High product quality, ethics, good customer service—all of these components of doing business are important. When a business fails to uphold these characteristics, some consumers are turned off by the things associated with that business. Former patrons scoff at commercials and billboards and turn a blind eye to magazine and newspaper ads. Case in point: When news first broke regarding BP’s oil disaster, many shunned ads from the company and pushed a little harder on the gas pedal when passing BP gas stations.
When a company experiences a corporate crisis and is seen as “the bad guy,” it may seem the company would want to run and hide its head in the sand until the smoke blows over. However, placing strategic ads can actually be a saving mechanism when it comes to public image rebuilding customer confidence and loyalty.
How do you use public relations principles to guide advertising? The answer to this is the difference between an advertising strategy and an advertising campaign. A solid crisis communication plan includes an advertising strategy that seeks out deliberate placement opportunities to put a company in front of audiences key to influencing public opinion. For instance, a public relations firm that represents a pharmacy chain in trouble would not only place the company’s ads in medical publications but would also look for the philanthropic or “doing-good” section of such publications and place advertising opposite those stories.
This leads us to two textbook terms in creating an advertising strategy amid a crisis: inoculation and recasting. Your company must inoculate the audience by dispelling misconceptions and reinforcing the truth of the circumstances. Your company must also recast the negative in a positive light.
For example, after recalling more than two million vehicles earlier this year, Toyota began airing commercial ads stating it was taking a “pause for the customer” (msnbc.com). The company said it was investing “one million dollars every hour to improve [its] technology and [the consumer’s] safety.” Toyota also ran a series of ads featuring customers who testified about how much they loved their Toyotas, and engineers that explained how expertly the cars were constructed (wsj.com). These ads addressed the consumer who drove the car as well as business stakeholders.
These commercials inoculated consumer sentiment that Toyota was putting out a poor product at customers’ expense. It inoculated the myth that Toyota customers no longer loved their cars. The commercials also recast Toyota from a company that made a big mistake to a company trying to rectify a mistake. The commercials worked. People watched.
Using a public relations firm to analyze a situation, draw up a crisis communication plan, strategize ad placement and follow up, manage consumer sentiment, and thus, handle damage control is paramount in getting the consumer to look your way, even during a crisis.