A tone deaf ad from Pepsi. A hacked attempt to integrate Burger King into your Amazon Echo or Google Home device. A Nivea ad that only lacked a pointy white hat in its inadvertently (we hope!) white supremacist messaging. And most notably, a PR nightmare that United Airlines brought on themselves.
There's been conjecture about whether Pepsi launched the ad with the intention of stirring the conversation - and with the plan to pull the commercial to heighten the drama and gain a news cycle that wouldn't have normally occurred for most of their ads.
And are brands, in general, intentionally bungling their marketing efforts in an age where the news cycle is short, attention spans are shorter and it's a race to the bottom for quality?
My opinion? I don't think so. Even though there are layers and layers of approvals that need to happen at companies like Pepsi and Nivea, I believe what we are seeing is an insular approach, which, when paired with a little too much of the "fail fast" fervor, creates the opportunity for the wide scale failure that happened in both cases.
It's always interesting to take a look at advertising, and say "Wow, someone signed off on that. Someone actually said 'that looks great. Air it.'"
The pendulum always swings - and it's the middle ground where common sense and solutions are found. The era where advertising took years of development and endless focus groups are gone (thankfully), but on the other hand, the pressure to produce content as quickly as possible, along with a lack of study in good old behavioral science is what is driving poor decisions.
When it comes to the United Airlines debacle, what we are seeing is a lack of control and process, as well as not following or potentially having practiced a crisis communications plan. I'm not sure if the CEO went rogue or if they really thought that a half-assed defensive apology would be sufficient. It shows a lack of understanding of how the world works. Sincerity matters. Transparency is the new standard.
What's the long term effect of all of these strange blunders? It may start the pendulum swinging back in the other direction.
In the long term, the damage to these brands will probably be minimal. If you drink Pepsi, you probably won't switch to Coke. If you fly, you will probably still end up on a United flight. The long term view, if brands do not continue down the path of reckless and poorly thought out communications, is one of continued use and growth. If they don't - if they continue to release insensitive content - then I predict we will see a decrease in the value and consumption of these products and services.
The moral of the story is that marketing is a process. Skipping steps, not doing the homework and rushing to produce will result in continued blunders and decreased brand equity.
The term "All PR is good PR" is an excuse made by the lazy and inexperienced. (BTW: if Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter calls you out- it's definitely a failure). Put in the work. Hire the experts. It's an investment in your brand that if managed poorly, will cost more than the short spike in awareness will gain.
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