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Spreading Rumors…as a PR Tactic

Can you make a mistake as a PR ploy?  The scenario would play out like this:

1.  Company makes a dramatic change (i.e. ostensibly poor logo design).

2.  Social media is outraged.

3.  Company is tone-deaf, poises like a deer in headlights, backlash turns into shrieks.

4.  Company rebounds, utters a profound apology and reverses the decision.

5.  The Web echoes with “attaboy” – good job listening to your customers, way to go!

6.  Brand enjoys posts and citations of praise for six months.

Is this genuine crisis communications or a plan by design?

It’s not the first time this question has been raised – just before the new iPhone was launched – one “super-secret” beta model was mysteriously found in a drinking establishment.  The result was an A-List blogger got a scoop that added to the suspense and intrigue just before a major, and highly anticipated, new product announcement.  The insinuation I heard in PR circles was that Apple might have leaked the phone on purpose.

In either case, I just cannot believe such a rationale for several reasons. First, such a strategy would be entirely disingenuous – and unethical. Second, the story is so juicy it would escape even the most disciplined organization and be leaked to Mashable in a short time.  Third, the scale would be tipped adversely – the reward so little and the consequence so severe – the risk in exchange for the reward would be a disincentive.

Ah, yes, say the rumors, but Gap’s in dire financial condition – they are desperate and that’s why they would do this.  Well, the facts are earnings were up last quarter and losses were cut.  We have been in a recession and consumer spending is down so the outcome is not beyond the realm of expectations.  Indeed the cash in the bank does look a bit dicey and the stock has been “stagnant” according to a Bloomberg article with a URL that has since moved.

Still, while consumers don’t mind a PR ploy like the Old Spice campaign, a deceptive and manipulative campaign for a few headlines is a bit far-fetched.  Buzz from a faked misstep to create the façade of a distinguished recovery is an unlikely quick fix for a liquidity problem. A brand would pay for that – big time – and someone with signature authority would probably lose their job.

Such innuendo and rumor-mongering is an expression of a general lack of understanding of finance and business.  The question I have isn’t about making a mistake as a PR ploy – it’s about spreading naïve, if not reckless, rumors as a PR ploy.  That’s unethical.

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Disinformation in Business and Facts, Diplomacy, and Trust as Countermeasures [UML]

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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2 Responses

  1. Krista

    Hi Frank- couldn't agree with you more. The problem I see with deceptive "ploy" techniques, if they are in fact PR stunts, is that they shouldn't be used as case studies for future strategies. Who's to say the same results can be replicated? Why is duping consumers a part of the strategy to begin with? I wonder what would have happened had the Gap logo issue worked the other way around– what if people loved it? Would they be stuck with it and have to somehow track back?

  2. Frank Strong, MA, MBA

    I must have really come at this the wrong way: I do not think the Gap aimed for a ploy. I think people suggesting it's a ploy are terribly misguided and to an extent that borders on irresponsible. My point is buried a bit, which makes me think I should restructure this post…

    Thanks for stopping by Krista!

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