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22 January 2018 | Lloyd Hughes

I absolutely love a controversial approach to marketing and am always impressed by brands with an irreverent attitude towards their own image.

Life is for living after all, so why be uptight?

The White Moose Café is a brand that couldn’t give a proverbial f***1 about who it upsets if it goes against the café’s opinion, ethics, or take on life.

Recently it, or more specifically its GM, Paul Stenson, got into a heated online slanging match with bloggers after rejecting – in excoriating fashion – an offer to ‘collaborate’ (blogger speak for a freebie) from a YouTuber who was looking to stop at its associated hotel, the Charleville Lodge.

The fallout from the rejection caused quite the online war of words with two definite sides forming (as well as a lot of fascinated people munching popcorn on the fence). Some onlookers took the side of the blogger, choosing to give negative reviews to the White Moose Café and criticising its inflammatory response. Others (to be fair, the majority) took the side of the hotel, labelling the blogger a freeloader and a cheeky so and so.

After sparking the storm, the White Moose Café has been warming its hands on the lightning bolts shooting back and forth from both sides as it racks up followers and engagement. Paul Stenson has stoked the fires of social media wrath in the past on numerous occasions so isn’t afraid of an online conflagration.

Quite what the YouTuber, Elle Darby, makes of it is less clear. She was certainly upset about the White Moose Café’s initial response, posting a video retort where she lamented her perceived humiliation…but perhaps she’s come around to it since her own views and subscriber count have rocketed in its wake.

In an escalation of the online fracas, the White Moose Café subsequently banned all bloggers from its premises following a blogging community backlash, with its members being the main malefactors inundating the café with negative reviews.

Despite the resulting press coverage of the dispute, we tweeted at the time that the strategy of a blanket ban could be a risky one in the long term.

While the White Moose Café is doing an excellent job of continuing to fuel the fire – a brilliant ‘press conference’ video, and a mock invoice to the blogger for increasing her reach/audience – which is just elevating awareness of the brand yet further in the immediacy, there are risks that can be associated with alienating ‘influencers’ indefinitely.

I’m sure this probably won’t affect the White Moose Café, a brand which is agile enough, and indeed influential enough, to put itself out there without necessarily relying on bloggers, vloggers and the like. But for other brands, we’d certainly hesitate to suggest they follow suit in a fit of pique should they be a recipient of a similar entreaty to collaborate.

Working in comms, it’s an ever-changing landscape. Fifteen years ago, who would’ve thought you’d have had a whole industry dedicated to social media. Even six or seven years ago, a role as a social media manager was considered a somewhat ‘wishy washy’ or a light weight job and not something taken too seriously. Now though, it’s an integral part of most big-name brands’ comms teams as well as the bulk of agencies.

Social media is here and here to stay. The White Moose Café has fully embraced the fruits of social media and built up an enviable following thanks to its willingness to take a stance (no matter how controversial), which puts it in a position of strength.

But so called influencers are similarly in a position of strength and only getting stronger. While traditional media still commands a vast audience, social media is tapping into that same wellspring and creating an authority of its own.

Telling all bloggers/vloggers they’re not welcome is a risk given the balance may tip ever more in their favour, providing their views/opinions with a greater potency. Alienating such a potentially influential part of the future media landscape may be a hazardous path to take long term.

This isn’t likely to affect the White Moose Café any time soon given its own considerable following, but if (10 years from now, say) it continues with a supercilious stance, a younger section of society reaching its late twenties and early thirties with greater disposable income, having grown up watching, listening and looking up to vloggers and their ilk, might be less willing to take the side of a maverick establishment and more likely to listen to the influencers they’re accustomed to following.

The blogging community is a strange one. Often, it seems to me the bulk of people reading blogs are other bloggers – which creates a somewhat closed circle of influence. However, genuinely aspirational lifestyle bloggers/vloggers and people with certain views, do have the ability to command an audience of thousands and sometimes millions. Dismissing their potential out of hand, may eventually come back to bite imprudent brands.

But with that doom laden, Private Frazer-esque observation out of the way – tip of the cap to the White Moose Café. I can’t help but laugh at a brilliant, audacious attitude that’s reaping huge promotional benefit and flying in the face of cautious convention.

1 starred out because we’re dead scared of who we upset.