Tag Archives: Public Relations

Fake Some Sympathy, for PR’s Sake!

6 Mar

This past week FHM, a women’s fashion magazine in the Philippines, posted the upcoming cover of their lastest issue featuring a white model surrounded by painted black models with the caption “Stepping out of the Shadows.”

Image Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Naturally, Twitter and Facebook users were in an uproar over the implicit racism in the photo. The cover objectifies Black women and reinforces cultural stereotypes that uphold the objective goodness of white. Ruby Veridiano gives a more complete list of grievances in “An Open Letter to FHM Philippines.

Although this cover is undeniably racist, in this post I am more concerned with examining the apology released by FHM Philippines. Disclaimer: It’s not that I don’t think the racism of this post isn’t worth talking about– it absolutely is. In fact, I’m genuinely concerned that some people don’t see this as racist, considering the uncomfortable relationship the Philippines has had with colonialism.

Still, the FHM response to allegations of racism have received little media attention, and that worries me. The statements made by Bela Padillia have garnered more public criticism than FHM‘s apology, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

I’ve covered public relations scandals before– see my post on GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad and to a lesser extent, my post on the ESPN Jeremy Lin scandal; however, the apology put forth by FHM was so disingenuous that I felt the need to comment more directly.

FHM released an official apology on February 27th, a letter so transparently not sorry that it’s a wonder they released any comment at all:

On Saturday, February 25, we uploaded the March issue with Bela Padilla on the cover on our Facebook page. Just hours later, a slew of comments on the supposed “racism” of the cover image and cover line flooded the magazine page, prompting the editorial team to re-examine the cover so that we could put into context its execution and assuage the concerns of our readers and non-readers as well who’ve weighed in on the issue.

We took all the points into consideration and have decided to take the side of sensitivity.

When FHM hits the stands in March it will have a different cover. We deem this to be the most prudent move in the light of the confusion over the previous cover execution.

We apologize and thank those who have raised their points. We apologize to Bela Padilla for any distress this may have caused her. In our pursuit to come up with edgier covers, we will strive to be more sensitive next time.

It wasn’t enough to put racism in scare quotes, they had to place the word supposed before it. Could FHM be any less clear that they have no respect for the opinions of their readers?

FHM seems totally unconvinced that the “flood” of readers who responded to their cover could have any credible point, preferring to believe that they are merely misunderstood by the masses.

I find it especially ineffective and ridiculous that FHM felt the need to include in their apology that they had tried to explain that the cover is not racist, but no one believed them. Their attempts to “put into context” the cover have failed to convince the public that the cover was, in fact, not racist, as there is no context in which the FHM cover could be considered not racist.

So recap: In the first paragraph, FHM has insulted their readers and implied that they are wrong. They have next admitted that their first strategy has failed, which is the only reason they are apologizing now.

In the second and third paragraphs, FHM further clarifies that they have no option other than to apologize and again insults their readers by calling them confused.

So far, this apology doesn’t seemed designed to illicit any forgiveness in angered readers. Maybe it gets better?

Nope! FHM finishes their apology with a spectacular display of rhetorical maneuvers designed to deliver as few genuine remarks of contrition as possible! The magazine apologizes to Padilla for the hate mail she’s been receiving because of their editorial decision and ends by calling the readers over-sensitive, thus blatantly insulting the public no less than three times. Not to mention, FHM has failed to apologize to people of color for their offensive cover.

If FHM thinks their readers are too unintelligent to realize when they’re being condescended to, they are sorely mistaken. In this new age of instantaneous communication, companies can no longer ignore public responses where a mass of consumers share an opinion. It’s too easy to find like-minded individuals– consumers can criticize in groups and publicly, something which can tank a company’s image.

Luckily, companies have learned to adapt, and many corporations have apologized publicly for missteps that have garnered the anger of the majority. However, there is no formula for a good apology– one cannot just say sorry and expect to be forgiven. Like in any relationship, sincere corporate apologies earn consumer forgiveness. Companies need to weigh when it is appropriate to make a full and genuine apology for the sake of their public image.

The FHM apology was neither genuine nor sincere– and the public knows it.

Speaking of apologies, what do you think of the one Sandra Fluke received? Genuine– or not? Slate’s Prudence and Ron Paul don’t think so!

Let’s Have Fun With Sexism!

7 Feb

The Super Bowl on Sunday brought a lot of things into question– most notably, my loyalty to the Patriots after that fumbled pass, the humanity of Madonna (no 50 year old human can move like that!), and the public relations strategy of the website hosting company GoDaddy.com.

Okay, okay, we all expected some sexist Super Bowl ads. This is the one time of the year that giant corporations seem to think it’s okay to alienate half of the general population. From BestBuy commercials implying that the only technology inventors are white men to Fiat blurring the line between car and woman, this year’s commercials really were gems. But what shocked me about the GoDaddy commercial: Their horrible response to the public backlash.

From a brief glance at the fury on Twitter Monday morning, I saw that public response was overwhelmingly negative. In fact, a quick survey of the GoDaddy mentions show a ratio of roughly 13 negative tweets to every 1 supportive post. The angry tweeters threaten to move their accounts elsewhere, sarcastically thank GoDaddy for making them feel objectified, and question the company’s ethics.

The tweets that challenged GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad choice quickly gained popularity. Two of the three trending GoDaddy tweets Monday morning slammed the company for their sexist commercials:

“@RepresentPledge: Again, @godaddy, please hire a new creative team. We’re still #notbuyingit #superbowl.”

“@EugeneCho: Dear @GoDaddy: Your objectification and exploitation of women disgust[sic] me. #HopeAnElephantStompsAllOverYourServers”*

Well, I can’t say I feel sorry for GoDaddy. Their advertising agency should have learned from the now classic Crispin example— shock value might work to bring consumers to your site initially, but it lowers overall brand satisfaction and retention rates.

Furthermore, their ad strategy just doesn’t make sense. What demographic, besides the dazed 16 year old boys featured in their ad, would be interested in “seeing more” of the uncomfortably-close-to-pornography commercial? Who exactly are they trying to reach? The posts on Twitter show that dads and husbands are pretty equally offended by GoDaddy’s demeaning tactics.

A closer look at their Twitter management shows that they’re not really sure. In what appears to be a company coordinated response to the backlash, the official line seems to be “We just like to have fun.”

Besides sounding like a drunken frat guy’s excuse for coming onto his sister’s friend, GoDaddy’s preferred response has failed for two reasons. First of all, it feeds into the stereotype of the angry feminist. You know, that totally true idea that feminists don’t like to have fun, call every joke “inappropriate,” and prefer political correctness over all forms of entertainment. Because respecting other people’s humanity is so boring.

The thing is, no one is buying that stereotype anymore. Men and women know they can call someone out for being a jerk without sounding like an uptight fun-sucker. And the consumers responding to GoDaddy aren’t self-defined feminists– they’re just people who feel offended and alienated by the brand’s message. They’re reaching out to GoDaddy– and what does GoDaddy do? Insults them.

GoDaddy basically told unhappy customers:

 You were offended, insulted, and feel unimportant? Well that’s because you don’t know how to have fun! It’s not that we don’t get you– you don’t get us! Or really, humor in general. Fun-sucker! 

The second reason GoDaddy’s response failed is because it didn’t speak to the actual problem of the consumer. Good public relations means listening to your audience and responding to their needs. GoDaddy’s consumers said they felt insulted and undervalued. Instead of apologizing or recognizing the validity of their position, GoDaddy responded “We value our customers 100%”

Well, when the GoDaddy advertisements send a different message, can anyone blame customers for feeling lied to?


*The only positive trending tweet was sponsored by GoDaddy. I won’t bother quoting that here.

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