Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Advertising and other Disasters

I nearly spit out my coffee when I got eMarketer's daily newsletter this morning.  I read this newsletter every morning because, more often than not, it has at least one insightful article about marketing tactics.  (You can send me a check, @GeoffRamsey).

That said, I turned up an eyebrow at this headline: "Case Study: With Spotify Playlist, Carnival Engages a Millennial Audience."  I have few doubts about the power of music marketing; I have many doubts about the technology-savvy Millennials' ability to ignore Carnival's more prominent appearances in the media.

Business Insider reminds us of some recent Carnival Cruise memories that probably won't make the brochure:

  • The Carnival Triumph, the infamous "poop cruise" in which the ship lost power leaving only a few toilets operable
  • The Costa Concordia, a Carnival-operated ship that ran aground off the cost of Italy, leaving 32 passengers dead
  • The 2010 incident aboard the Carnival Splendor, another generator failure that spurred from a fire (the US Navy had to deliver supplies to the ship)
So, while Carnival considered the Spotify promotion a success, having created 450 solid leads, it stands to reason that the cruise line might want to think more broadly about how to address their issues in marketing.

More to the point, how can marketing communications help rebuild a brand after a disaster?
Naturally, public relations plays the initial role in recovery.  Countless successful examples of companies using PR after a disaster (Tylenol's cyanide scare in 1982, e.g.) illustrate the dos and don'ts.  The examples go back to the time of the Caesars in Rome.  Augustus once quelled fears of a theater's safety after an earthquake by sitting in the most dangerous-looking seats during a performance.

Crisis PR generally serves to stop the brand's image from getting any worse and return it to a habitable form.  In this respect, PR works like the National Guard during and immediately after a disaster.  It then falls on brand communications to bring the brand to "like new" condition, much in the way a contractor might work on a storm-ravaged house.

Rule one is always change the conversation.  On a recent assignment, I worked on a brand in need of a turnaround.  We pointed out several examples of how other brands have recently done it.  General Motors and American Airlines both declared bankruptcy, but they chose different ways to change the conversation.

GM began to speak of "the new GM" (PDF).  Most visibly, they focused on a car that had its roots in the old GM, the Volt.  Despite its genesis, this focus on a completely different kind of car helped consumers--and taxpayers--believe that GM had in fact changed.  Personally, I can vouch for the change in attitude at the General.  I pitched GM on a project in 1995 and found them to be extremely arrogant, and this from a company that had was still producing the Skylark.  After bankruptcy, I found the same GM ready to listen and consider, rather than order and dictate.

While GM chose something that seems to work for them, American Airlines chose another route, one that seems more likely to me to succeed.  They wrote a letter.  In it, they explained that AA would continue to serve them as they had in the past and that their AAdvantage Miles would still be good.  They then placed these letters in the seats of First and Business class on all their flights.

In other words, AA took a segmented approach to rebuilding their brand.  Airlines live and die by their frequent fliers, so their marketing communications had to work with them first.  If the frequent fliers didn't have confidence in AA, no one else would either.

I suppose that GM took the same tack, insofar as every U.S. citizen became a shareholder in GM after the bailout.  However, AA took it one step further by setting up a direct line of communication from the airline to its most important audience.

By that token, if I had to steer Carnival's marketing, I would make sure that its most valuable customers--satisfied passengers with several cruises under their belts--retained their confidence in the brand.  Emails, direct mail and loyalty communications to them would encourage their advocacy on behalf of Carnival.  If nothing else, a good old-fashioned member-get-member strategy would probably work wonders.

Either that, or get an emperor to take a cruise.

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