SapientNitro, a storm in a teacup

Whilst many were quick to point out the negatives today (eConsultancy, NMA, The Wall) on the day that the somewhat cringe inducing Idea Engineers video was posted by SapientNitro, few were looking closer at ourselves as a community of ‘agency types’.

As a global agency, Sapient have enviable scale and diversity. A small group of Asian (my ignorance assumes they were Indian) staff decided they’d have a bit of lighthearted fun and project their image of life at Sapient to the world. The only crime they committed (aside from perhaps a touch of chauvinism) in their well-intentioned endeavour, was to be a little geeky and dated for our Western European tastes.

Personally, I thought it was unedifying to see people wade in to stick the boot in to the idea and then revel in the panic by, let’s assume a junior staff member, when posts were deleted from Facebook. Previously the comments from fellow Indian colleagues were uniformly positive. We inward-facing Soho and Shoreditch agencies were gleeful in our response:’Look! silly Sapient don’t get social media’.

But they probably do. Someone in charge of their Facebook account just made a mistake this time and by the time the momentum had built up, the shutters came down and they deleted it. Before we analyse what they should have done in response, let’s remember that this is an increasingly-mature, highly skilled agency. They have a client roster that’s undeniably impressive and 19 significant awards in 2011 alone. Many of us will have lost pitches against SapientNitro and, in today’s responses our bitterness at their success was definitely showing.

Sure, let’s spend a little time talking about the right way to deal with this kind of communications fuck up, that’s right and healthy (and it will vary for each brand and each time it happens) but let’s be honest, this is nothing more than a transient blip and to suggest it’s indicative of a fundamental failing of a hugely successful agency is the mistake of today.

Edit 17.NOV.2011. Edward Boches posted this neat piece about how to learn from the situation. Sapient themselves responded on their blog.

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7 thoughts on “SapientNitro, a storm in a teacup

  1. alphab says:

    So to sum up your post,
    1) The video was fine in the curltural context of the people who created it, it’s just not adapted to Western European tastes.
    2) A junior staff member posted it on facebook and deleted the comments in a panic.

    Assuming these are true, both are major error in my eyes, and an agency that claim to advise others on social media should know better:

    1) Social media and Brand is global, this doesn’t fly anymore.
    2) Social media is important, and can really damage your brand when done badly. The power to post video or remove comments should not be in the hand of a junior staff. I blame the organisation, not the junior staff.

    • John Gibbard says:

      Thanks for your comment. By way of reply I’d say that I agree with you that “social media is important” and that, along with many agencies, my employer would also advocate a mature and well-managed approach to this kind of feedback – indeed we were the agency advising the brand on social at the time of Vodafone’s inadvertent tweet-storm. I also think that plenty of agencies are bold and tell their clients to take negative reactions on the chin in social but when push comes to shove and the momentum is building I wonder how many of them would actually practise what they preach?

      I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on point one 🙂 Social and brand have always been global, that’s a given, but the cultural diversity and variation in them remains. What works in one culture will not always work in others. I think Sapient’s own response on their blog today suggests that. As I said, the original video was clearly well-intentioned and popular amongst their cultural peers. That it didn’t translate well for Western Europe simply means that it should probably have been released locally or (if globally) at least with an introduction that this is a window on their regional office.

      To return to my original point, the biggest beef I had with the whole thing was the bitter and over-eager response by a community that ignored Sapient’s significant success in beating many of them at their own creative digital game.

      Once again, thanks for taking the time to respond. I hope you continue to find posts to interest you here.

      • Napient Sitro says:

        Most people who commented on it aren’t industry focused. So you can’t cry “sour grapes”.

        Also claiming it’s fine as long as it is different for other cultures is a terrible arguement. It is insulting to Indian agencies.

  2. Napient Sitro says:

    Blaming it on a “culture” issue it trying to divert the bad social management and terrible idea.

    Sorry but the video was made by, approved and released by the agency. To pretend that people who didn’t get it or like it are culturally unaware is a bad excuse at best.

    They did an american style rap video. It had a very international flair. Just as it featured Indian people doesn’t mean we should judge it any differently. Are Sapient basically saying “Well, what do you expect it came from our asain office!” ? It just doesn’t fly.

    They did the classic oh its the “crazy foreign juniors that did it” and if you don’t like it you’re being mean is just poor form.

    • John Gibbard says:

      I’m not a big fan of anonymous commenting but I thought as you raised a contrary view it was important I shared it.

      For clarification I’m not saying that because it’s from the Indian office the video can be excused criticism, just that when we (not in India) critique it we should do so with the admission that it might not be to our taste.From what I could see at the time, it was popular with fellow Asians.

      I accept (and I believe Sapient themselves do) that the video wasn’t universally popular. So what? I also accept their panic response was wrong (hence why I linked to Edward Boches piece). The issue I had was with the over-enthusiastic industry response, and that brings me on to your other comment above [v. supra].

      I still believe that the vast majority of initial respondents to the post were from the advertising and creative industries. The major articles were from publications that specialise in this industry. The inference of much of the commentary was around Sapient ‘not getting’ social media. My point was simply that to infer from this one mistake that SapientNitro are inherently shit at that particular part of their job was reductive. One swallow does not make a summer and, as Sapient’s Nathaniel Perez said in response “Our story is slightly more intricate [than Edward Boches’ summary], and we will share our learnings. Meanwhile, I would add the following rule to your list: ‘Don’t be a victim of your expertise, enforcing strict process isn’t just for clients.’ “. That sounds sufficiently mature and humble to me and indicative that, perhaps having gone through this experience they might actually be able to talk to their clients with more credibility than most about how do deal with similar negative publicity.

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