Kitkat Kerplunk: Going beyond Google and Evil.

News of Google and Nestle’s KitKat/Android partnership has been met with a wealth of delighted puns in the tech community, but brand managers and business writers have been left with a bitter aftertaste in their mouths at the announcement of this unusual pairing.

Though the press release has been widely parroted, and for the most part, pasted throughout technology news outlets and the associated blogosphere, the reaction beyond these confines has been limited.

The FT blog reported that the only message that the partnership sent out to brand managers was to “take a break”. http://blogs.ft.com/businessblog/2013/09/android-kitkats-message-to-brand-managers-take-a-break/?Authorised=false, Mic Wright at the Telegraph wrote a scathing review, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/micwright/100010253/android-kitkat-seriously-looks-like-someone-at-google-forgot-to-google-nestle/ affirming that the partnership made Google look “look cheap, silly and myopic.”

Beyond the opportunity for a cheap pun, the partnership presents a hackneyed model of sales promotion that appears to have no obvious benefits for either side, especially given that the deal is said to have been agreed on a non-monetary basis. Although there is a lexical link between Google’s penchant for naming its operating platforms after food items, the only other obvious line linking the narrative between these two corporate giants is controversy. The potential pitfalls to either brand are huge.

Both Nestle and Google have suffered with the PR pathologies that we associate most typically with large, multinational conglomerates. Hubris prevents them from adequately disseminating their stories to the wider public, and both have been found guilty of abusing the trust of their customer base (Google RE: privacy, Nestle RE: African Baby Milk Formula Gate ’77). Whilst the brands associated with Google and Nestle have successfully become part of our daily lives, both brands suffer from ethical reputation damage.

The spectre of Nestle’s 1977 forage into the substitute baby milk market continues to haunt the company today. In the United Kingdom, 73 student unions, 102 businesses, 30 faith groups, 20 health groups, 33 consumer groups, 18 local authorities, 12 trade unions, education groups, 31 MPs, and many celebrities support the Nestlé boycott, which is now almost 40 years old.
This hasn’t been Nestle’s only unfortunate blunder, however. In the past, Nestle has fallen foul of social media. A particularly effective campaign by Greenpeace comes to mind in which Greenpeace manipulated the KitKat logo to read “Killer” in response to Nestle’s continued exploitation of palm oil resources which badly affects the world’s orang-utan population:
The campaign had an instantaneously viral quality, with many Facebook users changing their profile pictures to support the campaign. Nestle reacted inappropriately to this, with TechEye reporting:
“Any experienced press office would surely have a crisis management team on the case, correct? If so, it’s clearly absent from the Nestle Facebook fan page. Which has over 90,000 ‘fans.’ At the moment, whoever is running the Facebook account is taking a hostile approach and sarcastic tone towards curious visitors and potential customers.”

AND…

“We talked to the UK press office who assured us that yes, the Swiss HQ handles the social media accounts. “Even a dumb ass company like [Nestle] wouldn’t get such an idiot to be their public voice,” says commenter Helen Constable. We’re sorry to say Helen, but yes, it’s another case of a company trying its hand at social media and failing miserably, trying to impose its rules and censorship on a free platform for which it has no control.
Another commenter simply says “Honey, you need new PR” – we can’t help but agree with this.”

Unfortunately, if Nestle did read TechEye’s response to the situation in 2010, it didn’t do much about it. To date, press releases from the Nestle website remain drab, often badly laid out, and sometimes in need of a proof read. A number of stories that have potential to be spun in a fun or interesting way are left to stagnate, unrealised among a swathe of HR announcements. For example, “Robots and the fire-blowing chilli baby – Food Engineering at the Big Bang fair 2013” is a rather strange and interesting title, but the release itself looks like a machine wrote it.
Ironically, Nestle fell foul of Google’s optimised advertising structure during the KitKat “Killer” campaign as Greenpeace placed adverts on the search engine, ranking them above other entries.
Although Google seems to have survived better than Nestle with regard to its PR, this is not necessarily down to it having a better PR machine. Unlike Nestle, Google has had the fortune of growing with the internet, and has become, for many, what we understand the internet to be. For this reason, it is loved; it curates the vast web of information out there into something bite-sized, easily navigable and understandable to all users. Although there are alternatives to Google, we have become used to its intuitive searching, which can make alternatives seem clunky in comparison. Few internet users today would know how to programme a web-crawler to search for them. We depend on Google, and this has been reflected in the common usage of the verb “to google” in modern English.

However, our love for Google is turning into a case of Stockholm syndrome. Whilst the tool is loved, appreciated, enshrined in language, the company has been going out and making a bad name for itself. Google’s unofficial slogan, don’t be evil, seems to be fading from our memories today; the original values of separated advertising from search results are now enshrined in Law, rendering this distinction redundant. In the meantime, Google has come under fire on a number of occasions for abusing users’ privacy, ranging from tools like Maps (Street View) and, more recently, Gmail.
The current partnership does nothing to quash any of the controversies surrounding either company, nor does it assuage the ethical concerns of its consumers. The gesture seems little more than a Willy Wonka giveaway minus the magic.