Firefox Just Screwed Up Their Brand

Sheldon P.
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The Importance of Knowing Your Brand

Whenever I meet with a new client, the first thing I do is get them to talk about their brand, their strategy, their target audience, and, most importantly, their values. Everything else that follows absolutely has to honor and respect the message they convey and the picture they want to paint. This isn’t rocket science, this is simply marketing 101.

 

It happens every once in a while where someone who is just starting off doesn’t quite know what their customers expect of them or what the real core values of their brand is. This isn’t the end of the world. I engage my client by asking questions that make them take a step back from the day-to-day routine to really appreciate what they have built and reflect on why their customers love them.

 

What’s surprising is when I read up on huge, established brands, that make major missteps and ignore these basic principles. In the last few days, Mozilla did exactly this with their flagship product, Firefox.

 

Mozilla’s philosophy with Firefox was to develop a browser that would be fast, free of bloatware, free from sponsorship obligations, and avoid feature-creep. Users see Firefox as a community platform in opposition to corporations like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Its brand is based around the idea of freedom from commercial interests.

 

Firefox: My Personal Experience

Early on in my career, I was working in IT and had to deal with all sorts of new viruses and exploits targeting IE (Microsoft Internet Explorer) on enterprise networks. IE had become slow and bloated taking a long time to load on older machines. I had come across Firefox and liked that it offered an alternative. Open-source was becoming the next big thing and the brand was very much in-line with my personal values.

 

I remember specifically changing out the Firefox icon on users’ desktops for the IE icon and people were none-the-wiser. I even got a lot of compliments from people about how fast “my version of Internet Explorer” was and what a good job I was doing maintaining the machines.

 

Around the same time I was also managing a number of websites for clients and the change in AWStats (tracking software for websites) was dramatic. In the span of just one year, I watched as Firefox traffic went from 10% of web traffic to over 30%. Over the course of just a couple of years, Firefox not only made a dent in IE’s market share, it had become mainstream.

 

As the general public began to discover Firefox, people appreciated with the browser’s reputation amoung technologists like myself. Using Firefox meant that you were in the know and not a slave to IE. They had successfully branded themselves as the underdog fighting against the mega-corporations in tech. Using Firefox was cool.

 

Not So Reputable

So what went wrong? Well, for some inexplicable reason, Firefox decided to stealth install a add-on without users’ permission. This is a HUGE issue.

 

For one thing, the reason most people like Firefox is because it’s not controlled by commercial interests but, instead, a community of developers who care about the ideals of open-source and open-web technologies. The add-on that was pushed was sponsored by USA Network to promote the TV show Mr. Robot. (https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/lookingglass)

 

Second, the ability to remotely push-install an add-on without anyone’s permission was a previously unknown feature. This has people raising some serious questions about what else the browser can do, or has been doing, that remains unknown.

 

These are two, very serious strikes against the core values on which the brand was built upon. Understandably, people felt betrayed.

 

Fallout

So far, it seems like this is a relatively obscure occurrence. Personally, although I have Firefox installed on all of my devices for testing purposes, I haven’t even opened the browser in about a week so I had no idea this was happening. The reason I heard about this was because of a Reddit post in /r/outoftheloop/ (https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/7klxoq/why_is_everyone_so_angry_right_now_with_mozilla/?st=jbd1y77b&sh=e5d7dd94)

 

Mozilla has also dealt with controversy before. In 2014, users were urged to boycott the company on the grounds that the CEO supported a ban on same-sex marriage (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/4/conservatives-launch-boycott-mozilla-after-gays-pr/).

 

Things are different this time around. The 2014 boycott was based on the homophobic views of the CEO. It was easy enough to separate the man from the brand. His views were damaging to the company, but once he was removed, the brand message was unchanged.

 

This time, however, things are different as the decisions made directly violated the ideals that the company was supposedly built on. This time, the recovery will be much more difficult as people will be asking more questions about the platform and the community itself.

 

It’s still too early to see what kind of lasting damage, if any, this will do. It’s clear, however, that the company has made a major misstep in handling its product and is now facing backlash from users.

 

Many who have voiced their opinions have seen this as a betrayal of what Firefox has stood for since its conception and are probably going to consider switching to other platforms as a result. Because of the core values of the Firefox brand, this is going to be especially damning in the eyes of loyal supports who have stuck with the browser over its turbulent history.

 

The lesson here is to always think about how an action reflects on your brand and how your brand ambassadors will perceive the move. Always take a moment to think about why people choose your product and make sure to honor and respect those values.