It’s not always a good thing to be featured in a viral video.
Yeti is known for its expensive coolers, apparel and gear targeted at outdoors enthusiasts (many of which also support the National Rifle Association). The company was the subject of a recent press release published by the NRA’s lobbying division, the Institute for Legislative Action, which quickly created a PR crisis for Yeti.
After airlines, rental car agencies and other companies cut ties with the National Rifle Association, popular cooler maker Yeti has joined the list. That’s according to a letter from a prominent NRA lobbyist claiming the Texas-based brand has ceased doing business with the NRA Foundation, the gun lobby’s charitable arm.
“Suddenly, without prior notice, YETI has declined to do business with the NRA Foundation, saying they no longer wish to be an NRA vendor and refused to say why,” Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, wrote in a letter posted Saturday to an NRA site. “They will only say they will no longer sell products to The NRA Foundation.
“That certainly isn’t sportsmanlike. In fact, YETI should be ashamed. They have declined to continue helping America’s young people enjoy outdoor recreational activities.”
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Yeti has been quick to refute the statements in the press release.
On Monday, Yeti tweeted a statement that called the NRA’s statement “inaccurate” and said the company was “unwavering” in its commitment to the Second Amendment:
— YETI (@YETICoolers) April 23, 2018
Yeti also posted the statement on its Facebook page:
In its statement, Yeti said:
A few weeks ago, YETI notified the NRA Foundation, as well as a number of other organizations, that we were eliminating a group of outdated discounting programs. When we notified the NRA Foundation and the other organizations of this change, YETI explained that we were offering them an alternative customization program broadly available to consumers and organizations, including the NRA Foundation. These facts directly contradict the inaccurate statement the NRA-ILA distributed on April 20.
Though both social media posts have been shared thousands of times—and Yeti has received some positive feedback—many social media users replied to the company’s statement with more criticism.
However, that’s only part of the backlash Yeti is currently facing online.
Many consumers are calling for a boycott of the company. One social media user, Brian Atkinson, posted a video on Facebook of him blowing up his Yeti cooler in protest, which has been viewed more than 2,600 times:
Atkinson isn’t the only consumer to call for a boycott or post a video desecrating his cooler, either.
But the damage had already been done, and NRA supporters had taken to destroying Yeti coolers in a variety of explosive ways. Some filled the cooler with Tannerite explosive rifle targets and, like Atkinson, shot it and blew it up in a field. Others shot holes through the stainless steel Yeti tumblers in their backyard or basements. One man crushed a Yeti tumbler in a vise.
Snopes.com—a fact-checking website known for confirming or refuting rumors, currently lists the claim that Yeti dropped the NRA as a “mixture” of truth and false facts. Part of the reason for that is the additional response by NRA-LI’s Hammer—and the lack of an additional response by Yeti.
The Washington Post reported:
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post Monday night, Hammer said that it was “news to us” that Yeti dropped not only the NRA Foundation from the discount program but also other organizations.
“After three days Yeti issued a statement claiming they didn’t really drop the NRA Foundation,” she said. “They claim they simply eliminated the entire program affecting NRA Foundation and other unnamed organizations. Isn’t that like eliminating a job position so you can get rid of an employee?”
She added that “Yeti decided the NRA Foundation can’t place any more orders and in fact they forced us to cancel orders they would not fill.”
A representative for Yeti did not immediately respond to questions from The Post seeking a reaction to Hammer’s comments.
Yeti is the most recent organization to face a PR crisis over its actions and statements involving the NRA. In February, Metlife, Enterprise and other organizations severed ties and stopped discount programs with the NRA. Other organizations, such as FedEx and Delta, sought to strike a balance between NRA-supporting consumers and others calling for the brands to take a stand against the association.
What’s unique about Yeti’s situation is that the organization remains staunch in its statements supporting the Second Amendment, denying the NRA’s statements. Instead, the brand was launched into a PR crisis due to an NRA press release—thereby showing it wasn’t ahead of the news—and then further falling behind as additional news outlets published headlines stating that Yeti had cut ties with the NRA.
So, what should you do if your organization faces a similar threat?
Stay ahead of the news as much as you can. This includes issuing your own statements, via press release, a company blog post or social media posts, before a group with an opposing interest beats you to the punch.
Whether you’re the first to make a statement or are reacting to backlash, be as proactive as possible when interacting with reporters and social media users. Share your side of the stories with reporters as quickly as possible and then offer them either additional statements, answers or a spokesman when necessary.
With social media users, publish your statement and address any large concerns individually, as your team can handle. Determine beforehand which types of online criticism you will reply to, so your team doesn’t make a crisis worse by arguing with trolls or detractors.
How would you suggest Yeti proceed with its crisis response?