Two major international brands screwed up big time in the last month. How each handled its crisis is a classic lesson in ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ communicate after a misstep. Full disclosure: I have personal relationships with both brands. While I never pay retail, whenever I’m in Goodwill I’ll buy pretty much anything from Dolce & Gabbana that fits. What is more, this article was written on a Lenovo Yoga computer, which I adore. There is plenty of research that says those prior relationships influenced my response to both blunders. The data show that anyone with a prior positive relationship with a brand is much more likely to give it the benefit of the doubt. Which I have.
However, in an era where every day brings us a different version of ‘I’m sorry,’ it isn’t the apology, but the steps you take to recover that matter most when you’re trying to recuperate from a mistake.
For years Lenovo had been loading laptops with “bloatware” programs that software manufacturers paid it to pre-load onto their computers. Customers hated it, but manufacturers, trying to squeeze every dime of profit out of their products, loved it. Until someone discovered that one such program, called Super Fish, opened a gaping hole in your computer’s security system, allowing pretty much anyone to steal your encrypted data and passwords.
Eventually Lenovo admitted its error and alerted consumers how to uninstall Super Fish [see chart below].
DOLCE & GABBANA
When I heard the BBC announcer utter the words “Elton John” and “Dolce & Gabbana and boycott” in the same sentence, my eyes rolled, sure that this was another celebrity kerfuffle breaking out on Twitter. Domenico Dolce, one of the founders of D&G, was quoted describing children conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) as “synthetic” and expressing disapproval of same-sex families.
Elton John, who is raising two children conceived via IVF, went ballistic and called for a boycott of the D&G brand. Within days Victoria Beckham, Courtney Love, Ricky Martin, Martina Navratilova, Kelly Cutrone, Ryan Murphy, Al Roker and other celebrities had all very publicly joined the boycott.
D&G took what most crisis experts would counsel is the worst possible response: a combination of attack and scapegoating. At first, the company said the quote had been taken “out of context” (shooting the messenger) and then called for a boycott of Elton John’s music due to his lack of tolerance of Gabbana’s beliefs. Worse, Stefano Gabbana then posted “Je Suis D&G,” implying that the boycott was the equivalent of murdering French cartoonists, and called Elton John’s stance “fascist.” Gabbana’s statements only inflamed the Twitterverse and encouraged more celebrities to eschew the brand.
Eventually Stefano Gabbana admitted that the controversy was starting to hurt sales, and unless the company figured out a better recovery strategy soon, it will be a very long time before it’s seen on the red carpet again.
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of Paine Publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.