I challenge you to quickly recall five great product stories that went viral and made national headlines. If you’re like 99% of the population, you’re struggling to think of them.
If I had asked you to think of five stories about brands that made national headlines because their product or service failed you’d be thinking KitchenAid, United Airlines, Domino’s Pizza, Kenneth Cole, Motrin, Chrysler, Toyota, BP, Exxon, Belkin, KFC/Taco Bell, Comcast, and so on.
Isn’t it funny how negative stories are so much easier to remember? Are we wired to search and recall negativity? Are we more attracted to negative stories? We’re certainly quick to jump on the viral bandwagon when we can sink our teeth into a juicy PR disaster perpetrated by our favorite brands. Social media amplification of brand miss-steps has become a new national pastime.
Forget the product fail, today a good public apology is even more “viral-worthy.” Brands that follow post-PR disaster best practices (acknowledging the issue, taking responsibility and issuing public apologies with corrective actions) receive a greater boost in our collective memories and dare I say even pop culture recognition. Think of the video apologies by the President of BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which became an internet sensation including the many parodies of that apology. Or the tweeted mea culpa by KitchenAid and their apology letter to Mashable.com after an employee accidentally tweeted negative statements about US President Barack Obama from the brand’s Twitter account instead of his or her own.
Apologies – On The Attack
Looking back, few – if any – of the businesses involved in these high-profile viral stories were negatively impacted in the long run. In fact, many have profited from them. On her popular blog SpinSucks.com, public relations maven and author Gini Dietrich argues that Americans “love to build people (and organizations) up so we can tear them down and build them back up. We love a good underdog story.” I wholeheartedly agree as do the many socially-savvy brands that are beginning to purposely court what I call apology-controversy because they understand the PR value in a heartfelt creative apology.
An excellent example of the apology-as-marketing-art-form comes from Bodyform, a UK maker of feminine hygiene products who was called out by a snarky male follower on its Facebook page:
Bodyform, understanding the PR value of a good apology, took the concept to new heights in this video post with an equally snarky and witty response:
Others choose to court the controversy. Retailer Kenneth Cole made national waves for a Tweet by its designer and founder during the Egyptian riots:
Instead of pleading for the public’s forgiveness, the fashion brand went on the attack by courting more controversy with a series of new social media tactics including the “What Do You Stand For” campaign that asked people to take part in “a series of provocative debates.”
Apologies are certainly an art form today. Domino’s Pizza, after accepting years of bashing from the public over the taste and quality of their menu, famously took to the media and social airwaves with an admission that their pizza “sucked” and publicly committed to making it better, one ingredient at a time.
Is this the lesson we’re teaching our young marketers? That a well-apologized bad brand is better than a great silent one?
Those of us not in the GenY age bracket remember the saying, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right!” which referenced the importance of media, the power of public relations and the arrogance of celebrity. Have we returned to this philosophy in the social media age? Have social networks become the National Enquirer of business brands?
Join the debate! Is a well-apologized brand more powerful than a squeaky clean silent brand?
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego