#20 – Wendy’s reputation nugget, a dark cloud over Sunny Co, and the airline industry is grounded

#20 – Wendy’s reputation nugget, a dark cloud over Sunny Co, and the airline industry is grounded

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Yay, we have a positive story to share this week. Boo, we still have some roadkill too.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  And we’re back with another show, and Erin is with me as usual, and Erin, I have a question for you. Do you like Wendy’s chicken nuggets?

Erin Jones:                  I have to be honest with you. I cannot remember the last time I ate a fast food chicken nugget.

Andy Beal:                  You know what? With all the stories that you read online about what goes into them, I have to admit I’m not eating Wendy’s chicken nuggets, at least not in a number of years, but Carter Wilkinson is apparently a huge fan of Wendy’s chicken nuggets, because he asked Wendy’s on Twitter how many retweets does he need to get in order to get free nuggets for a year. They came back and said what seemed like an extremely high number. They said 18 million, and a few weeks or a month or so later, lo and behold, he surpassed his 18 million. How about that?

Erin Jones:                  I love the story. Everything about it made me just so happy, even to be observing from thousands of miles away. I just think it’s awesome from every angle. They even managed to poke fun at United while they were working on this. United offered him a free flight to any Wendy’s location in the United States, and people totally piled on them while continuing to support Carter.

Andy Beal:                  That’s funny. That’s so … Yeah, that wasn’t the right time for United …

Erin Jones:                  No.

Andy Beal:                  … to get clever. Yeah. Well, he went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and up until recently, she had one of the largest retweeted tweets, which was that famous selfie of all the Hollywood stars, and that got publicity. Lots of stars supported the cause, and he quickly got to the 18 million. Heck, I think even I threw out a retweet for it, because I thought this is a pretty cool thing, and what I really love about this is, it kind of reminds me of the Genie Bouchard story we talked about a few weeks back, where the young guy said, “Hey, if the Patriots win, will you go on a date with me?” And she said, “Sure,” and then she followed up and honored it.

Well, Wendy’s, they honored this bet, and they’re going to give him, not only are they going to give him chicken nuggets for a year, but they’re going to donate $100,000 to their foundation that supports the adoption of foster children. And so you’re talking about maybe $700? I worked it out. Maybe, if he did six-piece nuggets every day for a year, you’re looking at about $700 plus the donation that they’ve made to their own foundation, which is a win-win, and compare that to, gosh, I mean, probably going on The Ellen Show alone, maybe if you just ran a 30-second ad, was probably going to be $50,000, so all that fantastic publicity and everybody’s talking about Wendy’s.

Erin Jones:                  Oh, I love it. I’m sure that they probably spent less than they spend on pay-per-click ads throughout the year on Google, and just the goodwill that this has encouraged and championed, and the feel-good nature of this story just made me so happy. It was so refreshing to see something positive, and everybody kind of pooling together for this guy, and it got him there, and it was just really fun.

Andy Beal:                  When I do a reputation audit for companies of all sizes, one of the things I look at is their social media presence, and in particular their engagement. A lot of companies do a good job of actually having a Facebook page, having a Twitter account, sharing their latest specials and deals and news, but I often see companies failing to engage those that are their fans, and so it could have been really easy for any brand to just ignore this tweet or just laugh it off. But Wendy’s is pretty active and pretty engaged with their audience, and this just shows the pay-off that you get from that. When you listen to your fans, and you kind of play along, and then you see that it’s getting support, and it’s going viral, to use the cliché, then this is just a great … This is that return on investment.

When you go to a conference and everybody talks about how do you make stuff, create good content, it goes viral, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, well, for 700 bucks’ worth of product, which probably, for them, is maybe $200 in actual ingredients, all they did was say, “18 million,” and boom, he did the rest, and now they’ve got this fantastic publicity, and I’m tempted to go out this afternoon and get some Wendy’s chicken nuggets to see what all the fuss is about.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. This whole thing brought toward, one of my favorite professional words is the traction that they gained from this. They have taken something that’s not top of mind, that’s not usually very exciting. You don’t think of fast food as this hip, cool thing unless you’re talking about something like In-N-Out Burger or something, but they have become really relevant, and people are just loving them right now, and I just think it’s wonderful.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Good story. It’s been a while since we’ve had a reputation rainmaker story, because we’re normally talking about reputation roadkill. And lo and behold, up next we have Sunny Co., which makes bathing suits, swimsuits, and they put up an Instagram photo and had an offer that said if you reposted this Instagram photo within the next 24 hours, their Pamela swimsuit, which looks like something Pamela Anderson would have worn on Baywatch, they said, “If you repost it, we’ll send it to you … We’ll give you a free swimsuit, the actual swimsuit. All you do is pay shipping and handling.” And then it started to unfold, didn’t it, Erin?

Erin Jones:                  It sure did, and to be honest with you, I feel really bad for this brand. I think they had a fun idea, and they thought that they might get some hits online and get a little bit of that traction, and it was more of a runaway train.

Andy Beal:                  It was a runaway train wreck, really, if you [can believe it 00:06:46], because …

Erin Jones:                  Yeah. Yeah.

Andy Beal:                  … 20 hours in, they had so many, like thousands and thousands of reposts. 20 hours in, they actually had to come back and add a cap, which they should have thought of first, and like you said, it was an honest mistake, but whenever you plan a contest like this, I always like to think of, “Okay, let’s plan for it to go viral, but assume it won’t.” Right? Because 99.9% of everything you do is not going to take off like this, so you’re totally fine, but you need to plan for the worst-case scenario. They tried, maybe, because they said, “Hey, it’s a 24-hour thing,” and probably looked at the amount of engagement and followers they get and probably thought, “Hey, we’re safe here. Maybe we send out 30, 50 of these.”

But they didn’t count on that worst case, although really, the best case, and it went completely viral, and so now they’re backtracking. Anything you think they could have done differently in terms of how they handled this at the end?

Erin Jones:                  Definitely a couple of things. Absolutely, first, putting a cap on the initial post. Second of all, I think they lost a lot of credibility by going back and changing the terms of the deal after it was already out there. Some people noticed that they went back and changed their terms, and that destroys credibility and trust, and now orders aren’t looking like they’re going to ship until summer’s already over.

Andy Beal:                  Right.

Erin Jones:                  There’s so many things here that could put them out of business out of something that they were trying to do something good for their customers, so I feel sorry for them, but at the same time, it may be best for them just to cut bait and walk away. I’m not really sure how they’re going to get out of this one and still get people their $12 swimsuits.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I think that last statement is kind of true. They’re at the brink here of either collapse or tremendous success, and so right now, they’re on the verge of collapsing, because they added the terms, the orders are going to be late. Some people actually got charged the full price and are waiting on their refunds, all that kind of stuff. Whereas if they were smart, they would have looked at this and literally taken this to the bank and said, “Look, we need to borrow $100,000 today, because we have this contest that has blown up. It’s going to be huge for us. Look at all the publicity we’re getting. Look at how many people are sharing this. We’re going to have a ton of people that want this suit, this bathing suit, and so we need to hire more people.”

“We need to cover the cost of this product, and we think that if we can power through this, we’re going to have so many evangelists that I think this is such a cool idea, and will always remember us for giving away this free swimsuit that they’ll come back and post other orders and tell their friends about it, and we get all this positive publicity.” So I would have kind of said, “Hey, if we’re serious about our company, yeah, we screwed up. Maybe it’s going to cost us 50,000, $100,000 to make this right, but let’s make that investment into our brand, because that’s going to be worth it. We’ll be known as the cool company that did this, that honored it, and we’re going to be the darlings of social media when people are thinking of swimwear.”

Erin Jones:                  Yes, and making right on this, I don’t think any audience would be oblivious to the fact that it would be a huge effort on the company’s part. They, like you said, go to the bank, get some money, get a warehouse, hire anyone you can that can sew a swimsuit together and get them on it. It could be fantastic, and the people who were charged the full $77 for the swimsuit are probably going to be a little bit harder to get back. People that wanted a free swimsuit for $10 are probably not usually the people that are going to be spending upwards of $100 on a swimsuit, so maybe give them theirs for free.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. There is no easy answer to this, and there’s no cheap answer to this, and it just kind of goes to show … I often say the old adage of measure twice, cut once. Whenever you launch a campaign like this, you’ve really got to kind of brainstorm through the possible scenarios here of like, “Okay, can we cover this?” I know that when I’ve done Twitter contests before, we used to … What is it we did? We did some things like giving away an iPad, and I was always careful to say, it occurred to me that, “Okay, what if the winner lives in Uzbekistan, and there’s no Apple Store there, and I can’t get them an iPad, and dah, dah, dah, dah?” So in the contest rules, it’s, “We reserve the right to send you a prize of equal value,” and I’m thinking to …

And it actually did happen, where we had somebody that won in Australia, and it was going to be so expensive to ship the iPad there that I just offered them an Apple gift card for the amount it would cost for them to go and buy the iPad themselves, and so that worked out. But you can’t always think ahead, but you should. Just because you can kind of pull the trigger on these kinds of contests doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan for whatever you call it, worst case or best case. You need, they should have thought ahead and said, “Okay, what happens if we actually get 1,000 reposts? What if we get 10,000? Maybe we should cap that.” I mean, it seems obvious to me, but in the thrill of launching a contest, maybe they kind of rushed it a little bit.

Erin Jones:                  Especially early on in a brand’s lifecycle, I could definitely see how this could happen, but I can guarantee you that they will not make this mistake again.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. So just in case this was the, they thought maybe they were going to have the biggest reputation roadkill of the week, along comes the airline industry and says, “Hold my beer. I got this.” Let me read off what has happened in the airline industry just in the past week. Okay. United Airlines canceled a passenger’s ticket because he was recording the gate agent. United also sent another passenger to San Francisco instead of Paris. There’s now talk about, did United Airlines cremate the giant bunny in order to cover up its negligence? Spirit Airlines had a dispute with its pilots which led to riots at a Florida airport. Air Canada left a 15-year-old unaccompanied, trapped in a Toronto’s airport overnight, worried to death that he was going to get mugged while he was there or just robbed. All Nippon and Southwest both had flights where passengers had fisticuffs literally on the plane, punching it out. It’s almost like, Erin, is this the new normal for the airline industry?

Erin Jones:                  I feel like I’m watching a terrible movie right now.

Andy Beal:                  Right.

Erin Jones:                  I am gobsmacked, and at the same time, I’m starting to be unaffected when I see a headline in the news about an airline, because who is going to outdo United, at this point? Well, if we wait long enough, someone is going to, obviously, if you look at these other headlines. People brawling at ticket gates? Are you kidding me? I know that people get stressed out when they’re traveling and that the airline’s doing this is not helping, but something has got to give soon.

Andy Beal:                  Well, I feel like the airline industry has no one to blame but itself in terms of, they have cut everything to the bone to the point where we now fear that we could get dragged and beaten up from our seat, so why should we, as a passenger, hold ourselves to a high standard, when the airlines won’t even do that? So of course, you’re not going to hold yourself to any particular standard. It’s okay now to fight other passengers. It’s okay to this, that, or the other, whatever it may be. And I remember … Well, actually, I don’t remember. I remember seeing stories where airline travel used to be a big deal. You’d wear your best suit and hat, and it would be a very, for lack of a better word, highfalutin affair to travel on an airline, and now it’s a race to the bottom. The airlines have dragged everything down, and so of course we have no respect for them.

They continue to keep messing up, and so there’s no expectation on our part to kind of behave now, by the looks of it. And so we’re recording gate agents. We’re having fights with other passengers in the seat. We worry about … Now we don’t … It’s not just worrying about our luggage. We got to worry about our pets. It’s just ridiculous.

Erin Jones:                  A fast food restaurant outclassed the airline industry this week. Just see how that fits with you for a minute. I am blown away, and I think that they’re getting to a point where any self-respecting publicist is not going to want to work with airlines anymore, because who wants their name on this?

Andy Beal:                  Right. Yeah, it’s …

Erin Jones:                  I mean, would you take this on?

Andy Beal:                  I would need a lot more employees. I’d have to hire a lot of people to help even just United Airlines. I mean, the only thing I’m thinking right now is like American Airlines is probably just like, “Hey, good week, everybody! We weren’t in the news.” That’s the new normal for …

Erin Jones:                  Yeah.

Andy Beal:                  … them. I suspect what we really need is some disruptor, so for example, nobody really used to enjoy riding in taxis. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t care for the whole experience of getting into a dirty cab and being thrown around as the cab just speeds through the streets, and then having to find enough money and worrying about how much I was going to tip, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. So despite all the negative publicity that Uber has had, that, when it came along, was a huge disruptor. That’s why they became popular, and I wonder if the airline industry is just ripe for some disruption like that, because Southwest and JetBlue have kind of somewhat tried, but I feel like there’s something else out there that somebody can do.

Erin Jones:                  Sure. I kind of look at this, too, as some of those horrible American stereotypes, but what do you think airlines like Emirates are doing when they hear about the news over here in the United States? Are they laughing? Are they shaking their heads? Are they embarrassed to even be a part of the same industry? How do we get them to come here?

Andy Beal:                  True, because it’s on my bucket list to one day fly Emirates Airlines. I mean, they’ve …

Erin Jones:                  Yeah.

Andy Beal:                  … convinced me that that is the Rolls Royce of airline experiences. Even just flying in coach looks fantastic, so they’re doing something right, and I don’t know what the issue is over here. I don’t know if it’s because we had far too many airlines. I don’t know if it’s now because we don’t have enough airlines, and so there’s too much monopoly, and the airlines can basically do whatever they want, because it’s all about how many gates you get at various airports, and there’s all politics and lobbying that goes into who gets what airports and gates and flight paths, and all that kind of stuff, and so we’re left with, “Hey, this is it. Take it or leave it. It’s either fly one of these cruddy airlines or drive.”

Erin Jones:                  Right, and a lot of us don’t have time to drive cross-country or even take a train or something when we’ve got business, travel, or a family emergency or something, so air travel has kind of become a necessary evil in our culture, the way that we’re all spread out so far.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  And I just, it’s hard. It feels like it’s turning into the insurance industry. We pay them because we have to, but we’re not going to like it.

Andy Beal:                  I think the airlines right now need to look at the next six months at least, having a slush fund of make-it-right money. Right? So it’s this pool of money. Each airline has a million dollars that they put into it. It’s, they call it the make-it-right fund, and they basically tell every employee, “Look, we can’t afford another scandal. Whatever you have to do to ensure that a passenger is happy and doesn’t pull out their smartphone to record a nasty incident, just make it happen,” because it’s got to be cheaper than all of this negative publicity, and they just need to ride it out until hopefully these new policies that everybody’s putting in place. And United was kind of the first to do that out of necessity, but hopefully, at some point, it will start trickling down, and we will get a better experience, but in the meantime, I would be telling every single person from the baggage handler to the ticket agent to the gate agent, whatever it is, just make it happen. Make sure the passengers are happy.

Erin Jones:                  I agree, and I think part of that is making your employees happy.

Andy Beal:                  True.

Erin Jones:                  A lot of the issues we’re seeing are coming from employees getting into it with customers, and are they doing this because they just don’t care? I don’t feel like it’s loyalty to their job. I feel like a lot of times they’re surly or grumpy, especially more of the people in the airport. I’ve had good experiences with flight attendants that have absolutely changed my day for the better, so I’d love to see more of that.

Andy Beal:                  Right. It’s like we said, and it’s like just about any industry. If you invest in your employees, you hire right, you train them right, you give them an understanding of what you’re working towards, what’s the reputation you’re trying to build, let them be a part of that, and they will, to pardon the expression, they will fight to ensure that you have that brand, because they are … I don’t know. They just, they’re embracing it. They’re part of it, and they don’t want to see it go down the toilet, but when you’re paying them the bare minimum, cutting their benefits, making them work longer hours, forcing them to do extra work, invariably when I speak to a flight attendant or a gate agent, they do look stressed, and some of them even told me just how bad things have gotten. And that’s going to lead to a bare minimum that they’re going to pass on to the customers.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed.

Andy Beal:                  All right. Well, on that rant, we will land this podcast for the week and hopefully won’t have to discuss airlines for a while, but when we’ve had six or seven stories just in the past week, I am not very hopeful that that will be the case, but we’ll be back again next week, and Erin will join me again. Thank you for being with me this week, Erin.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you for having me.

Andy Beal:                  And thank you guys for listening. As always, head over to our Facebook page, andybealORM. Head to andybeal.com where you’ll find the podcast and the transcript. If you have any questions, please let us know. Reach out to us, and we’ll hope you’ll join us again next time. Thanks a lot, and bye bye.

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.