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PR Fail Deluxe Edition: Profiteering from Boston?!
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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If you have been in public relations for any amount of time, you have inevitably been a part of a brainstorm session where assuredly an event of some sort will come up in the conversation that revolves around a certain date. Maybe it's President's Day to sell patriotic mattresses? Possibly Valentine's Day to shill heart-shaped pizzas? Or perhaps it's terrorism to promote consumer products

I'm sorry? You mean, that last one has never come up in conversation? Not even once? Then you have come to the right place, because I have two companies that did just that while thousands of people were reeling over the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. 

Our first contestant on 'PR Fail Pundits' is Epicurious. Now, I'll be the first to say, I dig me some Epicurious. As a foodie, I visit this site (and app) weekly. So imagine my surprise as I'm glued to the TV and I get a text to check out the Twitter feed for said foodie utopia. 

"Boston, our hearts are with you. Here's a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today."

And not even 30 minutes later, we have, "In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: whole-grain cranberry scones!" 

Yeah, because when I watch friends go flailing on the street because of a bomb, the first thing I do for solace is break out the whole-grain morning vittles. Suffice to say, this classy Twitter session went viral quickly. To wit, Epicurious has spent the past week apologizing for its insensitive and inept tweets. That said, note the pluralism there — tweet...s. Once? That is an accident. Twice? That's an idiot in charge of Twitter who needs to drive through Boston Commons dawning a neon sign that extols his or her intelligence for community service. Just because some hipster has more than 100 followers on Twitter does not mean that your brand should perish because it's time to break out the old terrorism joke series. 

Contestant number two comes to us from Alexandria, Virginia. Meet Salon DeZEN. Wait, hold that thought. You may not want to do that after you discover this amazingly doltish move at marketing. You see, the crafty copywriters at said boutique didn't stop to consider those tricky words that can mean more than one thing. In this biz, we call that "syntactic ambiguity." In hairstyling, we call that "way too damn long with one's head under the heat lamp." Here's their excellent direct-mail piece

"Dear _____________, I am sure everyone has been shaken by this news out of Boston. Moments like these make you ask why and what can I do. As tribute to all the families and friends of people who were lost in the tragic event, Salon DeZEN is hosting a fundraiser for the victims. Come and show your support by booking a Boston Blowout with your favorite stylist." 

Aside from the numerous grammar issues in that direct-mail piece, did you happen the notice of the particular marketing tactic? Considering what just happened in Boston — to which was just alluded — a catchy name for the sales shtick will be the "Boston Blowout." Keep it classy, Salon DeZEN. What? Cutting someone's "bangs" was too controversial? As the cutline in the link reads, "At least they didn't offer dyeing"... 

That's the problem with humorous copywriting — just because you and your pals are giggling does not mean your audience will follow suit. Sure, both brands have been all over the news, but at what price? That's up for consideration, but I'll bet the New England area will not take too kindly to their apologies. Which was your favorite...or worse? 

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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