What We’re Reading – May 2024

May What we're reading

What We’re Reading is a monthly roundup of current news, commentary, challenges and trends that impact our industry as well as those of our clients. From Apple’s recent marketing campaign that missed the mark to Explore Minnesota’s catchy new slogan, here’s a look at what stood out to our team in May.

Crisis Communications

Apple, Bumble apologize for marketing missteps – Eleanor Hawkins, Axios

“It happens too often.  A company seeks to cut through the marketing clutter with an “edgy” ad campaign. Beyond falling flat, it ends up alienating the company’s core audiences. Often, too, an apology follows, but the damage is done, as this article explains. These controversies are entirely avoidable – if the marketing department and CMO just checked with – and listened to – its corporate communications team – or outside reputation counsel – while the campaign is still in the storyboard phase. This sort of “safety check” should become standard operating procedure for any company where the advertising direction talks about “pushing the envelope” or similar phrase.” –Nick Kalm 

Backlash over NFL player Harrison Butker’s commencement speech has reached a new level – AJ Willingham, CNN

“There are many lessons to be learned from the fallout of this speech that offended many, but what is most interesting is the Chiefs’ lack of response to the controversy. As the defending Super Bowl champions and NFL darling, they should have acted swiftly to address the growing outrage from fans – especially women and minority fans – that have supported the team recently. This serves as an example that silence isn’t going to cut it in today’s landscape and agile, swift crisis communications responses are critical to brand reputation.” – Natalie Wanner

American Airlines backtracks on filing that blamed 9-year-old for being filmed in bathroom – Ayesha Ali, ABC News

“This situation perfectly highlights why keeping legal teams and communications teams closely connected is so important. While communications shouldn’t be determining legal strategies, they should be looped in enough to flag any potential backlash that could result from those strategies. Ensuring the legal and comms functions have a strong and effective relationship can help organizations win near-term legal victories while maintaining long-term reputational success.” – RJ Bruce

Reputation Management

Sean “Diddy” Combs issues apology for beating ex-girlfriend Cassie – Andrew Dalton, AP News

“Amid this era of ‘Cancel Culture’ are heaps of apologies that miss the mark. Adding himself to the pile, Diddy’s recent video apology for abusing his ex-girlfriend reads more like a “self-help infomercial,” according to PR NEWS. People want apologies that feel natural and empathetic (Remember when your parents made you re-apologize “Like you mean it!”). Unlike Diddy’s, effective apologies should be directed towards the victim and include full ownership of actions with no excuses. Your brand/personal reputation relies on you being real with your audience!” – Emma Smits

Inside the ‘Four Seasons Baby’ Meme and Her Family’s Stay at the Hotel – Gillian Follett, Ad Age

“This is every PR or communication pro’s dream, creating a truly viral moment that gets its own coverage and reflects positively on your organization’s brand. Not only is this a feel-good story, but it also demonstrates the path to giving yourself the best chance of viral success (note: a cute baby is always going to help). First, Four Seasons clearly had a very active and empowered social monitoring system that allowed them to see this post and quickly engage in a way that builds on a core component of their existing reputation – a commitment to exceptional service. Second, and most importantly, they didn’t force it – they allowed the story to become viral organically. And third, to enable the prior point, they ensured they had prepared good opportunities for the content they would want out there while the family was at the hotel (opportunities for good visuals).” – Andrew Moyer

Employee Communications

Tales from the Trenches of Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp – Luke Winkie, Slate

“Red Lobster’s final catastrophic decision – to extend the Endless Shrimp promotion – impacted employees negatively with lost tips and abusive customer behavior all while devaluing the brand. The promotion brought out the worst in customers, many of whom bent the rules and harassed servers who were just attempting to do their jobs. While the focus of the legal and financial advisors at the helm is now clearly on shareholder value as it files for bankruptcy, it will be positive for the brand to also show signs of focusing on employee well-being, too.” – Anne Marie Mitchell

Gen Z employees love ‘yapping’ in the office and experts say it’s actually a good thing for the workplace – Emma Burleigh, Fortune

“Getting to catch up with my coworkers not only makes me more comfortable, but more creative. Silly conversations about likes and dislikes teach me more about their personalities but can also spark an idea for a pitch or social post. However, there needs to be a balance of chatting when it is appropriate, and an understanding that the whole office may not want to hear about your weekend. It is important for the new and older generations to reach a middle ground of yapping to boost coworker collaboration and morale and quieting down to enable professionalism and productivity.” – Grace DuFour

Digital & Social Media

Some Twin Cities suburbs move away from #NoMowMay – Kyle Stokes, Axios Twin Cities

“While the #NoMowMay campaign has spread across social media over recent years, experts debate how beneficial taking a month off from cutting the grass is to pollinators. The goal, experts say, should be finding ways to mow less often, and to create a better environment for bees in your yard, such as planting native flowers and switching to “low-input turf.” While the campaign is an important reminder to care for the environment, it also reminds us to carefully cross-check social media movements with expert studies to ensure we are making the most thoughtful, beneficial decisions.” – Catherine McCoy

X Is Hiding Post Likes for All Users – Andrew Hutchinson, Social Media Today

“X (formerly Twitter) is testing a feature to make user Likes private, aiming to encourage more genuine engagement without the fear of public scrutiny. This change intends to improve the user experience by allowing users to like content freely, which in turn helps refine the platform’s recommendation algorithms. As we counsel clients on their public relations strategies, we should consider how this shift could lead to a more authentic engagement environment, where users interact without concerns about their public image. However, it also poses risks, as it may inadvertently promote controversial or harmful content by removing the social accountability previously linked to public Likes.” – Kellie Clock

Marketing & Creative Services

Minnesota embraces Anthony Edwards’ NBA playoffs slogan – Anthony Gharib, ESPN

“This is a prime example of an organization, like Explore Minnesota, capitalizing on such a viral moment that truly fell in their laps. Perfect opportunity not only taken by the state’s tourism agency, but also the Minnesota State Fair, Minnesota Orchestra, the Target Center and others to promote upcoming events.” – Haley Hartmann

Not crushing it: Apple’s new iPad Pro ad met with wave of backlash – Peter Adams, Marketing Dive

“The acceleration of technology fills many creatives with both excitement and fear. On one hand, technology allows us to do more with fewer resources; on the other hand, there are those worried that technology will eliminate the role of creatives in the world. Nothing activates that fear more than Apple’s ad, “Crush”, which depicts a hydraulic press destroying a mountain of creative tools and leaving the latest iPad Pro model in its place. Another reminder to surround yourself with a myriad of diverse perspectives before signing off on big ideas.” – Fred Walls

ESG Communications

How Soda, Chocolate and Chewing Gum are Funding War in Sudan – Alexandra Wexler and Nicholas Bariyo, The Wall Street Journal

“Around 80% of the world’s gum arabic is harvested from Sudan’s acacia trees, and the war-torn country is an apt reminder of the reputational challenges companies face in sourcing ingredients from distressed areas that fuel their business operations. Hershey, Ferrero and others rely on this gum, but at what cost? Academics claim their sourcing is financing the war since April 2023.

A thorough supplier assessment and audit as part of a sustainability strategy can help understand these vulnerabilities and help develop alternative sourcing options to help avoid any reputational challenges due to its supply chain.” – Michael Grimm