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Marketing Fail? Turn That Frown Upside Down

broken phone screen

Marketing fails happen, and they can be quite funny (unless it’s within your organization). Viral sharing and the elephant-like memory of the Internet can make it seem like a faux pas will last forever.

In anticipation of the inevitable, put together a proactive plan of attack on how you’re going to manage the crisis before the crisis hits. Handle it well, and your misstep will soon be forgotten and replaced by some other poor guy’s mess.

Acknowledge the marketing fail and Apologize

First things first, think WWJBD. (What would Justin Bieber do?) Hear me out — I’m talking about the more mature, reformed Biebs. His advice? Say you’re sorry. You approved a somewhat questionable ad about spiking your best friend’s eggnog? Apologize. You attempted to sell pancakes on Twitter by saying they’re flat but have a nice personality? Apologize. Forgot to maintain a URL to your latest white paper and it got snapped up by a porn site? Apologize.

I think we can all agree that — outside of not making bad choices to begin with (see: the ghost of Bieber past) — quickly acknowledging and apologizing is the best way to handle campaign missteps. You don’t even need all 140 characters to do that. And if you can get your apology out before the local news picks it up, at least they’ll have a quote ready to tag on the end of the embarrassing story.

Pivot for the Win

Sometimes the error isn’t so blatant. Perhaps you over-promised a discount, had a secondary negative impact of a perceived technical improvement, picked a creepy pitchman (we’re talking to you, Burger King) or just featured one that looked like he stayed out all night instead of checking into the hotel room he’s promoting. (Did the hot-mess Trivago guy close down every bar in NYC the night before filming?)

In those cases, you might have the chance to pivot and turn bad publicity in your favor. When Trivago caught flak for its unkempt spokesman, it ran a makeover contest on Facebook in which the winner was given the chance to improve the actor’s appearance on subsequent commercials. When Oprah gave away cars to her studio audience, recipients were promptly hit with a sizable tax bill. To remedy the oversight, she made it right on future giveaways by covering the unforeseen expense. A potential disaster turned into a publicity boost.

Get the Boss Involved

Crisis control requires the involvement of a high-ranking company official — someone who can legitimately represent the organization and its value to customers. This head honcho also has the power to put resources behind a solution as quickly as possible. Ideally, this is the same person who signs off on dicey campaigns before they go live, along with the legal department, since his or her neck will be on the line should it go awry.

Brand equity is so important now; you shouldn’t assume that any publicity is good publicity. It just doesn’t always work that way. Your blunder might not be a fatal error in the long run, but it could be an expensive lesson. Why spend time and money on disaster cleanup when it can be put toward building on success?

You’ll never intentionally get your company embroiled in a PR nightmare, but keep our contact info handy, just in case.