Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Aflac Quacks the Social Media Code

     By now you've probably heard about Gilbert Gottfried and the Aflac duck.  For those who missed it, Gottfried was the distinctive voice of AFFFFFLLLAAAAACCCCCC! for more than a decade.  Sadly, the loud-mouthed comedian tweeted some insensitive "jokes" in the aftermath of Japan's horrific earthquake/tsunami.  (I won't repeat the jokes.  If you need to read them you can find them yourself on the internet.) Talk about tone deaf- a massive tragedy isn't something to joke about.  For what it's worth, Gottfried later used Twitter to apologize.  As it turns out, Aflac does big business in Japan- so it was no surprise when Gottried was fired.  Thanks to those entertaining commercials you probably know Aflac insurance is for people who are hurt and can't work.  Ironically, Gottfried has hurt himself and he's not working at Aflac anymore.

     But that's not the point.  What's noteworthy is how Aflac is using social media to make lemonade out of Gottfried's raspberries.  The Aflac duck has its own Twitter page- @aflacduck which includes a link to raise money for Japanese quake/tsunami victims. The insurance giant is also holding an open casting call- to find a replacement duck voice-over artist.  Clever.   This is getting a lot of attention in the media.  A quick glance on-line reveals stories in dozens of media outlets- from ABC News to As they say, it's the kind of press you just can't buy.  Aflac invites everyone to "take a Quack at it" (being its spokes-duck).  You can apply at and at Monster too.  Here are the directions courtesy of Aflac:

"How would the Duck sound- informative, frustrated, happy, surprised, angry?
Feel free to add grunts, groans, and mutterings,
but no words other than "Aflac.
Include whatever you think
the Duck should sound like.
Be creative and show us if you've got
what it takes to be the next Aflac Duck."

     Published reports say Aflac has already gotten more than 28,000 applications.  Casting calls will be held Thursday (March 31) and Friday (April 1) in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Austin.  You can also send an audio file directly to Aflac.  Do you suppose any TV cameras might be invited to those auditions?  Film at 11:00.  And get this: Aflac's Facebook page is now liked by 242,184 people.  Out of curiosity, I checked some other insurance companies.  State Farm Insurance has 67,512 Facebook likes.  Allstate Insurance has 27,301.  And talk about putting it all together- a recent Aflac tweet directs people to Aflac's Facebook page- where they'll be posting audio of some duck voice audition finalists.

     Lessons Learned:

1) Tragedies are not humorous.  Seriously.
2) Social media can reach a large audience quickly- but as Gilbert Gottfried found out that can be a really bad thing.
3) Social media mistakes can and will happen as we all learn to handle this ever-changing technology.
4) Aflac could have been frustrated, surprised and angry by Gottfried's unfunny attempts at humor.
5) Instead, Aflac saw an opportunity in disguise- and it's called social media.
6) Creative crisis management can help "insure" your company's reputation.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

PR Fallout From Japan - An Extreme Case of Crisis Management

    The tragic chain events in Japan has opened up a Pandora's box of public relations troubles.  Is Japan's government telling victims what they need to know?  Is there too much confusion?  Is there a crisis management plan? Or are Japan's leaders simply overwhelmed by the multiple disasters?  Realistically, It's hard to know what's happening in the midst of chaos.  Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has emerged as a prominent spokesperson.  His name is a global trending topic on Twitter.  But some critics also question whether Edano is telling the truth.  I've seen some interviews with Japanese quake/tsunami/nuclear victims who don't know whether to trust what the government is telling them.  What could Japan do better?  I think, given the scope of the disaster, this remains an open question.

     The Nuclear issue has to rank as the greatest challenge in terms of PR.  Every day there's a new report about radiation spikes.  Increased radiation levels in spinach, milk and tap water has a lot of Japanese people worried.  A report in the Christian Science Monitor indicates that public support for nuclear power has fallen sharply.  A Gallup Poll taken last March showed that 62% of Americans supported nuclear energy.  Today, a USA Today/Gallup survey shows that support dropping to 44%.

     Early on, Japan recommended evacuations for residents living within a 12 mile radius of the damaged reactors.  But at the same time U.S. officials were warning Americans living within 50-miles to move.  Is the U.S. being more cautious or is Japan downplaying the dangers- perhaps to avoid sparking mass hysteria?

     News outlets are running lots of stories questioning the safety of nuclear plants in the United States.  What if it happened here?  I'm sure it's no coincidence that The Today Show was given an "unprecedented" look inside a nuclear plant in Louisiana.  Operators told The Today Show their plant was extremely safe.  At the end of the story, reporter Tom Costello pointed out that his radiation monitor registered a zero- no radiation exposure despite his being taken to the area where spent nuclear rods are stored.  Balance that against a new Associated Press report-  revealing there are nearly 72,000 tons of radioactive nuclear waste in the United States.  And there is no plan to store that waste permanently.  We're told nuclear waste can remain dangerous for years- tens of thousands of years.

     As the tragedy in Japan unfolds the nuclear industry may have to grapple with even more negative news reports. There are sure to be renewed calls for greater scrutiny, better safety measures- and even the end of nuclear power.  Obviously, the industry is working hard to give reporters its side of the story.  But I'm not sure if I see a "Crisis Management" plan at work.  If American nuclear plants are safer than plants in Japan- that could be the focus of a major PR campaign.  The nuclear industry may also need to take concrete action.  It may be time to come up with a plan to dispose of all that radioactive waste.  If plants can be made safer- perhaps now is a good time to address the issue.  I think the people in charge of the nuclear energy  industry need to be proactive.  If U.S. plants are safe, those executives need to help Americans understand we are not facing unnecessary- and unknown- risks.  It's clear that everyone in Japan knows the risks are very real indeed.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jennifer Aniston's Sex Tape Goes Viral

     Forget about Friends.  Jennifer Aniston is getting noticed for her performance in an entirely different arena.  Not surprisingly, the racy title is not entirely accurate.  Jennifer's sex tape is less about sex than it is about going viral.

    You might have noticed that Aniston is the face of a marketing campaign for smartwater- a company that sells upscale bottled water.  On its web site smartwater proclaims itself, and I quote, "the water with all the answers... a zero calorie, vapor distilled, electrolyte-enhanced water."  (So you know it's good!).

     The JAST (Jennifer Aniston Sex Tape) was made with one singular mission- to go viral.  I'm not sure that I believe it myself, but YouTube says JAST has pulled a staggering 5,053,172 views since it was posted on March 7th.

     How, you may ask, did smartwater attract so much attention?  Here's the recipe.  Take one bottle of water, add one attractive and irreverent pitchwoman, and then make fun of all the viral videos you've seen in the past.  As I mentioned, it's all done with the brazen intention of going viral.  There are puppies, (lots and lots of puppies) dancing babies, dirty dancing (don't ask), and notably, Jennifer Aniston kicking a man in the crotch. The actual video appears below.

  And now you know why this really is called The Jennifer Aniston Sex Tape.  JAST has already been written up in the New York Daily News, Huffingtonpost, CBS News, etc. etc., and almost every on-line piece includes a link to the video (see above).  It would seem that smartwater is the toast of the viral town.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Celebrity-Style Public Relations - What Charlie Sheen Can Teach Us About Personal Branding

   I really wanted to write a negative spiel about Charlie Sheen- it's just so bizarre.  Forgetting, for a moment, his recurring drug/alcohol/anger issues... This is a guy who lives with not one, but two, young girlfriends he calls "goddesses".  And Sheen is now embroiled in a child custody dispute.  On top of that, Charlie's essentially been kicked out of his $1.8 million per episode TV sitcom job. Sheen's been spouting off about the "Tiger Blood" running through his veins and says he's addicted to "Winning" (whatever that means).  Is it any wonder that Charlie's publicist just quit?

     But wait a minute.  I just googled Charlie Sheen and he's at the top of the charts with a bullet.  A couple of days ago, Sheen joined the Twitterverse.  His profile states, and I quote, 

"Born Small... Now Huge... Winning... Bring it...! (unemployed winner...)"

     And he's apparently set the record for attracting one million followers in just 25 hours and 17 minutes.  As I write this Mr. Sheen has 1,587,548 friends.  For the record, that number includes me.  I sent Charlie a tweet asking for comment.  I'm still waiting.  But with enough friends to fill every major league baseball stadium it may take Charlie a little while to get back to me.  (By my count the total seating for MLB ballparks is 1,309,961)  Oddly enough, Charlie has only friended 26 of his followers.  I hope he adds my name to the short list- because this blog post really needs a comment from that Tiger-blooded bad-boy actor.

     A lot of people are convinced that Charlie is a total psycho- and he just may be one.  But there's no doubt that he's a genius at generating PR buzz.  He's appeared live on NBC's today show almost every day this week.  I imagine People Magazine is working on a special edition featuring a "Charlie Angels" centerfold.  As I understand it, Sheen may turn the twitter thing into an advertising-based revenue stream.  Everybody is talking about Charlie.  Everybody has an opinion.  His Q-rating is taking off.  Maybe Charlie doesn't need a publicist after all.

     And for those of you keeping score at home it took me about 90 minutes to research and write this post.  Most of that time was spent adding up the seating capacity for all those ballparks.  And in that 90 minutes, Charlie Sheen's list of Twitter friends rose to 1,598,687.  That's an increase of 11,139.  By any standard those numbers are P.R.  Pretty Ridiculous.

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