Lessons learned from revealing brand relaunch

A Victorian retailer has found itself in hot water this month after a brand relaunch party featuring topless, body-painted models sparked controversy on social media. The company hired the ‘body artists’ to appear at the event painted in the brand’s iconic colouring, but vocal opponents online – including a few well-known media personalities – complained that the stunt was sexist and demeaning to women.

The lessons to be learned from this case however, come from the company’s handling of the issue. The store’s owner responded to criticism with a statement explaining their rationale for hiring the ‘body artists’ and expressing that there had been no objection to the models on the night of the event, be it from males or females. They deleted several followers’ comments from their social media channels, disabled the ratings system on their Facebook page and eventually removed the images from their feed – an attempt to quiet the issue that instead enraged their opponents further. Then on December 11, an internal email from the owner was leaked to a journalist and posted online. The email contained an angry justification for the use of the models and heavily criticised their opponents, including quite explicit language.

The Lessons

  • Know ALL your audiences. What may suit your immediate target group may not be appropriate for those who lie on the fringe of this group. You can’t always please everyone, but be considerate of how some actions may appear offensive or inappropriate to those in your audience, or you run the risk of alienating them.
  • Be careful when responding to criticism. The owner could not have known that his email would be leaked, but such language and vocal criticism is risky when communicated in such an archived and traceable way.
  • Have a social media crisis plan in place. The company’s response online was to delete comments and block criticism, without responding to their opponents. Whether this was company policy or simply a knee-jerk reaction is unknown, but having a process to deal with an outbreak of negative public opinion is essential to ensure that damage is limited wherever possible.