P.T. Barnum was an American showman, entrepreneur, politician, author, publisher and philantropist (you know the type). He is widely credited with coining many phrases, one among them being the old adage, “There’s no such thing as bad press” - a saying that does have a ring of truth to it. Sometimes.
Joker has been making headlines all over the world for its cocktail of political undertones, controversial soundtrack and provocative narrative. Overall, it received a mixed bag of reviews with a quiet majority enjoying it as an interesting take on a comic book character, and a loud minority claiming it could incite acts of domestic terrorism.
The interesting part is that these headlines were making noise before the movie was even released.
Riding the wave of bad press is an art form. Kanye West has mastered it and, to a degree, so has Donald Trump. Joker has also managed it and for the most part, it’s doing pretty well. The question for us though, is how can we get away with it in advertising?
What not to do
In 2017, bad press and advertising couldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence without the words Pepsi and Kendall Jenner. One look at the graph below will tell you when the ad aired.
Pepsi effed up when they asked Kendall Jenner to solve racial tensions with the power of soft drink, but they’re back on the rise now and we can all laugh about it.
At the time though, they must have felt like their world was ending, they pulled the ad within 24 hours and after a string of apologies from the marketing department, it’s safe to say they regretted everything. Joker, on the other hand, has been less apologetic and more successful.
Now, it may seem odd to compare Pepsi with Joker but they both set out with the same goal - use a popular character to create something moving and escape their competitor’s shadow, (see Coca-Cola and Marvel). So why did one bomb so dramatically and the other generate millions of dollars?
It boils down to bravery.
What you can try
After the movie ‘Borat’ made relentless fun of the nation of Kazakhstan, the residents were furious. However, the studio refused to pull the movie and, post-release, Hotels.com reported a 300% increase in requests for information about the country.
When KFC UK ran out of chicken, it was an embarrassment and they were rightfully ridiculed. However, they took it on the chin like a bunch of champs and released a press ad, admitting the circumstances with a humorous, yet humble apology.
The challenge most brands give themselves is trying to look too serious. It can seem impossible to remain premium and turn the press back onto your side. But, what’s important to remember is who it is you’re talking to. People respond to people. A “whoops” is far more relatable than a formal apology from a corporate figure, it makes a brand look like a business instead of a being with character.
Not every accident can be dealt with using humour, but when dealing with bad press, sometimes it’s better to stop and think before hitting the apology button and consider ways to ride the wave of attention, however bad it might be.