A reputational crisis can be hard to anticipate.
Many are triggered by events beyond an organisation’s control.
Sometimes, however, they are caused by entirely predictable own goals.
Adidas produced a pretty spectacular example of this earlier this week when its social media launch of Arsenal’s new kit was hijacked by people with offensive handles.
Its #DareToCreate Twitter campaign allowed supporters to create a shirt emblazoned with their username, which they could then order.
But the campaign did not filter out offensive words and phrases and quickly the official @AdidasUK account had automatically shared pictures of shirts which included references to Madeline McCann, Hitler, the Hillsborough Disaster and contained racist and anti-Semitic language.
The sportswear giant acted quickly – a key step in any crisis media management incident - and withdrew the campaign. But the damage had already been done.
Here are some of the headlines it generated:
Adidas under fire for racist tweets after botched Arsenal launch The Guardian
Arsenal kit launch turns horrific after Adidas account shares racist and offensive shirts Independent
Arsenal’s Adidas kit launch campaign hijacked to promote racist and anti-Semitic shirts Mirror
Adidas’ Twitter Campaign to launch new Arsenal kit backfires horribly HuffPost
Adidas pointed the finger at Twitter for the PR disaster in its statement, saying: “We are in contact with Twitter, the innovation provider, to establish the cause and ensure they continue to monitor and action violating content as a matter of urgency.”
The blame game can be dangerous during a crisis media management incident and we recommend brands takes ownership and responsibility for what has gone wrong.
But, perhaps more importantly, this was a crisis that was entirely predictable and really should have been anticipated by the sportswear giant.
While Adidas complained about the ‘abuse of a Twitter personalization functionality’, it is no secret that the social media network has a dark side and that effectively putting your account in the hands of the public is reckless.
It is not as if there aren’t plenty of examples of user-generated content own goals which have left messages distorted and corporate social media accounts vandalised.
One of the most infamous came when Walkers crisps asked its followers to share a selfie with the hashtag #WalkersWave to be in with a chance of winning tickets to the UEFA Champions League final in 2017. That picture was then incorporated into a video with Gary Lineker and was automatically reposted from the Walkers’ account.
Sadly, there was no vetting or filtration in place and the smiling TV presenter was seen holding pictures of the likes of Jimmy Saville, Fred West, Harold Shipman and Stalin.
Coca-Cola’s ‘GIF the Feeling’ campaign left a bad taste even though it had taken steps to filterout a number of risky words. The public got around that by using words like diarrhoea, capitalism and Benghazi.
While Aldi Australia must have been feeling particularly brave, or naïve, when it ran a fill-in-the blank challenge on Twitter asking “I became an Aldi lover when I tasted…. for the first time.”
You probably don’t need me to tell you the public’s response to that included references to genitals and horsemeat, among many others.
What this all shows, and what Adidas should have known, is that while brands want their campaigns to become part of the social media conversation, this can easily come at the cost of their reputation.
A few simple errors, a poorly thought-out idea and a failure to learn from the mistakes of others, can rapidly turn something with good intentions into something hugely negative.
Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.