Corporations and brands are not usually the first example people reach for when discussing ethical activities. And handling PR in adverse circumstances is often when companies make the biggest stumbles.
But sometimes brand PR gets things more than right, like when a response to critics or an ugly situation is so brilliant that it turns a wash of negativity into positive results. Skittles is the latest example with its reaction to being drawn into a political controversy against its will, but it's not the only brand to apply communications
jiujitsu in a difficult situation. Here is what parent company Mars did, as well as three other companies facing their own trials, showing the power of smart and principled reactions.
Skittles are not people.
Immigration and xenophobia have been major factors in the 2016 presidential race. Donald Trump Jr. took to Twitter to support his father's campaign by arguing that even if only a few immigrants are dangerous, that is enough reason to restrict overall immigration. His tweet included a meme that tried to make the same point with a pictured bowl of Skittles, the multicolored candy.
Getting in the middle of politics is generally disastrous for companies. How can you win? But the brand had now been linked with a particular line of political thought, and that wasn't acceptable. The brand owner posted a definitive response:
Skittles are candy; refugees are people. It's an inappropriate analogy. We respectfully refrain from further comment, as that could be misinterpreted as marketing.
A brilliant answer that extracts the brand from the discussion, makes a moral point, and avoids trying to make profit from it, which would have backfired.
Time enough for love.
In March 2014, Honey Maid graham crackers, a brand of snack company Mondelez, aired a 30-second ad celebrating family diversity, including a gay couple with a child, as well as an interracial couple and a father with tattoos. The "This Is Wholesome" campaign received an immediate backlash from conservative groups that called for a boycott.
Honey Maid created a new video. The company hired two artists to turn the complaints into a positive message, filmed the process, and ran it. Here's what they did:
Double down on what's good.
A few years ago, Cheerios ran an interracial, and pretty funny, commercial.
Unfortunately, things got ugly with online trolls. Parent company General Mills chose to shut down the comments section on the YouTube post and didn't make another statement. But silence can be golden, in more ways than one.
According to an AdWeek report, the activity (and possibly the mature silence) created a follow-up ad for the Super Bowl featuring the same actors.
Setting the audience straight.
Feminine hygiene products aren't generally controversial. But in 2012, a male Facebook user posted what may have been an attempt to cleverly criticize Bodyform, a manufacturer of maxipads. He claimed to have grown up watching "your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things, I felt a little jealous." Then, after getting into a relationship with his girlfriend, "There was no joy, no extreme sports, no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack, oh no-no-no." Rather, "my lady changed from the loving , gentle, normal skin colored lady to the little girl from The Exorcist, with added venom and extra 360-degree head spin."
Bodyform decided to have some real fun, hired an actress to play its CEO, and presented the following: