How can fake news wreck your brand?

How can fake news wreck your brand?_5ee33c67e2110.jpeg

What is ‘fake news’?

You might have seen the phrase online and spurting out of a certain Presidents mouth once or twice over the past few years. Yes, we’re talking about ‘fake news’. The term applied to ‘news’ which is junk or pseudo-news. 

It’s also sometimes called yellow journalism – think shocking, eye-catching, enraging headlines which are likely to draw in the clicks, higher dwell times and newspaper sales. Its best understood as an ‘exaggeration of facts’ or rumours.

Social media is also responsible for the spreading of deliberately misleading disinformation which falls under the fake news blanket. Hoaxes, perpetrated through presumed trusted news sources, including clone copies of real websites, and spread over social channels can quickly lead to scandals and sensationalism.

So how does fake news affect you even if you’re not Donald Trump?

Although they are old as time, rumours have now found a new vessel to help them spread even faster than ever before. With the help of the internet and social media, ‘fake news’ can spread quickly, reaching huge numbers of people in minutes.

No matter what industry your brand exists, there is always the capability for fake news to cause a significant blow to your rep. Despite your efforts and spend on developing and preserving your brand image, your consumers can still be very easily influenced by external sources who seek to cause damage.

Wrong place, wrong time

Advertising in the wrong places can have a significant effect on how you’re perceived by customers. Paying to feature on a particular website or advertising space can result in customer criticism.

This includes advertising on sites which are deemed unethical or poor quality. Pressure groups want brands to stop advertising on media sources such as Daily Mail as they are deemed to spread and perpetuate hate against marginalised groups. 

Untrustworthy sites include those which are not secure and offer poor UX. Monetised sites which appear to be spam or look untrustworthy should also be avoided.

Equally, advertising on sites which sell potential counterfeit or illicit products could be equally as damaging, with the outcome often reliant on your customer demographics and the products or services you sell.  

Inappropriate placement of advertising, online or offline, can result in criticism, even if the location was selected through automated advertising channels. 

Recently, there have been calls to afford local government more power over advertising spaces or limit the advertising of junk food near schools and nurseries. Global brands including McDonald’s and Burger King came under fire at the end of 2018 for their placement of outdoor adverts near schools, to which they claimed the placement had been done so in error.

When selecting the location of your outdoor adverts you should consider all of the surrounding amenities. This will help ensure that you’re not at risk of advertising alcohol in spaces where there are rehabilitation centres, doctors surgeries or in impoverished areas. These could be branded as poor decisions on the brands part and could be determined to prey on vulnerable people.

Error in communication

Poor communication or an error on your channels could result in your company starting its own spiral of fake news.

This is where it’s important to have definitive brand guidelines which consider emotional states and are comprehensive in their advisory of how to respond to situations. But companies should also ensure that those running their social and marketing channels are getting second opinions before posting something out.

An example of poor judgement is the above Adidas email header. Following the Boston Marathon in 2017, Adidas distributed emails to customers who had completed the race. The subject of these emails was “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon.” 

This was particularly tone-deaf considering as just four years prior, the annual event had seen a devastating attack when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs were detonated, resulting in five deaths and countless injuries.

Check sources, then check ‘em again

Leaders should be savvy when making internal changes to their business based on something they’ve read. It’s important for those in charge to remember that not everything they read online is accurate and as a result, should be more discerning about the sources they trust.

Exacting an internal decision based on external fake news can lead to difficulties for your internal brand. Your employees could end up dissatisfied and unhappy with the changes, which could result in venting their disdain publicly or online.

Moral of the story is to always check your facts. Then check them again. And probably once more for luck…

Downright fake

The spreading of rumours across social media, associated with your brand, can quickly gain traction and lead to scandal. Often, they are ludicrous and seemingly unsupported, but sometimes the odd fake news article slips through and makes a big impact.

Amplified by social media, fake news articles hosted on cloned websites can rapidly spread. Often the spreading of the news is enhanced through fear. For example, with many parents now on Facebook, they have a tendency to react without considering the source of the information, instead, they share an article which they perceive to be accurate due to the fact it was originally shared by someone they know.

‘Clickbait’ headlines are often all it takes for someone to share an article from a poor source. If the story sounds shocking enough, then they’re likely to share it to make all their friends aware of the perceived danger.

Tackling fake news

Sometimes, you simply cannot stop it from happening, but it is important to have a plan of action for when or if it does happen to your brand. There are a couple of things you can do to ensure you are prepared and can respond appropriately.

Check your tags

You can use tags associated with your brand to search through mentions and discussions on social media. This can be a good route to finding negative discussions and jumping on board to diffuse them before they spiral out of control.

If someone has a complaint, then address. If someone is spreading inaccurate news about a product, ensure you are able to counter this professionally.

Google alerts

Setting up alerts relative to your branded terms can result in the delivery of brand mentions straight to your inbox. This means you can pick up on fake news sources across the web that might be mentioning your brand, and ensure you can get ahead of this spreading too aggressively.


Being prepared is essential to tackling fake news. Draw up a plan of action, work with your teams that run the communication channels and ensure that everyone is prepared to meet fake news, head on.

One of the best moves is being able to provide a response in a timely manner. You should also include a list of journalists who can be contacted to help amplify your statement if the worst should happen.

Thinking ahead

If you suspect your brand has the capability to easily become the focus of fake news, you should perform sentiment analysis. Gather opinions of your brand across a multitude of channels, undertake customer research and build a picture of how you currently appear in the wider landscape. You can then use this to address any holes in your brand image and set about trying to make positive changes.

For more information on building your brand, get in touch with us today or if you want to find out how to build a better brand, check out our free ebook.

Also published on Medium.


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