Are we destined to live full-on crisis mode?
I was recently working on a client rebranding project. One of the listed brand “traits” on the creative brief was: “Human. Speaks in real terms, leaves room for humor and sometimes even mistakes.”
While I’m not sure any brand or corporation can truly portray itself as “human,” they can, like us humans, make mistakes. And as we’ve seen, mistakes can either go away without repercussions or steamroll into crises. In the age of instant social media, everything has been amplified.
This raises some interesting questions: Can brands, or any of us, be forgiven for transgressions in a world where everyone’s so quick to jump on the slightest slip-up? Are brands destined to always be in rapid response mode? Are we losing our priorities in a marketing era where everyone seems constantly plugged in?
If you pay attention to the media, we seem to be living in full-on crisis mode that can hit brands at any moment. Last week, as the FBI raided Subway spokesman Jared Fogle’s home, a whole torrent of tweets and blogs were dispatched inquiring about Subway’s PR response.
“Where are they? Why haven’t they said anything?” A mere minutes after the news broke (note that Jared wasn’t accused of or charged with any crime), social media minions demanded some satisfaction. And when a corporate response came later, there were still many people insisting it was too late and there was still a “PR crisis” to be dealt with. Most importantly, though, it was business as usual at any Subway you walked into last week.
Now, I’m not suggesting that brands don’t respond when there’s a true crisis to be addressed. Brands do need to be prepared for anything. There’s merit in the old saying, “A lie can spread around the world before the truth can get its pants on.” But our society seems hellbent on making mountains out of pimples.
It’s the one area I feel slightly sorry for our politicians about: One phrase out of context, one “misspoken” comment, or one “inartful statement” greases the gears of way too much inflammatory piling-on. We demand a perfection from them most of us are unable to live up to, then wonder why good people don’t go into politics.
I think we’re in an age where we expect other people, brands, and ourselves to act perfectly and within reason all the time with no room for error. It’s unsustainable, and in fact, it’s not even human. Our social media world propels tweets, retweets, BuzzFeed posts based on tweet wars, and network news analysis of minutiae, while conveniently ignoring context or for that matter, real news.
But everything isn’t a crisis. And every utterance doesn’t need a response, or a reaction. An errant tweet isn’t necessarily a crisis. Nor is one bad ad or one bad Yelp review that gets passed around.
If there’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the past few years, is that a brand-related crisis usually becomes A Very Big Deal one day, and largely forgotten by the 2nd or 3rd day. Most people simply don’t pay much attention to them, and those that do are caught in a social media circle-jerk. If you’re not hyperaware of all that’s in the news, you could completely miss a so-called brand crisis and guess what? You’ll be fine.
Too many of us are teaching brands to run sprints, not marathons. “Real-time marketing” can quickly escalate into real-time panicking when people blow things out of proportion or brands attach themselves to news events that don’t directly affect their business.
Consumers are amazingly forgiving of companies and brands — unless they get personally screwed. Then that’s a potential crisis, and an opportunity as well. Remedy those customer service problems and the other nonsense won’t be as big of a deal.
So let’s keep calm, and market on. It’ll be good for our clients, our brand, and our blood pressure.
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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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