Awareness is a simple concept. I’m talking awareness of everything from considering how people will react to marketing messages, to timing, to public disasters and everything in between.

Weigh risks vs. laughs

Electrolux is a Swedish company that’s been around for 100 years. Its original product was the Lux-branded vacuum cleaner. In the 1960s, they successfully sold vacuums throughout the United Kingdom with the slogan, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

This slogan is frequently held out as a PR blunder. However, according to Wikipedia, the American slang meaning for the word “sucks” was well known in the UK during that time. Their ad agency intended the double entendre would attract attention. More than 40 years later the slogan is still being talked about.

How not to give an apology

In the spring of 2013, Lululemon, a yoga and athletic clothing company, was forced to recall its popular Luon pants due to “sheerness.” About 17 percent of the pants were pulled off the market after customers complained they were see-through. It was a costly manufacturing problem.

Fast forward several months later. Founder Chip Wilson sat down for an interview on Bloomberg TV’s “Street Smart” program. When asked about the product recall, Wilson gave a jaw-dropping answer blaming women’s thighs instead of the sheerness of material.

“Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work,” Wilson explained. “It’s more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time – how much they use it.”

A few days later, Wilson attempted damage control by posting an apology on Lululemon’s YouTube account.

Standing with eyes that appear moist his voice shakes. It’s 53-seconds of failure to specifically address any of his controversial comments.

“Hello, I’m Chip Wilson. I’m founder of Lululemon Athletica. I’d like to talk to you today about the last few days of media that’s occurred around the Bloomberg interview. I’m sad. I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions. I’m sad for the people at Lululemon, who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this. ... For all of you that have made Lululemon what it is today, I ask you to stay in a conversation that is above the fray. I ask you to prove that the culture that you have built cannot be chipped away. Thank you.”

Timing is everything

In August 2017, Airbnb launched its “floating world” campaign with an email. It included a photo of a houseboat floating on the water. The text read: “How to spend a day – or an entire trip – without touching dry land. Your next adventure starts here.”

No doubt they had worked on the campaign several months prior. There was just one problem. Hurricane Harvey was in the middle of wreaking havoc throughout Texas and Louisiana.

Airbnb issued a prompt apology.

“The timing of this email marketing campaign was insensitive and we apologize for that,” Christopher Nulty, an Airbnb spokesman, told Quartz in an email. “We continue to keep everyone affected by Harvey and all the first responders and their families in our thoughts.”

They also enacted their “disaster response” program to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The program connects emergency relief workers with local Airbnb hosts who offer their homes for free.

Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations and marketing consultant. She can be contacted through her website, www.buschermarketing.com.

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