What do you do when circumstance makes your perfectly good campaign suddenly distasteful?

 Disclaimer: I am writing this article from a marketing perspective, not to take advantage of traffic being driven to a certain shooting that took place in Florida. For this reason I am intentionally leaving out names of victims and suspects.  This is a marketing article not an opinion on guilt or facts.

Let’s say you have a great idea for a movie, you spend years getting it written, you hire an all-star cast, you spend months shooting and editing and are finally ready to roll it out. In the spirit of Super Troopers and Observe and Report you are going to make fun of those Gun-Ho neighborhood watch people who take their job/volunteer duties too seriously.  Oh, and even though your movie is about an alien invasion you are going to play up the nonsense of these guys attitude toward their responsibility.  Then, 1 week after you release your trailer a young black man is killed under suspicious circumstances by a Hispanic male who is the self proclaimed head of the neighborhood watch.  The story takes the country by storm and you have over a million dollars in ads ready to roll out over the next few months.  Your ad of a shot up neighborhood watch sign suddenly isn’t funny anymore. What do you do?

Step 1 – Always be ready to pull your ads. In all my years of creating ads and learning about these types of situations in school, my best advice is to never get emotionally attached to an ad. Often times a company’s first instinct is to wait too long to react and pull ads because they don’t want to believe their ad is offensive.  When you use comedy, be prepared for your ad to get noticed and ruffle the feathers of those who don’t think you’re very funny. Then acknowledge that those people may be right.

Step 2 – Always have a backup plan. Any great or even good agency will have 1 or 2 backup plans at the ready to swap into place of the main campaign. Usually you can still promote your product by highlighting a different benefit or aspect of it in a back up campaign. For example, the original trailer for neighborhood watch shows no mention of aliens, the backup plan is to focus more on the Sci-Fi aspect of the movie.

Step 3 - React quickly. One of the bet things you can do is react before your ad gets noticed by too many people.  Two other pretty majorly offensive ads popped up this week that you may not have noticed if you’re not in the ad world. One was a screen shot of a website supposedly from Abercrombie & Fitch that showed a pair of pants labeled “nigger brown pants”.  The web site was not associated with A&F and because A&F does a great job of monitoring their online reputation they were able to quickly find and address the issue. Within a day of this site being circulated A&F quickly denied and proved that they did not create the offensive site and vowed to prosecute the people that did.  The second offensive ad is covered in step 4

Step 4 –  I’m sorry works better then denial.  If you apologize quickly and acknowledge your mistake the public is actually quite forgiving.  Failing to take responsibility and trying cover up your mistake is a whole different story. This brings us to our second story. Belvedere Vodka who’s attempt at humor showed a man struggling with a women with the tag line “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smooth.”  This ad was released on their twitter page and quickly caught the attention of its own followers who began to backlash at the company’s apparent condolence of rape.  What did the company do? They denied making the ad. So what happened? Did the social media agency overstep its bounds and create the add on their own? Did someone at the agency make a mistake?  Controversy like this doesn’t just go away and now rape advocacy groups are chiming in. If they would have apologized quickly and addressed the issue they would have saved themselves a ton of money that will now need to spend on PR.

The most important thing you can do is to build your reputation now. If you build ads that speak a certain way and you consistently build your brand to stand for something good, you will get the benefit of the doubt 9 times out of 10. The thing to remember is that the public not the media determines ether or not you stay in business. Maintaining great relationships with your clients is one of the best ways to uphold your reputation. Keeping up with your social media fans and monitoring your reputation is key. Chances are you will make a bad ad. How you deal with it can help turn a bad ad into a successful campaign. 

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