Corporate Gaffs have long been the lifeblood of any tabloid reporter. Probably the most quoted example was the “Doing a Ratner” comment in April 1991 whereby the then Chief Executive, Gerald Ratner gave a speech, (in his defence at a “private function”), answering his own question why his products were so cheap, “because it’s total crap”. The result of this speech nearly collapsed the firm. Gerald lasted another 18mths and eventually the Group changed their name to Signet group a year later. Whilst this story made it into many marketing assignments during my Uni days, it seems nowadays, big brands are still releasing ill thought out comments and destructive one liners with poorly timed and badly managed marketing strategies.
In the example above the damage to the brand took weeks and months. Nowadays we operate in minutes and seconds, and in some cases citing the recent British Gas Tweet Q&A, negative PR happens even before the “Gaff” is issued. In this example a Tweet Q&A session was promoted with the boss of the energy giant, to allow the public to ask questions at noon. Whilst the intention to allow the public to ask questions about the cost of energy running up to the winter months was innovative, and no doubt well intentioned, the amount of quick witted posts and comedic retweets by well followed individuals ensured that the session was overwhelmed with negativity before it began. They are not alone, Kellogg’s ill fated “RT this and we will feed another vulnerable child” fiasco and Ryanair’s Q&A with inappropriate comments about the tweeters, have all faced criticism, high profile coverage and negative commentary resulting in hastily written apologies and corporate spin protection.
With immediate engagement there is no editing of the responses, the PR machine cannot control who says what and answers cannot be “chosen” to show a balanced yet considerate response to an increase in fuel bills for example. Once you open Pandora’s box and allow “anyone” to pose a question, fire off a quick witted repost or simply condemn and criticise you, brands are at the mercy of the public feeling.
With the great power to access millions of consumers smartphone/tablet, comes great responsibility. Ultimately it will be a case of when not if a brand is destroyed by a misjudged marketing/PR campaign. Students in the future will be citing a comment in their future dissertations, about a brand destruction caused by one simple tweet and the final quotes of the Marketing Directors, Brand directors and ultimately the Chief Executives, will probably involve the phrase “You authorised what?!…..” which will be RT’d no doubt..