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Media Bloopers and How to Not Get Canceled.

Social media use is probably at its highest today. I don’t think that I can point to one person in my personal and professional networks who isn’t on Insta or FB or TikTok. Similar goes for businesses, especially those that offer/sell consumer products or some sort of service.

Visibility is great for new business development, branding and consumer engagement, but what happens when a blog post or a product ad gets negative publicity? Have most of us, individuals, and companies to that extent, thought through the remediation steps?

Why would anyone ever disagree with a post or ad campaign to such an extent when it becomes a problem? Well, in some cases getting tagged to a certain public action or potentially compromising situation may create quite a bit of public backlash just as much as an innocently not thought through ad post. Most of it is self-inflicted, of course. Edgy ad-campaigns and provocative posts geared to spark attention may also spark something else…

“Companies do a lot of posting but not a lot of Social Listening. Not listening to what people are saying and only posting when crisis hits can be a recipe for disaster."

A few examples come to mind.

In April of 2017, Kendal Jenner was in an ad where she gave a policeman a can of Pepsi during a public protest. Seemed innocent but the public interpreted it as an act of dismissing a social problem with a can of soda. Bad move, Pepsi… The company’s PR jumped on this the same day, admitted the issue, and issued a public response. People are still drinking Pepsi! Kendal Jenner though had to carry the guilt by association for a while.

In November 2022, Balenciaga ran an ad campaign featuring children with plush bear bags dressed in BDSM-inspired (bondage harnesses and costumes) outfits. The BDSM accessories were also on the runway at Balenciaga’s show at Paris Fashion Week. #cancelBalenciaga emerged across social media accusing the lead designer, Demna, for condoning pedophilia and child exploitation. Demna later that month broke silence and took steps to remediate the issue. Not all publicity is good publicity, apparently. I hear people haven’t forgotten about Balenciaga’s screw-up to this day…, but hey that’s France and another issue entirely.

Companies do a lot of posting but not a lot of Social Listening. Not listening to what people are saying and only posting when crisis hits can be a recipe for disaster.

Another example, not related to a post per se but the corporate action is important to showcase here. Back in April 2018, two black men were arrested after staying at a local Philadelphia Starbucks for some hours without ordering. The manager on duty thought there were there to rob the store after closing. The Starbucks CEO had an immediate response by meeting the two guys in-person, apologizing, and implementing an addition to the stores’ policy to address such stereotypes.

There are plenty of examples of corporate ad campaign and behavior screw-ups of all sorts. What I noticed as best practices for crisis management is very common:

  1. Immediate action is key. On average it takes 24-48 hours to assemble a team, issue a response and an apology when consumers post and/or starting pulling the product within minutes.

  2. Person in-charge (preferably a CEO) leading the public response.

  3. Admit the Issue and speak to a deliberate and targeted action that directly addresses public concern.

One more example with a somewhat of a different outcome. Back in 2014, Victoria Secret had an ad campaign with skinny models and a slogan, “The Perfect Body – Perfect Fit, Perfect Comfort, Perfectly Soft.” That didn’t sit well with the consumers. How many % of population have Perfect Bodies? The Company changed its slogan to say “Perfect Body for Everybody” without changing the models. The conflict seemed to had blown over… with no apology.

The more brand equity or the higher the popularity of a brand, the least damage it a social misstep seems to cause. Think of sports! From soccer to baseball - physical abuse, disorderly/violent behavior in public, association with criminals by athletes have not seem to reduce the number of tickets sold or spectator attendance. People rank ordering their value systems and sports beats assault.

For the rest of us, an immediate action taken by the CEO/owner admitting the issue and communicating an actionable plan is what needs to happen in the event of a media crisis. If you can afford to be pro-active vs. reactive and catch the issue beforehand, that would be even better.


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