McDonald’s and Skittles are the latest to pull high profile ads after swift and decisive consumer objections. Skittle’s sin was venial, ratcheting up the gross factor one notch too high, while McDonald’s sin was, well, mortal – using/abusing a bereaved child with absolutely none of his dead father’s virtues, apparently, except his affinity for fish sticks, which – Hallelujah! – make up for his loss and personal shortcomings…
With fresh and compelling content expected daily, hourly, minutely, it’s understandable that every branding nugget can’t be gold, and a few, including those featuring 30-year-old umbilical chords, may produce a viral gag reflex. However that force of accountability, if used proactively, can reduce brand misses and increase hits.
Brands need to develop innovative and more effective methods of test-flying their campaigns. Take the Skittle’s faux pas, for example. If they’d found an organic, low-stakes way of floating the Mother’s Day conceit (a cartoon, a joke, anything), they might have (probably would have) received an informative, lackluster response, maybe even a few green-faced emojis.
Given the breadth of a major brand’s marketing initiatives, and the infrequency of delete-worthy campaigns, such protective measures may seem overly cautious – difficult to implement and potentially cost ineffective. That’s a dangerous bet. Because even if big brands have the money to burn, none have the brand equity to burn.
And when mistake is made, brands need to humble themselves, to get on their hands and knees and clean up the mess, because nothing’s getting swept under the rug these days, not with millions of followers holding it up at every moment. McDonald’s initially resisted public sentiment, compounding their insensitivity before finally face-planting with a corporate mea culpa. Skittles, on the other hand, landed on its feet with a quick, charming whoops!