Gmail received a glowing endorsement yesterday from a less than flattering source. Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA director, said that Gmail is the preferred online service provider of global terrorists. Other than the user-friendly interface, Hayden said they like using Gmail for the same reasons we all do:
Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide…I don’t think you’re going to see that in a Google commercial, but it’s free, it’s ubiquitous, so of course it is.
Ironically though, this isn’t the first report we’ve seen of international terrorists and hackers embracing popular tech products.
The Syrian Electronic Army, who are infamous for taking down the Associated Press Twitter account and apps like Viber, have a strong social media presence on Pinterest, Google+, and Instagram. Twitter is their social network of choice with more than 3,000 followers.
A ringing endorsement by terrorists is a mere blip on the radar for Google and won’t actually cause the sales numbers to fall. It’s more of an important note for the CIA when they’re fighting cyber-attacks.
While someone on Google’s PR team inevitably reached for the aspirin upon hearing that, the statement brings up an interesting conundrum that businesses tend to face: what happens when people are using your product in a different way than intended? What do you do when your main brand advocates aren’t your target audience?
I’m not saying that the majority of Gmail users are terrorists, but questions like those asked above have to be answered by companies all the time.
Snapchat is currently experiencing this problem. The app has a very adult reputation but is trying to re-brand itself as a service for friends and family.
Back in March, YouTube was considering launching a music streaming service to compete with Pandora, Spotify, and Twitter Music; however, users are already going to YouTube to watch music videos and listen to playlists. While it has a reputation for cat videos and dramatic chipmunks, YouTube is actually already a serious music competitor.
When a company’s product deviates from its intended use, their marketing team has two options: embrace the new use and update the product to meet consumers’ needs, or fight a rebranding battle to gain back their original concept. YouTube has implemented the former; Snapchat is working through the latter.
A somber example of a product taking a hit from misuse is pressure cookers after the Boston Marathon bombings. The product had to be taken off of the shelves and ads were pulled when two were used to create the explosive devices. One misuse led to 264 injured runners and multiple deaths.
What happened in Boston was a national tragedy, but as the country picked itself back up and started to rebuild, pressure cookers were soon back on the shelves. Today we’re laughing at the idea of terrorists preferring Gmail over a Hotmail account, but maybe that information will be used to prevent another attack like 9/11 or London’s 7/7 bombings. We can only hope.