Cindy Brugge

A Public Relations Student

Month: February, 2014

Is Corporate Support of Gay Marriage Good PR?

Gay rights is a major issue in American politics and makes its way into pop culture, personal perspectives and corporate views. In fact, Ellen Page’s coming out speech at the Human Rights Campaign conference inspired this blog post. It’s a part of our world and sometimes makes a splash in corporate communications. Many companies have stepped out to support or protest gay marriage over the years. Is this a good idea?

For a long time, the United States has focused enormous energy and attention to the issue of same sex marriage. In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. This action invalidated previous attempts to deny federal marriage benefits to same-sex married couples.

Shortly after this decision, the Queen of England granted royal assent to a same-sex marriage bill, which goes into effect in March 2014. This made England the 16th country to legalize gay marriage. Most of these countries are in Europe or the Americas and have taken this step in only the past decade.

International Right To Marry

However groundbreaking ending the DOMA was, it left many legal questions for gay couples. If the couple married in a state that allows same-sex marriage and moves to a state that doesn’t allow for same sex marriage, do their rights change? What about tax laws that don’t fall under the DOMA? Does this change affect bi-national couples? Should they receive an automatic visa if they have a US citizen for a spouse?

As a result of these questions, different lawsuits have arisen around the country about how federal law affects states’ attempts to stifle gay rights. Just before Valentine’s Day, a district court judge struck down the Virginia gay marriage ban. Other anti-gay-marriage laws are failing around the country, in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kentucky, as many judges agree that same-sex marriage should be recognized nationwide.

Those who don’t support same-sex marriage claim that forcing states to support an action that they find immoral is “tyranny.” After the ruling in Virginia, tweets showed some similar beliefs. Opinions like these remind America that although gay rights have experienced some victories, we are still an exceptionally divided country.

So the question arises: although same-sex marriage is gaining headway in the political arena, is it safe to openly support it? That’s a tough question. Following the overturning of DOMA, many companies, such as Apple, Google, Master Card and Starbucks, came out in favor of the action. These companies might be considered more obvious choices for liberal support of social issues. However, a public statement by Johnson & Johnson was a personal shocker. A company so intimately associated with family values would not normally be expected to publicly support such an issue. After looking at their PAC contributions, they don’t solely lean left; they also support conservative representatives. It is likely that their support came from personal beliefs, rather than partisan allegiance.

Johnson & Johnson

Is this smart for a company to do, when it comes to gay marriage? Chick-fil-A is another company that considers itself family friendly. However, they are well known for speaking out against same-sex marriage. This public relations disaster arose in 2012, after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said that we were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation” by trying to redefine marriage. The same Cathy tweeted a similar comment, when DOMA was struck down, saying that the founding fathers would be ashamed of these actions. The tweet was later deleted and Chick-fil-A released a statement. However, most people know that Chick-fil-A is not a gay friendly company. As a result, Chick-fil-A has received a lot of negative backlash from gay supporters, through picketing and boycotts.

Gay rights Chick Fil A

When a Sandleman & Associates survey said that use of the company was up 2.2%, an article in USA Today attributed this phenomenon to the old saying – “any PR is good PR.”

Is this true? I personally don’t think so. If you don’t have a strong opinion, don’t say anything that would isolate yourself from either party.

If you are going to say something, I would suggest support of same-sex marriage. Supporting gay rights is an acceptance-based perspective. By disagreeing with gay marriage, it can seem like an attempt to discriminate against a group of people for their sexual orientation. By supporting their desires, a corporation can be showing them acceptance and acknowledgement, rather than detestation and distance.

Plus – honestly, at this point, anti-gay protesters are fighting a losing battle. Although the nation is divided, the majority is in support of gay marriage. Don’t fight from a losing position. Be on the winning team or stay neutral.

Sidenote: No harm intended to Chick-fil-A. I eat there all the time and I have nothing against the company.

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#SochiProblems? More like a Sochi Disaster…

Before the Olympics began, we were already worried about the host city, Sochi, Russia. First, reports of the anti-gay laws led to concerns of Olympic interference. Would it affect guests of the games? Should gay athletes boycott? After that uproar quieted, rumors of terrorist threats leaked out and again the world worried about the fate of the Sochi Olympics. At this point, I thought it impossible to hear more bad news before the games began. However, a week before the opening ceremonies, Twitter blew up with photos and reports of living conditions in Sochi. Tweets featuring #SochiProblems were making their way around the world with photos depicting a city not prepared for thousands of tourists. Now, only two weeks later, @SochiProblems has nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter. Although the actual competitions have gone fairly well, these initial snafus might be more memorable than the medals won. It makes one wonder, “Was it a PR mistake to bring the Olympics to Sochi?

Major sports tournaments, like the World Cup and the Olympics, are an opportunity to bring international attention to a country. For each Olympics, countries bid for the opportunity to host the games. The battle for this honor is very competitive because many countries recognize how much money they can bring in with tourism during the games. However, for smaller and sometimes overlooked countries it is also an opportunity to say, “Hi guys! I do still exist.”

I believe this is the case for Sochi. As a typical American young woman, I don’t view Russia with warm and fuzzy feelings. Here’s what comes to mind when I think of Russia:

  1. Vodka: Did you know that “one in five men die from alcohol related causes”?
  2. Ice-cold, ass-freezing snow: It’s really cold there. Really really cold.
  3. The Cold War: I just imagine KGB spies with thick accents plotting against America.
  4. Speaking of Russian accents… They may not actually hate all Americans but their accents scare me so badly that I am convinced that they do.
  5. Great Russian Literature and Cinema: These beautiful stories like Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago paint a cruel world that lovers must overcome. The setting is usually really snowy and in the middle of a government crisis.

By bringing the Olympics to Sochi, I believe that the Russian government was aiming to bring out international excitement for its country. If the rest of the world is anything like me, then it’s going to be a big leap because I am genuinely afraid of Russia. However, the Russian government hasn’t just begun with the Olympics. They have been taking steps toward image recovery for quite some time and they are doing pretty well.

Russian President Putin is known for his attempts to bring Russia back into the international arena. His actions have definitely not been overlooked. With Syrian issues and the Edward Snowden crisis, Americans especially have noticed him flexing his political muscles. In fact, he was named Forbes #1 Most Powerful Person of 2013. He has made moves to claim power for his country, and as they rise to power he has also worked to create positive public relations for the country. Therefore, hosting the Winter Olympics was a major boost to his plan to launch Russia into success.

After winning the bid, the Russian government took to preparing Sochi for the mass influx of people. The estimated $50 billion spent makes this the most expensive Olympic games in history. Sochi went from a nearly third world country to an Olympic destination.

sochi before and after 2

This is a before and after photo of Sochi,
taken from Business Insider.

In the process millions were spent, but the final product was far from what was expected by Western reporters. Weeks before the games, as journalists began arriving, the world got a taste of what to expect at the games. Pictures of yellowed tap water and incomplete portions of construction in hotels covered social media.

yellow

These photos were endless and unbelievable to Americans, who expect better of some of our lowest quality hotels. It immediately shattered any illusion of the up-and-coming world power that Russia claims to be. The hashtag, #SochiProblems, became so popular that it was all that we were seeing of the country. This great public relations opportunity had proven to be possibly the biggest waste of $50 billion in the world.

In response to our tweets, there was talk of #SochiProblems pointing out a bigger problem in the west. Some Russians say that western delight in the issues facing Russia was unacceptable and insensitive. They said that this “malicious glee” poked fun of the daily lifestyle of many Russians.

Regardless if it seemed like it’s just westerners making cruel jokes, #SochiProblems has highlighted the real problems in Russia. It emphasized how disturbing and chaotic the building process was. One article explained that many of the problems came from poor working conditions. Many Russians would work and when they didn’t receive a paycheck they would understandably desert the project. However, new unemployed workers were just waiting to take their place. With a constant shift of untrained workers, many of the projects were poorly directed and the final product was incomplete.

So, the question arises. Was it enough to just bring attention to Russia? Will it improve their international standing, by being in the public eye? Or, have social problems in Sochi reiterated the country as a distant location that’s cold, unpleasant and inhospitable to strangers?

It’s a question that doesn’t exactly have an answer. Was it bad for the country? Probably not. Far worse disasters have overcome Olympic games in the past. Was it a good decision? Not necessarily. It has left a considerable amount of debt and many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of a Russian vacation. However, it may have created some nationalistic pride within the country and generated further support for Putin. All in all? It’s a toss up. We will just have to wait and see how it pans out for the country.

Ungodly Costs of Advertising Should Be Cut (or Be Repurposed for a Worthy Cause): A Super Bowl Ad Critique

In line with the rest of America, this week’s blog is obviously going to rant about something relating to the biggest event in my house; the Super Bowl. My dad, a father to three girls, takes every opportunity to tout his masculinity to the “nth” degree. So, when February comes around, he buys 30 pounds of beef for a barbecue and invites his friends over for a day of eating and yelling at the television screen. I refuse to take part in the event, but I did cave this year for my beloved Bruno at half time. Normally, I won’t even watch the commercials.

This year, I was lucky because most of the commercials made it online before the game, and the best Super Bowl commercial wasn’t even aired during the game. If you haven’t taken the time to watch the Newcastle Brown Ale commercial, stop reading right now and go check it out!

Now that we’re all on the same page, we can all agree that the Newcastle strategy was entertainingly clever. They picked a very trendy but relatable actress, who’s known for her quirky, quips in interviews. If you’ve ever seen her in an interview, you might feel like she helped them write this script. Plus, the closing shot of the beer is just enough irony to really make the commercial perfect.

It’s funny that the Super Bowl has become more about the advertisements than anything else. Companies invest oodles of our moola into convincing us to spend more money. For this exact reason, Newcastle designed their entire advertising strategy around this ridiculous reality. Before the brand released the hilarious ad staring Kendrick, they shared a few other tidbits of comic genius such as a “Teaser for Newcastle’s Mega huge football Game Ad,” videos with a mock focus group and a few other ingenious videos. To harp on their parody, one video even says, “Get ready for some marketing!”

To further exploit the cheap advertising alternative, Newcastle jumped on the other “free” marketing bandwagon – social media. Three days before the Super Bowl, Kendrick tweeted, “Newcastle paid me to tweet about an ad they didn’t make. It’s a weird time people.” With the video attached, the tweet went viral – totaling nearly 3,000 retweets to date.

Although I think Newcastle was the reigning champ this year, they weren’t the only ones to create an inexpensive marketing campaign that caught millions of eyes. Other companies, such as J.C. Penney and Esurance, jumped into this low budget forum for capitalizing on the Super Bowl traffic. With nearly 25 million tweets in the four-hour time period of the game, many brands were able to reach out to their followers with creative social media strategies. It seems that young people enjoy this interaction just as much as the multi-million dollar advertisements. Personally, I find it much MORE entertaining and I respect the corporate thriftiness.

I think this trend is going to start popping up more and more in the future. I’ve seen this creative alternative to traditional ads in other avenues. For example, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty advertising budget facilitated a very cool opportunity for Indie Filmmaker Casey Neistat. Twentieth Century Fox offered him $25,000 to produce a promo video with the mantra “live your dreams.” With this massive ad budget, Neistat spent the money to provide supplies and meals to thousands of Filipino typhoon victims. His team recorded the effort and created a touching video. This alternative option to advertising reminded me of how incredibly large the budgets are for marketing and how it can be used otherwise. It still effectively marketed the movie, but it made the viewer believe in something good again. It’s this creativity that I hope to see in the future because, honestly, there’s just no need to spend $4 million to produce a 30-second advertisement.