Jeffries Out of Style at Abercrombie?

 Jeffries Out of Style at Abercrombie?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Mike Jeffries and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Fashion trends rarely live beyond a season. The shelf life of those who create the trends may last longer, but an article in the spring fashion issue of New York Magazine may herald the end of one long-running reign: that of Mike Jeffries, CEO and former chairman of the board at Abercrombie & Fitch.

The piece could easily have made more of Jeffries’ pecadillos, such as his extensive cosmetic surgery and draconian regulations about male model staff aboard the corporate jet. Instead, it focused instead on a familiar story: a steady rise, and a precipitous fall. Jeffries created a multi-billion dollar brand with iconic merchandising that teenagers could not get enough of; now, in the wake of $15.6 million losses last quarter, Jeffries is no longer chairman of the board, and there are rumors of replacement.

A&F did not make Jeffries available to contribute to the story. Quotes about his micromanagement style came from former employees and associates, who theorize that brand exclusivity, created by Jeffries, was behind A&F’s success in the 1990s, and its downfall in the inclusive aughts. “What we’ll remember Jeffries for now is for failing to change, for all the store closures, for the way employees were treated,” says Brian Sozzi, head of Belus Capital Advisors. “That’s unfortunate.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Mike Jeffries and Abercrombie & Fitch.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Step to the side, then make a re-entrance.  New York Magazine’s article is the kind that causes damaging chatter within its industry. First defense? Say nothing, as A&F did by not contributing quotes. Second: Pause, so that the next action taken isn’t viewed as defensive. Third, return with bold news – a new line and a new initiative. A&F could still make a comeback. After all, every fashion trend gets another strut down the catwalk.

Soda Endorsement Lands Johansson in Hot Water

 

ad 124673358 150x150 Soda Endorsement Lands Johansson in Hot Water

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Scarlett Johansson.


A seemingly routine product promo has put Scarlett Johansson in the middle of a geopolitical mess.

Johansson recently agreed to front SodaStream, the popular beverage maker. As part of the campaign, the 29-year-old actress will be featured in a commercial this weekend on Superbowl Sunday, one of the most widely viewed events in US television. The deal, however, is causing a furor. Oxfam, the UK-based international charity, has harshly criticized Johansson, saying SodaStream’s facilities in the hotly contested West Bank region of Jerusalem are an affront to the work Oxfam does on behalf of Palestinians.

It’s a particularly big “oops” for Johansson, who’s been an Oxfam ambassador since 2007. In a public war of words, Oxfam said businesses that operate in Israeli settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Johansson countered that SodaStream’s policy of providing equal pay and benefits to Israeli and Palestinian employees shows it wants peace between Israel and Palestine.

Johansson claims she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance.” However, there’s no disputing she’s there now.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Scarlett Johansson, whose “belief” that SodaStream is helping build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians strains credulity. SodaStream makes soda – not peace agreements.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Due diligence applies to celebrities too. In 2009, a similar scene played out between Oxfam and Sex and the City actress Kristin Davis, who endorsed a cosmetics company with a West Bank factory. She cut ties with the company after negative media pressure. With Oxfam’s position well known, it seems unlikely Johansson’s camp didn’t expect their reaction. She also could have spoken privately with Oxfam before inking the SodaStream deal. Instead, she’s choosing to battle a charity in the public eye. The result? The unfortunate impression that she’s willing to imperil years of good works for a lucrative spokesperson gig.

Old Spice’s “Oedipal Nightmare” Is PR Dream

 Old Spice’s Oedipal Nightmare Is PR Dream

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to Old Spice and it’s “Momsong” campaign.

Old Spice, that old seadog of an aftershave, has been around since before World War II.  Little surprise that, with “75 years of experience helping guys improve their mansmells” and a lot of awards for their clever adverts, the Old Spice marketing team has done it again.

As part of its new “Smellcome to Manhood” campaign, Old Spice began airing an attention-grabbing commercial called Momsong this week. In it, mothers prowl around their teenage sons who are out on dates, bemoaning the day “Old Spice sprayed them into men.” Moms hide behind curtains, hang onto car bumpers, and pop out of pull-out couches while their sons obliviously flirt with the fairer sex.

If it sounds odd, that’s because it is. Some of the adjectives used to describe it? “Freaky,” “creepy,” and “bizarre” – and, nearly universally, “hilarious.” Momsong is unquestionably strange, but it’s also the perfect mix of witty and weird. Most importantly, it’s gotten people talking. In just three days, the commercial garnered more than 1 million YouTube views.

Momsong isn’t the first commercial coup for Old Spice, a division of Proctor & Gamble. Although the brand name’s most iconic figure is probably the duffel-laden sailor returning from sea into the arms of a waiting woman, Old Spice has always excelled at marketing its line of body products. Add Momsong to the repertoire.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Old Spice, whose “Oedipal nightmare” is a PR dream come true.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Taking a chance on unusual ads is not for the faint of heart, but it’s something many companies consider under pressure to stand out. Old Spice gets away with wacky commercials because its name is embedded in American culture, and because it’s known for an unusual advertising approach. Lesser known companies should do careful market research and not skimp on the focus groups. A zany ad campaign can make – or break – a brand.

 

Trouble Afloat for Macy’s

 Trouble Afloat for Macys

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

One of the great traditions of Thanksgiving in America is watching the Macy’s parade. Marching bands play, celebrities perform and a cadre of inflatable balloons delights the nation.

Among the floats this year is one by Sea World – now a target of animal rights activists. A highly-praised documentary, Blackfish, enlightened viewers about the lives of orcas kept in captivity at Sea World. Animals rights group PETA mobilized forces against Sea World, including a protest demanding Macy’s exclude Sea World’s float from its parade.

Macy’s response: “The parade has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate or other forms of advocacy.” Tried, true, staid – but likely the protests will go on.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be consistent. Macy’s has little choice but to give the pat “We don’t get involved in controversy” statement. If they give in to one group, they’d have to give in to another… But wait they already have! Sponsors of the float for South Dakota balked at singer Joan Jett performing on their parade entry because, as a vegetarian and PETA member, she was unsuitable to represent a cattle ranching state. Macy’s gave in and moved Jett to another float. Macy’s is now on a collision course with new groups who are likely be offended by future. Stay clear and don’t get involved. Placating all parties can ultimately sink an entire parade.

Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” Is a Recipe for Marketing Success

  Chipotles Scarecrow Is a Recipe for Marketing Success

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Chipotle for spicing up the fast-food wars with creative marketing.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Moonbot Studios have wowed consumers and advertising critics with “The Scarecrow,” a beautifully produced animated short film accompanying  Chipotle’s new anti-Big Food game.

The three-minute film, backed by a Fiona Apple track and described more than once as “haunting,” looks at a bleak world where people mindlessly ingest edible products supplied by “Crow Foods,” an industrial farming giant that secretly pumps up its chickens with hormones and stuffs its cows in tiny cages. The film’s hero is a scarecrow who realizes the injustice to all animals – both two- and four-legged – and establishes his own fresh food business, David to Crow’s Goliath.

Already hailed as “Oscar-worthy,” the short is a tremendous PR win for Chipotle – despite the fact that it shows the company’s name only once, at the very end. That’s very intentional, Chipotle Chief Marketing Officer Mark Crumpacker told USA Today, because the company sees its target diners as young adults who “are skeptical of brands that perpetuate themselves too much.” For that reason, Chipotle has generally avoided TV advertising and focused instead on more creative hooks, like this film and the game that is played on Apple products, to grab customer attention. With this campaign Chipotle has positioned itself as not only the thinking man’s Taco Bell but the healthier and more morally comfortable alternative to most fast-food options.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) to Chipotle for spicing up the fast-food wars, too long the domain of gray hamburgers, factory farming, and boring commercials.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know what your customers want – and what they don’t. Chipotle’s campaign may seem unorthodox, but the company didn’t blindly speculate about what their patrons might like. They expertly blended their target demographic’s entertainment, idealogical, and tech preferences with the company’s well-established core message: our food is fresh and from sustainable sources. Where they took chances was in creative expression, and for that they partnered with an award-winning graphics studio and singer to tell their story. For Chipotle, “The Scarecrow” is a recipe for successful marketing.

AT&T Will “Never Forget” Its 9/11 Memorial Tweet

ATT911tweetpic AT&T Will “Never Forget” Its 9/11 Memorial Tweet

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for AT&T and its 9/11 blunder.

Pity the poor social networking marketer: Your fails, be they on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, are instantly transmitted to a vast audience and forever on display, whether you yank them or not.

This week’s poster child? AT&T, who while observing the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, crossed the line of good taste. AT&T took to Twitter on the 12th anniversary of the event with a Photoshopped image of the annual “Tribute in Light” display at the World Trade Center site, as seen through the camera of a (wisely unbranded) smartphone. “Never forget” was the caption, and sure enough, the Internet immediately saw to it that AT&T won’t – but not as the telecom giant intended.

AT&T pulled the pic after the Twitterverse erupted with criticism, calls for boycott, and threats to switch providers as the company was accused of using 9/11 to market their phones. The company  tweeted a tepid mea culpa, apologizing “to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.” That kind of apology puts the burden on those offended, rather than the offender – not the proper way to own up to a blunder, and only further highlighting the initial gaffe.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to AT&T, which almost earns a second fail for how it responded to the first.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Murderous terrorist attacks are not a branding opportunity. AT&T could have done a respectable, perhaps even poignant tribute to 9/11 and “those affected” if it had simply left the phone out of the image. The product tie-in changed everything. Then, by limiting its apology to “anyone who felt” the post was in poor taste, AT&T ducked taking responsibility for its mistake. An upfront acknowledgement of bad taste and an unqualfied apology would have likely put an immediate stop to the damage and maybe even earned AT&T a measure of respect for its candor. Perhaps they’ll remember that next year.

Chipotle’s “Hacked” Tweets the Latest PR “Twend”?

Chipotle Logo 150x150 Chipotles Hacked Tweets the Latest PR Twend?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK ) for Chipotle’s Twitter “twick.”

Time was you were no one without a Twitter feed (Anthony Weiner, take note). But in the attention-challenged world of social media, trends move faster than you can click a Facebook “Like,” and the new mark of the Twitterati arriviste is to have your feed hacked. It’s so trendy, in fact, that some corporate marketeers are faking it.

Burrito franchiser Chipotle is the most recent case. A series of nonsensical non sequiturs crossed its Twitter feed last week before some guy named “Joe” tweeted about a “little problem with our account. But everything is back on track now!” Well whew!

As it turns out, it was all a marketing ploy, and by at least one measure it worked. The hourlong “hack” added 4,000 followers to Chipotle’s Twitter feed that day (compared to an average of 250), and the faux tweets were retweeted thousands of times (against a typical 75). “We thought people would pay attention,” a company rep later said, acknowledging that the “attack” was a tie-in to the company’s 20th anniversary promotion. Reaction, he said, was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Well, maybe. Not everyone thought the stunt was endearingly clever. Like its zesty Mexican fare, Chipotle’s spicy Twitter trick (“Twick,” anyone?) might have seemed a good idea at the time but result in little more than heartburn.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Chipotle, for taking a bite of PR risk that so far hasn’t bitten back.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be careful with edgy humor, lest you become the punchline. The PR blooper reel is laden with jokes that backfired badly. The same caution goes for jumping on the latest trend or doing anything that potentially makes fun of your intended audience. With the corporate world’s rush into social marketing have come some embarrassing failures (remember #McDStories?). There is a growing backlash against companies that hamfistedly try to be hip or au courant with social media, and this is especially true among teen-to-twentysomethings to whom fast food chains like Chipotle cater. Skinny jeans don’t look good on everyone. Take a careful look from all angles to make sure what you’re doing fits.

Football Team Avoids a Foul

 Football Team Avoids a Foul

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the New England Patriots. (Pictured: Former Patriots team member Aaron Hernandez.)

When an employee is arrested for a crime, should the company stand by the person? That was the question facing US football team The New England Patriots recently when police began investigating one of their star players, Aaron Hernandez, in the death of an acquaintance.

At first, team management was quiet on the matter. As details began to emerge, however, they moved into damage-control mode. Shortly after Hernandez’s arrest, the Patriots announced they would release him. A few hours later, Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder.

From a PR perspective, the Patriots did three things right: They fired Hernandez (at significant financial expense) before he’d been charged; their statement expressed both condolences to the victim’s family and their horror that a Patriots player might be involved; and they offered to exchange, for free, team jerseys inscribed with Hernandez’s name, many of which are owned by the team’s younger fans.

Arrests of professional football players are on the rise so the Patriot’s decision was an important one. In 2013, at least 39 players have been charged with serious crimes. The Patriots are one of the most well-managed and competitive teams in the league. By cutting ties to Hernandez, they sent a powerful message: criminal activity won’t be tolerated, even by lucrative star players.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Patriots, whose swift decision saved face.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  “Innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply when it comes to the brand. The decision to walk away from beleaguered employees sounds heartless, but an employee’s misconduct – real, perceived, or as yet confirmed – can cast dark shadows on an organization. These unusual situations must be decided on a case-by-base basis; there may be times when evidence is less than compelling, or a suspension makes better PR and legal sense.  As a general rule, though, the sooner a company parts ways with the accused, the better.

Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

 Nike Drops Charity, Yet Their PR Image Lives Strong

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike, which very quietly severed a costly tie with Livestrong.

Yesterday, Nike announced they would cease production of products associated with the Livestrong brand. Livestrong, the charitable organization founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, had a nine-year relationship with the world-famous sportswear brand that raised over $100 million through the sales of products. “We expected changes like this,” said a Livestrong spokesperson. As did the PR world.

After Armstrong admitted to doping his way through all seven of his Tour de France wins, his sponsors jumped ship faster than any of Armstrong’s cycling records, Nike included. But how would it look if they abandoned a charitable foundation? Livestrong was blameless, their only crime guilt by association.

Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal could backfire on them. The more sensible and low risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike for beginning to sever ties with a high-profile charity with minimum fuss.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When ties must be cut, don’t hack; slice gently. The harsh fact is that Nike had to distance itself from Armstrong and all to do with him. However, this is a charity; how to distance without looking like villains? Stop production of products –  a practical measure anyone could agree with – while confirming to the media that the company will keep making donations to the charity. Without patting themselves on the back, Nike still comes out looking like a decent company, despite dealing what may well be a fatal blow to Livestrong. (Actually, their founder did that.) What happens to Livestrong remains to be seen, but Nike has already come out ahead.

JC Penney’s “Secret” Apology

 JC Penneys Secret Apology

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for JC Penney’s embarrassingly sentimental but effective ad.

How to make up after a row? That’s the question the management of JC Penney had to ask itself following its repositioning of the venerable retail chain. The storied brand was put through some radical changes under new management, and the changes, designed to attract a younger clientele, proved disastrous. Holiday sales in 2012 dropped over 30 percent, and the retail brand lost a third of its customers and over $4 billion in revenue.

JC Penney’s first step to recovery is to apologize. The retailer is kicking off with a commercial called “It’s no secret,” backed with an extensive social media and broadcast program that lets customers past and present know that they got things wrong. “What matters with mistakes is what we learn,” says the commercial’s voice over. “We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful.” The spot ends asking consumers to “come back.”

The commercial has provoked varied reactions, including some who said they were reduced to tears (really), while naysayers counter that the ad promises nothing and sounds like empty air. But just like part of a couple making up after a row, JC Penney understands that for an apology to count, it needs to be devoid of justifications and imprudent promises. First base is to let the mea culpa stand and be heard so that a new page can be turned. Then, and only then, proceed.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for JC Penney and its embarrassingly sentimental but effective ad campaign.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Apologies don’t count when padded with reasons and justifications. This ad hits the right chord and targets the family consumer who was most alienated by highhanded, wanna-be hipster management overhauls. This is a clever first step, modest and deferential while simply asking for a second chance. Hollywood couldn’t have written it better. Now let’s see if this relationship can move on.

To see the JC Penney ad, click here.