients telling you that you got too few common sense.... Indeed since hatespeach usually makes some people align with the traget of that hate and negativity, fun and humor and making you look stupid have a bigger negative effect cause you become the laughter of - no not only the town - but in a global social world the laughter of the web, the laughter of the world!

Take me: I am in germany, would have never heard of this and now have shared it and those getting it will pass it on and on and on....

What could BIC have done to prevent this? They could have hired some staff much more capable of doing a good job in the social global market-place.

What can they do? Be funny themselves and make so much fun of their own product that it turns cult to still use it, even so much cult that a man would buy and use it..... but given their first failure I would bet they do go on failing in this issue.

People with a global horizon are hard to come by and most of them will probably not opt for selling ballpens as a centerpiece of their life!

almost 4 years ago

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Lewis Hamilton, Head of Ecommerce at Turnbull & Asser

One for Econsultancy, or someone to pick up on -

https://www.facebook.com/ODEON/posts/523396924342167?comment_id=118167784&notif_t=like

A trip to the cinema for 4 people has turned into an absolute nightmare for Odeon...this (funny) account of an ODEON cinema experience in the UK has gained 17,000 comments, and almost 190,000 likes since Friday! Odeon have not come back with a real response yet...

I look forward to the article!

almost 4 years ago

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