It’s been a busy week in the reputation management space, what with Motrin Moms, the Big Three and their personal jets, and more recently, Sarah Palin down on the farm. The question that I, and others, have asked, however, is whether some or all of it has been much ado about nothing.
The Motrin debacle is a clear example of an organization knee-capped by an increasingly vocal and visible (and some might say, militant) constituency. No matter if you considered the ad offensive or not, it highlighted the challenges facing organizations in the era of social media, and the importance of both listening and having in place the mechanisms to support rapid response.
Given the current hubbub, one might imagine that Motrin’s reputation had been irreparably damaged. I would posit, however, that this is simply another example of the echo-chamber effect, and an issue blown out of reasonable proportion in a world increasingly bereft of context. Arguably, the ad was poorly-conceived and showed that the company had not fully considered its target audience. Did the company act responsibly by removing the ad and apologizing? Absolutely. It was the right thing to do. And yet, in reading a number of posts from various experts in the social media space, you would think the brand, despite all the steps taken to correct the issue, was now permanently tainted.
Add some perspective, however, and it would seem otherwise. Unlike the Kryptonite lock issue or “Dell Hell” or more recent product and food recalls, the product itself was not at issue (nor, as in the case of Dell, the ’services’ around it). Nor was the ad deceptive or unethical. People were not dying or falling ill because of it, or losing money or their jobs (other than perhaps at the ad firm), or being swindled or misled. It was an advertisement to which a group of individuals (albeit not everyone within that group, it should be added) took offense.
Which then begs the question: When perspective is added, what response is appropriate and reasonable? Does it make sense, as some have suggested, to try to respond to the hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, who blogged or tweeted their outrage?& On the other hand, by removing the ad, could it be said that the company perhaps over-reacted to what might be viewed as a vocal albeit highly inter-connected minority (personally, I don’t think so)? If not, what more might they reasonably do other than replace the ad with an apology and move on? Or did the act of removing the ad sufficiently demonstrate their acknowledgment of their mistake and their determination to correct it?
Could the same be said of the automakers and their corporate jets? With thousands of jobs at risk, the “ill-timed display of corporate excess” according to the Washington Post, could be viewed as a potentially greater threat to corporate reputation than that facing the makers of Motrin. Optically, the contradiction between right and wrong is that much more acute. It reinforced a growing media portrayal of an industry that only has itself to blame for its current woes. And, unlike Motrin, the consequences could be significant and long-lasting.
Ultimately, I don’t see the Motrin brand suffering permanent or long-term damage as a result of this brief firestorm. I do see the company realizing the importance of listening to the social media space and having mechanisms in place to respond in a timely manner. Most importantly, I hope that the company does not use this incident as an excuse to walk away from social media.