Reebok’s Diversity Fail: A Lesson In Brand Management
The famous line in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”, is quite apt in today’s digital world where everything is connected, 24×7!
With the rise of social media, everything you say or do is put under intense scrutiny by people you wouldn’t even know. Your reputation, both personal and professional is at stake and the same goes for brands, big or small!
A simple tweet on a pressing issue often boils over with hate comments or a wardrobe malfunction during a live on-stage performance by a celebrity is quickly shared across various platforms and media. With media houses constantly going head over heels in search of sensational news, the time is now gone where renowned brands could only rely on the quality and selling of their products. This is why Brand Management and other branding strategies have come into existence from the last decade onwards.
One of the biggest and hottest topics over brand management failure is about Beyonce and Reebok’s diversity fail. More to the point, Reebok’s lack of social listening and (mis)handling of the situation makes it a classic text-book example.
Here’s What Happened
On ESPN’s Sports Talk Show hosted by Rachel Nichols, ESPN writer and blogger, Nick DePaula apparently talked about “a great story” where he mentioned how Beyonce walked out of Reebok’s meeting and teamed up with Adidas to design clothing and shoes to expand her Ivy Park line after witnessing a lack of diversity in Reebok’s team.
According to DePaula, Beyonce allegedly said, “Nobody in this room reflects my background, my skin color, and where I’m from and what I want to do.”.
Right after the show, his statement caught all kinds of controversies, which lead to a division of two groups. However, no official justifications were provided by Beyonce or her PR team.
To falsify media reports and redeem their position back in the system Reebok denied DePaula’s statement saying, “The report that Beyoncé walked out of a meeting with Reebok due to lack of diversity is categorically false.” They further added to their statement mentioning “Our discussions with Beyoncé and her team continued for several months after our initial meeting. We are disappointed that false information is being reported as fact”.
This laid back response from Reebok didn’t just make its audience disappointed but also received criticism from media and other branding agencies for not being upfront about their stand and not taking any further steps to vindicate themselves, even though the entire thing was false as Beyonce never made such a statement.
Social media platforms have become a tool for customers/audiences to directly interact with a brand. Imagine, the flood of criticism for Reebok in their own DM.
Brands have to toe a fine line between being creative and not coming across as being politically incorrect. We have seen various brands managing crises like a boss, yet many still fail.
Here are a few basics a company can do to maintain their brand standing and cope with any crisis that may arise:
- Be prepared for a crisis: Your competition keeps a keen eye on you 24/7, which also includes popular media houses keeping a check on what you do with your product. This leaves brands with negligible room to commit mistakes. In this case, you can always prepare your team to stand firm and have a blueprint to be followed in the case of any negative press, unlike what Reebok had done. Giving a formal statement to a media house in your favor is not necessarily a smart strategy.
- Apologies never go in vain: As a well-known or an international brand, you are constantly answerable toward the society and consumers. Therefore, even if you unintentionally hurt the sentiments of an individual or a group via your advertisements or activities, you must actively apologize or present your viewpoint in a concise and fitting manner.
- Strong social media presence: Everybody’s a social media buff today and you can connect well with your audience through these platforms. Engage your target audiences with fun memes, interactive posts and while you do this, you have just earned a fan who can prove to be your advocate whenever you’re in crisis.
- Brawny comeback: Comeback can never be underestimated. Mistakes are inevitable when it comes to brands and their branding strategies. What can be done is to rectify the error by taking immediate action and you might end up winning more hearts than what you lost in the first place. What Reebok could have done after giving a public justification was to take action against the false statement by showcasing their sponsorship, support for people of color and highlighting they are the sister brand of Adidas.
One of the greatest comebacks ever seen was of Starbucks in 2018, where CEO Schultz pulled off one of the biggest blunders a brand can ever come across by quickly apologizing and taking all the responsibility of their actions.
A famous quote featured in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” has become a mantra of yesterday. In this existing realm, the exceeding volatile nature of audiences has become a thing to give a thought upon and must be taken with sheer care.