Crisis Marketing is an interesting industry. Whether you’re responding to a natural disaster or a company scandal, marketers have a duty to drastically change the public’s perception.
A positive example is when Hope Bagozzi, Director of Marketing at McDonalds Canada, actually debunked the myth that the burger in advertisements is a completely different product than what you get in-store. Bagozzi successfully showed an insider’s look of an actual McDonald’s photo shoot. We visit Watt International and sit through the actual recreation of a quarter-pounder and its photography and editing job. Contrary to popular belief, photoshop does not make the burger look completely different. The Marketing team wants their advertisements to actually show each individual ingredient on its own, something we don’t see in a burger we order since they’re made to all fit in between the buns. Bagozzi cuts through the assumptions the public has made about McDonald’s products and guides us to our own conclusions: McDonald’s doesn’t have anything to hide. She successfully seized the opportunity to be transparent about the operations of McDonald’s marketing rather than wait for slanderers to come up with more material. Bagozzi earned the public’s trust and maintained profits.
Unlike the example above, many companies have used crisis marketing like a well-oiled spin machine. This post will discuss the failed social media marketing campaign of #AskSeaWorld. Let’s delve into how the public responds when their intelligence is undermined by marketers.
The most cringe-worthy thing about social media campaigns that I have found is most companies don’t actually know how to sell to their audience. Fiat just posts trippy, irrelevant gifs on tumblr that everyone makes fun of while Taco Bell and DiGiorno Pizza are killin’ it on Twitter with their witty and humorous banter. Children and young adults are brutally honest in their opinions, especially with their growing knowledge of design, copy, font types, language, and sophistication with domestic and world news. Milennials are educated and can instantly point out errors and injustice. So if you give us incorrect information AND THEN a platform to discuss said incorrect information, it’s really your own fault for not knowing your audience.
Hashtags, in their simplest form, are a way to connect people. You can connect all of the middle-class white girls who use Starbucks like an outfit accessory and you can also connect people so passionate about animal rights that they will infiltrate a hashtag to post real questions that have yet to be answered. For some reason, there was a board of people who agreed that an #AskSeaWorld hashtag campaign was a good idea. That somehow the public wouldn’t take advantage of the podium and only ask cute zoo questions like what is the name of your favorite whale. This is the internet. Even worse, this is Twitter. For lack of better words, Sea World entered a lion’s den of individuals from all over the world who are not only familiar with the documentary Blackfish which exposed all of the animal torture and abuse, but have a whole library of resources at their fingertips to use as intellectual ammunition against any “I am not a crook” pushback from the marketing team.
Here are some screenshots I took of the public reactions to the hashtag campaign:
As you can see, the most recent posts are aimed at exposing the reality of Sea World. There are pages of tweets such as these, some witty, some painfully hard to read. No one is standing behind Sea World and Sea World has done nothing to stand up for itself rather than replying at people with some bit.ly link about how Blackfish is an apparent farce.
This doesn’t make Sea World look any more innocent, more-so they seem to have gotten themselves into a childish he-said/she-said argument. I would like to know who is in charge of their customer relations on Twitter and thought it was a solid plan to directly reply to each Twitter user just to tell them that they’re wrong. Copying and pasting the same link isn’t effective. Blaming Blackfish isn’t professional. All Sea World has done is ignite more fires than they are capable of extinguishing. Even if there were inaccuracies in the documentary, the baseline of everyone’s argument remains the same: how is using sea creatures for entertainment an effective rehabilitation strategy for animals that were supposedly rescued?
Sea World has yet to respond to this question because it would mean actually taking a look at the entire institution and explaining that making animals do tricks has nothing to do with their health and everything to do with man’s fascination with animals doing tricks. (Okay I have some bias in this statement, I apologize.)
As a closing statement for this campaign, don’t ask the public for questions if you’re not willing to give truthful answers.