#34 – Dove, Facebook, Cam Newton, and Jemele Hill all learn perception trumps intention

#34 – Dove, Facebook, Cam Newton, and Jemele Hill all learn perception trumps intention

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When it comes to reputation attacks, perception always trumps intentions.

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:                  Thank you for joining us again. We have a pretty busy show this week so we’re going to dive straight into it. First up, we have Dove. Now you may be familiar with the scandal that Dove is facing right now but if you’re not, they are apologizing basically for screenshots that surfaced showing an ad that they were going to run. The screenshots showed a black woman turning into a white woman. Now here’s the thing, those screenshots circulated and Dove ended up facing a reputation crisis.

The thing to consider though is that if you actually saw the full ad it shows then that the white woman turns into a Middle Eastern woman, and basically they’re trying to get across that Dove is for all skin types. However, we’ve kind of talked about this before. Whenever you run a campaign or say something you’ve got to consider how could it be perceived without the benefit of context, and without that context with these screen grabs, they kind of got a lot of heat, didn’t they Erin?

Erin Jones:                  It did and you know, what I don’t understand here is this is not the first time that this has happened to Dove. How many times is it going to take before they know better?

Andy Beal:                  That should be their clue to kind of, any company should be very careful about running any kind of ad or any kind of campaign that even has the slightest hint of racism or racial stereotypes, but Dove has been in trouble before, and not just them but their peers that offer different products that target different audiences have had similar troubles and similar reputation attacks, so you’d think that they would know better.

Erin Jones:                  Right, and they just say, “Oops. Sorry we offended you. Moving on.” That kind of playing dumb is not going to work when they’ve been through it before.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. The question I have, I mean they come out and they pulled the ad and they apologize, and it was one of those typical apologies where it’s like the whole if we’ve offended anybody, we missed the mark, kind of like this real weak apology. But here’s the question, should Dove have even defended the ad? Should they have gone out and defended it and say, “Hey, look. Here’s the full ad and here’s what we were trying to do, and some people have taken it out of context.” I think there’s an argument that could be made here that, are we too quick to apologize because we’ve offended someone? I think when we’ve truly screwed up we should apologize quickly, but there were circumstances here. If you saw the entire ad, I don’t know. I’m looking at this from a middle-aged white guy’s lens so from my perspective it doesn’t look as bad when you see the entire ad.

Erin Jones:                  It’s funny that you say that because the African-American model who was in the ad feels the same way. She said that she thinks that Dove should’ve come back and said what they were really intending because she feels like she was unwittingly becoming the poster child for racist advertising, which she doesn’t agree with. I think it’s interesting that you said that because apparently the model feels the same way.

Andy Beal:                  It’s really interesting because we are, I don’t know, we’re kind of getting into this cycle now where social media consumers, stakeholders, whatever you want to call people, there’s a crowd that’s quick to get offended, and then the brands have to be equally quick to apologize. I think sometimes those are our go-to triggers. Instead of the audience saying, “Hey, wait a minute. Let me do some investigation. Let me actually read the article. Let me actually look at the ad as opposed to the sensational click bait title that someone’s coming up with.” Then for the person that’s being attacked, the company that’s being attacked, kind of like, “Hey, instead of just kind of churning out a off-the-shelf apology, do we really need to apologize here?”

I mean maybe we do, but maybe we also need to kind of talk about, “Hey, we encourage everybody to view the actual ad and give us feedback on how you think we could’ve done it better because our intention was to show that our product is for every woman, but someone’s taken these screen grabs to make it look like we were basically suggesting that the true nature of beauty is a white pale skinned woman.”

Erin Jones:                  I agree and I think that it’s really, really hard with our quick to be enraged society to do any fun, creative advertising right now. That’s a position that I don’t envy because I think you can find an angle to be offended about just about anything. I go back and forth on this because I do think that Dove, maybe someone should have seen this coming if they had seen a still from the commercial and said, “Hey, maybe we should start with a different still.” But at the same time, if you watch the ad it really does show their … For the last five or 10 years, Dove has really been pushing this be your own kind of beautiful campaign. I think that’s what they were trying to do here.

Andy Beal:                  Right. I think the lesson here, if you have baggage in your history, so there’s situations where you’ve come under fire before, then you definitely need to be more careful about the type of ads you run because you don’t want to risk a flare up again. It’s kind of like if you get a cancerous mole on your forearm because of a sun exposure, you want to make sure that you stay out of the sun and use an SPF 75 going forward. You don’t want to kind of take that risk. I think if you’ve got something in your background then certainly you need to be more careful.

But I think also you should have … Set up an advisory council with your customers, your core customers, a representation of everybody and say, “Hey. This is the kind of ad we’re going to run. Help us figure out is there any way that anybody can be offended here?” If you get the green light on this, then run the ad. If you still get backlash, I don’t know. Just grow a pair and defend it. If there’s an opportunity to defend it, defend it. Don’t always default to apologizing because there are some cases where you kind of need to stand your ground a little bit. I think in this case with Dove, perhaps not. They’ve got this baggage. They’ve kind of messed up the way that this was rolled out, but for your company if you go through the motions, and you’re sincere and you’ve got input from your client base and you think there’s just a small minority that is upset, don’t always default back to apologizing right away.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed. It just feels kind of deluded and weak at this point.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Now, flip side of that where you kind of look at this and go, “Oh my gosh, what were you thinking? I can’t really think of a reason why you would do this.” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg really had an insensitive demo reel of his new VR technology. Erin, you got some more details on that.

Erin Jones:                  He did. Recently Mark Zuckerberg and Rachel Rubin, who is the head of their social virtual-reality team, showed off their new Facebook Spaces platform. It sounds like it’s sort of a, like Google Hangouts or another video chat program except that instead of seeing the room of the person you’re speaking with, you see their cartoon avatar and they can change the background to pretty much anywhere that they want it to be. The company is calling it a teleporting feature.

Unfortunately, the Facebook team decided to utilize disaster stricken Puerto Rico to show off this functionality. Right now Puerto Rico has 85% of the island remains without power, a little less than half don’t even have drinkable water, so to go show off this kitschy, fun avatar-based chat program in a disaster stricken place just didn’t sit right with a lot of people.

Andy Beal:                  We’ve talked about not appearing to capitalize in any way on a disaster, and it did kind of come across that this was not necessarily highlighting what’s going on in Puerto Rico and generating awareness and increasing donations. It kind of came across as this is our new technology. It didn’t help that these avatars were all smiling and happy by default.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. One of the quotes he said in the video is, “One other thing that’s really magical about virtual reality is that you can get the feeling that you’re really in a place.” He says this safe and dry from his Internet access filled office. It just got a really big groan, really, from the collective audience.

Andy Beal:                  Now, he did apologize. Again, not really a big fan of the apology. It was like an apology to those that were offended, which is always a little bit of a cop-out. It’s basically saying, “Hey, we don’t think we should be apologizing but if you’re offended then we’re apologizing just to you. We still stand by what we’re doing.” That’s kind of how it comes across. There are mitigating circumstances. Facebook has donated one-and-a-half million dollars to relief efforts in Puerto Rico, but that information isn’t readily available to the critics of the technology demo, and so you’ve got to be aware that sometimes perceptions are greater than your intentions. You may have the best intentions in the world but when you’re doing something that’s perceived as you cashing in on something or being insensitive, then of course you’re going to face some kind of reputation backlash.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed, and he did say that one of the most powerful features of this virtual reality platform is empathy and that they showed this to raise awareness, but like you said, having smiling avatars bouncing around in front of people who are trying to pick their lives back up just did not translate at all.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. That was a big fail. Fortunately Facebook is, fortunately for them, they’re like this huge company that everybody relies upon. They’ve had so many situations over the years where their customers have been really unhappy but they’ve become almost a necessity, and so this’ll blow over. This is one of those things that will blow over.

Another thing that I’m afraid we’ll just blow over is the recent situation with NFL quarterback Cam Newton, who in a news conference, post game conference, when a female journalist asked him about football routes he kind of smirked throughout her question and then made the statement that he thought it was funny that she was asking him about football routes. Now, I don’t know what decade he’s living in because my wife actually knows more about football than me, Erin.

Erin Jones:                  Your wife knows more about football than almost anybody I know.

Andy Beal:                  We’ve often joked that sometimes I think about just muting the audio and letting her do the commentary because she knows so much that’s going on, and she’s not alone. There are a lot of women that are passionate about football. It is not a guys’ thing. Now, he made this statement and Dannon dropped him virtually immediately as a spokesperson, but Under Armour and Beats and Gatorade, they kind of all waited for his apology, and of course he apologized. But the apology didn’t really seem too sincere to me. It seemed like it was more of an apology to make it go away and sweep it under the rug than a sincere change of heart and a determined effort to change his character.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. When I read the quote I rolled my eyes and was a little bit offended. When I watched the actual video I was shocked, you know, that first of all that somebody didn’t come out and just stop him, but yeah. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. You can tell that he has no remorse for this and that he really believed what he said. Oh, that’s really funny that a female know something about football. Okay, you’ve been playing the game long enough to have encountered a few women that know what they’re talking about. I just don’t even have good words for this.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. His body language, if you watch it and you watch the smirk [inaudible 00:13:16] his body language before he opens his mouth, his body language gives away his authentic self, and that is he comes across that he truly does find it humorous that there are women in the room asking him questions about football. It’s almost like he can’t contain himself to make a comment about that as opposed to just him having a poorly worded sentence that people jumped on. This really did look like he kind of felt that way, and that’s why I feel like his apology wasn’t sincere, because I didn’t get any indication that he wants to change his opinion of female journalists in sports. I didn’t get, there was nothing about like doing something for the community or educating himself. Heck, he didn’t even meet with that particular journalist to apologize directly.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly. He behaved like an ass. I mean I don’t know what else to say. She sought him out after the interview and he still didn’t apologize, and this is a well respected journalist. This is not an intern or someone, male or female he shouldn’t be treating them that way, but the fact that this is someone who really knows her stuff, there’s no way he can put a positive spin on this unless he does some real work to make right.

Andy Beal:                  That work, when I talk about recovering from a reputation attack and apologizing, there’s three things that stakeholders look for, and that’s sincerity, transparency, and consistency. Let’s give him a pass on the sincerity. Let’s say he was sincere in his apology. I’m not so sure but let’s say he was. Well, there lacked transparency. Why did he say it? What was going through his head? What led him to be smirking like that? Let us get an understanding of where he’s gone wrong in his life that he thinks it’s okay to do that, and what he’s going to do to make that change to his underlying character so that he has more respect for women, and certainly for those that are asking him the questions, and he doesn’t immediately start having these fun jokes in his head.

Then consistency, and this is where we need to watch him because he’s had some issues before with his character, not necessarily around this topic, but he has had some situations where he’s kind of gotten a little feisty. I think looking for consistency, that he is going to change and, well, be more adult really. Whenever you have an issue for your company, your own reputation, it’s sincere apology, it’s transparency and what went wrong and what you’re doing to fix it, and then being consistent to show your audience that you have made that change.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and act like a grown-up. If you have a job that’s public facing, you should know how to behave when the cameras are rolling.

Andy Beal:                  Right. Yeah. Exactly. I mean worst-case scenario, let’s say you still can’t change your underlying personality. Let’s say you’ve still got these stereotypes, these prejudices. You should at least have a poker face and know how to say the polite thing in public and not put yourself into these situations. Work on your own character in your own time, but at least know that you can’t stand there smirking and then make a joke about it.

Let’s stick with sports. The last story we have is ESPN’s Jemele Hill. I won’t get into the details. We’ve kind of stayed away from the whole NFL protest thing because that’s, well one thing I don’t care about the NFL. I don’t watch it a whole lot, but there’s more going on than we can discuss in a show here and there’s two sides to this story. What I do want to focus on his Jemele Hill weighed in publicly about statements that Jerry Jones had made and the whole issue with the NFL, and she was consequently suspended for two weeks by ESPN. In their statement part of it reads, “In the aftermath all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences, hence the decision.”

How many times have we preached that Erin?

Erin Jones:                  We just did. This is something that I actually had notes on about this, the same thing. The personal professional line on social media is gray. You can’t cut off that at five PM and stop representing your professional life just because you’re off the clock. She clearly stepped over that line and if you can’t do your job without your personal politics or opinions getting in the way, then you shouldn’t have a public facing job. Just like Cam Newton, if you can’t put on that poker face and do your job professionally, that’s not going to come without consequence at some point.

Andy Beal:                  You may have the freedom of speech, but if it reflects badly on your employer and you violate some kind of guideline or policy that you’ve agreed to by working for them, then they may have the freedom of consequence, and in this case to suspend you for two weeks. Now, this is a two way street people. If you’re being authentic to your beliefs, so let’s say she’s being really authentic to her beliefs but she got suspended for it. I would ask, well why are you working for that company? You should work for a company that is aligned with your authentic beliefs and your reputation, otherwise you’re basically taking the paycheck with one hand and then dishing out your social commentary with the other, and the two are not matching up. Find a company that aligns with who you are so that when you make these statements personally they do reflect your employer.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. Recommending that people boycott the advertisers for the industry that you’re employed by, it may feel maverick and edgy, but I’m actually surprised that they just suspended her after it being a second offense. I’m surprised that she’s not finding herself unemployed.

Andy Beal:                  Well, yeah. I think that if they had fired her then they probably would’ve incurred their own wrath of those that maybe would accuse ESPN of perhaps a double standard, perhaps accuse them of overreacting or making an example. I think they were probably, oh boy, I can imagine the conversations with their legal team. I bet they thought hey, we need to do something. We need to … And I think this is her second time she’s run afoul of their policies, so we need to do something but we don’t want to be too harsh, so let’s suspend her and then condemn what she did, and that should be enough so that everybody says, “Yeah, she got a slap on her wrist but they didn’t take it too far.” I suspect there was a lot of political aspects to it that went on behind the scenes just so that ESPN wouldn’t themselves face a backlash.

Erin Jones:                  I’m sure. Like you said, I can’t even imagine those conversations.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Just remember your personal statements do reflect to your employer whether you like it or not, whether you have a little caveat on your Twitter profile, Facebook profile, what you say, the first thing people are going to say is, “Wow. Who does that person work for?” Because they’re going to be interested in seeing who you work for basically. Sometimes they’re even just going to call your boss or tweet your boss and say, “Hey, is this the kind of person you want working for them?” They do reflect to your employer. If you don’t like the stance that your employer’s going to take, then hey, if you really want to be authentic to your beliefs, if you feel that strongly about a subject, go work for somebody that is aligned with that so that you won’t get in trouble and you’ll actually be applauded for what you have to say.

Erin Jones:                  Not only that, you’ll feel validated. I can’t imagine working with someone that I didn’t agree with.

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, well on that note that’s our show for this week. We hope you find it useful. As always, we don’t just want to tear people down or pick on popular stories. We want to take something that we can give you actionable items upon. If there is a story or topic you’d like us to discuss or you have a question, please head to our Facebook page, which is /AndyBealORM. You can also go to AndyBeal.com, find any of the podcasts and leave a comment there with your question, comment or discussion point. We always appreciate you tuning in and Erin, always a pleasure to chat with you.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you so much for having me.

Andy Beal:                  Thank you guys. We hope you’ll join us again next time. Bye-bye.

Speaker 2:                  You’ve been listening to Reputation Rainmakers with Andy Beal, the original online reputation expert. For more reputation management advice or to hire Andy to speak at your next event visit AndyBeal.com.

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.