Social Media Wags the Dog

Never underestimate tweeps on a mission. If you’re doubting how much power can stem from social media, just ask Gap, Bank of America and Netflix. Each company will tell you that social media users actually caused it to reverse a strategic business decision.

Adidas: Shackled to a Bad Idea

The most recent in a long string of these incidents involved the shoe and sportswear maker adidas. In June 2012, adidas announced a new pair of sneakers that would feature an orange chain and shackles around the ankle. The brand attempted to imply that a person’s “game” would be so hot that he would need to lock his shoes to his ankles. However, that’s not the message that stuck. Instead, the shoes brought to mind painful images of slave shackles.

“I don’t think any brand sets out to alienate in that way,” said Amy Shea, executive vice president of Brand Keys, “but one does wonder if they conducted any research at all about the kinds of imagery that this conjures up. Even if you think about it not in terms of slavery, which is where some people went with it, but there’s the whole prison aspect to it, and the orange doesn’t help.”

They may not have conducted research, but they certainly heard feedback loud and clear over social media. In the days following the announcement, over 11,500 tweets were posted that contained the words “adidas” and “shackle.” Here is a sampling of the tweets.

In this case, a healthy dose of common sense might have saved adidas from this embarrassing incident. This unfortunate design may have been the brainchild of a designer or outside consulting firm, but common sense should have told a brand manager that these shoes were NOT a good idea.

Fortunately, adidas pulled the shoes due to the backlash. We can only hope that adidas and other organizations will learn from this gaffe and begin researching and looking at their products with a closer, more critical eye before production and promotion.

The adidas blunder follows a string of similar incidents from big brands such as Gap, Netflix, Bank of America and Verizon Wireless.


In October 2010, Gap announced that it would be modernizing its logo. Needless to say, the Internet was not pleased. In addition to the thousands of tweets and Facebook posts criticizing the new logo, new parody Facebook and Twitter accounts were created just for the sake of bashing it. Gap wisely listened to the criticism from fans and followers and reverted to the old logo.


In the summer of 2011, Netflix announced that the DVD rental portion of its business would now be known as Qwikster. Netflix users were not happy, and they did not hold back on social media. Between the social media backlash and the large subscriber exodus, Netflix abandoned Qwikster before it even launched.

Bank of America

Shortly after BoA announced its monthly $5 debit card fee in November 2011, nanny Molly Katchpole created a petition at asking people to join her in fighting this charge. More than 300,000 people joined the petition. Ultimately, less than two months after announcing the fee, BoA relented and dropped the fee.

Verizon Wireless

In December 2011, Verizon Wireless announced a $2 fee for any user who makes single payments on a month-to-month basis. This was an extremely unpopular business decision, and Verizon customers took to Twitter to make their frustrations known. One day after making the announcement, Verizon reversed its decision.

It’s a powerful thing to see big brands brought to their knees (and their senses) by social media. Social media has the power to influence, and these are all examples of users leveraging that power to make a difference. They took a stand, others joined and the companies had no choice but to listen.

So here’s the takeaway for corporations: research and use common sense! Before you finalize and roll out a major decision, consider how it will be received by your customers and online followers. If you expect it to be unpopular, reconsider. If you have no other choice, take some time to educate your online networks before plowing ahead. Hopefully, the goodwill you build up will help you to weather the social media storm that awaits.

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