Crises are driven by perceptions, especially reputational crises (those crises whose primary effect is to damage a reputation). Corporations have and still do cross a line (violate expectations for appropriate behavior). We find this frequently in advertising where corporations pull an advertisement over complaints it is inappropriate, remember Motrin Moms in 2008. See my earlier post about faux pas for Pepsi and Shea Moisture.
Some faux pas are accidental while others are intentional and designed to attract attention to a brand or product. Calvin Klein purposefully offended people with ads going back to the 1980s and as recent as 2016. During that time Calvin Klein has crossed the line and suffered a backlash. Backlash is a risk and occurs when the negatives from the action outweigh the positives.
Celebrity PR often claims there is no such thing as bad publicity. Anything that gets attention is good. There are limits to this saying because there can be a backlash. Kathy Griffin is finding backlash from her controversial viral photo holding the severed head of Donald Trump. If you know Kathy Griffin you know here comedy pushes the boundary. But even she had to admit she had gone too far this time, along with controversial photographer Tyler Shields. Kathy Griffin’s apology can be found at this link.
From the posted reactions you can see her fans are often supportive. However, there is backlash in the form of sponsors. Squatty Potty and Unicorn Gold cancelled an advertising campaigns featuring Griffin. Negative publicity is bad when it starts to erode revenue. Kathy Griffin is seeing a hit to her revenue for this action.
Questions to Consider
1. What are the strong and the weak points of Kathy Griffin’s apology?
2. How does her background of insulting people hinder the apology effort?
3. How can Kathy Griffin draw upon fan support to weather the crisis?
4. What other crisis communication strategies might Kathy Griffin use in this situation?
5. How do crises differ for celebrities and for corporations?