Branding Fail: Netflix, Qwikster, and Pot-Smoking Elmo

Qwikster - F Bombs and Weed

I’ve been a Netflix user for six years now. Like many, I was not pleased with the hike in prices a few months ago, but I felt the service was still worth it and decided to keep it anyway. The value received was, to me, more than worth it despite the clumsy way in which it was rolled out.

Now, Netflix is in the news once more. Not just for angering its user base, but for failing to do basic due diligence on its branding. Netflix’s streaming and DVD services are now being split into separate entities. The DVD service will be under the name of Qwikster. Many users are already up in arms about this, a fact aggravated by the lack of info on how it will affect current users.

This is where things get entertaining and, unfortunately, it’s all at Netflix’s expense. One of the most important aspects of branding in the modern age is the simple step of making sure the name you want is actually available. The placeholder image at Qwickster.com shows that they were able to get the URL, but this is 2011, and things are not that simple.

When I work with a client on a launch, the first thing I do is check to see that the name they want is available, not just as a domain, but also on Twitter, as a Facebook Page, and on whatever other social media platforms are out there. It’s basic. It’s also something that Netflix, I mean Qwikster, did not do.

Twitter already boasted its own Qwikster (NSFW), under the user name Jason Castillo. As the BBC notes, its content is not something most brands would want associated with their name (emphasis mine):

Commentators looking through Mr Castillo’s tweets noted his fondness for football, profanity and referencing marijuana.

The Qwikster account was moribund for over a month before Netflix made its announcement. It returned to life when Mr Castillo realised that the thousands of followers he had suddenly acquired were arriving because of the announcement.

Christopher Hofman Laursen, director of the European Domain Centre, said Netflix had made a grave mistake in not securing the Twitter handle before the launch.

Since this hit the news, Castillo has gained over 10K followers on Twitter and has begun to clean up his stream. Yesterday, he switched out the pot-smoking Elmo icon for the more sedate one you see in the tweet above. He also seems to have been deleting his copious references to marijuana. When I looked at it yesterday, there were quite a few, almost in every other post, yet today the one in the screen capture here seems to be the only one left. I’ll bet he is preparing to sell, and trying to make sure he can realize the best possible profit.

Even so, the reputation damage is growing. An online company missing something this basic does not look good to users. Since the users are already up in arms about the recent 60% hike in fees and the upcoming need to visit two different websites instead of one, this was a poor time to get sloppy.

Never let it be said that the wags on the Internet are slow to respond. To add to the problem, there is now a Qwikster2 (NSFW) on Twitter as well, so even if Netflix manages to buy the first one, there will still be a Qwikster account extolling the virtues of cannabis amidst a stream of F-bombs and Sesame Street parodies.

Qwikster2

Take this to heart when you next launch a Web property or a campaign. It’s really easy to see where your name is already taken, just go to UserNameCheck and enter it. If someone at Netflix had taken the 10 seconds to do that, I would not be writing this article today.

Source: “An Explanation and Some Reflections,” The Netflix Blog, 09/18/11
Source: “Netflix: ‘Qwikster’ Name First Used By Fan of Pot-Smoking Elmo,” The Wall Street Journal, 09/19/11
Source: Qwikster/ Jason Castillo on Twitter, Twitter
Source: “Netflix CEO admits ‘arrogance,’ renames disc business Qwikster,” LA Times, 09/19/11
Image: Screen capture of Qwikster and Qwikster2 on Twitter, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

About George Williams

George “Loki” Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.

  

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  1. Cheryl says:

    Maybe the top brass at Netflix are actually into drugs… that certainly would explain their recent decisions. How could a great, innovative company go so very wrong?

    Sigh.