by Mary C. Long & Lily Bradic | DIGITAL MEDIA GHOST | MEDIA RELATIONS
Last week, fashion labels Ugg and Valentino were both accused of using Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death to promote their products. Ugg sent out gift bags to the late star’s celebrity friends, and Valentino promoted a shot of Amy Adams and her $3,000 handbag – at Seymour’s wake.
These are not PR blunders. And they are NOT unique events – rather, these tactics have apparently become part of a secret PR checklist that is powering big brands. And it’s headed your way.
Using death and tragedy to promote products is shocking – and common, with most companies feigning innocence and ignorance when the Internet calls them out. (And the Internet always does – and in a big way.)
But brands can no longer claim these are mistakes. Why? There are FAR too many of these “mistakes” and any big brand has a correspondingly pretty robust and well-trained staff who have to be acutely aware of these events. And honestly, there’s really no way anyone working in social media hasn’t heard of one or more of these fiascos:
In 2011, Kenneth Cole used the protests in Cairo to promote his spring collection. The Internet exploded.
In 2012, CelebBoutique used the Colorado mass shooting to promote its dress, ending the tweet with a winky face. Nice.
And it gets better. Piggybacking off of terrorist attacks wasn’t beneath Epicurious. They used the Boston marathon bombing to promote their breakfast recipes, twice, before deleting all offending tweets and issuing an apology that was impossible to take seriously.
And in 2013, we again return to Kenneth Cole who obviously learned a lesson from his earlier offense (and from those poor, misguided businesses that followed), using the Syria crisis to promote footwear. And he confirmed he was doing it on purpose. But most don’t.
Is it an exaggeration to say there’s a “Secret PR Checklist Powering Big Brands” though? Nope. The checklist may not officially include these calculated, distasteful decisions designed to provoke backlash and media coverage, but unofficially, brands are increasingly okay with silly shock tactics. When we have companies faking their own hacks to gain followers, you know we’ve hit desperate times.
The outrage that ensues after brands piggyback on a tragedy always gives brands a huge bump online – and regardless of what anyone says, make no mistake: the outrage is short-lived, but the exposure is forever.
So now the big question: when will YOUR brand cross the line? Or has it already?
If any of these actions describe your brand, you’re well on your way to selling your soul for “likes.” Congratulations.
We run specials on solemn “remembrance” days like Pearl Harbor Day, 9/11, Martin Luther King Day, etc.
Ask yourself WHY you do this and if it’s really appropriate or if you’ve just lost touch with your human side. People died. Save the half-off sale for Black Friday.
When something tragic happens, we post that “our hearts go out to those affected” with a quickness.
Again – why? Not “why are you caring about the victims” but “why are you in such a rush to blast your condolences to customers”? We both know why – because that post will get liked and retweeted like crazy. Cut it out and show some actual respect by staying silent. Or wait a day, proving that you’re not in it for the exposure.
When something tragic happens, someone in the office asks if it would be “okay to post” [insert whatever scummy promotion/gimmick here]
If people in your office feel comfortable to even suggest such a thing, your environment is foul. Can’t you smell that?
Take the high road for as long as you can. Someone has to.
This post originally appeared on Commpro.biz.
Image from Amnesty International.