Tall Lessons on Facebook, Branding and Racism from Jeremy Lin

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With Tiger on the outs and Tebow too polarizing, the world of sports has been in desperate need of a hero who could potentially become a branding superstar, a headline-maker and an international sensation. No current figure from professional sports fits that bill better than Jeremy Lin. Thanks to a jaw-dropping winning streak earlier this month, Lin is suddenly an unlikely superstar — and an illustration in what’s right and what’s wrong with Facebook marketing and online brand management.

The 6-foot 3-inch tall Christian Asian-American Lin reluctantly joined Facebook; within days, his followers were in the hundreds of thousands. As a brand and personality, Lin is intriguing, different and enigmatic. On Facebook these are great traits to have but being an individual also opens the doors for a world of ridiculous and ignorant comments. ESPN has already canned one employee who spewed racist nonsense on Facebook, and hundreds of other anti-Asian comments have flooded his page from so-called fans.

Sigh. Lin’s presence and celebrity should be celebrated and as a global brand he should be one we are ready to embrace. Facebook in the same right should be the place where that can happen. But as it’s been noted by smarter folks than us, what’s wrong on Facebook is sometimes a mirror of what’s wrong with the world at large. But it’s not just on Facebook where Lin is misunderstood. Ben and Jerry’s attempted to pay tribute to Lin with an ice cream flavor entitled “Taste the Lin-Sanity.” Featuring lychee fruit and fortune cookies, all that was missing from this stereotype-fest was a miniature gong and dragon on the label. Yeesh. Lin was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the U.S., so this type of “ancient Chinese secret” packaging seriously missed the mark. Thankfully, the folks at Ben & Jerry’s realized it, too, and replaced the fortune cookie pieces with waffles.

While Lin is exciting to watching on the court, we as marketers and consumers are learning a thing or two about cultural sensitivity. Looks like we still have a long way to go.

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