Ever since social media came into being in the mid 2000’s, I’ve been preaching on this blog that companies need to lighten up and loosen the grip they have on their brands in order to engage naturally and spontaneously with true fans. It seems Sherwin-Williams didn’t get the message that brand engagement is good and viral brand engagement with new, younger customers is exceptionally good.
You see, a college student and part-time employee, named Tony Piloseno, was fired for creating TikTok videos showing him mixing paint and drawing in 1.4 million viewers for the brand. His viewers, by the way, are in the coveted Gen Z category, most of whom had never even heard of Sherwin-Williams before watching his videos.
Piloseno worked at Sherwin-Williams store for more than three years before pitching the idea to the company to enhance their social media presence. He originally shot videos of the paints he was already mixing for customers. Then, he started purchasing paint on his own and staying late to create original mixing content.
He told his employers that his viral account on TikTok was gaining a significant following and suggested @tonesterpaints is an example of what Sherwin-Williams could do on social media, hoping that they would let him market the brand to a younger audience. While his immediate supervisors loved what he was doing, they recommended he contact someone in the corporate marketing office.
At first, the company ignored Piloseno’s pitch and then someone on the corporate marketing team told him there is no need to see the presentation since “there weren’t any promotions going on.” Eventually, he was fired, according to BuzzFeed News. Sherwin-Williams first accused Piloseno of stealing and asked him if he was filming the videos in-store when customers were around. He explained that he purchased the paint he used for his videos and shot the videos after his shifts ended.
The company later claimed that the videos of him mixing paint colors were made during working hours and he was fired on the basis of “gross misconduct” that included “wasting properties and facilities” and “seriously embarrassing the company or its products,” according to termination papers obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Piloseno is now trying to make a full-time job out of his mixing paint account and he is currently working on a logo and bought a domain name for his own website in hopes to sell his own paint products, according to BuzzFeed News.
This is such a good example of a big brand’s social media blunder. Sherwin-Williams’ marketing team should have recognized that one of their own employees was creating an entirely new connection to a younger swath of customers. Embracing Piloseno’s TikTok channel and encouraging him to create more content could have further endeared the brand to younger customers and helped drive sales. Instead, they’ve gained infamy among the same customer segment as an old school brand that just doesn’t get it.
The moral of the story is – loosen your grip on your brand. Embrace brand fans. Sure, you will want to create a process around their content and ensure it meets your brand’s guidelines, but don’t dismiss an opportunity just because you, yourself, didn’t create it.