2Day FM, Virgin Mobile US and self-inflicted woe

I was talking at a Churchill Club event this past week around brand and one of the key messages I had for the audience was that while brand is certainly the result of the promises you keep, whether you keep them or not first shows up in what you do (or don’t do).

And organisations “doing” has been making headlines this week in two high profile cases with plenty of unintended consequences to go around.

First cab off the rank: 2Day FM

I’m not going to rehash the whys and wherefores of the tragedy of a woman’s death. Nor am I going to pile on to the DJs who started the whole ball rolling with a patently stupid and pretty unfunny “prank”.

But I think it is a worthwhile lesson of how things can seem to be going fine right up to the point when they aren’t.
At no point in the process of thinking up, carrying out and broadcasting the so-called “prank” does it appear anyone stopped to look beyond “standard processes” at what could possibly go wrong.

And while I doubt any process of mapping possible outcomes would have predicted the events that unfolded, some negative backlash was highly predictable and, in truth, probably desired (all the better to get headlines and ratings).

I don’t see how 2Day FM can continue to claim these kinds of things are outliers and the resulting negative consequences for the station unforseen. Once could be seen as a mistake. Twice could be seen as a coincidence. But three times is a pattern.

And the board chair and CEO of Southern Cross Austereo can protest all they like that this in no way reflects the corporation – the policies and demands that drive these kinds of actions don’t appear out of thin air.

As the parent corporation and “brand”, it makes the starting promises that flow down to all the subsidiaries below, including 2Day FM.

Next up, we have Virgin Mobile US

Richard Branson intervened via his blog in regards to an unfunny, ill-advised campaign by a company that he no longer has any legal ownership of.

However, ownership aside, as the global face of all things Virgin related, he is also keenly aware that the stupid actions of one can have a ripple effect across others – whatever the specifics of corporate ownership decree.

(The complexity of owning a name versus being seen to own a name is perhaps fodder for a future blog.)

Unlike the tragic results of the 2Day FM “prank”, the resulting outcry around this one was so obvious it is a wonder they didn’t trip over it on the way out the door.

An ad that depicted a man holding a gift while shielding a woman’s eyes with the caption: “The gift of Christmas surprise. Necklace? Or chloroform” was a dud out of the gate. And leaving the pitfalls of trying to manufacture “viral” responses aside, once again a simple stop and check what the potential reactions to this might be could have averted the whole sorry mess.

In truth, any damage is probably quite short-lived given they quickly pulled the offending material and daddy ran out to do clean up on aisle 5! But if I were them I’d be pretty careful with my campaigns for a while and leave innuendo to stand-up comedians.

And to be clear, I am in no way equating the seriousness of the 2Day FM situation with a failed marketing campaign.

However, they do share something in common – a complete lack of consciousness about potential outcomes beyond their singular desire for immediate results. And in both cases the damage of the doing has had a brand result.

See you next week with my annual Good Brand and Ugly recap. It’s been a bumper crop this year!

Michel is an independent brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.

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