Another Social Media Fail – Brought to you (Again) by Malaysia Airlines

It’s a given that 2014 has been a very bad year for Malaysia Airlines. Just about as bad as it can get in the airline industry. In two separate incidents – the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and the disappearance of flight MH370 – 510 passengers lost their lives.

In addition to the tragic human loss, the company is now riddled with financial losses that began even before the ML370 “crash” in March. Of course the two tragedies caused an even larger snowball effect as the company is currently faced with insurance payouts, lost planes and crews and a not surprisingly decline in bookings (in the 2nd quarter, average weekly bookings declined 33%).

But heck, thank God they have a marketing and social media team to take passengers’ minds off of things as well as to take the brand to new heights. Right?

Well…not so much.

Just last week, the social media team for Malaysia Airlines had to apologize after sending a very bizarre tweet that was an attempt to promote last-minute holiday travel deals. There’s no need for further set up – here’s the post:

“Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help.”Malaysia Airline Tweet

Oh dear. Probably not the best slogan if only 8 months ago, you lost a plane that just disappeared without a trace.   Well, one could chalk it up to a possible loss in translation I suppose. But that certainly doesn’t explain another big faux pas that occurred just in September.

Brilliantly trying to devise ways to inspire and incentivize consumers, the marketing department created a dialogue and contest where it asked folks what types of things and destinations are on their “bucket list.”

Oh yes they did. Not as obviously offensive as the most recent Tweet, but this one is pretty inappropriate too.

I am going to take the high road and blame it on another poor translation. But if that is the case, I would strongly advise Malaysia Airlines, and all global brands, to ensure that they use only native speakers as community managers for their social media channels. I know doing so can be costly, but it can greatly help to reduce these types of incidents from happening.

However, this still wouldn’t necessarily get rid of careless and poorly thought out marketing strategies, would it?

What do you think?




When the Media Kept Presidential Secrets


One of only a few photos of FDR in his wheelchair.

As I watched Ken Burns’ marvelous documentary, “The Roosevelts,” I couldn’t help but notice just how different the role of the national media was at the time. As a public relations practitioner, I am fascinated in particular by the fact that the media entered into and honored a gentlemen’s agreement with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and his staff to never publish a photograph of the president in his wheelchair or leg braces.

While most Americans at the time knew that FDR had been afflicted by polio at age 39, few actually realized that as a result he was left paralyzed. This was due in large part to the media not publishing those types of photos, but also to FDR’s dogged commitment to hiding his disability when campaigning.

FDR was worried that his disability would make him appear weak in the eyes of the American public. He was known to arrive so early at events and speeches, that crowds rarely ever saw him being lifted out of cars or ‘walking’ up to a microphone. Clearly, the lack of television and social media also helped keep FDR’s secret.

FDR managed to win four presidential campaigns and he led a weary America out of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. His leadership played a critical role in the Allies’ victory in World War II while his New Deal legislation, according to many, helped build up the American middle class, establishing a baseline for the “American Dream.”

He was anything but weak. But could he have stayed in office to accomplish so much had his disability been exposed early on?

The White House press corps acted similarly during John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency. Though it was common knowledge among the media that President Kennedy had many romantic dalliances, the American public didn’t come to know about them until decades later.

So when did things change? When did the media stop adhering to the concept that politicians had a public life and a private life, and that the latter was thought to be inconsequential to the former?

Today, it seems that the media can’t do enough to expose politicians, athletes, celebrities and business leaders at their most vulnerable and weakest times. This is not a criticism.

No one can escape the media’s magnifying glass, yet there are still plenty of folks who say that the media is not uncovering enough. I’d say Anthony Weiner, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson would disagree.

So just how much do we need to know about today’s political leaders or about our favorite celebrities and athletes? Are we somehow expecting complete perfection? Where is the balance between knowing too much and not knowing enough; and what is the media’s role in delivering this?

These are questions that I’m not certain of the answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

P.S. One final thought: do you think today’s media would have ever have agreed to FDR’s request?

Why History Matters if You Work in Marketing

Did you hear about American Apparel’s social media snafu last week? Apparently one of the social media managers was attempting to be festive for the July 4th holiday. Did he or she provide the obligatory patriotic image of the Stars & Stripes, the Liberty Bell or fireworks bursting over a city skyline? Nope. What about any images of baseball, hot dogs and apple pie? Nope, nope and nope.

A recent social media blunder by American Apparel

Instead, this person chose to use what he or she thought was a cool photo and re-blogged on the brand’s Tumblr account an image of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. You know the photo – it’s the one of the white trail of smoke that loops around against a deep blue sky. Accompanying the photo were hashtags with “smoke” and “clouds,” and the blue sky was changed to a red background.

#Fail. The image was immediately recognized and triggered a deluge of shaming responses that lit up Twitter as American Apparel was called out on such an egregious American error on the most American of holidays. Here’s the company’s response:

“We deeply apologize for today’s Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.”

Okay. I accept the apology. What I don’t accept among younger people today is what I have often observed to be a lack of iconic historical knowledge, accompanied by a blasé excuse that they truly believes gets them off the hook: “That happened before I was born.”

Really? No seriously, really? That attitude would be akin to me – born in 1967 – not knowing or caring to learn anything about WWII and its significance today, just because WWII ended 22 years before I was born.

I’m not suggesting that everyone in business have a history minor. But I do think that advertising and PR executives should realize that knowing key social, economic, and historical events and trends of years gone by is an advantage for them now for three reasons:

Geico ad with Lincoln

Geico ad with Lincoln

1) Being informed and well-rounded makes for more a marketable job candidate. It gives an edge to those that are able to draw from the past in order to help solve current business challenges and to generate creativity today (most of the best Creative Directors I know have a keen understanding of history that they have successfully incorporated into great client work – think of the Geico ad with Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln to be exact).

2) It prevents future offenses like the American Apparel one – or something even worse – from occurring in the future.

3) It helps you do your job better. As a marketer it gives you a better understanding of your target audience, and to me, that’s what it’s all about. Your target audiences’ past experiences have played an important role in shaping their buying habits and purchasing power today.

Think about it. You could be missing a game-changing opportunity to engage and truly resonate with your target audience; all because you weren’t born before “Friends” originally aired.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

A Tribute to the Heroes of D-Day and Their Profound Effect on My Life

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.  My own photo.

My own photo of the American Cemetery in Normandy, France

I stood behind the entanglement of rusted barbed wire as my hair whipped furiously in the strong wind. It was a chilly but sunny day in March 2000. I was at the top of the Pointe du Hoc, the cliff in Normandy, France that made history on D-Day during World War II.

I had always wanted to visit the Normandy beaches on so many of my past trips to France. As a history lover and a proud patriot, I needed to see for myself this hallowed ground where the Allies helped turn the tide of the war. I looked down on this cheery day, amazed at the sheer steepness of the cliff I was on, 100 feet straight down.

On June 6, 1944, the Pointe du Hoc was a German stronghold that was fortified with blockhouses and gun pits which spewed bullets and hellfire, picking off soldier upon soldier as the American troops tried desperately to make their way onto the beachhead that morning. Taking out this battery would prove to be significant to the outcome of the battle that day, and in turn, the entire war.

This was a cliff I wouldn’t want to be forced to scale even on this peaceful day where calmness prevailed and the only sounds I could hear were those of hungry seagulls and the howling sea winds. So, to imagine what it was like to climb on June 6 was almost incomprehensible to me. But, I closed my eyes and envisioned courageous men using all of the limited tools they had with them to scale the jagged rocks as they were continuously pummeled by machine guns and grenades. Their physical and mental faculties were put even further to the test under the sheer chaos and the cacophony of war: the clattering noise of machineguns, exploding mines and missiles, and the helpless screams of the wounded.

I opened my eyes and focused below on one triangular rock formation. I didn’t have a clear view of it because of the barbed wire between the blockhouse and the edge of the cliff. It was then when I had an epiphany in which I realized what real challenges and sacrifice is about. I thought about how once the US Army 2nd Ranger Battalion did the impossible by bravely and doggedly scaling the cliff and reaching the top, they couldn’t even rest. Now they were faced with yet another formidable task: breaking through the entangled barbed wire, past the gunfire and enemy defense lines, in order to clear the gun pits and blockhouses so that the rest of the allied troops could safely set foot on the beach.

At this moment, I felt rather insignificant. What I thought were challenges in my life were really just personal and work trials and tribulations, stupid things like getting angry over slow morning commute, a difficult co-worker or a friend cancelling weekend plans at the last minute. Compared to what these men – and all of the brave men fighting that day – had faced, I felt ashamed of the things that I typically complained about. How trivial these things seemed to me as I gazed out at the English Channel, picturing the largest armada in history.

I told myself that in the future, whenever anything got tough for me – under any circumstance and however often – that I would draw strength knowing that greater and more significant challenges were met here on June 6, 1944 – 70 years ago. If those WWII veterans faced their fears here on this ground, there wasn’t anything I too couldn’t contend with in my own life.

Unfortunately, I had to put that mantra to the test in 2007 when, at the age of 40, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Though weary from the fear of the unknown and dying as well as the unbelievable pain of bone marrow biopsies, a blood clot and 6 months of chemo and radiation, I was determined to fight my own battle as best I could.

Every cancer patient has something inspiring that helps them focus on getting through it – something that makes them strong. For me, it was remembering and honoring all of the brave men of D-Day: young men in the prime of their youth facing the unimaginable. I thought of the fear and anxiety they must have felt every single minute, never knowing when they awakened if that day would be their last.

For some it was. For others, they trudged on reluctantly and saw the end of the war. They came home and got married, started families and new jobs. They contributed to society and made something of their lives. Moreover, they did it without complaining or carrying a chip on their shoulders for their lost youth, pain and suffering. It was their duty, they believed which further demonstrated their great character and subsequently earned them the fitting moniker of “The Greatest Generation.”

Pointe du Hoc

Another of my photos, this view from the top of the Pointe du Hoc

Each year we lose more and more of our World War II veterans and it makes me very, very sad. In fact, most of you who know me aren’t at all surprised when I run up to any older gentleman I see with a WWII Veteran hat or jacket.

I did this just a few weeks ago when I was having dinner with friends. During our meal, I had caught a glimpse of a man at another table wearing a ‘WWII Veteran’ hat. He was old and frail now, a shadow of himself during his prime, during the war. As we ate, I monitored his activity and watched as he got up to leave, grabbing his cane. I politely excused myself and went to him as he slowly moved passed our table.

“Hello Sir,” I said, touching him on the sleeve. He stopped and stared at me, and he seemed confused. I continued, “I see that you are a WWII veteran and I just want to thank you for your service. Thank you so very much.”

He didn’t smile as he looked me squarely in the eye, but simply responded, “You’re Welcome.”  The greatest generation indeed.

So on this commemorative anniversary of D-Day, please remember those brave men and all of our servicemen and women who have protected and served our country through the years, and especially those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

God Bless America.

3 Grammar Rules I Cannot Adhere to (and yes, I ended this with a preposition – see point #2)

Photo by Jesse Wojdylo

Photo by Jesse Wojdylo

There is no doubt that I have had many visits from the grammar police over the years. Most times I am guilty because of an oversight or error. Then there are other times when I just don’t agree with some of the rules as they apply to language and the way we communicate today.   The following grammar rules are the ones I violate the most often, and here’s why.

1.  Single space after a period
I suppose this is more of a punctuation rule. Nonetheless, I don’t stick to it, mainly because I am physically unable to. I’m told the double-spacing rule was originally made for the typewriter in order to mimic the style used by traditional typesetters. But as my friend, Charlene, likes to point out often, the double space rule is dead. I guess I’m just in denial. No matter how hard I try, it’s a reflex for me to type two spaces. After all, I did learn to type on a typewriter in typing class (when it was called that and not ‘keyboarding’). As to why this post seems to be only single-spaced, I believe WordPress automatically adjusted it.

2. Ending a sentence with a proposition

I think this rule was created by a bunch of tea-drinking British linguists from centuries gone by – back when the written and spoken words were much more formal. In any formal writing I do I try to abide by this rule if it doesn’t sound too unnatural, but in everyday emails and conversations, I don’t worry about it. Again, no one talks like that anymore. For instance:

Scenario 1 – my way

“Good morning, Stacey.”
“Good morning, Clovis.”
“You sure are in a hurry. Where are you running to?”
“I am. I have another meeting to go to.” (I stub my toe on a box in the kitchen) “Oww, I just stubbed my toe.”
“Oh no, what did you stub it on?”
“This dumb box.”

That’s typical conversational American English, no? Here’s the same interaction going by the rule:

Scenario 2 – By the rule

“Good morning, Stacey.”
“Good morning, Clovis.”
“You sure are in a hurry. To where are you running?
“I am. I have another meeting to attend. (I stub my toe on a box in the kitchen) “Oww, I just stubbed my toe.”
“Oh no, on what did you stub your toe?”
“A box, alright? Stop sounding like such a snob, Clovis!!”

My case is rested.

3.  Never write a one-sentence paragraph
Oh poppycock. Sometimes using just one sentence is needed to underscore a point. I occasionally use it – even in an occasional news release (gasp!) – For emphasis. There’s no point in writing another sentence just because there should be two, and especially if it only detracts from the point being made in the first sentence. Novelists do it all the time. I don’t have a specific example from the book itself, but I’m sure Colleen McCullough used this technique in her risqué and tantalizing novel, The Thorn Birds, which I read many, many years ago.

Are there grammar rules that you don’t follow or that you disagree with? What are they?

Ronald McDonald’s mid-life crisis seems to have snowballed

Have you seen McDonald’s new mascot, Happy? The fast food giant unveiled him yesterday. I can only describe Happy as off-putting in a way that any big-toothed French fry carton cartoon/child-eating Ogre hybrid might be. Happy doesn’t look so much happy as he does crazed and, let me just say it: unstable. I wonder who was in the focus group for this thing – Dracula, a Tasmanian Devil and Sponge Bob Square Pants?

McDonald's newest mascot, Happy

McDonald’s newest mascot, Happy

What is happening at McDonald’s? Not even a month ago it unveiled a “new” and “updated” Ronald McDonald.   Ronald, the ‘face’ of McDonald’s since 1963, was apparently exhibiting symptoms of a defeated and washed-up mascot.   Sure he had his painted on smile as usual, but he was feeling antiquated and outdated – even irrelevant.

The folks at McDonald’s were worried about Ronald. He had become a shut in, gained weight from ordering Domino’s and wearing down the digits on the TV remote. Most alarming was that he had been noticeably distancing himself from his best friends, The Hamburglar and Gremlin.

To get Ronald out of the dumps, the folks at McDonald’s didn’t spring for expensive therapy sessions, or a trip to the island of misfit mascots to understand Ronald’s true significance and meaning to the brand in this day in age. Nope, they did not.   As creepy as a clown in clashing-colored dungarees, size 24 shoes and a red afro can be, Ronald only received some superficial “updates” to his wardrobe.

The McDonald’s folks hired a snazzy Broadway fashion designer who did indeed “update” Ronald’s look – updated him from 1963 to 1983 that is.

So what’s new about Ronald? Let’s start with Ronald’s casual wear – his trademark jumpsuit was traded in for a more comfortable and practical 2-piece ensemble vest and hybrid of sweat pants and parachute pants. I believe the term now is cargo pants.

The “new,” updated Ronald McDonald

Ronald’s new business casual look (for when he’s trotting the world as a global ambassador) consists of a red blazer and yellow slacks that make him look like an overly-friendly and flamboyant headmaster from one of Britain’s elite public schools.

At the end of the day, Ronald is just as awkward and silly to me as he’s ever been.

If McDonald’s really wanted to “update” Ronald as opposed to writing him out of the script, here are some of my armchair quarterback recommendations: choppy side-swept bangs and slight facial hair, cool-looking glasses, a trilby hat, beat up guitar and a yoga mat. Oh, and definitely toss the giant red shoes.

As for Happy, let’s see how he pans out. Hopefully he’s just creepy to us adults and not to our Happy-Meal-eating kids.

What do you think of the “new” Ronald and Happy? Are there other mascots you think need to be refreshed?

Any PR is better than none, right? Wrong.

There’s been some controversy over an event that happened over the weekend. A professional golfer, Alastair Forsyth of Scotland, was playing in the Madeira Islands Open when his caddy suddenly collapsed on the fairway of the ninth hole which was Forsyth’s final hole of the event.

Caddies react to the sudden death of a fellow caddy who died on the fairway during a tournament.

Caddies react to the sudden death of a fellow caddy who died on the fairway during a tournament.

Frantic efforts were made on the course to resuscitate the 52-year old caddy, Ian MacGregor, but unfortunately he was pronounced dead at the scene from an apparent heart attack. MacGregor was well-loved among the caddies, and they, along with other players and fans, were stunned over what had happened.

What happens next is a bit bizarre.   For one, the tournament officials didn’t call the tournament right then and there. But what appears to be even more disturbing is that Forsyth decided to keep playing.

Yes, Forsyth’s caddy literally dropped dead on the final hole of the tournament and he felt it best to play through. Bad decision? Well, it would have seemed completely understandable for him to drop out of the tournament and give a heartfelt speech about the tragic loss of his dear friend and caddy. In doing so he would surely lose the tournament, but he would have gained much sympathy and respect from fans and the media for his noble gesture.

Instead he’s received much notoriety.  His fans, the media and people around the world are portraying him as callous and heartless.

Oh, and he didn’t win the tournament.

What do you think about it?