It certainly hasn’t been a slow news week on social media.  The brands who really should know better have made some catastrophic marketing & PR mistakes, 2 pre-planned, and one a terrible reaction.

In case you’ve been living in a digital cave, here is how the last few weeks have progressed.

Nivea – #fail

#WhiteispurityJust how many marketing meetings did this campaign go through without anyone pointing out the sheer stupidity of this advert?

Aimed at markets in the Middle East, with the accompanying #whiteispurity, this ad was swiftly pulled and apologies offered all round for the sheer insensitivity involved.

However it didn’t stop thousands taking to social media around the globe to voice their disapproval and chastise Nivea for such a lack of intelligent thought.




Pepsi – Demonstrating complete lack of awareness


In an effort not to be outdone, this was rapidly followed by Pepsi and its ‘inspirational’ ad starring Kendall Jenner.  It aimed to show that Pepsi is the soft drink of choice for all free-thinking, socially minded liberals protesting against generic nasty things, and is in fact all that is required to solve the world’s ills.

Released on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, social media was merciless in its condemnation for crass, ham fisted attempts to use social activism for corporate gain.

Martin Luther King’s daughter said all that was needed to be said

United – We are really bad at this

Social Media has put the boot into United this week, quite literally.  The filming of the re-accommodating of the passenger on the overbooked flight went quickly viral, which left United with nowhere to go.

That didn’t stop them trying though, with weak apology after weak apology being churned out on Twitter, like spitting on a forest fire.

Their protestations were overtaken by tweets of customers tearing up their loyalty cards, creating new slogans and genuinely expressing their displeasure.

What can businesses learn from this?

Corporate marketing and PR can seem on a different planet to the challenges and resources of the small business, but it’s important to learn from the big boys and nod wisely when they get it so terribly wrong.

So here are the lessons that you need to learn

People will talk about you anyway.

One of the main reasons people give for their business not using social media is that they may receive bad publicity. Well do you know what, if you make mistakes, people are going to talk about you whether you are there or not.  The only difference is you have absolutely no control over it or an ability to respond. Your customers are on social media even if you are not.

Social Media does not always make your intention clear.

The Nivea Ad may have been designed for the Middle East, and maybe noone thought about the Alt Right use of the White Is Purity slogan in the US, or indeed any other corner of the globe, but they really should have.  What might be amusing, or clever to you, might be incredibly insensitive or offensive to others. Think carefully about your messages, ask opinions from a variety of sources and be prepared to change your mind.

Be true to who you are

I always start with my client’s values.  What do they believe, what do they want to say?  Being authentic is the easiest way to get your marketing right, rather than pretending to be something you shouldn’t.  Pepsi’s (and Jenner’s) error was to try to adopt a set of company values that they didn’t really believe in.  Therefore they gave a hollow, misjudged impression of those values and epically missed the mark.

You can run but you can’t hide

You may have heard me say many times that social media will never make a bad business look good.  What it will do is highlight your flaws.  If you don’t care about your customers, that will become abundantly clear. United Airlines failure was not the incident itself (although that was bad enough) but its response and subsequent made it quite clear just how much they value their customers and the lengths they will go to to justify themselves.

To quote George Peppard, as I often do,

… no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.

Apologise quick and apologise sincerely

Mistakes will always happen in business, things will always go wrong.  Don’t use social media to try to justify those mistakes, or argue with your critics.  Say sorry, keep saying sorry, offer to talk about it privately if you must.  Any other strategy is a highly risky one which is likely to backfire.

Social Media makes everyone heard

What I love most about social media is its democracy.  Everyone has the same font and the same right to be heard.  This has changed how we interact with those in power (whether political or commercial) and changed the way that they need to react with us.  Before Twitter, the United Airlines incident would barely have got a mention on the news.  However, everyone now has a say and that multitude of voices can become powerful very quickly indeed. No longer are people tutting in isolation, but creating a momentum to become a force to be reckoned with.  Big business, as much as small ones, need to catch onto this fact very quickly.  With the right values, authenticity and integrity, you can use it to your advantage.

Given that things always run in threes, that should be it for corporate faux pas for now; I shall have to get back to retweeting Sean Spicer.