3 crisis lessons from Skittles’ refugee tweet response

The VP for the brand’s parent company was applauded for her tempered statement amid the firestorm over Donald Trump Jr.’s analogy. Here’s what you can learn.

Sometimes, you can’t see a crisis coming.

PR and marketing pros at Skittles probably didn’t think to prepare for a political debate—but that’s exactly what the candy brand was recently thrust into.

On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted an image using Skittles as an analogy to Syrian refugees to promote his father’s presidential campaign:

Twitter users lashed out with snark, and Advertising Age reported that the candy garnered more than 30,000 mentions by Monday night.

It took only a few hours for Skittles to issue a response. Denise Young, vice president of corporate affairs for Skittles’ parent company, Wrigley Americas, issued the following succinct statement:

Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.

Many Twitter users applauded the response with “likes” and retweets:

Others praised the brand’s move, and #SkittlesWelcome trended on Tuesday:

So, what can you learn from Skittles? Here are a few lessons in turning the tide when your brand is blindsided by controversy:

1. Acting fast will never go out of fashion.

Act fast—but think before you tweet. DigiDay tweeted the following:

PR and marketing pros must act fast in a time when content is constantly churned out and crises can blow up in a matter of minutes. However, you should always choose the best response based on your organization’s voice and the situation at hand.

2. Witticisms are nice, but it’s more important to be real.

The perfect zinger is a sight to behold, but it’s not always appropriate. Consumers want to see the human side of organizations—and that includes statements delivered without jargon or sidestepping.

By addressing the issue, Skittles clearly stated its position head on but refused to spend time arguing or making political declarations. If you’re a PR or marketing pro facing a similar quandary, consider getting serious with your audience. They’ll appreciate your measured response.

3. It’s easy to get caught up in marketing ploys—sometimes to your detriment.

A smart tweet, snap or Facebook post can garner thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of views by potential customers, so it’s easy to see why brand managers are tempted to jump on trending topics with a sassy reply or seemingly clever picture.

Marketers and social media managers also pile on social media platforms for holidays as well as events such as “Star Wars” day and National Doughnut Day, hoping to attract attention (and headlines).

However, silence can be golden in a time when consumers are bombarded with marketing messages for every large event and trend. Keeping mum is also welcome, in contrast to making a misstep online (as DiGiorno did in 2014). This is especially true when your organization is mentioned in connection with a negative comment or story.

With only 29 words, Skittles distanced itself from Trump Jr.’s remarks—and by continuing its social media schedule, gave consumers no fodder to use against it.

What lessons would you add to the list, Ragan readers?

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