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Too cute by three

PR and ad pitches tied to current events can be very effective, as can using humor — when it makes sense and is done with care. But people – please, please, please be sensitive.

Critics have understandably savaged three recent corporate PR and ad efforts for insensitivity, ridiculousness or both. Perhaps the companies simply wanted good press and they goofed big time. Or perhaps, as a few have suggested, they purposely flirted with controversy, hoping for attention, even negative attention. If so, they got it.

Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.

Three recent PR / Ad Hall of Shame nominations…

First, commentators have almost universally trashed Groupon’s Super Bowl ad, which insensitively morphed from talking about the Tibetan crises to getting a deal at a Tibetan restaurant. Watch:

The interwebs are full of criticisms about this, plus you can read Groupon’s unsuccessful attempt at explaining why they did what they did. One tweet during the Super Bowl said it all: “Groupon seems to have achieved the unique feat of paying $3M to lose customers who previously loved them.”

Second, a similar example of trying to find humor in exploiting tragedy comes from fashion maven Kenneth Cole. Cole himself allegedly sent this tweet, which a company store in San Francisco apparently liked so much it turned it into a window display:

In addition to bringing tons of angry commentary, Cole’s tweet prompted an angry critic to create a mock Twitter account (@kennethcolepr) that is faux tweeting as the company with sarcastic little ditties such as: “Jeffrey Dahmer would have eaten up our spring collection.”

Finally, Allstate Corp. last week issued “a tongue-in-cheek press release correlating zodiac signs to accident rates, but nobody got the joke,” according to a CNNMoney story. Allstate was forced to retract its release, saying that it “led to some confusion around whether astrological signs are part of the underwriting process. Astrological signs have absolutely no role in how we base coverage and set rates.”

What’s amazing about all three efforts is that weren’t necessary because of external pressure. Someone simply dreamed them up and thought they were good ideas. Someone approved them — probably a lot of people, including lawyers. Yet somehow no one saw the train wrecks they were creating.

The lesson here: Before communicating, think about your goal. Think about your audience. Think from every angle about how your communication will be perceived.

And don’t joke about human rights violations or civil unrest.

3 Responses so far.

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Bentoff, Jeff Bentoff. Jeff Bentoff said: Recent Super Bowl-sized PR and ad gaffes that amazed me. http://bit.ly/e5IXBE [...]

  2. Andrea K says:

    One thing of note, the window cling was confirmed as a prank (http://mashable.com/2011/02/04/kenneth-cole-prank/). At least the Kenneth Cole team learned their lesson, fast, and didn’t take it any further than the one tweet.

  3. Jeff Bentoff says:

    Thanks. Interesting about it being a window cling — a newspaper blogger wrote that an “employee or manager” mounted the quote on a “plastic glass surface” in the store window. The prank cling did look pretty official: http://snipurl.com/209yy7

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