Trusting the Public to Sort Things Out
The Pittsburgh Pirates marketing department must have been stunned when the most reviled man on the planet, Mohammed Emwazi – AKA Jihadi John, was revealed wearing a cap with a Pirates logo. I can imagine expletives flying off the walls. It didn’t take long before the organization told Pittsburgh station WTAE that it was sickening:
“To see this murderer wearing a Pirates cap in this old photo.”
It’s hard to overstate the pain this must have caused. In another era this would have been akin to Hitler showing up wearing a t-shirt with your favorite team or product.
Logos are wonderful things. They say a lot with just a symbol. If pictures say a thousand words, logos say a thousand words written by marketers: words of praise, words of quality, carefully crafted words that tell the target audience exactly what the company wants to convey – that is until those logos show up on the head or chest of someone whose message is louder and in this case horrible.
On the right or wrong side of breaking news
The good news is that because the Pirates are in no way connected with Emwazi the public will in no way force a connection. If anything the public, particularly adoring fans, will embrace the Pirates all the more – though it will be difficult to ramp up hatred for Emwazi that’s already in the superlative range.
Sometimes though the bad news associated with a logo is connected. When that happens the greater the popularity a brand enjoys before the news breaks, the greater the speed of the company’s decline in the aftermath.
Such was the case with Air Florida following a January 1982 crash in Washington, D.C. that killed 78 people. When a photographer was permitted access to the wreckage being reassembled the tail logo had been sprayed over with black spray paint, ostensibly by the insurance company. Had the entire tail been painted black it might not have made an impact but the “fix” covered the distinctive shape of the Air Florida logo only calling more attention to the company and suggesting a nefariousness that probably wasn’t fair.
In both the Pirates’ case and the Air Florida case the public sized things up all by themselves. The Pirates – and their logo – will be OK; Air Florida declared bankruptcy (though it was resurrected 30 years later).
The point is if your logo is found in the wrong places and your company is clean and cool you’ll be ok. The public is smarter than many believe. But if your company is on the wrong side of breaking news – look out because the public will figure that one out too.