What Happens When Buzz-Building Backfires

It was a huge step for a company that had started less than three years ago and has grown into one of the most successful social shopping sites around: Groupon was launching its first-ever ad campaign on the most-watched television day of the year — Super Bowl Sunday.

Unfortunately, while designed to be comical, their commercials offended many and ultimately were pulled off the air less than a week later. The campaign, created by ad agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, aimed to build buzz. And it did — just not the kind they had wanted.

What happens when your attempt to create attention backfires and how should you deal with it? Whether you flubbed a major presentation (hello, Christina Aguilera!), got the green light for an expensive project that fell flat, or you made an off-color comment in a meeting, there are lessons to be learned from the Groupon situation that you can apply to your own career missteps:

1. Own up. When you’ve made a mistake, admit it. After deciding to pull the ads, Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason posted on the company blog, “We hate that we offended people, and we’re very sorry that we did.” That kind of honesty goes a long way in repairing a bad situation.

2. Use humor wisely. We believe that it’s vital to keep a sense of humor in the workplace because that’s often what can get you through a tough day. However, understand that humor is very subjective — and as a result should be used sparingly and in the appropriate situations. Groupon’s aim was to poke fun at itself, not at the world issues it referenced. But most people didn’t find the commercials funny and, as a result, it reflected poorly on Groupon’s corporate image. Another example: Comedian Ricky Gervais struck the wrong note at this year’s Golden Globes and, because of that, won’t be invited back to host next year. If you’re going to make a joke at work, be sure you know your audience and if you have any concern that it might not go over well, keep it to yourself.

3. Cut your losses. If you feel that a bad situation or a mistake you made is gathering steam, do your best to stop it from spinning out of control. Allen P. Adamson of branding company Landor told The New York Times that ending the campaign “was the best thing Groupon can do to protect its reputation.” When you get attention for the wrong reason, you want to do whatever you can to keep it from getting worse. The worst thing you can do is hide and pretend that the crisis didn’t happen — in most cases, it’s not going to go away by itself. Whether you like it or not, you need to face the challenge head-on and address it quickly.

When have you had to face the wrong kind of attention and how did you deal with it? Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

Comments

  1. I am so glad you commented on this. I thought their ads where incredibly insensitive, much in the same vein as Kenneth Cole’s tweet (http://abcnews.go.com/Business/kenneth-coles-tacky-egypt-tweet/story?id=12833303).

    There are just times when it’s best to be silent.

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