Few companies have faced the type of public relations backlash that SeaWorld has endured since 2013.
Now, as the company faces plummeting attendance, declining stock prices and a new round of bad press, it’s going on offense with a new “SeaWorld Cares: You Ask, We Answer” campaign.
One could argue the backlash started with the 2010 death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by the captive orca Tilikum. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” blamed Brancheau’s death on the stress caused by Tilikum’s captivity.
Now, one of the trainers that appeared in “Blackfish,” John Hargrove, is set to release his take on SeaWorld’s practices in a book titled “Beneath the Surface.” Hargrove has been making the rounds to publicize the book, including appearances on NPR and “The Daily Show,” which are sure to drum up more negative press for SeaWorld.
The website RealJohnHargrove.com aims to discredit his book. The organization Awesome Ocean, which The Orlando Sentinel reports “has received startup funding from SeaWorld,” launched the site.
SeaWorld’s campaign is somewhat similar to the recent McDonald’s campaign that encouraged customers to ask tough questions in a ploy to appear transparent. The tactic didn’t exactly work for McDonald’s.
The company launched AskSeaWorld.com, which is, a representative told The Orlando Sentinel, “a one-stop shop for people who have questions about what we are and what we do.”
Previously, the brand has been responding to negative comments on social media by sending users to a website that refutes many claims that “Blackfish” makes.
SeaWorld’s current campaign also includes a print ad that claims its captive orcas have a similar lifespan to those in the wild. Its “Meet the Animals” ad series features SeaWorld’s wildlife, and the brand claims that vocally anti-SeaWorld organization PETA “gets a lot of attention by twisting statistics and falsely attacking us.”
In this era of corporate responsibility, it’s clear that this is a critical time for SeaWorld. It can make all the claims it wants, but facts are facts. And in this case, the facts supporting a “SeaWorld is bad” narrative are much more compelling than the story that SeaWorld is shilling.
This campaign is risky for SeaWorld. By directly acknowledging and refuting negative claims in your marketing materials, you run the risk of calling out the negative thing that turned off people from your brand initially.
What’s that, you say? Some people don’t think McDonald’s uses real meat? If they’re going to these lengths to prove their meat is real, there must be something amiss.
It’s the same with SeaWorld. Just as logic tells you that manufacturing millions of chicken nuggets will lead you to cut a few corners, it’s obvious to anyone with a conscience that a whale would rather live in the ocean than a swimming pool.
SeaWorld pushing the “we’re not the bad guy” message all but places a rubber stamp on the fact that it is, indeed, the bad guy.