When it comes to your credit union’s marketing, what’s one of the worst things that can happen? Creating an ad that you think is awesome—only to find your masterpiece at the center of a social media uproar due to its perceived offensiveness. That scenario may sound far-fetched, but I’m willing to bet that most of the companies that have experienced this nightmare never thought it would happen to them. So, what’s the best way to handle it if your organization’s advertisement went viral for all the wrong reasons? Let’s take a look at a recent misstep by Peloton®.
What Peloton experienced last week went far beyond the objections of a few exercise-hating trolls. The high-tech exercise equipment company heard from thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of people mocking them for becoming “tone deaf” in their advertising. Their gaffe came in the form of a new holiday ad that featured a svelte, slender woman receiving one of the company’s interactive stationary bikes as a Christmas morning surprise. The ad generated a flood of social media responses, many echoing the sentiment of one Twitter comment that read, “Nothing says ‘maybe you should lose a few pounds’ like gifting your already rail-thin life partner a Peloton.”
In the advertising circles, many suggested the ad could have been produced in better taste with a variance in creative. And while it certainly could have benefitted from a different approach, the commercial itself was not the company’s biggest mistake. No, their biggest mistake was how they responded to the criticism. How bad could it have been? Peloton’s official corporate response was as follows:
“While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by—and grateful for—the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.”
So, let me get this straight. You’re “disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial”? That’s about as passive-aggressive as a non-apology can get. It’s one of the worst responses you could ever give to a friend, customer, or critic. Peloton’s reaction to the criticism shows that they don’t believe they have a brand issue, and they are sorry if you feel that they do. But here’s the problem with that perspective: You can’t apologize for how someone else feels. You can only apologize for what you do.
So, what can your credit union learn from the Peloton fiasco?
- Know the difference between when you’ve really screwed up versus when you’ve upset an especially noisy critic. It can be annoying to receive an angry email or snarky comment from a single troll who wakes up every morning just looking for something to be offended by. While this can be frustrating, it’s not necessarily a sign that your creative missed the mark.
- If you find yourself in a situation similar to Peloton, own the mistake and issue a genuine apology that shows you realize where you went wrong. Then, communicate how you plan to avoid making this mistake in the future. Additionally, if your messaging hurt a particular person or group, consider reaching out to them directly and inviting them in for a face-to-face conversation to try and mend the relationship.
- Don’t let one mistake keep you from standing up for what you believe in. Poor judgment in creative is one thing. But if you take a stand for an issue or principle that is important to you, there will always be someone on the other side that will disagree or take offense. Know what you believe. Know why you believe it. Then, if someone challenges your stance, be gracious—but confident—in your response.
- Last, but certainly not least, if you make a mistake, resist the temptation to protect yourself or your company by issuing vague statements that shift the blame to the client or customer. Saying, “I’m sorry I messed up,” is helpful. Saying, “I’m sorry you think I messed up,” is not.
As the old saying goes, “A smart person learns from their mistakes. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others.” The past week was proof that, as unintentional as it may have been, Peloton made a mistake. Thankfully, we all have the chance to exercise some wisdom and learn from it.