#AllHallowsMatter: The 3 C’s of Crisis-Free Holiday Social Marketing

Samhain vs. Halloween. Solstice vs. Yule vs. Christmas. The entire origin story of Thanksgiving.

It’s the most difficult time of the year for brands to to be bold on social media without creating an online crisis.

In our modern American holiday season, everything is political. Everyone has opinions. Words matter more than ever. Brands must continually up their social awareness game, internally and externally. Otherwise they risk causing more harm in our increasingly word-of-mouth world.

For our clients, it’s a whole new survival of the fittest out there. At Thin Pig, we know how to walk the public relations tightrope. We’re all about inclusive collaboration, so after reviewing dozens of success stories and cautionary tales, here’s our rundown of holiday social marketing definitely-do’s and oh-hell-no-do-not-ever’s:

  Photo credit: 'The Zombies' by Haitian artist Hector Hyppolite

Photo credit: 'The Zombies' by Haitian artist Hector Hyppolite

1. Cultural Appreciation, Not Appropriation

Halloween is here, and as folx choose their costumes, digital engagement expert Tashi Ko, reminds us that “there are multicultural origins behind all American rituals that involve ‘dressing up.’”

Ko (aka Natasha Marin, creator of the Reparations group on Facebook) knows that cultural appreciation is an essential lesson for big brands, not just white kids considering a Native American costume. “Zombies are Haitian,” she continues. “They’ve been completely co-opted by white media.” She’s dead right. As The Atlantic declared in 2015, “The horror-movie trope owes its heritage to Haitian slaves, who imagined being imprisoned in their bodies forever.”

In life and business, the difference between gift and theft is consent. So how can brands use Native and Haitian heritage in their marketing, without co-opting another culture and thus perpetuating their oppression? Inclusivity.

By acknowledging and showing admiration for cultural traditions and icons, businesses show that they’re informed and respectful. By using their marketing campaigns to credit, employ, and support people from those cultures and traditions, businesses show that they’re on the right side of history.

Advertisers have great power to make meaning out of our turbulent times. And what did Spiderman tell us comes with great power?

Bottom line: If your brand is going to make use of another culture’s intellectual property, you have the responsibility to show appreciation and stop well short of co-opting.

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2. Consult the Affected Community

By now we know that words are important. But words inherently mean different things to different people. The majority of hurtful online marketing blunders are the result of not asking for input from the people most likely to end up hurt.

Once social media gets a hold of that kind of inconsideration, the conversation is bound to heat up, and the brand will be forced to respond—and yes, not responding is also a response.

We’ve seen this pattern play out in our hometown of Seattle recently, where three popular Capitol Hill spots were confronted about the lack of consideration in their business names:

  1. Chop Suey is an indie music venue, named after a fake Chinese food dish whose origin represents racism, hatred and violence towards Asian Americans. Online pressure mounted on the new owners to change the name, but they chose not to, and as a result, their reputation among local music scenesters has taken a big hit.

  2. Plantation was a luxe furniture showroom, named after a rarely-used word which conjures painful reminders of American slavery and confederate supremacy. After eight months of online protests and pleas, they changed their name to Plantation Design. That’s a fail. These guys are now a joke on the hill.

  3. Spirit Animal was a new restaurant and bar, named after a sacred religious tradition primarily credited to Native American tribes. When First Nation organizations called out the restaurant for cultural appropriation, the owners handled the situation respectfully, rather than defensively. They changed the name to “Spirit and Animal,” which seems to have made everyone happy.

Bottom line: Research beyond your target audience to find out how your messaging could be received by consumers of diverse backgrounds. When in doubt, talk it out.

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3. Crisis Plan—Ya Better Have One

Every soccer team needs a goalie. Every marketing endeavor needs a crisis plan. Even if you think you’ve thought of all scenarios, your whole company is taking a risk each time you click Post, Publish, or Schedule.

Your Social Media Manager is your brand’s first line of defense. Whatever you did to disturb 'The Force', your public responses to online complaints matter even more. The best way to avoid adding insult to injury is to form and continually refine your social media crisis plan.

Without implementing such a plan swiftly and confidently, your brand’s responses can dig you into an even deeper hole. Just take it from K-Mart. In 2013, they announced earlier Black Friday hours than ever, and when their customers Tweeted about their shady staffing ethics, their social team wrote one statement and responded with it more than 100 times... Just. No.

Bottom line: Treat a social media messaging crisis as an inevitability, by aligning and preparing the marketing team to respond to any kind of complaint. Major brands take major risks, and if your brand ruffles feathers without a graceful way of smoothing them out, you may never live it down.

The cool thing about social inclusivity is, we never stop learning. Stay tuned to our blog for more stories, strategies, and solutions. And have a happy All Hallows Eve!