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Is there a light at the end of the tunnel after a brand crisis?

By Moses Shuuya

We often see brands getting into serious brand crisis on social media. Cases are that such brands shift in a panic gear and respond to the crisis with inappropriate messages. The inappropriateness of brand crisis response shouldn’t be judged only by its content but also by the choice of the level of authority tasked to respond to such a crisis. Spokespersons might take offense if I have to suggest that their authority should be undermined in distinguished brand crisis events. In June 1996, Coca Cola Company brand faced a crisis when reports suggested that children in Belgium fell ill after drinking the company’s trademark beverage.

This resulted in the company’s brand crisis that forced governments of France, Belgium, and others to ban Coke products. Lucky enough, neither Facebook nor Twitter existed; this could be a serious global crisis. The Coca-Cola Company did the right thing when it assigned its Chairman & Chief Executive to respond to the crisis instead of its spokesperson who declined to comment on the crisis. Coca Cola’s image was saved. In another case, on the 26th March 2017, United Airlines faced a brand crisis on social media after it banned two young girls aged not more than ten years from boarding their plane because they were wearing leggings.

The news went viral on Twitter. Unlike coke, the official United Airlines Twitter account immediately responded. “UA shall have the rights to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage.” What does properly clothed mean? This response became a wrong PR response when a Twitter follower tweeted that “The only place @united’s Contract of Carriage mentions clothing is regarding safety. Were these dangerous leggings?” Another tweet by Ian Schafer hit back at United Airlines “There are women in leggings and bathing suits in a recent @united safety video” A day later, United Airline responded through 9NEWS that” yoga pants or leggings are more than welcome for regular paying customers” but not for the pass riders; the passengers who fly under employees pass privilege under which the girls were classified. The airline though refused to reveal the pass riders’ dress code policy; this made their PR work so cheap.

This article is not merely storytelling, but it is a reminder that social media may tempt PR practitioners to respond instantly to what might result in a brand crisis. They should always know that they are well equipped with a better understanding of their organizations’ policies. The damage caused by a wrong PR work might be irreparable as compared to that of the initial brand crisis, thus, patience might be a better response than overreacting to crisis events. A response from the company’s chairman or CEO might be well received by the public than the one from the spokesperson.

Thus, the level of authority to respond to a crisis might be the best decision to deal with a crisis But the question is, is there a light at the end of the tunnel after a brand crisis? One could answer yes, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel after a brand crisis such as that of United Airlines if a brand crisis is well managed. There are those that might not have known the brand before, but that negative media exposure might only be negative to one part of the market. The exposure could be a source of brand awareness to others.

*Moses Shuuya is a Junior Lecturer at NUST. He is publishing this in his personal capacity*

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