Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can Pork Producers Win Their ‘H1N1’ vs. ‘Swine Flu’ Crisis Communications Quest?

Let’s take a quick break from all our hand washing and cough covering to note the crisis communications case study in action that is the swine flu outbreak.

Excuse me, I mean the “H1N1 virus,” as industry groups for the other white meat would greatly prefer we call it. In one of the most interesting aspects of this saga from a marketing perspective, pork producers are struggling to save their products from panic and misinformation.

No, pork producers didn’t cause this crisis. But they certainly risk taking a sales hit due to the fast-spreading bug’s potentially misleading common name. So the National Pork Board is wise to be tackling the problem aggressively.

We’ll go ahead and call it H1N1 here, but the odds may be against them winning this name game (although the Obama administration appears to be on board). Today, the chatter about the outbreak is spreading incredibly fast through social media, Internet searches and 3G phones. The virtual masses are guiding that conversation, and ultimately, they’ll call it what they call it. Swine flu.

It’s just another cautionary tale demonstrating why crisis communications planning is more important and more complicated than ever.

And since we have a client that makes some of the finest swine products in the world, we want to help the pork people out. To set the record straight, you can’t get H1N1 from eating pork. In fact, I just enjoyed a hot dog for lunch. Then, because President Obama and the CDC reminded me to do so, I washed my hands.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Harley-Davidson Talks Tough in the New York Times

Here’s an update on the recent struggles at Harley-Davidson, an American icon based in our hometown. Harley’s sales may have tumbled lately—and whose haven’t?—but the brand is still showing some mettle, as a recent dustup with The New York Times demonstrates.

A week or so ago, the NYT ran a piece headlined “Harley, You’re Not Getting Any Older.” It wasn’t a hatchet job by any stretch. But it did paint the future in dark colors, emphasizing the usual criticism that Harley’s core customers, baby boomers, won’t be in the market forever, and so the company needs to find a way to lure new blood.

Well, some people at Harley didn’t think they got a fair shake in the article. So, a few days later, they ran a big ad in an American flag design, with the provocative headline “You can file our obituary where the sun don’t shine.” You can read more about Harley’s advertising response here.

Now, you can say what you want about the logic of responding to a piece of journalism you disagree with by buying ad space in the publication that ran it. You also might take issue with the ad’s tone. Something about the in-your-face, red-white-and-blue attitude plays like 1987. In other words, the ad may appeal mostly to the baby boomer audience Harley needs to reach beyond.

Nevertheless, our local bike maker has a good point. As we’ve noted before, the company has been making moves and trying new things to cultivate new fans. These things take time, especially for a brand as well established as Harley’s is.

In the meantime, this playful advertising volley has earned plenty of additional coverage and conversation. And at its heart, the message is true to the rebellious, resilient image. On balance, that’s surely a win.