There have been some PR blunders in 2020. Can you give us a real-world example of one?
The Norwegian cruise line campaign #FeelFreeToFeelMore is a prime example of PR done poorly. The campaign, which premiered in March, skipped over the pandemic entirely, creating a disconnect between brand and consumer.
Given that the advertising went live during a period of extreme uncertainty and fear, the branded message comes off as negligent and tone-deaf.
Can you comment a little further on why their campaign was a disaster?
When timely events occur, there’s typically an expectation for companies to comment on what’s current. Doing so creates a sense of uniformity and can build relationships with consumers who feel as though they’re experiencing something with a brand. When done poorly; however, the opposite happens, and consumers tend to push back in an emotionally charged response, crucifying the misstep and citing insensitivity.
For the Norwegian cruise line brand, their campaign’s lack of consideration for public opinion was nothing short of a PR nightmare. They got a lot of backlash for their commercial. Even the NY Times commented on it. You can read here.
What do you think was on their minds when they released that campaign?
I think they were dealing with the fallout from a huge industry disruption and were operating from a place of fear and desperation. People were canceling trips, afraid to get on a cruise ship. Their stock was tanking. I think they wanted to remind people of how good traveling can make you feel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right move, given the circumstances.
What can we learn from the mistakes of brands who get it wrong? Do you think there’s a silver lining to be found here?
Absolutely. The main takeaway is that we need to be conscientious and socially aware. It’s important to be timely and relevant with the messages we’re putting out there. If the world is changing, we need to change with it.
Something that might have been a major hit a decade ago, or even just a few years ago, might be a total flop today. There’s a reason for that; public perception is ever-evolving. It really comes down to being in tune with public opinion and making accurate predictions about how people will respond to different things.
So in order to get it right, you have to have some sort of emotional intelligence. I think that’s what you’re getting at?
Correct. Emotional intelligence is key. Especially when we’re dealing with situations that involve any negative emotions, like fear. We need to be sensitive to what people are experiencing.
A good PR strategy leverages the beliefs and biases of an audience in a way that creates harmony. You want someone to be watching your commercial and saying, “Oh, they get it!” or “I feel that way too!” It’s those types of responses that build connections.
What do you think people were saying when they saw the Norwegian campaign?
“Yikes!” (laughs). I think they felt disconnected. Probably something like, “Are they not seeing what I’m seeing?” or “This feels out of line right now”.
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