Just four years after three people were killed and over 260 more were injured when bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, clothing company Adidas found itself at the centre of a social media storm following a poorly-worded marketing email that was sent to competitors of this year’s event.
Some 26,492 runners who crossed the line of the gruelling sports challenge were sent a message that read: “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon.” Some of the racers were people who were badly injured but survived the tragic events in 2013.
Because this is 2017, recipients of the email quickly began uploading screenshots of the message they had received to social media. Most notable was racer Mike Denison, who called Adidas out for what he clearly believed to be a poor choice of words. “You may want to rethink the subject line,” he hinted, being sure that his 21,000 followers saw the message. They did. Many began throwing their support behind Mike and hurling insults at Adidas. Gifs of face palms and confused memes began flooding the micro-blogging site, before journalists from major online news outlets began catching wind.
“Can we use your photo on all forms of NBC platforms with courtesy of you?” asked one reporter.
Another tweet read: “I’m a reporter from AOL and would love to ask you a few questions about this tweet for our coverage,” while others from publications including ABC and Business Insider also sent requests. Other racers began uploading screenshots of the email they received and before we knew it, opinions were flying on whether Adidas was right or wrong for sending the email. It made headlines around the globe and was splashed across homepages of news websites with readerships in their millions. How, in the wake of a Pepsi debacle and United Airlines blunder did Adidas get it so wrong? Were they even wrong? Did it matter either way?
Adidas had been a major sponsor of the 2017 event and before their unfortunate fiasco outraged the internet, had done everything right in terms of promoting their involvement in the event. They released a specific sports collection for the race including singlets, tights and t-shirts and even ran a successful social media campaign. #WhyIRunBoston encouraged participants to upload photos and to tell their own Boston story. According to the campaign, “everyone has a Boston story” and it was up to competitors to “make history and inspire others to do the same”.
Adidas was quick to issue an apology over the email when it started making international press. They took full responsibility for the hurt they caused and said:
Because PR blunders like this seem to be a common occurrence (seriously, we’re not even half way through 2017 and we’ve lost count of how many there have been this year), here are our tips when it comes to a mass-marketing email.
- Know world events – Having a strong PR campaign is one thing, but you need to be aware of key events, major news stories and what’s happening in the world. In the case of Adidas, the fact that the Boston Marathon was rocked by a terrorist attack just four years earlier should have been on someone’s radar. Although well intended, the message of congratulations upset a large number of people, undid a lot of hard work that went into the campaign and potentially tarnished the reputation of Adidas. Something as simple as keeping a calendar of key events or dates or a skim over the day’s news could prevent a “PR disaster” from happening in the first place.
- Proof check – While it may be one person’s job to send an email, it’s vital to work as a team and get feedback to ensure mistakes don’t happen. This could be something as simple as a spelling error or something as major as the Adidas conundrum. A second or third pair of eyes usually does the trick. If you’re unsure, ask. Once you click send, there’s no going back.
- If something can go wrong, it probably will – If there’s even a slight chance that someone could be offended by the way you phrase something or the way you string a sentence together, they probably will be (this is the age of social media after all). With Adidas, removing the word survived could have saved a great deal of embarrassment for the brand. At the end of the day, the purpose of the email was to push more product, and the company could have found a better way of grabbing their customer’s attention.
- Know your worth and your subject – Whether your company has hundreds of years of experience or is a new start up, know that everything you send out into the world is a reflection of your brand. In the case of Adidas, their whole campaign positioned itself around Boston Pride, but it came across like Adidas didn’t know an awful lot about the Boston people or the city’s history. You need to know what you’re preaching if you want it to be believable.
- Swift and sincere apology – If the worse happens, be prepared to apologise – even if you don’t think you’re in the wrong. Don’t let pride get in the way of your brand’s reputation. Adidas were actually pretty good at this, issuing a statement nearly immediately and pinning it to their social profiles. Mistakes happen, but you need to be prepared for any onslaught that might happen as a result.
If you want to chat to us more about avoiding a crisis like Adidas, don’t hesitate to get in contact on 0845 4567 251 or visit our website.