Brand, Buzz & Boycott : The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Trinity of the new “Webstern”. Defining vigilant Marketing: Ethics & agility.

1. The new “Spaghetti Webstern”

We all remember how Sergio Leone’s movies renewed the Western genre in the early 60s. He arranged, inter alia, a fresh distribution of the main roles, more typical of his age, expressly listed in the title of one of his masterpieces: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly[i].


Until then, the Western genre used to advocate very traditional values: manichaean representation of society between the representatives of order/law (the sheriff, civilization) and those of chaos/outlaw (the brutality & savagery, the bandit) which could at best find their resolution in a duel between good & evil, transcended by honor (individual morality) and redemption (collective morality).

Sergio Leone deliberately casts doubt on three convenient archetypes of classic characters from the Western genre:

The Good (Blondie[ii]): no longer acting “in the name of the law”[iii], but also out of self-interest. He gains irony and free will while he loses respectability and some morality. Moreover, by internalizing the moral debate, his personal decisions are way more meaningful, blending ethical considerations and opportunistic behavior.

The Bad (Tuco[iv]) : wild, rude, opposed to any form of authority, he presents a picture of the people rather grotesque and disturbing, yet at the same time he is also the sensitive one, sometimes generous, always emotional, finally very endearing. He is the core engine of the narrative, workforce and social indicator as recalled in this famous quote from the movie: “You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns, and those who dig .You dig.”[V]

The Ugly (Angel Eyes[vi]) : cold, scheming, sadistic, he is the killer sponsored by the new order. He uses the bandit unscrupulous methods and manages the sheriff dirty work as law enforcer, which turns ​​him into some kind of lethal weapon and executioner.

In many ways, the digital market today looks like a new “Spaghetti Webstern”; the Internet had its pioneers, they did work of civilization, their first websites similar to the ranches of the first American settlers in the Wild West, moreover, is there any better image than the “spaghetti webstern” to illustrate this tangle of networks and connections that the Web has actually become today?


2. Brand, Buzz & Boycott : The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Yet, despite many similarities, companies have changed a lot since the 60s. The world has changed. What would be Leone’s trinity of characters in the context of modern Webstern ?

The Bad (Buzz[vii]): it is the Buzz, of course, a brute force, ambivalent and popular, as Tuco was in the original movie, pure energy equally positive or negative. Buzz, viral phenomenon, based on voting mechanisms, empowered by a strong uncontrolled word-of-mouth, makes brands indifferently famous or infamous. His decisions hold sway over the crowd: Buzz therefore varies between election and lynching (another reference to the Western genre).


It is often said that social networks have changed our society, but don’t forget they are the direct product of this same society; therefore their emergence is not the result of historical coincidence, it is the response to a general need for immediate and public self-expression that has something to do with direct democracy mechanisms.

Although it is sometimes a threat to brands, it also generates a lot of positive effects: the consumer has increased his mastery of information technologies, he has become a constantly updated influencer, whose voice is worth listening to. It requires from brands to be more transparent and more responsible, it has become a “consum’actor”[viii] or, as Alvin Toffler said, a “prosumer”[ix] this “lively consumer of a strong ethical desire [that] requires the company to greater social responsibility”, as described by David Jones[x].

We have a perfect C2B perspective here: consumers as market leaders. IBM makes a similar observation when talking about “Chief Executive Customer”, and we do too when we talk about “Consumer CEO” on our blog[xii].

The Ugly (Boycott[xiii]): when The Buzz lacks of efficiency, the Boycott comes in as the “prosumer” ultimate economic weapon, his second “loaded gun”. Often sponsored or ordered by lobbies or even spontaneous groups, his power is real, as shown by the many examples of companies that have had to bend before him. “Consumers have long understood that their purchasing behavior gives them some power.


They also realize that in many respects, they have more direct influence on businesses rather than on governments.”[Xiv]. When looking into cases from the past year, like Spanghero[xv], Mango[xvi] or Ubisoft[xvii] for example, it appears they vary a lot in terms of importance, some of them even being questionable. But for all of them, the threat of boycott always weighs heavily in the balance, and it is obvious that marketing can no longer simply ignore it, and even if brands decide to stand their ground, they are required to reply in some way.

This phenomenon is growing day by day, four in five consumers nowadays consider as their buyer’s responsibility to boycott brands that do not seem to be ethically correct[xviii].

The Good (Brand): In this context, and beyond playing with metaphors, it casts a whole new light on the role of the “Good”, here performed by brands, showing a new path to a web-friendly marketing, more ethical & more agile[xix] that we call Vigilant Marketing.


Because it is exactly the combination of these two qualities (ethical & agile) that makes it so representative of our times: less manichean, more authentic, more human, brand image values engagement, action before plan, not only economical but also social, humanitarian, ecological and even artistic or philosophical innovation. We may come then to the conclusion that “transparency, authenticity and responsiveness are the rules of modern business”[xx].

3. For a vigilant Marketing: Ethics & Agility.

“I’ll sleep better Knowing my good friend is by my side to protect me. “[Xxi]

This quote applies perfectly to illustrate the relationships between brands and their audience and the need for them to develop a vigilant marketing, ethical and agile. It is in fact by the combination of these two qualifiers, ethical & agile, that brands will meet their customers’ expectations.

Because agility alone might lead to  some kind of opportunistic marketing that sometimes proves to be very effective but lacks depth, authenticity and value in the long term, and may become noxious when systematically used.

On the other hand, ethics alone may lead to conformism, a bunch of good intentions lacking inventiveness, humor and connection with the real world: with agility comes the ability to surprise the audience, to take some distance with the subject, gaining relevance by being an actor rather than a prescriber.

Only the coalition of ethics and agility allows marketing to adapt to the versatile, popular & living environment of today’s social web, this brand new stage for marketers and consum’actors.

4. The End?

Is it necessary to recall that the word “client” comes from the Latin “cliens, clientis” which literally means “one who obeys” – “Those Who Dig”[xxii] ?

“78 % of respondents wish to participate in the development of products and services that meet their expectations. This new trend is verified on all markets and for all ages.”[Xxiii]

Today, we are witnessing a complete semantic reversal: the new relationship is C2B[xxiv], the client holding two “loaded guns”[xxv]: an exclusive weapon, the Boycott, and another weapon shared with brands, the Buzz. Therefore, brands have no choice but to imagine a less top-down marketing, less intrusive, mostly permissive [xxvi] and collaborative: a vigilant marketing whose message is no longer “Dig” But “Let’s dig”.

“In a market ruled by the buyers, it is only by developing a partnership with consumers, who are wiser today, that brands can capture more value and build customer loyalty.”[Xxvii]

[i] 1966, The Bad, The Good & The Ugly, Sergio Leone, written by Luciano Vincenzoni.
[ii] Performed by Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[iii] 1958, French translation of « Wanted: Dead Or Alive » , the american television series that launched Steve McQueen’s career.
[iv] Performed by Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[v] [Blondie to Tuco] : “You see, in life, there are two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded gun and those who dig. You dig.” In The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[vi] Starring Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[vii] Definition from Wikipedia: “Marketing buzz or simply buzz — a term used in viral marketing — is the interaction of consumers and users of a product or service which serves to amplify the original marketing message (…) about a product or service.”
[viii] The term was used first by Thierry Maillet in his article “From consumer products to intelligent product.” Marketing Magazine, June 2001. You can also check out his work, « Le Marketing et son histoire ou le mythe de Sisyphe réinventé », Agora, 2010.
[ix] The word “prosumer” was introduced by Alvin Toffler in his book The Third Wave, Morrow, 1980.
[x] David Jones, Who Cares Wins – Why Good Business Is Better Business, Pearson France, 2012, p. 27. Translated from French. David Jones is the current CEO of Havas, co-founder of One Young World.
[xi] Marketing Campaign IBM 2012/2013 “The Chief Executive Costumer.”
[xii] Consumer & Chief Executive Officer.
[xiii] Definition from Wikipedia: ” A boycott is an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest.”
[xiv] David Jones, ibid., p. 22. See above.
[xv] Is it necessary to recall the case of horse meat sold for beef ? In this case, it is necessary to distinguish the boycott of the product determined by the official authorities the one practiced by consumers on their own.
[xvi] Mango had to rename one of their products, called “Esclava” which shocked some part of the public because of its racist connotations. Despite the fact that the word “Esclava” in Spanish also means a bracelet without ornaments, the brand preferred to erase the article from their catalog. Note that all this happened in only about 24 hours.
[xvii] Some part of the fourth game of the Assassin ‘s Creed series takes place on pirate ships hunting whales. triggering a call for a boycott in order to protest against what was considered by some audience as an apology for killing endangered species.
[xviii] Havas, “Social Business Study,” New York, Market Probe International, 2010.
[xix] The word “agile” appears for the first time in the publication “agile manifesto” in 2001 which is based on RAD methods and Scrum (Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle, 2001) in the field of software development that will partially inspire the book by Eric Ries: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Crown Publishing, 2011.
[xx] David Jones, ibid., p. 24. See above.
[xxi] [Blondie to Tuco] “I’ll sleep peacefully, because I know now that my worst enemy watches over me.” In The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[xxii] The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[xxiii] Marketing Campaign IBM 2012/2013 “The Chief Executive Customer.”
[xxiv] C2B: Consumer To Business. We invert here the classic acronym for B2C relationship to stress out the fact that brands more than ever need to listen to consumers.
[xxv] The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, S. Leone, 1966.
[xxvi] The expression “permissive marketing” was proposed by Seth Godin in 1999, while he was working at Yahoo. It now applies to all forms of marketing based on the prior consent of the consumer to be approached by a brand. Permissive marketing is the opposite and the complement of pressure marketing (which consists in multiplying touching points with end-users, balancing the pressure with the diversity of content – game, documentary, song, video, etc. – and any informative content) and one of its subsets: intrusive marketing (using spying methods to deduce consumers’ interest from their behavior and to send them custom messages).
[xxvii] Marketing Campaign IBM 2012/2013 “The Chief Executive Customer.”

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