And in the grand scheme of things, the feeling of brand safety is a critical one. Why? Because if the slightest element goes awry (a bad product experience, a social connection to something unpopular, etc.), that all-important safety comes into serious question.
As we all know, consumer sentiment is a fragile element that’s best not to upset. According to AdColony's 2020 Brand Safety Survey, when companies link their products with an unpopular brand in an ad, 56% negatively view the primary product. Furthermore, 37% say that negative association influences their buying decisions.
How can brands exit the danger zone and regain the confidence of old and new customers? Here are a few lessons every brand should keep in mind.
1. Be transparent. Consumers may be upset by a brand's actions, but they are still looking for it to behave consistently. So put your head down and your best foot forward. Even if the effort is not perfect, consumers will appreciate that more than a PR spin.
Remember the controversy surrounding Peloton and the death of Mr. Big on HBO's "And Just Like That" last December? The character's fictitious demise had real-life implications for the fitness brand, with company stock dropping significantly after that episode aired.
But Peloton didn't back down from the scrutiny, releasing a clever ad in response less than 48 hours later that managed to simultaneously make light of the fracas and tout the myriad health benefits of regular cycling.
Whatever takes the brand off track, put it in the rearview mirror. Be as forthright as possible, then get back to what you do best.
2. Be direct. Address the issue without deflecting. Consider Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s response to the Joe Rogan scandal in early 2022.
Following reports of Rogan using racial slurs and spreading COVID-19 disinformation on his podcast, Ek apologized directly to Spotify employees, saying that Rogan’s actions were not representative of the company’s values. Although the company did not pull the podcast from its platform, it did remove dozens of episodes.
Instead of talking around something, brands should face controversy head-on.
Acknowledge the situation, disperse any apologies or clarifications you need to provide, and keep moving.
3. Be accountable. It’s always best to admit your faults, apologize, and then fix the issue. There is something to be said for taking a breath and then responding.
For example, when a Southwest Airlines pilot signed off from an October 2021 flight using the politically charged “Let’s go, Brandon,” the airline released a statement acknowledging the situation and then launched an internal investigation before terminating or punishing individual employees. This deliberate approach showed the brand's commitment to doing things correctly.
Incidents do not sink brands by themselves. How brands respond and go about restoring brand safety is ultimately what defines them.