There is a right way and a wrong way to do PR and damage control. Unfortunately, the Fine Brothers -- creators of the ultra-popular React channel on YouTube -- are the latest example of how to screw it up.
For those of you who don't follow the YouTube community, the Fine Brothers are the creators of the React channel, a series of videos where kids, teens, adults, elders, etc. react to modern pop culture sensations and items from the past. They have 14 million subscribers and have built a mini-empire that includes several TV show deals and, as of last week, React World--a licensing arrangement where anyone can create YouTube shows based on their React ideas and get their resources, in return for them taking a cut of the profits.
Here, watch their announcement:
This should have been their biggest triumph. Instead, the internet, Reddit, and YouTube's top creators all roared to life against them. The video has over 176,000 dislikes on YouTube (compared to just 36,000 likes).
The internet had numerous objections. Many don't believe the Fine Brothers can legally own reaction videos--a popular genre long before the Fine Brothers started their channel. The announcement was intentionally vague--what is the React format? Who owns it? Their language is filled with PR jargon. They tried to make a traditional Hollywood-style licensing deal sound like something noncorporate.
But the biggest issue the internet had with the Fine Brothers' React World was that it felt like an attempt to stop people from creating reaction videos legally through their trademarks and lawyers.
FilmCow, the creator of the popular "Charlie the Unicorn series," has a far better explanation of the internet's objections (Warning: Some strong language in this video):
Reddit's popular /r/videos subreddit is filled with angry videos and comments direct at the Fine Brothers. Their subscriber count has been dropping for the last three days.
Earlier today, they posted an "Update" video, apologizing for React World and vowing to make right to their community.
Ha! I'm just kidding. The reason I'm writing this article is because their update non-apology video violates almost every rule of PR and damage control I know. I couldn't believe they'd even publish it.
Watch it, and then read all of the rules of PR and damage control the Fine Brothers have broken below it:
Sigh. Let's go through the many things the Fine Brothers do wrong in this "apology" video:
1) They don't title it "We're Sorry." They title it "Update," as if they're too good to apologize to their community
2) They don't apologize for what is actually angering people and instead insult their audience with their "apology." This is an actual quote from their video:
"We're sorry for confusing people with terminology like "our react format."
This apology basically says to your audience, "We're sorry that you're stupid." It is the most condescending way to apologize to a person. And the Fine Brothers wonder why everybody is pissed at them.
3)They tell their audience they don't have time to answer their questions. They say this at around the 50-second mark. And while they can't answer all the complaining, you never tell your audience you're too busy or overwhelmed to answer their questions. You tell them, "We're trying to answer all of your questions as fast as we can." You don't have to answer every one, but don't tell them you won't.
4) They eye-roll in their apology video. Really, the arrogance! At around 22 seconds, they eye-roll, clearly demonstrating their apology is insincere. This one irks me the most. Even the most basic PR person can edit out eye-rolls from their CEO's apology video. Can you at least not show contempt for your audience?
5) And finally, they didn't close the mystery loop. This is something I talk about for an entire chapter in Captivology. People keep paying attention to stories like the Fine Brothers fiasco because they want to see how it concludes and get their questions answered. A good apology closes the mystery loop so there are no more loose ends. A good brand apology offers a direct apology and explains, in very clear terms, what the brand will do to fix or resolve the problem.
The Fine Brothers did neither of these things. They didn't apologize for what's really angering their audience, and they didn't explain exactly how they're going to fix the problem. As a result, this story is only going to grow. Perhaps it's their belief that they can simply "ride it out," but rarely does that happen. Airbnb tried this once when it was criticized for its lackluster response to an Airbnb host whose house was ransacked, and it didn't fly. Only when the company issued a direct apology did its problems ago away.
If I were the Fine Brothers, I would immediately hire a smart damage control PR firm (because they clearly can't do it themselves), issue a real apology, and pull back React World until they've found a way to do it that won't piss off the entire internet. (LISTEN to your audience, guys!)
Don't be like the Fine Brothers. If you find your brand in a similar situation, issue a direct apology, scale back your ambitions, and explain how you are going to fix the problem.