Three Simple Ways to Avoid this Advertising PR Fail

By Joe Krupa, Smorgads Market Tech Inc.

It’s an all too familiar concern for those that market products and services that relate to aspects of the human condition and its myriad of sensitivities and sensibilities.  Heck, it’s a concern of all marketers for that matter…an advertising miscalculation that can result in a public relations disaster.

I recently blogged about a funeral home and a hospital north of Toronto who both experienced one of those disasters, for reasons that would likely have been preempted should only a set of simple steps have been followed.

In short, The Royal Victoria hospital in Barrie Ontario had egg on its face when a woman, taking her aunt for chemotherapy treatment at the hospital’s cancer treatment centre, noticed advertising on the parking gates for the local Adam’s Funeral Home.
Cringe!

The woman, Lori Waltenbury, posted a photo to social media, from whence it quickly caught fire, and even made its way to feature stories in two of North America’s largest daily newspapers, the Toronto Star and the Washington Post.

Unlike programmatic advertising, where (despite its ambitious claims to the contrary) ads wind up in the darndest of places and in front of the most unsuspecting of viewers, traditional, non-digital advertising is supposed to benefit from the human element somewhere in the marketing/advertising chain to prevent such an egregious error in judgment.

At this point, all the finger pointing, playing dumb, and even mea culpas, can’t always put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Like taking our daily vitamins or brushing daily, a little preventative medicine can go a long way.

Taking a few simple steps into consideration when initiating a marketing and advertising campaign help keep the PR damage control doctor away

1. Time/Place/Activity

Targeting the right group, at the right time, in the right place, and while they are doing the right activity.  Common sense, right?  Well, not always so common, and certainly not in the case of the Royal Victoria hospital.

It could be argued that the Adams Funeral Home may have been correct in identifying hospitals as a good place to find their target audience, since hospitals tend to serve a higher than average demographic of baby-boomers who may, at their life-stage, be concerned with financial pre-planning of funerals.

Who could possibly justify, however, that communicating the sell message of a funeral home to people participating in the activity of receiving chemotherapy for cancer, at a time they are the most fearful and vulnerable they have been their whole lives, might somehow be a good idea?

2. Situational Awareness

While your business and brand proposition may seem eternal to you, the world around you is in constant flux.  Societal fashions, values, sensitivities, technologies, politics and prejudices, can turn on a dime and shift as frequently as the wind. 

It’s incumbent on any competent marketer to not consider their brand marketing strategy in a vacuum, but rather as a dynamic set of propositions in the vortex of all these shifting elements.  In other words, what may have been safe to do years ago, may now get you in a big tub of hot water.

What the funeral home and hospital may not have considered is the potential of social media to turn, what might otherwise have been a single phone call complaint, several years back, into a federal case…well, maybe not, but close enough…the Washington Post!
In addition to this change in technology which could facilitate the rapid spiral of a PR disaster, the internet has also spawned the age of web activism, or slacktivism, which, no matter what way you describe it, can quickly sink your brand.

This I what I mean by situational awareness…the constant consideration of how a shifting societal environment relates to your brand, including an analysis of the dangers and pitfalls of each unique marketing execution.

3. Take Control

According to the Toronto Star, Adams Funeral Home owner, Doug Adams, “had no idea about the ad’s placement”.  Where the truth lies, will likely never be known, however pleading ignorance is not going to save your businesses backside, particularly when web activists across the massive viral network, aren’t too interested in your excuses, no matter how legitimate and well intentioned they may be.

The electronic, data-driven, nature of our modern world has created disconnect between the end-points of any transaction.  Just like when buying a book on Amazon, you click the buy button and a day or two later I arrives at your door.  What happened between the buy click and the knock at your door, is pretty much a mystery.  If the wrong book arrives because some robot in fulfillment was fed incorrect data, well, no big deal…you just send it back.

In advertising and marketing, the stakes are much larger and the potential damage, much more severe.  Doug Adams, at one end of the transaction clearly had no idea what was going on down the chain of execution, from the purchase, to the ad agency, through to the hospitals’ ad sales department, and on finally on to some deployer.

Exacerbating the problem has been programmatic, where buyers purchase impressions, digital GRPs, viewable CPMs, often with little consideration to how (what, where, when, who) these metrics are achieved.  Blind faith is put into execution and fulfillment.
Marketers need to retake control of the process of ad buying so as to avoid being the next Washington Times train wreck feature.  What the internet has done best is obviate the need for go-betweens in business transactions.  Never before has it been easier and more expedient to go direct to the supplier.

By eliminating the supply chain between the ad buyer and seller, the marketer has much greater assurance that their non-digital advertising will wind up where, when and how, it is intended.  Buying direct, Mr. Adams could have explicitly bought advertising in the Hospital’s orthopedics’ department where his target group was probably also plentiful, but not engaged in an activity where sensitivities would have triggered any offense.

Further, purchasing direct, ensures the quality of impressions from a target market or demographic that can be qualified up front.

If the Adams Funeral Home had simply taken these three principles into consideration, I probably would not be writing this article today, and they’d be busy toiling at their business rather than answering angry phone calls and email.

It’s not rocket science, but rather a simple common sense approach to marketing management and advertising buying.   Ultimately it’s about being actively involved in the whole marketing process, being constantly vigilant, and taking control by using the tools that the internet age have availed.

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Tags: ads, direct, brand proposition, programmatic, supply chain, marketer, advertising