More examples of business stupidity and PR disasters. People like Chance the Rapper call out a Heineken ad for being racist. Laura Ingraham slams a Parkland kid and finds that his call for an advertiser boycott works so well that when she takes a reportedly pre-planned week off with her kids, multiple advertisers do as well. No word as to when, or if, they might return.

Heineken joins the ranks of Kellogg's, Dove, and others. Ingraham follows in the steps of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi when poorly chosen words on the Freakonomics radio show set off a perceived insult to women and a social media backlash.

These are classic types of mistakes. They likely happen every day though to less high-profile companies and people. But we still are left with many high-profile examples of what could be called poor business communications at best and outright business stupidity at the extremes.

The pattern keeps repeating. A personal or corporate brand says or does something they think is smart. People read it differently and react. Remarkable the number of people with extensive experience in marketing and communications and media and advertising who do so much damage to themselves and their organizations. Here are five steps to avoid doing the same.

1. Yes, you could be that dumb.

Oh, you and I and everyone we know absolutely could be and are. Not all the time, and that's what throws people off. A late friend said that he could explain all worldly problems with a three-word phrase: people are idiots. Anyone can do something foolish or stupid. At the wrong time, in the wrong place, it is devastating. One way to not torpedo your business is to remember that you should always on the watch for your own missteps. You won't prevent them all the time, but you will have fewer. Both Ingraham and Heineken have had many negative role models as teachers. Unfortunately, they learned the wrong lesson.

2. Count to 10 before you send.

You can reduce enormous potential damage when you don't follow every impulse to speak your mind, including holding court on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Snap, or other social media. The brain is marvelous, capable of subtle and beautiful thought. It also can be conniving, petty, and fallacious.

What you say publicly speaks to brand. Many businesspeople and celebrities have burned careers on inopportune utterings. It is true that continuous naked antagonism has been a moneymaker for many on the talking heads circuit. However, Ingraham, herself a parent, picked on a teenager who had seen friends gunned down. A moment's reflection might have suggested that this was possibly not the best idea, especially when the teenager and his associates have significant numbers of followers and immense wells of public sympathy. Even when something thoughtless doesn't cause a problem today, it is all to easy to sort through past statements and reacquaint the public with them at the worst time.

3. Audiences are incredibly different.

Heineken assumed that an advertisement that had run without comment in Europe could play well in the U.S. Great way to save some money in the short run. Not so good if you forget that the particular history and current atmosphere emphasizes a reasonable concern over signs of racism. When you say "sometimes lighter is better" (emphasis added) and a beer slides past several people who are black before it stops in front of one with lighter skin, many in the audience here will see this as a racist statement.

4. Get help.

Never assume yourself to be so smart that mistakes are impossible. (People are idiots, remember?) If you're going to run an ad, get people from outside the company who are familiar with the culture you want to reach and who have no vested interest in the campaign, its cost, or the desired outcome. One company after another in the last few years has fallen into this pothole, with people asking after the fact, "Who thought this was a good idea?" Insular corporate cultures, the pride of creative ownership, and money spent on completed material can blind common sense.

5. Don't use "PC" as an excuse.

This isn't the first time I've mentioned perceived messaging problems in packaging, ads, and other corporate communications. Some people have commented at times that the points are questionable, that people are too sensitive and not every word should be policed. That all of this becomes political correctness.

Such views forget that business has to be practical. You communicate and sell to the public. Language that can be misinterpreted will and becomes part of the reality of business. Complaints that the world should be different, that one's intentions were good, don't matter. Learn to get on with things as they are, not as you wish they were.

Published on: Apr 2, 2018
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of