Social issue blind spots can lead to costly ‘whoopsies’ for brands

I see it all too often. A small business (read: not a corporation with big bucks to throw at a team whose job it is to always assess messaging risks) tries to be adorable and doesn’t realize it’s about to step into a huge pile of doo-doo. Just two years ago, I drove past a local jeweler’s billboard in my very city which made a cringeworthy joke about “making sure she can’t say no.” My then 11-year old daughter pointed it out. Face. Palm.

Spicer Greene Jewelers in North Carolina had a similar moment recently and was subjected to a big backlash from national names who are eager to make headlines for women’s rights issues. As an advocate for eradicating violence against women, I have to agree that cutesy word play that unwittingly normalizes harassing girls is particularly ill-advised as a marketing message. Not only is it detrimental to society, but as a digital marketing professional, it’s something I’d flag as highly likely to become a trending topic on Twitter for the wrong reasons.

Missteps like these are predictable, particularly with “mom and pop” shops leading the creative for many of their marketing campaigns. Combine generational gaps in awareness, audiences who are more aware of nuanced topics than ever before, and a shifting social landscape which can create viral news with millions of hits overnight, and you have a perfect recipe for a PR disaster.

The solution is simple. Small businesses need a trusted final set of eyes (a third party who specializes in social issues) who can scan for high-risk flags. 

When you think of the money you spend on advertising, twitch at the thought of that yielding negative attention for the wrong reasons, and then consider how small the expense is to hire someone who can disaster-proof your campaign for you as a final step — it’s really smart money.

Spicer Greene is probably going to be fine. They’ve apologized, will likely pull the billboards, it’s one of those on-the-fence interpretation kind of cases, and if they keep their nose clean for a good long while, it will die down. They have the advantage in this case of not being a national brand, so the outrage is apt to dissipate relatively quickly. It will be the idle watercooler chatter of their town for a minute, and then they’ll all move on.

But the national version of the town square has spoken. These kinds of missteps don’t get a free pass anymore. This business got really lucky. The next business to make such a misstep might not be.

Angie Aker
Digital Media Pioneer and Consultant

 

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One thought on “Social issue blind spots can lead to costly ‘whoopsies’ for brands

  1. My favorite line in the article,

    “Combine generational gaps in awareness, audiences who are more aware of nuanced topics than ever before, and a shifting social landscape which can create viral news with millions of hits overnight, and you have a perfect recipe for a PR disaster”

    That seems like a heck of a blind spot if you are trying to piece together a digital marketing strategy. Great food for thought.

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