Tsunami? Run Home and Order KFC

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To see Stephen Colbert’s take on  KFC Thailand’s “Disadvertunity“click on Video Link: Stephen Colbert’s End of the World of the Week: KFC Thailand  – and scroll to 2:53.

KFC Thailand’s “Disadvertunity”

An AP story highlights a story lampooned by Stephen Colbert about a tone deaf bit of insensitivity that goes beyond a cultural miss with a callous suggestion that people dealing with an earthquake and the fears of a possible tsunami run home and order a bucket of KFC chicken:

As people were being urged to evacuate from beaches, the company posted this message: “Let’s hurry home and follow the earthquake news. And don’t forget to order your favorite KFC menu.”

Social media backlash was swift and angry and hundreds of commenters on Thai web boards denounced the company as insensitive and selfish. By Thursday, the message was removed and replaced by one that asked for forgiveness. The translation of that Twitter feed is:

Sorry for the mistake I made . We have deleted this post and be careful not to make this event happen again.

Damage Control in Real Time

In addition to the KFC Thailand Twitter feed apology pictured above, there was this from the Facebook Page:

The team knows KFC Thailand Fanpage was in error and sincerely regrets the improper reference to a disaster situation.

(I don’t have a proper translation for the second sentence, which was translated as follows: KFC Thailand Fanpage same team to make every customer a high hit me again.)

Notice the number of Likes the apology received. The people of Thailand proved to be forgiving this time, particularly given how perceived insensitivities have backfired in other instances I have observed in my own years in Asia. An article from The Bottom Line at msnbc.com reports:

“That real-time nature of it has got to give marketers pause to be smart about how they’re responding in real time,” says Glen Gilmore, a social media strategist and professor of digital marketing at Rutgers University. “Unfortunately, it’s a message too many marketers have not yet learned.”

Look before you Leap into Trending Conversations

Here are some other Global Social Media marketing belly flop corporations that have backfired in real time.

  1. Following the devastating earthquake in Japan last year, Microsoft’s tweet announcing a plan to match donations included an ill timed a plug for its search engine Bing.
  2. Following singer Amy Winehouse’s death at the age of 27, a U.K. public relations firm tweeted a message urging fans to download her music.
  3.  Shortly after teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed while holding the Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, the Facebook pages of these two companies posted a question asking what fans would do for their last bottle or bag.
  4. Kenneth Cole used the hashtag “Cairo” last spring during the Egyptian uprising to promote its new merchandise. The tweet was a masterpiece of insensitivity. Read it yourself:
    • “Millions are in uproar… Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”

Of course it’s completely irresponsible to make light where the trending topic is loss of human life, a struggle for freedom, or a disaster. Glen Gilmore reminds us that:

We should respect the fact that the conversation shouldn’t be hijacked to sell a few buckets of chickens or some shoes.

The mike is always on, and “what happens in Thailand apparently doesn’t stay in Thailand.”

Snap! principle of trending topic sensitivity:

Look before you leap into trending conversations.

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