The Internet has turned little marketing stumbles into big, overblown headaches
I was very young, but I do remember the Tylenol cyanide deaths in the early 80s—when every bottle of Tylenol in the US was yanked off the shelves, even though the deaths were only in Chicago. That was big, big news.
The brand took a few years to recover in the public eye, but it did.
Today, it seems like there’s some sort of brand or marketing controversy every week. I was reminded of this when a video of Domino’s employees doing god-awful things to pizzas made the rounds a week or so ago. And although no one died, it became instant news and fodder for discussion.
The incident brought out all the marketing pundits: “Can Domino’s recover?” “Was the corporate response enough?” “How will this affect the brand?”
The answers are: Yes, yes, and not much.
The deal is, few of these controversies are that big of a deal. What happened at Domino’s doesn't affect you, unless you order pizza from that store. Pissed-off, underpaid restaurant workers were tossing snot into your dinner long before YouTube came along.
Some incidents become overblown because of instant global communication. In Germany, a frozen food maker manufactured “Obama Fingers,” unaware of the stereotypical connection between African-Americans and fried chicken. Yes, it did, ahem, ruffle some feathers, but it blew over quickly. Prior to the Internet, we’d have never heard about this. Who really cares what they eat in Germany?
I can hardly remember all the supposedly controversial crap I’ve heard about this past year. “Motrin moms” who got upset about a commercial. Something about a Skittles promotion on Twitter that I barely paid attention to. Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” campaign. It goes on and on.
If you’re a casual observer, or an interested observer, of these marketing/PR blowups, keep this in mind. Not everything that blows up on the news, Twitter or YouTube will do long-lasting damage. Very little of it will, actually.
Of course, brands can be adversely affected. But the new warp-speed controversies don’t need to last long, or cause long-lasting damage. They do, however, require marketers, their PR folks and if necessary, their ad agencies, to react fast--in a matter of hours rather than days. Make sure the right people are empowered to respond. Don’t waste days in meetings. Just defuse the situation, make amends if necessary, and move on. And it’ll work. Because our collective memory is quite short these days.
Don’t forget that much of the public doesn’t pay attention to or care about these marketing slipups. It’s important for all of us 24/7 connected marketing and advertising people to keep some perspective. We think we’re in touch, but we’re often just touching ourselves.
Plus, it’s a healthy thing to have some consumers get rattled, upset, and offended over ads and brands. Marketers need to develop a sense of right and wrong, and learn when the line of good taste gets crossed in the eyes of the public. Otherwise, marketers will never show any sense of restraint whatsoever.
But sometimes, brands and marketers do bad things. They treat customers poorly, they run unethical businesses, they make awful commercials. So what to do about it? Control what you can control. It’s a big world, but ultimately, we’re only accountable in our corner of it.
If you want change, think of your own life. What matters is you, your family, your co-workers, your community. If you’re a consumer and want to get upset, start with how you’re directly affected. Did the Domino’s video make you nauseous? Fine. But what you should be concerned about is whether your local county food inspector’s office is properly funded and staffed.
Is someone you know concerned about how Starbucks is affecting coffee growers in Bolivia or how Wal-Mart’s worldwide supply chain affects the environment? Tell ‘em to forget it. Tell ‘em to worry about who’s on the city council, whether zoning laws are followed correctly and what’s being dumped in the river across town.
Unfortunately, big brands are sexy and controversies affecting them are ripe for endless discussion, chatter, and tweeting. So there’ll always be a group of busybodies or other people with too much time on their hands to make a big deal about some brand’s supposedly offensive commercial or leaked employee video. So maybe it’s no surprise that when it comes to making big deals out of little ones, people won’t go out of their way. They’ll only walk over to their computers and tell the world what they’d never tell their next-door neighbors.