I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone be so impassioned about kinda-OK chicken sandwiches as I have over the past week. If you haven’t heard… first of all, good for you. How do you manage to avoid all these blog fodder stories? Second, here’s the summary of the major points:
- Chick-fil-A CEO asked if his apparent stance against gay marriage is true. Answers, “Guilty as charged.”
- The Henson company cancels their agreement to sell Muppet toys through Chick-fil-A.
- Chick-fil-A posts a message at its restaurants saying the Muppet toys were pulled because of a safety hazard.
- Mike Huckabee calls for an end to the “hate speech” against Chick-fil-A.
- Chick-fil-A accused of defending themselves using dummy Facebook accounts.
If you’re thinking that the jump from step 3 to step 4 is completely ridiculous, then congratulations, you’re a reasonable person. If “I’m going to buy my chicken sandwich somewhere else!” is a form of hate speech, then what words do you have left to describe racism and death threats?
Instead I want to talk about step 5. Now, technically we don’t have any hard evidence proving that these dummy accounts were created by the fast food chain’s PR team, but it is pretty suspicious. A stock photo pasted onto a few-hours-old account solely dedicated to defending the company? It’s a dummy account for sure, and a lazily made one at that. But theoretically anybody could have made it, I’m just not sure why anyone not on their payroll would have any reason to.
Even if we give Chick-fil-A the benefit of the doubt, there are plenty more companies guilty of actions just this moronic.
Back in 2005, cosmetics company L’Oreal started a blog solely dedicated to how great they and their products are. The blog was written from the perspective of a non-existent woman named Claire, whose raves about L’Oreal skin creams were coming right from the brains of the marketing department. Needless to say, they were eventually caught in their lie.
WalMart started a very Morgan-Spurlock-esque stunt blog, chronicling a couple who was journeying from Nevada to Georgia and staying overnight in WalMart parking lots along the way. Except none of this was true: WalMart was simply fashioning a false narrative and peppering it with “interviews” by WalMart employees gushing about how much they love their jobs.
Gaming developer Bioware was caught redhanded abusing the voting system on Metacritic, the aggregate review site. One reader noticed that the language of a few of the posts praising Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 without any qualification sounded a bit canned. After a bit of digging, he found that multiple profiles were created that day by Bioware employees to generate artificial positive word of mouth. Weirdly, the parent company of Bioware, EA, sent out the most sarcastic member of their PR team, who apologized for nothing, saying “I’m betting Barack Obama voted for himself too.”
It’s mindboggling to me that any company would ever think they could get away with something like this, though I can understand the temptation. Imagine you work in marketing and your employer hits a PR iceberg. Somebody in the company needs to put out the little fires, and it’s not going to be the CEO. So you, as a marketing employee, decide to go for direct approach of speaking to customers through Facebook, Twitter, a blog, whatever. Except you can’t directly engage because nobody wants to hear a company rep make excuses. So you lie about who you are, because it’s the Internet, and you’re protected under a veil of anonymity.
Except that last part is completely untrue. People will always find out. Even if you do a better job covering your tracks than the Bioware people did. (They were caught because one employee was using the same alias on multiple sites. Figuring out who it was involved one Google search and one LinkedIn search.)
In fact — and people working in marketing should understand this more than anyone else — it doesn’t even really matter if people find admissible-in-court-type evidence against your company. If they suspect that a company is being dishonest, they will hold it against them, especially if, like Chick-fil-A, they’ve already given people a reason to dislike them in the first place.
Companies of the world: Your customers are just as intelligent and resourceful as you are. You aren’t going to outsmart them, so don’t try. People are very, very responsive to feeling that they’re being manipulated, and social media makes it very, very easy for them to see right through lies.
I’d say “stop it,” but let’s be honest: Fails of this magnitude are pretty entertaining to watch.