As a long-time practitioner of saying exactly the wrong thing at precisely the right time (and facing said consequences), there’s probably no better person to speak up on the subject of controversial. While the ad — only used in German markets — has since been pulled due to the (shocker) backlash, I think it’s a great time to look at the ramifications that brands face when looking to shake things up.
Why the Reebok Ad is a Fail
Shock jocks have a long a revered history. Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh — not to mention late night talk show hosts — are always looking for that thing that catches the audiences ire. But shock jocks are just that, manufacturers of sensationalism. Do I like it? In some cases yes, in others, no. But I expect it. That’s the point. It’s expected.
When a brand like Reebok comes along, a seemingly all-American brand with what one would think to be an appreciable female customer base and launches an ad like this, it’s shocking. And in all the wrong ways.
I did some digging on the web and for the life of me, can’t find any stats on what percentage of Reebok’s sales are for female footwear and apparel. But what I can guarantee is that they won’t be getting a dime more of my money. Which is sad, as I spend a fair amount on athletic apparel and footwear each year.
The Difference Between Unpopular and Unlikable
Every business, no matter your industry, will face the need to make unpopular decisions on occasion. But I’m asked more often than not what the difference is between unpopular and unlikable. It’s because of one simple fact: Most of us don’t wake up each morning wondering how we can piss our customers off. As business owners and brands, it’s the last thing we want to do! But knowing it might happen, here’s the way I explain the gaping chasm (yes, it’s a chasm) between unpopular and unlikable.
Unpopular business decisions honor your audience. They think about what’s best for the customer. Even if it’s discontinuing a product or changing business focus, a brand looks at three key things when making an unpopular decision:
- Audience benefit: How will this benefit my audience in both the short- and long-term?
- Better business: Will this allow our company to do better business and ultimately be better for our customers?
- Audience Respect: Does this decision insult or otherwise offend our audience in any way?
Unlikable decisions miss those things. And Reebok’s decision wasn’t unpopular and looking to shake things up. It violated all three of those criteria.
- Audience benefit: Their audience is both make and female. From the onset, it disrespected a key audience segment.
- Better business: If pissing off what’s most likely 50% of your target demographic is doing better business, then…sure.
- Audience Respect: Given how blue my sense of humor is, I get the humor. But it’s a bad joke and I don’t appreciate it. I don’t enjoy seeing brands I support with my wallet promoting infidelity. Thanks for the insult, Reebok.
Paying the Price
As a consumer public, we’re no stranger to brands that make unlikable decisions. Netflix. Bank of America. Groupon during the 2011 Super Bowl. So we vote with our wallets.
Netflix? Stock prices dropped 19% and consumer backlash continued for months. (check it)
Bank of America? Stock prices dropped 3.5% in one day in response to proposed debit card fees and 75% of 1000 respondents polled indicated that they would switch banks. (check it)
Groupon? There probably isn’t a single person reading this post who doesn’t know someone who unsubscribed from Groupon’s daily deals after the 2011 Super Bowl ad series. While they still had a successful IPO in late 2011, was it really a gaffe that paid off or proved damaging? Taking a company public means that the company is no longer about you. It’s about shareholders. And it doesn’t matter if you think something’s funny. Inc. Magazine had a great piece on How Not to Go Public. (check it and check it)
Reebok? Still remains to be seen. But even without my healthy dose of estrogen and consumer spending habits in the athletic apparel region, Reebok’s pissed off the wallets. The women. And I’ll just say that Under Armour should be delighted, since they’ll be getting the money I won’t be spending at Reebok.
And I’m looking to hear — what’s your take on Reebok’s “cheat on your girlfriend” ad campaign? Is there anything that could make you spend your money with Reebok again? And guys — tell me. Do you even care?