Hey, No Press is Bad Press, Right?

Marne Pfister

Marne Pfister

Marne got her start crafting ‘zines and e-zines at the tender age of 11 and has combined her love of journalism, the written word, and the world wide web to act as a crafty and enthusiastic public relations savant. A lover of both modern and […]

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Social media offers a unique outlet for brands to engage consumers with humor, topical pop culture references, and cheeky or light-hearted quips. But often we see these attempts ignite more negative backlash than the desired or expected positive engagement – where should brands draw the line? Do we think the overall use of social media to promote or engage social network audiences in a candid or risqué fashion is a good idea – if done well?

With yesterday’s reveal that Chipotle faked its own Twitter hack, and last week’s Spirit Airlines’ email campaign that blatantly pokes fun at Anthony Weiner, or ahem, Carlos Danger, we couldn’t help but  think about other social fails from 2013 so far and, whether any publicity is good publicity.

One of my favorite writers, Oscar Wilde, once wrote:

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

I see merit in your point, Oscar, but you didn’t live in the Facebook Generation, the age of YOLO’ing, SnapChatting, 140-characters-or-less hashtaggers.

Without question, social media has transformed, mutated and revolutionized so many aspects of our culture. The media, advertising and public relations industries operate on a whole new set of ideals: how we communicate and how our attention is won is dramatically different from when Wilde wrote those words.

In 1915, The Atlanta Constitution interpreted Wilde’s quote in the proverbial sense, saying, “All publicity is good if it is intelligent.”  What this interpretation found, by reading between the lines, is that critical last clause: ‘if it is intelligent.’  Today we say, “No press is bad press!”  But is that really true? Should’t we still consider this important concept of intelligence?

In the hands of modern marketers and publicists, I feel the lines between good press, bad press and intelligent bad press has gotten too blurry. The attempt to appear quick-witted or capitalize on a pop-culture reference often seems to beat out intelligence and common sense.

Since I had such a strong reaction to these recent brand tactics, I asked the office how they felt about bold social media moves:



In regards to the Carlos Danger scandal, I think Slate Magazine did an awesome job at leveraging this political circus story on social media. They created their own widget so readers could find out their sexting pseudonym. The Slate story was tweeted over 10k times, had 107k Facebook likes and was shared 26k times on Facebook. Great use of social media that pulled Slate into this crazy conversation in a fun way.  BTW- Weiner should withdraw from the race if only because of his questionable taste in sexting pseudonyms. Seriously, that’s the BEST he can do? His name IS a sexting pseudonym.



Social media does offer a unique opportunity to engage people in a less formal way, making way for fun stunty campaigns like those discussed above. I think that’s absolutely fine (and smart) as long as these experimental campaigns are not set up to inspire panic (a la fake bomb scares in NYC), or are seen as in poor taste (a la Midol), or are seen as misleading customers (a la WalMart). I personally think both Chipotle’s and Spirit Airlines were totally fine. I actually think Spirit’s —while it definitely pushed the envelope— was a bit more intelligent that Chipotle’s campaign, which seemed a little silly and erroneous.



I think the instant and viral nature of it all makes it a very risky move to include social media stunts in your strategy. However, you can only win big if you play big so it depends on what type of gambler you are. While I don’t know if Chipotle’s recent move to hack themselves, as part of their 20th anniversary campaign, was the most clever or smartest move, it did garner them 4,000 new followers in just the day of the hack alone. Can’t hate on them too hard with numbers like that.

The thing with social is that it the audience is terribly fickle so a strategy can win web-wide praise (Remember Oreo’ brilliant Light’s Out move during the Super Bowl?), possibly crash (depends on how easily offended you are) like Spirit Airlines did last week, or just cause a lot of questions like poor Chipotle. No matter what the outcome, it gets people talking and puts the brand in the news. The question remains, is any news good news?



Thanks for the photo Spirit Airlines!