We all get really excited when there is a trending topic. It’s an opportunity to become known. To be liked and shared.
But, far too many times, businesses and people use the opportunity to desensitize the issue at hand and further their own agenda.
They don’t even mask it. They wholeheartedly use someone’s name or someone’s death to bring greater attention to their cause.
Alan Rickman, a colleague of Emma Watson’s for the Harry Potter series, died at the early age of 69 this month.
Emma Watson tweeted the below tweet as her first message on the platform concerning Rickman’s death:
— Emma Watson (@EmmaWatson) January 14, 2016
This was the FIRST tweet she mentioned Alan Rickman. She of course retweeted a few others and posted more tweets about his death that have no relation to feminism or her political agenda.
To start, what Emma Watson is doing with the United Nations as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador is amazing. She is making feminism a forefront topic. Her 2014 HeForShe speech is truly exceptional, not only in its delivery, but in changing the essence of what feminism means for men.
This is a perfect tweet of Alan Rickman for her HeForShe campaign, which invites men to advocate for feminism.
However, there is a time and place to talk about your political agenda or marketing material.
Yes, this is a quote from Alan Rickman.
Yes, it shows that both colleagues supported each other.
But, yet, it’s distasteful. It’s self-serving.
Examples of Brands Responding to Sensitive Issues:
This happens a lot when brands and brand ambassadors create content around sensitive issues like Martin Luther King, Jr., The 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as hot topic issues like politicians, gun control, and abortion.
9/11 Terrorist Attacks and MLK Day:
Adweek posted a great article “Brands Miss The Mark with 9/11 Tweets,” critiquing how brands respond to the 9/11 terrorist attack anniversary.
With Martin Luther King, Jr.’s day of remembrance, celebrities took the time to Instagram a few pictures of Martin Luther King Jr.
And, that’s truly the right move. In Adweek’s article, author Lauren Johnson says that the best brands were the ones that kept is simple with pictures of the American Flag and the words “never forget.”
Deciding to speak about a sensitive issue or not speak is always a tough call for brands.
Subway and Jared Sex Scandal:
Handling sensitive issues indirectly associated with your brand is tricky. It’s something Subway had to deal with in August 2015 when its previous brand ambassador, Jared Fogle, who was involved in a sex scandal.
The Beancast, a weekly podcast produced by Bob Knorpp about news and issues affecting marketers today, had a conversation about how Subway should respond to the matter in the episode, “The Circle of Strife”. Guest speaker, Nicole Kelly, CEO of Social Media Examiner suggested that Subway donate money to causes against pedophilia. However, other panelists including Jeff Jaffe, CEO of Evol8tion and David Spark, President of Spark Media Solutions disagreed. Host Bob Knorpp had the argument that Jared has everything to do with the Subway brand, while brands who post content about 9/11, have nothing to do directly with 9/11 attacks. David Spark argued that Subway should say nothing.
For an article by Momentology, the study of consumers and the digital media they use and engage with across the entire consumer decision journey, 33 branding experts were asked how they would respond to the Jared/Subway PR crisis. Some branding experts agreed with Nicole Kelly, like Rebecca Brooks, who said Subways should donate to charities and speak about the issue—not ignore it. Other branding experts said to ignore it and focus on the food.
Subway ultimately handled the PR crisis by removing Jared from the brand.
Will Smith and The Oscars:
Then there are sadly, everyday issues in America, like racism. Trevor Noah spoke with Ice Cube this week in his show, “The Daily Show” about movies like “Straight Outta Compton” not being recognized for an Oscar.
On Tuesday, January 19, 2016, “Will Smith” was trending on Twitter over Jada Pinkett Smith’s announcement that she is boycotting the Oscars. She asked other actors to boycott the award show as well. This is because her husband, Will Smith was not nominated, along with fellow African Americans.
This is the second year that all of the major nominees for the Oscars are white. US Magazine reported that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs was “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”
Some actors reprimanded the Smith’s for asking actors to put their careers in jeopardy for the cause.
The New York Daily News started their article with “Take note Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith: Getting political has its risks.”
Some may argue that Jada Pinkett Smith is making this issue personal—about her, while others think it’s a broader statement. You can watch Jada Pinkett Smith’s video on Fox News.
“Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power,” Pinkett Smith said. “And we are a dignified people and we are powerful.”
In this case, I applaud Jada Pinkett Smith. Her message is relevant, especially with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Yes, it’s a personal issue to her, and yes, she would like her husband to be nominated, but she is bringing light to a much greater issue. It’s not only about her.
How Brands Can Be Part of Sensitive Issues:
The key about sensitive issues is to not make them about your agenda or your brand. While each case is vastly different, there are a few things to consider in your brand’s message about sensitive issues.
- Have Empathy About The Issue
Events like the 9/11 terrorist attacts have a profound impact—a direct impact—on Americans. A death of a colleague and of a favorite childhood character, like Alan Rickman, has a great impact on a lot of fans.
The first step is realizing that you are responding to a sensitive issue and what you as a brand says or doesn’t say will have a deeper impact than the average social media trolls who are flippantly creating negative comments.
- Recognize That It’s Not About You
Your legacy and your brand’s legacy does not need to be associated with the event. Feminism is not part of Alan Rickman’s legacy. It is part of Emma Watson’s. P.S. This is Alan Rickman’s legacy according to The Atlantic.
- Don’t Provide a Self-Serving Call to Action
This is tough. In blog posts and in marketing, the call to action is the most important piece. But, sometimes, we need to stop trying to make brands relevant to every cause and every issue when it’s not.
- Keep The Message Simple And Respectful
Don’t turn a sensitive issue into an advertisement. A simple “never forget” for 9/11 or the image of the Eiffel Tower during the Paris Attacks last fall does more for your brand.
Overall, if a brand is going to participate in conversations around a sensitive issue, they should be respectful. There are always innocuous trending topics to be apart of (i.e.