No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?

Musings on Brands and Bad Press

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Everyone likes trailers, so it was respectfully quiet while we admired the cinematography and the faithful recreation of the trenches, but when the Sainsbury's logo appeared at the end fifty-odd people let out a collective ‘for fuck's sake!’ It was a truly beautiful moment.

So said Oscar Wilde. And there is a lot of truth in this, in relation to an individual’s fame and celebrity at least.

A few of the stories I tweeted this week were in relation to bad publicity, but for large commercial entities.

Firstly we had Uber, who was banned from India in light of one of their drivers raping a lady passenger. Their screening/due diligence/best of breed checks leave a lot to be desired.

For your product to get banned is as bad as it gets. Even BP could still sell petrol after arguably the biggest PR disaster in history.

And we had the Apple antitrust lawsuit, which is a bit boring, and on the brink of being thrown out due to the plaintiffs being rubbish, but is simply indicative of the paranoia of the monopoly-hungry corporations.

But it was this story that struck me most deeply. A concept for an ever-increasing memorial skyscraper, for all the workers who have died building the infrastructure in Qatar for the World Cup.

Quite staggeringly, over 1000 people have already died. That’s horrific. These people live and work in conditions that are tantamount to slavery.

It sounds like something from ancient Egypt. But it is happening in the richest country of the 21st century.

And I can’t see that they have, really, been held to account for it. They should have the World Cup taken off them.

I see Qatar as a brand: a powerhouse rival to Dubai. The maroon palette of the national flag resonates through the national airline, whose logo now emblazons Barcelona’s maroon football kit.

Effectively it is the state of Qatar that sponsors Barcelona. Initially they had the ‘Qatar Foundation’ on the front of their shirts, which was a masterstroke by the marketing bods, who must have been very concerned about protecting their client’s reputation.

Barcelona had this great reputation of not succumbing to the lure of commercialism, whilst having UNICEF on their shirts. So any announcement of a large deal could lead to them getting negative press for selling out etc.

But they had a buffer of a season or two of having the ambiguous ‘Qatar Foundation’ on their shirts. Officially, this is a ‘non-profit’ organisation (who managed to find £125 million to sponsor Barcelona), set up to help the people of Qatar (excluding the immigrant builders, presumably).

Its real purpose was to get people used to seeing ‘Qatar’ written in yellow on the shirts, initially in relation to what appeared to be a charity, thus weaning the fans off their pride in Barca’s no corporate sponsor philosophy. This paved the way for the huge deal and the Qatar Airways logo.

That’s ingenious, if mercenary.

On the lesser end of the bad publicity scale is the Christmas ad from Sainsbury’s.

That so many people’s reaction to it is that they find it “lovely and beautiful” is a little disconcerting. I know they have taken a rare moment when the human race’s decency shone through in an otherwise awful period, I don’t mind that being highlighted for inspiration. But I don’t think it’s right to flog groceries off the back of it.

Also, donating/sharing money from the sales of just one of its 30,000 products, the one product they have contrived to produce solely to tenuously build a rickety emotional brand bridge from them to WWI trench warfare, is poor.

They should be donating a lot more to the British Legion.

Their content would benefit from putting this unique event in context and consisting of things like the works of the war poets, to help enlighten their customers on the true horrors of war and those lads who lost their lives.

I think this comment, on an excellent blog, from ‘StVitusGerulaitis’, who saw the ad in a cinema, sums up the way a lot of people think:

Everyone likes trailers, so it was respectfully quiet while we admired the cinematography and the faithful recreation of the trenches, but when the Sainsbury's logo appeared at the end fifty-odd people let out a collective ‘for fuck's sake!’ It was a truly beautiful moment.

This comment got 1920 recommendations, which is telling.

From a purely marketing point of view, you can view it as a very good, if exuberant, piece of story-telling content, and the fact that 96.8% of all responses on YouTube are positive attests to that.

But as an advert I am not sure it works. As Giles here at Gasp said: “It’s a great film, beautifully made, but it’s not relevant.”

The link from an inspiring WWI event to peddling/sharing chocolate bars and nets of tangerines is very tenuous.

But ultimately, the vast majority seem to like it, and Sainsbury’s will shift a lot of units off the back of it, so maybe that’s all that matters. But I’m not so sure.

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