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What if they say something bad?

July 14, 2009

Over at the Toad Stool, Alan Wolk has some good advice for brands out there to stop the inevitable backlash against them when something goes wrong. Don’t suck.

Alan’s a smart guy, and he’s clearly being a little glib here in this statement, so I won’t get that much into it. Because if you’re standing in front of your client with the newest social media campaign, and the client says “what if they say something bad about us”, you can’t respond with “don’t suck”.

And even if you could, you might be dealing with employees who do just about anything. Think about it: if 30-year old employees at Domino’s can stick food up their pie-holes and then put it on the food, big brands can’t exactly write up “don’t suck” policies for their staff.

What I say, instead, is sell. Take the United Airlines Breaks Guitars song, quietly rising to the top of the YouTube food chain with over 2 million 3 million views.

What should United have done? Something like what Taylor Guitars did in their video response. Got someone seriously senior to respond, in video. The script would have gone something like this:

“United flies over X billion of people all over the world, carrying over x billion pieces of luggage. And out of that, we only get X complaints. It’s our policy to treat our passengers luggage as well as we treat passengers. This was an unfortunate incident committed by individuals, and it’s not our overall policy. We appreciate Mr. Carroll telling us about this. Because of this, I’m calling an inquiry into our policies. And even though this happens only 0.1% of the time, we agree that even once is too much and we’re going to work hard to make sure this never happens again. Thank you, Mr. Carroll for choosing united, and we’ll work hard to win you back as a passenger.”

This is sell copy at the beginning. Hard sell. It says United flies billions of people, and rarely does this happen. It contains a copy line that’s fluff: United cares about the luggage as much as passengers. If that copy appeared in an ad, people would ignore the hell out of it because it’s overkill. In this instance though, it’s relevant sell.

Again, this should not be overproduced. Like the Taylor response, it should just be honest. Admit you suck, and make an assurance that you’ll try not to. But respond. Because overall, you will suck. At some point. This is the real world, were people have bad days, bad ideas, and these things will impact your brand.

So have a plan. (Or read this link, because we have a plan for all of our clients)

And then sell. That’s what you do when you suck. You explain how you won’t anymore using the most hardcore sales copy you can think of. Someone says you’re bad, and everyone is waiting to here why you’re not. The higher up the person who responds, the better the respond will feel. Taylor Guitars used a guy named Taylor, and he sold. He even asked for the order. But just imagine that video existing out of this context.

So respond. And sell. This is emerging as the ONLY time in advertising when you can pull out the hard-core corporate sales copy and people will read it because it’s a response.

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