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Primark Hoax Reminds us of the Need for Quick Comms Reactions

By: Ben Davies, Retail Sector Lead

It didn’t quite end up plastered over the front pages of every national paper in the country, but the rumour of Primark’s demise has made quite the impression across TikTok and X in recent weeks. 

Videos shared on TikTok, claiming that fast fashion retailer, Primark, was closing all UK stores due to bankruptcy on March 1st, received approximately 7 million views towards the end of February. The topic began trending in the UK on X and panic ensued amongst users on both platforms. Fortunately, Primark’s comms team was quick to react, confirming to FullFact that there was no truth to the rumours. In fact, the retailer went one step further and reassured readers that it was continuing its growth in the UK, dispelling concerns about any potential closures.

For Primark, a brand that told FullFact that it is growing and investing over £100m in its UK stores this year, the retailer emerges from the social media storm unscathed. However, other brands might not have fared the same. Furthermore, a wider issue remains, and while it is nothing new to us, the Primark rumour acts as a useful reminder of the dangers of misinformation online. 

The Dangers of Social Media

This isn’t the first time that a misleading social media post has fooled unassuming audiences. In a week where families were left disappointed by a Willy Wonka event that promised magic and delivered a sad bouncy castle in the middle of a warehouse, it becomes clearer by the day that social media often cannot be fully trusted.

Elon Musk’s X is taking steps to reduce these issues, and has introduced Community Notes in an effort to dispel fake news. With that said, there is still a long way to go across all platforms, including X itself, where users can buy ‘credibility’ in the form of small blue ticks which used to be available only to verified users.

Shamefully, this week, I nearly fell for a TikTok which had used an AI tool to replicate the voice of popular and highly influential podcaster, Joe Rogan. The voice was promoting a specific brand of vitamins that deliver significant benefits to both mind and body. I was roughly halfway through the video before realising it was an AI concoction. The technology is impressive, and while it hasn’t quite become completely undetectable to average audiences, it is not far away from getting there.

What Does This Mean for Brands?

Social media allows brands to get closer to their customers - regardless of whether they operate in a B2B of B2C environment. It creates a more personal, informal channel of communication that helps their audiences feel more connected to the company. Any brand without a social media presence is immediately multiple steps behind their competitors in today’s world. However, these platforms also come with risks.

Brands can’t rely on vigilant audiences to question what they see online, and the onus falls on the brand to apply a level of effort on the consumer’s behalf.

From a communications perspective, Primark’s rumoured downfall shows how quickly a potentially harmful situation can appear out of nowhere. Brands have to be ready to react accordingly. They must be able to assess the scenario, take actionable steps to diffuse the situation, and redirect audiences and stakeholders back towards the truth - all within a matter of hours, if not, minutes.

Preparation is paramount for an effective communications plan (whether in a crisis situation or not). From closely monitoring news cycles and trends to ensuring airtight messaging that is communicated by trained and thoroughly briefed spokespeople; should the worst happen, businesses need to be ready.

In these situations, brands have very little time to decide how to react and respond, and execute their plan effectively. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.


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