An Affair to Remember – Or Sue Over

Queen Sofia 120x150 An Affair to Remember   Or Sue Over

The PR Verdict: “B”(Good Show) for Queen Sofia.

Life is short; have an affair! So says the tagline for dating website Ashley Madison. The site that links members seeking extramarital affairs now finds itself in the headlines. While Ashley Madison thinks infidelity provides endless fun, the Queen of Spain does not agree – she is suing the website for “damage to her honor and dignity.”

The site is known for its provocative advertisements. The latest featured a doctored photo of the Spanish monarch with her royal arms draped around a semi-naked man, with the promise “Now you no longer have to spend the night alone.” The ad, widely believed to be cashing in on rumors of King Juan Carlos’s philandering, led Queen Sofia to promptly file suit.

The news comes in the same week that a Spanish waiter and a Belgian housewife lost legal bids to prove they are the illegitimate children of the 74-year-old king. Ashley Madison previously ran a similar ad using a Photoshopped picture of the King flanked by two models with the tagline, “The best place to ‘hunt’ for an adventure.” At the time, King Juan turned the other cheek and took no legal action. The ball is now in Sofia’s court, and she’s throwing it back hard.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Queen Sofia. As a warning shot, this sends the signal she intended.

The PR Takeway: It’s okay not to go “all the way”; sometimes starting a legal action is enough in itself, even if you don’t intend to finish what you started. The Queen has some measure of public sympathy on her side with no whiff of scandal, unlike her husband. As unlikely as this case is to go to court, she has fired a warning shot that she will defend her reputation. In so doing, she has also taken the attention away from her husband’s recent travails in court. Her actions might be the game and conversation changer both King and Queen were seeking.

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IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Don’t

 IKEA Magic: Now You See Her, Now You Dont

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA.

Furniture retailer IKEA was caught off guard this week when a Swedish newspaper published pages from the Saudi Arabian edition of IKEA’s catalog.  What a surprise! Women in the Saudi edition had been Photoshopped out by local Saudi management.  Cue embarrassment for IKEA, a retailer that prides itself on liberal values.

The global catalogue is distributed to approximately 200 million households, but for the Saudis it contained unacceptable images that needed removing. What caused offense? A woman in her pajamas beside a bathroom sink. In Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country, women must conceal their bodies and hair. IKEA said in a statement that its does “not accept any kind of discrimination… We regret the current situation.” Management was keen to explain that the changes “do not align with IKEA Group’s values.”

IKEA Saudi Arabia is run by a franchisee outside the IKEA Group. Nevertheless, the company said it is “reviewing routines to safeguard correct content presentation from a values point of view.” Sensible and sensitive handling of this issue but, there could be trouble ahead.

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for IKEA and a brand remaining true to its liberal streak, but beware of starting something that could become a cultural flashpoint.

The PR Takeaway: Marketing and discussions on broader cultural values rarely mix. What is puzzling about this news story is why IKEA hasn’t had this trouble before. Was a woman featured in the 2011 catalogue? What happened in the Saudi version then? It might have been easier to characterize this latest fuss as a breakdown in established procedures between a franchisee and a head office. IKEA has now stuck its neck out and committed publicly to a conversation about values. In a country as seemingly inflexible as Saudi Arabia, some things are best left unsaid. Better to have described this as a one-off business dispute between two partners and done the rest of the negotiations behind closed doors.

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What’s your opinion of how IKEA handled this situation? Give us your PR Verdict!