In mid-November, a tiny toy company stirred up a huge controversy with just one little advertisement that featured three wee girls singing altered lyrics to a song by the Beastie Boys. The ad was so nifty, and the song used in the ad was so catchy, that it quickly took off on social media and garnered the company
Here are just four takeaway points I hope to share with my clients.
#1. Plan for Viral
Company executives claim that they came up with the idea for the ad during an informal brainstorming session conducted over tacos, and that no advertising agency was involved in the concepts. These executives wrote the song, conceived of the video and make the whole thing work, with the help of a few filmmakers.
I adore spontaneity, as I think some of the best ideas come when colleagues free their minds and let their creative juices flow. However, there comes a time for fact-checking and the help of a lawyer. This is an especially egregious omission in light of this case, as the song the company chose to parody was created by a band that’s been quite vocal about their commercialization ban. A quick Google search would have brought back dozens of articles like this one on Forbes, and that might have killed the use of the song and prevented all of the problems that came after.
Private individuals may not have lawyers, and they might not have the same concerns regarding copyright infringement and lawsuits, but they still might be encouraged to stop and think before they do anything online. If clients plan for viral, they’ll be less likely to do something online that they’ll regret in the days that follow.
#2. Keep Private Things Private
It’s hard to know exactly what transpired between the remaining Beasties and the executives at GoldieBlox, as the initial conversation was reportedly conducted with no paper trail left behind (a phone call, I presume). In any case, statements from the Beasties suggested that lawyers asked for clarification on the use of the song, and the company responded with a lawsuit.
In other words, the company may have been provided with a private opportunity to handle a problem, and instead of taking that opportunity, they hired lawyers to file suit. Most paperwork that stems from suits is fair game for public snooping, and as a result, the issue went out into the public.
I understand this response, for the most part. This is a small company, and the executives were likely worried about how much money they might lose if they got busted by a big-time record company with deep pockets. Filing suit might seem like a great way to prevent financial losses.
But from a reputation perspective, this was a terrible idea. Suddenly, the company looked like it had stolen a song and then sued the owners of the song for merely asking for clarification. In short, it looked like an overreaction.
A better option, always, is to keep private and sensitive issues private. If an enemy asks for a point of clarification in a private forum, let that talk stay private. Never overreact with lawsuits or comments or defaming blog posts. Just keep the reaction small and simple, I always tell my clients, and there will be less to clean up down the line.
#3. Write a Real Apology
If something awful goes public, the best thing to do is to issue a heartfelt apology that (preferably) contains these elements:
- An expression of guilt
- A list of those who may have been harmed
- A few sentences of groveling
- A plan that would keep these events from taking place in the future
The statement that GoldieBlox put out on their blog contains very few of these elements. This is, in general, the kind of non-apology that tends to spark public ire. Those who continue to defend their actions while claiming that they’re sorry are just not believed, in most cases, and the fallout from letters like this can be far from pretty. See this article for an example of the flak GoldieBlox is feeling now. It just doesn’t have to be this way.
I’ll happily write apology letters for my clients, and I’ll even run them past colleagues to ensure that they don’t smack of self-righteousness. Sure, it takes longer to go through these checks, but doing so can mean the difference between being believed and being ridiculed.
#4. Get Out in Front
The apology letter from GoldieBlox was posted on the company’s blog, but the formal Twitter account and Facebook page for the company remained eerily silent. Comments from angry readers went unanswered, and there were no formal mentions of the controversy, the decision to use the song, the apology letter or anything at all.
Lawyers love silent clients, and since lawyers were involved in this problem, it’s likely they asked their clients to stay hush-hush. But, when an apology is in place, why not share it? Why not respond to angry comments with tact and style? As reputation management experts, we all know that staying silent is the best way to allow a problem to explode. Using the tools at your disposal to share your heartfelt response, and continuing to apologize to angry people, might be the best way to really move on.
Did I miss anything? Please share with me in the comments section.
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