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I was recently involved in a Google Hangout chat about Formula 1 teams and the usage of social media to gain tribalism in their marketing appeal and fan passion. I mentioned the Lotus F1 team in my post here and it is no surprise that today we find the team in some hot water over a tweet they posted concerning the opening of the Olympics.

Apparently the tweet featured a picture of two men kissing and wished “all athletes a successful 2014 Olympic Winter Games #Sochi2014” as a pictorial commentary about Russian’s position on LGBT causes within Russia.

Lotus F1 has been hailed as one of the best in social media circles by F1 fans for its candor and acerbic approach to F1—including a picture of two rabbits mating when Kimi Raikkonen announced his departure. If that is your kind of social media flavor, fair enough but as I mentioned in the chat and post here, teams should take their brand, backers, stakeholders and sponsors a little more seriously than placing the organizations voice in the hands of a 20-something.

Regardless of were your stance on human rights, civil rights and LGBT causes are, it stands to reason that the entire world may not share your position whether for or against. In the case of Lotus F1, Genii Capital (the owners) have major investments in Russia and Formula 1 itself is heading to Sochi this year so tweeting commentary meant as an indictment of Russia’s position on LGTB causes isn’t something Lotus F1 needs to weigh in on.

I’ve been asking for some time when major companies will take their brand, message and voice seriously instead of placing a multi-billion dollar organization in the hands of a person who hasn’t been alive ling enough to even know what the nuance of lasting global marketing brand impact is.

According to BBC’s Andrew Benson, Lotus F1 deleted it and said the tweet was unauthorized. I’m not sure what that means other than your social media person has an opinion about Russia’s position on gay rights and thought they would share that with the world via their role at Lotus F1. I’m sure lotus F1’s new sponsor, Russian mobile phone company Yotaphone, will understand. I’m sure the 10% stake in Lotus F1 that the parent company, Yota Devices, will completely understand as well.

But what if they don’t?

Maybe it was a mistake. Perhaps the social media person has Hootsuite and posted the tweet but had the wrong account selected when the hit “enter”. I’m willing to understand but in the end, teams must use better judgment, measurement and strategy than this.

There are ways to manage this from a pre-, on- and post event strategy so things like this don’t jeopardize the organizations brand—I’m stumped as to why Lotus F1 isn’t using them.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • mini696

    I think they should apologise for apologising.

    • Oily Bo Hunk

      I am late to the discussion.
      Agreed.
      At this point, the ruling of the russian govt towards the LGBT is to equate it with pedophelia. A large portion of the LGBT population is now forced into seclusion or being tortured.
      The idea of rolling over, or hiding your corporate morality all in the name of chasing a few rubles is shameful. The PR person behind the Lotus tweet is to be commended for being correct. If Lotus takes that money, and doesn’t publicly condemn the human rights abuses, then they run the risk of looking like they are lying down with dogs. Russia (and the rest of the world) need to know that we do not stand beside them when it comes to abuse.
      Lotus should repost the tweet, and let the world know in no uncertain terms that they are on the historically correct side.

  • Scott

    I’m not sure it’s a 20 year old. Considering Alan Permane taking things out on Kimi and some of the other stupid things Lotus occasionally does, it’s almost like the good judgement of Bouiller was the exception at Lotus F1.

  • brianpmack

    20 somethings: only good for being marketed to, not for doing the actual marketing (unless the marketing message is finely honed and crafted by someone who has been alive long enough to understand the lasting global…blah blah blah)

    /sarcasm (in case it wasn’t apparent)

    Sometimes, Todd, it seems as if your message to the 18-25 year old demographic is thus: look good, drive the car and buy the products the grown-ups tell you to.

    • That’s not my intent. The 20-somethings are perfectly wonderful folks for sure. My point is, in the case of social media, why would any organization spend millions (or billions) over the decades building a brand, brand message, culture and company voice only to put it in the hands of a person who doesn’t have the experience behind them to represent a major brand such as Coke, Pepsi, Cisco, Microsoft etc? If they wouldn’t hire a 20-something as their CMO, what would make them think that person is good for the voice of the entire organization?

      Lotus F1 is really no different. Genii has millions in people’s money invested and a huge stake in Russia as well as potential partner. Why would they leave their social media up to a person, 20-something or not, for a role they clearly aren’t ready to handle? I’m not offering an indictment of Gen Y but the notion that a 25-year-old is ready to lead multi-billion dollar organizations and represent their marketing, branding and PR is a risk that I don’t believe most people would take. It may be more acceptable in Silicon Valley and social media or internet-based technology companies but I haven’t seen it outside that bubble.

      • Rapierman

        Truth be told, I have some difficulty resolving the “don’t do this so you can preserve the bucks” with the “don’t do this because you know how morally and ethically wrong it is”. I suppose I’m weird that way. Sure, from a corporate point-of-view, it makes sense to them to disregard the moral and ethical questions in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar (TM), but my conscience (or “soul”, if you prefer) tends to rail against such things (“Thou shalt not worship other gods before me”) and if I’m forced to chose between money and ethics, well, you know where I’m going. I won’t demand a certain ethical and moral standard, because that’s not my right. However, by the same token, don’t ask me to leave my soul at the door.

        BTW, George Washington’s farewell address applies here: “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”

        Ergo, when you have commercial ties to that which is either politically, morally and/or ethically uncertain, those ties can really destroy you. Always beware of such things. I personally keep a wary eye on Putin because of his past and some of the things he does reminds me too much of his past (having lived through the Cold War), yet it is true that there is something going on that is equally an anathema to what I stand for and believe in. It puts me in a difficult ethical and moral position, one that I seriously doubt that I will be able to resolve for years. I suppose, in all this, the only thing that matters is how it affects the people and what they are willing to do and/or accept.

        It is a no-win situation regardless of what happens. You choose what you choose and you take your lumps, but I seriously doubt anyone feels better for it.

        I suppose that’s why I’m in the public sector and not the private one. We excel at what we excel, and the twain should never meet. It’s just another one of those moral conflicts in my mind that gives me great concern.

  • rik

    The real question is why did an F1 team feel the need to make a sexual statement in the first place? What’s its relevance to F1? Guess they are targeting a gay sponsor and they can change the name of the team to “The Love Muscle”

    • For me, Rik, this is the crux of the issue. Lotus F1 is not a human rights organization, they don’t work in that industry and they aren’t in the business of LGTB causes or initiatives. Why would they offer commentary on that topic in the first place. Feel strongly about it? That’s perfectly fine, tweet it from a personal account, but for a person to believe the team should offer that commentary is really confused about what the team actually exists for and what it does on a daily basis.

      The problem that I see, more and more, is that people are suffering from timeline fatigue and in order to stand out these days some believe you have to be more and more “edgy” or controversial and people have mistaken this as positive stimuli. To me it’s sloppy, un-trained and base marketing behavior. If soliciting attention by giving off the impression that you are drunk and tweeting is JC Penney’s big move (as they proudly took credit for), I say that’s about as lazy as it gets. How about actually doing your job and designing a ad campaign and social media strategy that is effective and creates positive reaction toward your product or service instead of seeking the lowest common denominator?

      These are just my opinions and I am sure others have a different view of the situation but my age may be showing. I still believe that true marketing and advertising is meant to create positive impressions and brand loyalty, not send controversial commentary to shame a nation or imply inebriation in order to get noticed. I’m not a big fan of the cult of personality and I tend to believe that we place more emphasis on personality than we do on character these days but as I say, this is jut my opinion.

      • dude

        Are you actually going to blame people who wants equal rights for the shake of capitalism? Shame a nation, are you kidding me? With an image of two people kissing? That’s a bit hypocritical to say they’re trying to shame a nation from a simple message posted by one individual in an organization without prior approval from the board, and considering how gays are being treated in that nation to begin with. Then apologizing afterward, more like they got an unhappy call from Bernie or FIA.

        It’s doesn’t matter if they aren’t LGBT supporters, F1 is an international sport and many teams are proud of having employees from many different nationalities. So much for FIA launching racing against racism when Lewis got bullied at Spain, never heard anything from that. But then it’s motorsport to begin with and we still have a large chunk of fans thinking women aren’t fit for it, so I think there’s a long way for motorsport to go.

        Anyway, no Olympic, Russian GP and Yota phone for me.

        • dude

          Ironic considering the image F1 is trying to portray with this year’s cars.

        • That’s not what I’m advocating, no. I think Lotus F1 is in the business of racing in F1 and not in the business of human rights activism…the last time I checked anyway. :) A pic of two men kissing is a narrative, mate, and it is coupled with the allegations, pressure and highlighting of Russia’s stance on LGBT rights. this incident doesn’t live in a vacuum my friend, it adds to the narrative of shaming Russian for their position. Here in the states, NBC is placing a very heavy hand on Russia’s position by creating feature packages about it and host Bob Costas mentioning it a lot in the opening of the games. I think this tweet is an additive to conversation and pressure being placed on Russia’s position.

          I’m not sure claiming the international aspect of F1 is justification for it becoming a vehicle for human rights violations via social media etc but I know that we all were discussing this around Bahrain and I know what F1’s position on that was so I doubt they feel compelled to champion LGBT causes or any other causes rather than try to stay apolitical. At least that is the sense I get but there is precedence for deviation such as Apartheid boycott etc. The issue with Lewis was that it was happening in the sport itself, the actions taken were not cast toward the entire nation of Spain or a completely different sport. It was happening, tragically, within F1 at the tests and that called for action..rightfully so.

          • Rik

            NC, what the world is running into is a scary place where people have not learned the lessons of “take care of your business and your business will take care of you” rather these people would rather pontificate the world’s problems just for the sake of wanting to evolk a thought. How Socrates’ism of them to do so. Carry this on to much however, and they won’t have time enough to devote and concentrate on the business of F1.

            However, F1 is a business about entertainment derived from race cars and with Lotus’s financial down turns maybe they should first and foremost preserve the company and use a personal agenda on their own personal time. If Lotus’s F1 sponsors wish to do an ad in which its character’s are gay then so be it, but that’s not a race car team’s business. Building, designing, managing and hopefully winning GP’s is.

            Marketing 101, sex sells. Marketing 102, know your target market. Marketing 103. don’t alienate your core market audience by using them to express your personal views. Marketing 104. Know when to keep your mouth shut and your fingers stationary.

        • Rik

          I think what your trying to say has no relevance to Formula 1 with regards to race cars going around a track. Human rights? Where do you actually want to begin and end with that statement? There are far more problems in the world than if people think it’s right to have sex with a particular partner.

          I don’t tune in to watch a race b/c I want to see people’s sexual preference nor do I feel the need to oppress my preferences upon other people who are there just to watch a car race. Last I check’d there is no F1 in the Olympic’s correct?

  • Fernandez

    I agree with Todd. This really has no place in F1, where it being such a commercial voice the sorts of issues don’t really apply. To me it seems that Enstone are being controversial for its own sake when they should be worrying about actually being on the grid and maybe even competitive. I doubt we would ever have anything like this come from Mclaren or Ferrari either.
    I used to think they were a cool team, now minus Kimi and Boulier, I just hope Grojean can get out of there as soon as he can.

    • brianpmack

      I’m not going to disagree that the post was politically ill-conceived. I will point out that if they are depending on that extra 5 minutes of brain power from their Twitter account owner to help make their car go faster then they are doing it wrong.

  • nofahz

    I work for a large multinational corporation that has a long track record of being publicly outspoken as well as taking political and social action promoting LGBT rights. Its a human rights issue as well as they feel that they will be attractive to current and future employees based on the values the company represents. I respect that Lotus or any company can pursue whatever values they choose. But I feel the Lotus PR dept is as dysfunctional as the rest of the organization appears to be at this time.
    I feel the remark about twenty-somethings comes across rather cheap and ill considered. The irony of your judgement can be applied to the logic of allowing a twenty-something pilot a bespoke, state of the art, multimillion dollar machine and wreck it on the first corner at the start of a grand prix race.

    • Multi-million dollar machine that the team built for the purpose of racing knowing the risk. Multi-billion dollars in other people’s money is a different thing, mate. Regardless of your human rights stance, other people may or may not share your vision and sense of what is right. You may also be investing $60 million dollars of their money so you need to be careful with that axe Eugene. :) No correlation between 20-something’s in cars and 20-something in charge of a multinational corporation’s twitter account.

      If your company prides itself on LGBT causes and is outspoken, then they have chosen that as their corporate voice and that’s perfectly understandable. I’m not sure Lotus F1 has chosen to have strong opinions on human rights issues and before we suggest that they do, then why the retraction and deletion of the tweet and the apology. I suggest they don’t but I could be wrong.

  • nofahz

    I think we’re on the same page here except for the generational remark. Do we know if whomever is in charge of Lotus social media is a twenty something? If so how is age related to maturity and responsibility? Its down to the individual level. Otherwise one would question how wise it is for a bunch of old farts in charge of a multimillion or billion sporting operation to entrust the stake of said enterprise to an immature youth driving an expensive, powerful machine.

    • I completely agree with it being an individual issue. I’ve met some vey wise young folk. :) I am throwing a huge blanket over the issue and judging the Lotus F1 tweets to be sent from someone young..in their 20’s maybe. That’s complete conjecture on my part but based on the words, tone and content, it seems young. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’s Alan Permane and he’s really ticked off at Russia. :)

      My other side of this accusation is born from actual experience and knowledge that some of the large corporations I have worked with are using 20-somethings for their social media accounts. so that is where I get the age bracket. Not an exact science by any means but from what I have witnessed, it does seem to be a recurring theme. Some of it works just fine and others it doesn’t. I tend to think a multi-billion dollar corporation would want to think about that seriously as the impact can be drastic and many families livelihoods can depend on a simple tweet should it all go pear-shaped and the company suffer from it.

      As I mentioned above, big difference in getting a young driver for a multi-million dollar car that is built to race and the risk is known when compared to multi-billion dollar company’s brand and brand message. :) Also, I am not dismissing social media, I’m advocating that businesses take the medium more seriously and with more effective strategy.

    • Lex

      I have to completely disagree with you and the others commenting on Todd’s immaturity angle. All you have to do is look at any website that allows comments and read them to see that the general level of maturity is that of a high schooler at best. Yes, there are teens who behave with some maturity and conversely people in their 30s behaving like they’re 10, but in general people in their 20s are immature dip shits who should absolutely not be any serious company’s voice, regardless of if it’s new media like twitter or a radio interview. If you owned a multi million dollar company, would you really want a “duuude bro” to be your company’s voice?
      There are exceptions, but Lotus F1’s twitter person doesn’t seem to be outside of that level of maturity.

      I’m 24 myself and I hate what my generation has become, just an arrogant mindless bunch of instant gratification seeking social media freaks. I think things like twitter and facebook are great inventions for humankind, but it gets abused so much by people who think everything they say is intelligent and matters I can’t stand being on any social media site.

  • StephenB.

    IMO it’s not age. I’m 28 now and even at the age of 25, in that position, I wouldn’t have done it. Especially knowing the Russian sponsorship connection and knowing the team probably still has some Russian fans from the Petrov years. Non related political blanket statements have no place at any company with hundreds of people who are being grouped together as a unified voice/opinion.

  • Cj

    The main problem isn’t necessary age but chain of command.
    If you work in a company that only has employees and no boss/owner then this will always happen.
    You have a company, owned by a group, that is run by stakeholders, that owns businesses that only own companies to make money, who has final say?

    Having a tweet reneged and then deleted can only hurt the brand because you start to see you’re not part of a conversation with the person/company anymore. It’s just some person tweeting ‘stuff’ and nothing more.