It’s one thing having to crisis-manage when your brand comes under fire for its own mistakes, but when your product is referenced without your permission, in a politically provocative and offensive tweet? Well, that’s a completely different ball game.
That’s exactly what happened to Skittles this week, when the son of controversial presidential candidate, Donald Trump, shared a meme comparing Syrian refugees to ‘poisoned skittles’. Cue pandemonium and uproar on Twitter; not to mention the fact that the original tweet received over eight thousand retweets and thirteen thousand likes (and counting)…
Yes, this is what the PR team at Skittles had to deal with when they noticed their brand name trending on Twitter, without warning, and with little time to prepare a response. In fact, there were even jokes trending about their unwanted position in this highly risqué, and ludicrous political statement:
It even brought up memories of another controversial, political event which the brand became unknowingly associated with; the shooting of Trayvon Martin
With their brand name swirling around on social media as the butt of racist jokes, political rants and PR memes, it isn’t difficult to imagine the awkward position that camp Skittles found themselves in – so how did they navigate their way out of it? Well, their approach to this predicament actually highlighted the undervalued art of subtlety in social media, along with the importance of knowing when and where to place your comments.
Of course, a tactfully witty response would have earned praise from some, but this also runs the risk of being seen as offensive, adding fuel to an already raging fire. A more sober statement, would also clash with their highly light-hearted social media strategy, which usually stays far away from the political sphere. Vitally, it’s also fully understandable that they’d want to avoid being overly provocative to the Trump social media machine, particularly during an election period that has seen its fair share of social media controversy
. Trump calling on his supporters to boycott Skittles – is it really that hard to imagine in the current political climate?
It all boils down to a desire to stay out of the news, without promoting a political agenda, and without being seen as milking any free publicity. It also has to be done with a view to maintaining their playful, adventurous social media brand, without it also looking like their business is completely ignorant.
Skittles solved all of these problems in two simple steps.
Step 1 - Respond to a journalist from a high-profile news site, who makes a private, formal request for comment on the situation:
Step 2 - Watch as a screenshot of the comment earns thousands of likes and retweets, gaining a swathe of positive feedback in the process:
Even prompting people to profess their love for the product:
Just like their decision to remain respectfully silent in the case of Trayvon Martin, Skittles were able to preserve their reputation, without getting directly caught up in any high-profile arguments, or revealing any strong political leanings. They also managed to voice their disapproval for the statement in question, without overtly criticising Trump and his supporters, avoiding the possibility of an inevitably nasty comeback from the notorious Republican nominee.
All politics aside, this is a great example of intelligent brand preservation in the face of unwanted attention and appropriation. It also shows that while it may be impossible to prevent your brand from gaining negative associations, it is possible to take control of the situation and voice disapproval, without being a source of negativity yourself.