A couple of news items caught our attention this week. The first was the social media furore which kicked off on Monday when two teenage girls, dressed in leggings, were prevented from boarding a United Airlines flight. They were stopped at the gate where another passenger, listening in on the conversation, decided that this was offensive and released a tweet which quickly went viral. This set off a storm of negative criticism of United. In fact, the girls were flying for free because they were related to a United employee. Those who are signed up to this privilege have to abide by a dress code which includes “no leggings”. Ms Watts, the author of the tweet, was unaware of this and had thought that the girls were normal passengers.
The other news item was about the ad that featured TV star and model Kendall Jenner handing a Pepsi to a police officer at a protest. The generous act was supposed to project a message of peace and understanding between the protestors and the law enforcers. However, as soon as the ad appeared on Tuesday, the vitriolic criticisms flooded in. Pepsi was accused of appropriating civil rights protests to sell their evil soda.
What has all this got to do with us in business to business marketing? It seems to us that these two items are a huge reminder of how sometimes, inconsequential things or subjects that we don’t think are that important, can bite us in the bum. United had a dress code for people travelling on free passes which got turned against them, positioning them as thoughtless bullies. Pepsi, who had probably tested the ad to death, got caught up in the game called “let’s attack the big corporates who are trying to manipulate us for their own gains”.
It is a reminder that everything we do, everything we say, is now under scrutiny. It doesn’t matter how careful we are in thinking that we have things under control, there is always something or someone ready to destabilise us. And the vehicle which is used to do this is social media. No matter how vigilant we are, it is sure to catch us out one day. It means that we have to be prepared with our first aid kit for fixing media storms. Let’s hope that we business to business companies are a little less visible to the mischievous tweeters. But you never know; have that first aid kid handy, just in case.