Ignore Questions & Critics at Your Own Peril

Listened to a great episode  on the For Immediate Release podcast. An Australian  t-shirt company, Cotton On was making t-shirts for babies that were a little risque.  (It looks like they’ve since pulled the line).

One saying was particularly offensive.  A mother sent a note to a prominent mommy blogger about the slogan’s  insensitivity.  The mommy blogger wrote to the company asking for clarification about the offensive t-shirt.  She received what appeared to be a standard committee-written response that did not address the issue.

She sent another email asking if the company understood that the saying was offensive and asking if they were going to do anything to correct it.  Result:  another canned response.

The mommy blogger’s posts  began making the rounds.  A Twitter conversation formed.  You know how it works after that.  As people share the messages, make their own comments and create their own posts, it radiates outward creating a firestorm of activity.

A hash tag was created on Twitter reading “Cotton On Are Sick”.  A lot of comments were retweeted.  It finally hit the mainstream media and  Cotton On finally responded.  By now, of course, it was too late.  There was no way to undo their mistake.

They withdrew the offensive slogan with a long apology.

The lesson is not new to us in the business.  If you get inquiries from someone ins the social media, your response needs to be honest, personal, and immediate.

What used to be a 24-hour news cycle is now an immediate 140-character news cycle, as FIR cohost Shel Holtz points out.  He quoted another expert who says when queried, you have to respond immediately and in the same media where the issue appears.

It’s a fascinating episode with a case study that can apply to all of us in the business.


4 responses to “Ignore Questions & Critics at Your Own Peril

  1. A very interesting case study and cautionary tale for any sector. To be “honest, personal and immediate” in a response should be the norm these days in customer relations. Unfortunately, it is not.

    One other lesson: Never, ever mess with a mommy blogger. The mommy bloggers can bring you down faster than a James Farrior tackle.

  2. You said “Cotton On finally responded. By now, of course, it was too late. There was no way to undo their mistake.”
    Feedback from your customers is GOLD, even if it is negative. Unfortunately, there are too many businesses out there that simply ignore their clients genuine concerns, I think sometimes it is out of apathy and sometimes it is out of arrogance. I know in my profession that graphic artists often get too caught up in making pretty pictures – and then their ego becomes involved and they can’t deal with changes to their “art” even if it doesn’t serve the needs of their client. What is most important is what works for your customer – if you can’t remember that then you shouldn’t be in business (and you won’t be for long.)

  3. I agree with the response issue, it should be honest, immediate, and personal. I would like to take it one step further though.

    The response should also be felt. People should see an active change in operations that show the company gets the issue. It is good to say one thing, but is another thing to follow it up with an action. In the Cotton On example, the verbal response was slow and I would be interested how long it took the company to pull the shirt line.

    I don’t usually selflessly plug my own blog post in another’s blog, but thought this higher ed athletic brand issue was similar to this one and could add to the discussion. See the comments of the blog for followups on the response the issue received. This athletic issue has also made the rounds on the internet. Here is the post http://brandmanagersnotebook.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/athletic-image-gone-loco/ (feel free to not post if you don’t think it is related).

  4. Thanks for the comment and the link to your post. Very appropriate.

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