Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Why The Benihana Story Matters

The famous Benihana "Tiki Mug" has b...Image via WikipediaIt's been amazing to watch the Benihana Kuwait story spiral into the stratosphere. That the story has such a strong pair of legs is squarely down to the fact it matters deeply to very many people in the region and around the world - consumer opinion expressed in a blog crushed by a lawsuit filed by a company.

The story(I posted this yesterday which has more detail) was carried across a number of blogs yesterday (and will be in more today, doubtless). As SeaBee pointed out: "I wonder if they're beginning to understand how business works in the real world. You know, the place where customers have a say too. Where bullying and threatening creates a backlash."

It got taken up by a fast-growing community on Twitter (use the hashtag #BenihanaKUW to see the conversations) and then someone found that Benihana Kuwait had a Facebook page. The resulting flood of comments made it quite clear that public opinion was 100% against the idea of a company suing a blogger and expressed shock, outrage and a deep rooted anger.

Later in the day, the papers picked up on the story, The National, Gulf News and 24x7 all ran stories which, at least in the case of the first two, ran in print today. And now million-subscriber website The Next Web has picked it up - which is the start of what, IMHO, is an inevitable move into the international media.

Why so much outrage? It's a complicated mixture - most of the online people who have commented know perfectly well that Benihana's reaction is unacceptable today. Consumers have a new freedom to express their views and opinions in ever-expanding forums and it's a right we're not willing to give up easily. We're not going to tolerate being bullied or seeing the truth repressed. On a larger scale, that same sense of empowerment and fairness is driving some reasonably large collections of people, a million of them on the streets of Cairo today. Without wanting to 'big up' the Benihana story, I do believe it is a microcosm of the bigger one we're watching unveil in Tahrir Square.

We're talking to Kuwaiti blogger Mark on the Dubai Eye Techno Tuesday show today at 11am Dubai Time. If you're Dubai-based, you can catch it on 103.8FM or if not you can listen to the livestream at http://www.dubaieye1038.com  and follow the hashtag #DubaiToday.

Update: Here's the AudioBoo of today's talk between Jessica Swann, myself and 2:48AM's Mark  As many will know, this afternoon Benihana Kuwait chose to delete the comments from its Facebook page, one of the most obnoxious gestures of absolute contempt for the views of the general public - its customers and potential customers.

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Rootless said...

I agree that what has happened with the Benihana lawsuit is unfortunate and unacceptable but I think the attention it has received is massively out of proportion to it's significance, perhaps due to understandably incestuous interest of the blogging community. This is in stark contract to the scant attention paid by the Dubai English blogosphere to the situation in Egypt. Even your own post on this seemed mostly about your recent discovery of the quality of Al Jazeera International - um, welcome aboard four years later... But so far I have seen nothing in the Dubai English blogs about the Oman spy scandal - even though it is now even being reported in the craven UAE press. This is truly a massive story - Arabian Business has an analysis piece that touches on the significance. But even that fails to address the two elephants in this majlis: the sensational rumours about who has been arrested (mentioned on Muscat Confidential if you can get around the block) and the implications for the delicate balance of pwer among the factions of the ruling family in, um, an adjacent oil-rich emirate. Benihana versus sealed borders? I know what has my attention now...

Nagham said...

I disagree with Rootless- the implications of the Benihana lawsuit could be big; if the court rules in favor of Benihana, then it means any company can sue any blogger, twitterer, forum-user about any negative comment posted about them. And this will quickly trickle down to the rest of the GCC countries.

Regarding the Egypt/Oman stories; it really depends on what bloggers choose to theme their blog content around. I, for one, don't feel comfortable writing about politics- I will retweet where I see fit though. There are politically-themed blogs and I have seen posts about all this there. Some people focus on just their city, others focus on fashion, food, or something else. It's up to the writer to choose what they blog about.

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