In case you missed this year’s Oscars or the extensive coverage after it, a slight error was made when La La Land was wrongly announced as Best Picture instead of actual recipient Moonlight. A lot of shocked headlines and articles ensued with Time Magazine claiming it was perhaps “the most shocking moment in Oscars history”. Cheryl Boone Issacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences calling the awards “the most extraordinary and memorable Oscars ceremony in decades”.
A ‘good’ case for ‘bad’ PR
Even if you were not invested in the Oscars, it was impossible to avoid Oscar content in the aftermath of the awards. A few asked if it was a set-up, a deliberate act of negative press yet I think we can all agree it was an unfortunate human error, one which caused more embarrassment than anything else. Embarrassment may have been caused, emergency talks were had, yet on the positive, Oscar’s related news and content flooded the covers of newspapers and newsfeeds – not bad promo for the films nominated and the industry as a whole.
When has negative press been a good thing?
In many cases, bad publicity has a profound impact on businesses as complaints, faulty products and errors can all make the headlines – however, this can sometimes result in a positive outcome. In 2015, Volkswagen was found to have intentionally turbocharged direct inject (TDI) diesel engines to activate certain emission controls during emissions testing (otherwise known as ‘emissionsgate’). They lost roughly $20 billion in market capitalisation. Yet, in 2016, UK VW car sales increased to an all-time high, placing VW second in the running for best-selling cars.
More recently, Samsung faced a bit of a crisis when their Note 7’s started to explode. After a global recall, months of silence (and a lot of research on their part) their in-depth findings were reported to the world. Despite the faults, a survey of 1,500 current Samsung phone owners found that 63% of users felt the recall “had no impact on their likelihood to purchase a Samsung phone in the future” and 52% of those who owned a Galaxy Note didn’t believe the incident even had an impact on Samsung’s reputation.
Of course it would have been better if these events hadn’t occurred and, as well-known, significant and financially capable brands they were able to pump millions into rebuilding their brand image (see theadvertisement for the new Samsung, which shows the S8 being rigorously tested). On the flip side, for a significant period of time VW, was the most talked about car brand in the world and Samsung was the biggest Tech story of 2016. Arguably, the negative press surrounding the exploding phones has helped the launch of the Samsung S8 (April 2017) as the tech giant set about proving they were strides ahead in innovation and safety. So much so, the Carphone Warehouse announced a 43% increase in pre-orders compared to the Galaxy S7 the year before.
If you have enough money and resources to ride the storm like Samsung and VW, there is a case for negative PR as unless a company is afflicted by an ongoing crisis which is reported on, almost daily in print, broadcast and social media, most people in due time forget the occasional negative they read or hear and just remember seeing the company or product name in the media.
Are you beach body ready? A follow up with negative.
In 2015 Protein World ran an outdoor campaign on the London Underground to promote diet supplements. The ad, which featured an image of a slender bikini clad female posed the question “Are you beach body ready?”
The Advertisement Standards Agency received 378 complaints that it objectified women whilst a petition against the advertisement surpassed 40,000 signatures. YouGov research found that the majority of British Women (55%) saw the advertisement as offensive, making them feel self-conscious. As a smaller brand, it didn’t quite hit the global headlines like Samsung and VW did, however it made the National Press and saw charities call the campaign irresponsible.
Despite the negative reaction, Protein World’s Global Head of Marketing, Richard Staveley revealed that even after the threats they had received, it had been “a brilliant campaign” for the company as they gained 5,000 customers in 4 days, their sales had tripled and their PR department has received a bonus. For Protein World, the reaction to the campaign resulted in a surge of profit and brand awareness. Interestingly it was most 18-24 year olds (52%), their target audience, who found the advertisement offensive, whilst other age groups were divided or thought the ad was fine.
It seems Protein World had acquired a taste for the controversial and in early 2017 opted for a campaign featuring Khloe Kardashian in a leotard, promoting a 30 day weight loss challenge. The campaign once again prompted debate on how body image is portrayed in the media, yet unlike their Beach Body Ready campaign, the response was more of a grumbling than an outcry – perhaps the shock factor strategy had a short life expectancy.
Ongoing strategy of negative
With much competition brands can find it increasingly difficult to get noticed and set themselves aside from the competition. Unless you’re Kayne West and your brand persona is deliberately negative/controversial (following his bout of negative press in 2016, KW gained 1.6 million twitter followers), it is generally advised to opt for the positive. After all, when you have an attractive brand with positive messaging, people will begin to associate positive feelings with it.
In the case of the Oscars, I still haven’t seen Moonlight.