Maytag tries to clean up politics with computer plug-in

An example of what Maytag’s computer plug-in replaces for political smearing on social media. Maytag is making a plug-in available for download in time for the presidential election. (Contributed photo)

An example of what Maytag’s computer plug-in replaces for political smearing on social media. Maytag is making a plug-in available for download in time for the presidential election. (Contributed photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Maytag had a new set of appliances coming out during the presidential election, but needed an idea for marketing.

That’s when the “No Smear” campaign came to fruition.

In an attempt to raise awareness for its fingerprint-resistant stainless steel appliances, Maytag surveyed consumers and discovered more than half of them are annoyed by political smears on social media feeds.

The brand decided to link its product launch to the timely topic and give consumers the option of installing a free computer plug-in to remove political smears online.

“The inspiration for the No Smear campaign came from the fact that this product line was launching during the peak of the 2016 presidential election,” Maytag Senior Brand Manager Brendan Bosch stated in an email. “We wanted to tie the launch to a timely topic in a fun, lighthearted way that we knew would resonate with our consumers.”

Anyone can download the Chrome desktop plug-in, which helps block political smears within their Facebook and Twitter feeds. In addition to blocking the negative post, the plug-in replaces it with funny content incorporating patriotic pictures and phrases.

For example, if a Facebook friend posted something angry about a presidential candidate using aggressive words or inappropriate language, it would be replaced with a bald eagle or Uncle Sam giving the reader the thumbs up accompanied by humorous copy.

Bosch said the plug-in was in development for several months before it went live Aug. 25.

“The plug-in blocks posts where the candidates’ names or common lines of reference are combined with ‘smeary’ words – the kind you wouldn’t say in front of children or on TV,” Bosch wrote. “Those who’ve opted in can see each time a piece of content is blocked and have the option to unhide it.”

Making it bipartisan

Maytag began its work by teaming up with Omnibus Research to conduct a survey on Americans’ attitudes around political discourse and their newsfeed.

In the survey, 53 percent of respondents said political smears are the top content type that triggers annoyance or anger. Another 73 percent admitted to having unfollowed, blocked or hidden someone on social media because of content they did not like.

University of Michigan professor and political scientist Arthur Lupia consulted with Maytag on the project to help ensure the plug-in stayed bipartisan and only blocked smearing political content.

Bosch said Lupia provided counsel on the plug-in’s keywords to ensure the algorithm and campaign overall was accurately capturing the current negative political discourse. Lupia was also there to make sure Maytag upheld its nonpartisan position.

The keywords do not target a particular political candidate or party. To remain fair, Lupia said users are unable to customize the plug-in based on their own political stances.

Lupia said he was actually surprised the plug-in wasn’t created sooner.

“I was delighted when Maytag approached me to partner with them as a way to help voters not lose sight of the election facts and promote positivity,” Lupia wrote in an email. “(The plug-in) does not promote a particular political agenda or encourage uninformed voters, so I’ve been able to apply ideas from my research to help them achieve these goals.”

Maytag enlisted actress and comedian Abby Elliott to be the face of the campaign in order to raise awareness for the election season and its products.

Bosch said he can’t speak to whether Maytag will do something like this campaign again. However, Bosch said they will continue to see what else they can do to push the brand.

“The No Smear campaign is unique in the sense that it’ll be the first time we have a campaign with political undertones,” Bosch wrote. “That being said, Maytag is not taking a stance or making a political statement about a particular party or candidate. Rather, we’re encouraging people to be informed around the election – something the negativity can easily have Americans lose sight of.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 3, 2016)
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