The Oatly Twitter furore forgets silent majority

By Simon Lucey, founder, Hype Collective.

PR Twitter lost it’s shit over Oatly last week.

The alternative milk brand received a $200 million investment from Blackstone, a controversial private equity firm – and major Republican Party donor. Blackstone have also been accused of indirectly contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon through financial links to a Brazilian infrastructure development.

Twitter was overwhelmed with thousands of posts threatening to boycott the brand, so it’s safe to say it’s stirred up a bit of a PR storm.

But is Oatly officially cancelled? I very much doubt it.

Research we released last week suggests that for Oatly’s PR team, this is more of a storm in a teacup. While negative comments were recurring on Twitter and Instagram, people in the 18-24 age bracket – the generation assumed to appreciate some good old ‘cancel culture’ – aren’t likely to abandon Oatly anytime soon.

Our survey of 1,000 people aged 18-24 revealed that only 6% would ‘boycott a brand whose social values don’t align with my own’. Interestingly, this seems to be the opposite view to what’s being tweeted.

We then asked some of our student network for their reaction. Much like our survey participants, they didn’t show signs of blacklisting the brand anytime soon.

“Companies do a lot of things somewhere in their supply chain that contributes to deforestation, but boycotting them isn’t so easy,” Said Kamsi, 20 at Queen Mary Univeristy.

Maria, 19 at Nottingham University, shared similar views. “It’s my favourite milk replacement and I won’t be boycotting a brand until I can understand more about its choices. Other alternatives are often equally as problematic somewhere down the line, so let’s give Oatly room to grow and better themselves.”

It’s easily forgotten that there isn’t always a correlation between social media storms and society’s actions. How much social condemnation have we seen for the way Amazon treat its workers, while their share price continues to rocket? This is a difficult situation for Oatly’s social media team, but not so much for their finance team. Social media and its love for ‘cancel culture’ should never be considered the measure of the public’s consumer habits.

So, why does all this even matter? You’d hope that someone had produced some very smart data to back this up, but personally, I think the most engaged people on Twitter are the PR workers. I believe they’re forming a lot of their opinions based on what’s being tweeted.

Other social media platforms present a different perspective. Have a scroll on Instagram, or even TikTok, and you get a very different story.

Sure, there are a few posts outing Oatly and their questionable investors, but that content is combined with loads of appreciation posts. As these app users have a more diverse mix of opinions, it’s less of a targeted, group boycott.

Twitter, on the other hand, has always been a neutrality free zone. Since its conception, if people were angry, they tweeted. Nobody is tweeting “Oatly have teamed up with Blackstone and I’ve no strong opinions on the matter”. If you’re blasé about something, you just don’t tweet.

The nature of this specific debacle meant Oatly would never have expected to receive a welcoming party of thumbs-up heart-eye emojis. But, by sourcing opinions from Twitter, we forget the mainstream or ‘majority’, those without strong opinions, who just want a tasty, convenient milk alternative. Which is great news for the Oatly PR team.

In short, a commotion on Twitter won’t run Oatly out of business. The PR world is often quick to declare any brand cancelled based on what’s being said on social media. Luckily for Oatly, consumer loyalty seems to exceed the bad press.

Simon is the founder of Hype Collective, a student marketing agency that helps brands like Co-op, Adobe and Monster reach students on campus, on social and in the media.

You can read Hype Collective’s Generation Cynic?here.

Photo by Christopher Rusev on Unsplash

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