To Troll, or Not to Troll
fter, the infamous Rosanne Barr tweet that resulted in the cancellation of her hit show, Barr claimed that her offensive remarks were made while she was on the sleeping drug Ambien.
The maker of Ambien, Sanofi, wasted little time in pushing back on twitter, “…While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”186,000 likes and 68,000 retweets later, Sanofi had successfully generated a viral tweet and gained over 3,000 followers. Mentions of Sanofi were up from 20 or so on a normal day, to nearly 80.
Of those interactions, many consumers responded with positive feedback, indicating they thought the tweet was funny, authentic, and fully appropriate. The question is, was it worth it?
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that Ambien played no role whatsoever in Barr’s comments. We can also stipulate that the mere association of Ambien with the Barr controversy had a negative public relations impact on Sanofi that merited some kind of reaction on their part. In the heat of this moment, communications professionals at Sanofi made the strategic decision to “troll” Barr in response. Despite the positive metrics and feedback, the tweet also sparked backlash for a perceived lack of sensitivity regarding the abuse of prescription drugs and their serious side effects.
Even assuming Barr’s statements were in no way related to Ambian, the drug is considered a sedative-hypnotic medication that can lead to abnormal behavior, such as memory loss, anxiety, worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts and, hallucinations. If not Barr, the Sanofi tweet can be seen as diminishing the serious side effects that other patients have been medically proven to experience.
In the end, Ambien’s negative brand association “Buzz score” according to YouGov fell sharply to -15, down from their typical average of -1. The apparent tradeoff for trolling was followers and retweets in exchange for bad P.R. An alternative approach may have been to distance themselves from Barr, while still offering help and advice to those who are struggling with serious side effects. Then again, that tweet probably never goes viral.