The Streisand Effect: What is it? How Does it Affect Brands?

the streisand effect

Definition I Barbra StreisandExamples I Victims I Avoidance I

In a nutshell, the Streisand Effect is what happens when a brand attempts to keep information secret but ends up causing it to spread like wildfire instead.

As you can imagine, this can be an incredibly embarrassing phenomenon for businesses and brands as it reveals their hidden intentions to the world in spectacular fashion.

What is the Streisand Effect?

A term that’s often damning for brands, the Streisand Effect is not a term you want people to use about your company as a business owner.


Well, because it means that you were caught trying to suppress information from the public and have now been exposed.

The Streisand Effect thus provides the opposite effect of what was intended in the first place. The whole point of an individual or company trying to sweep certain information under the rug is to make sure consumers and the media can’t discover it. So when this information becomes widespread as a result of the attempt to hide it, it’s fairly ironic and embarrassing for the individuals involved.

Typically, the information that the individual or organization tries to hide will be something that they believe could be used against them. After all, if it was harmless, what would be the point in trying to suppress it?

The Barbra Streisand Effect? Is it named after her?

You might be wondering why this act is referred to as the Streisand Effect, especially since it’s a term commonly used in business.

The answer is simple: the world-famous superstar was the first to commit such an act on a large scale, and so it was named after her.

So what happened?

It was in 2003 that Streisand committed the unfortunate act that would go on to be named the Streisand Effect.

The star was irate when she noticed aerial photos of her Malibu mansion circulating online. So irate, in fact, that she tried to sue the photographer behind them, Kenneth Adelman.

The problem was, Adelman wasn’t a member of the paparazzi trying to sneak a shot of the celebrity’s pad. He worked for the California Coastal Records Project, which aimed to give scientists a glimpse of the California coastline so they could study the effects of erosion. So Streisand’s home just happened to appear in one of the shots of the coastline.

What’s most amusing about this case is that the photo was only viewed a handful of times when Streisand took Adelman to court, trying to sue him for $50 million. 

Guess what happened as a result?

That’s right, the national and global media began to pick up the story and published the photo to audiences of thousands and millions around the world. As such, Streisand had inadvertently caused the photo to be seen by millions of eyeballs and also had to give Adelman a sum of $155,567.04 since she lost the lawsuit.

Streisand Effect examples

Barbra Streisand isn’t the only high-profile case of the Streisand Effect in action, though, as many businesses and brands have committed similar acts and suffered the consequences.


What is the Streisand Effect?

Taxi firms in London are responsible for one of the biggest Streisand Effect blunders in recent years, as relates to the emerging app at the time Uber.

As you can imagine, when Uber was first announced, there was a lot of backlash among cab drivers. After all, they (correctly) thought that we would lose a lot of their business to this form of digital disruption that went on to take the world by storm and revolutionize the taxi industry.

In 2014, taxi drivers in London decided to protest the app as it was beginning to gain traction in Europe and threatened their livelihoods. 

What came of this protest was the exact opposite of what they wanted.

Uber apparently saw an increase of 859% in app downloads that week, and more sign-ups than it had ever had to date.

Pirate Bay

Another example of an individual or institution triggering the Streisand Effect occurred in 2012 which caused the Pirate Bay website to soar in popularity.

Who was at fault for this increase in traffic to the torrent site?

Believe it or not, it was the UK High Court!

The High Court ordered five different ISPs in Britain to prevent users from accessing the torrent website, since it brought up issues regarding copyright infringement. As a result of this, though, the Swedish website received around 12 million unique users and showed that the High Court made a mistake announcing the news so publicly.


Samsung mobile phone

One example of a large mobile manufacturer causing the Streisand Effect is when Samsung crossed paths with YouTuber ‘ghostlyrich’.

After the YouTuber’s Galaxy S4 phone caught fire spontaneously, he filed an official complaint and uploading a damning video of the aftermath of the incident.

This is where Samsung made a huge misstep.

Instead of dealing with the issue on a large scale, they simply offered to send the YouTuber a replacement phone.

‘Ghostlyrich’s’ second video was viewed millions of times, as he spoke openly about Samsung’s questionable attitude towards safety concerns with their products.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren is both a brand and the name of its world-famous owner.

Both made a huge mistake in 2009 when Ralph Lauren, the man, decided to send cease-and-desist letters to two blogs, BoingBoing and Photoshop Disasters.

But why did he go through all of that effort which would cause the Streisand Effect to take place?

Well, because when the fashion brand posted a photo of a model, the two aforementioned blogs noticed that the pelvis area had been clearly edited.

When Lauren asked the blogs to remove the image, he lost the legal battle, as the photo was deemed fair use. As such, the image would then make world news and cause outrage at the deception.

How can a business be a victim of the Streisand Effect? 

As seen in the examples listed above, businesses can either benefit from or become victims of the Streisand Effect.

In some cases, such as that of Uber, the reputation of the brand is given a boost and it reaches a much wider audience as a result of the Streisand Effect.

In other cases, like that of Ralph Lauren, the brand can face a lot of backlash and even outrage when they commit an act that causes the Streisand Effect.

If you’re a business owner, you have to be very careful to manage your online reputation so that you aren’t on the receiving end of this act.

The damage something like this can cause to your brand image can be irreparable in some cases, especially if you are a smaller brand or company that doesn’t have a huge PR budget to gloss over bad press.

What is damaged the most though is arguably the trust between the consumer and business.

As you can imagine, being embroiled in a public scandal isn’t going to do much good for your customer relations. In fact, it could permanently damage brand loyalty and cause distrust in consumers, which is the last thing you want.

In the worst-case scenario, the public or consumers will rally against your business even to the extent of boycotting it. Needless to say, this will cost you a lot in sales and harm your reputation which could deter new consumers from using your services.

How can a business avoid the Streisand Effect?

Hands-down the best way to avoid the Streisand Effect is to stay on top of your business’s online reputation.

If you have a good social media manager, PR team, and a solid plan for how to maintain your reputation as a brand, then the Streisand Effect shouldn’t affect you.


Well because this act is often the result of an individual in the company who has acted in a way that won’t benefit the organization in the long run. 

In the case of Ralph Lauren for example, if Lauren was better trained in PR or had a team around him to advise him, he might not have sent out cease-and-desist letters and put his foot in his mouth.

If you coordinate your approach to how you are perceived by consumers and the wider public then you should have fewer issues with complaints and scandals.

In the case of Samsung, a joint decision was made to send the YouTuber a replacement phone rather than deal with the safety concerns brought up surrounding their product. This was obviously a huge mistake, and a calculated approach and response would have been much better for the brand’s image.

These days, social media is one of the areas you want to pay the most attention to.

All it takes is one unaddressed tweet or one unacknowledged Facebook post and you could open the doors to the Streisand Effect. As a general rule of thumb, address all criticism as quickly as possible and try not to let negativity fester.

Certainly don’t try to cover negativity up or hide an issue that’s brought up as it can come back to bite you!