When Viral Video Attacks

C-store industry gets burned by recent social-media posts

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- Consumer brands often strive to create online content that will go viral, that is, it reaches numerous eyeballs and promotes the company. The flipside, however, is viral content—often video—that sends a negative message about a company and harms its brand.

Two recent instances have burned the convenience-store industry.

‘Think I’m Stealing’

The first arose about two weeks ago when a young African American man, Rashid Polo of Rochester. Minn., posted multiple Vine videos—tightly edited videos only 6 second long—allegedly showing convenience-store clerks following him around their stores to make sure he’s not stealing anything. The first video in the series dates back to February, but two more recent instance from this month spiked interest.

Titled “#SheThinkImStealing,” the videos have been viewed more than 15 million times, sparking an online debate about racism in America, in general, and in convenience stores, specifically.

“It is impossible to say whether or not the videos really do show store workers keeping an eye on Rashid Polo simply because he is black,” commented a writer for The Independent. “But the videos have inspired a heated debate among commenters online, with the behavior shown either ‘institutional racism at its finest’ or because ‘a large percentage of teenagers steal.’ ”

It’s worth noting that The Independent is a British newspaper, underscoring the “world-wide” in the World Wide Web.

Reports have also come out on Huffington Post, New York Daily News and the Hollywood Reporter, among others, each linking to the Vines and further spreading the viral video.

No store brands are mentioned or shown in the videos, arguably leaving a bad taste for the entire convenience-store industry.

"These videos allegedly show a number of convenience store clerks nonchalantly following Polo to 'make sure' he doesn't steal anything," an observer posted on MicNetwork. "They are not slick. Each time Polo catches them snooping, his accusatory outburst sends them scurrying down the aisles. It would be hilarious social satire if it wasn't so real."

“Discrimination is never cool,” Polo tweeted this week after being contacted by the many media outlets. “I'm glad I could shed some light on such a sensitive topic in a positive way.”

Poff’s Problem at the Pump

More locally focused, Speedway found itself on the hot seat in Kentucky after a video posted to Facebook apparently showed a gasoline pump counting up a cost before ever dispensing fuel.

Customer Nick Poff claims the pump started charging him even before he “squeezed the trigger,” and sure enough the State of Kentucky confirmed it found two faulty gas pumps at the gas station in Florence.

A spokesperson for Speedway told ABC10, "We immediately replaced the nozzle, hose and associated hardware." Speedway also said it acts immediately to fix a pump if it learns of a problem and takes all complaints seriously.

By all accounts, Speedway acted quickly to remedy the issue, but before the pumps were fixed, the video had been viewed about 30,000 times, and ABC10 led its story on the subject with this chafing tidbit: “All of us have suspected at some point that a gas station overcharged us on a fill-up.” It’s a sign of the target that’s always on petroleum retailers back as they conduct business.

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By Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor
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