Why They Don’t Need To Worry Too Much About Bad PR
By Aaron Binder
The cynics aren’t always going to win but they’re often going to be right. Out of the tens of thousands of deaths every day almost all of them are preventable in poverty stricken countries. But we’re not here to debate economics – this is just reality.
Often, brands have to endure massive PR nightmares and even though we like to think that we’re immune to this type of stuff happening in Canada, it certainly does. Remember Maple Leaf Food’s Listeria outbreak? The actions taken after these events are subject to incredibly heavy scrutiny by the public, government and business world. It used to be that this could break a company but not anymore, low price often means more than labour laws to consumers. We’ve been taught, after all, that these factory workers are happy to be making a buck a day – kings among their peers.
While people are demanding inquiries and boycotts, the reality is that the majority won’t care enough to change their habits, an eight dollar tee-shirt feels so good when it was purchased on sale. This is how much PR surrounding disasters has changed and there’s more to it than the companies involved. When the story broke the Joe Fresh name wasn’t attached but that was quick to change. Keep in mind that they aren’t the only label being made at the factory but in a country with small population like Canada, this is front-page news.
Well, maybe for a day.
That’s the difference between Maple Leaf and Joe Fresh, no Canadians were harmed in Bangladesh, our collective consciousness cannot care about it as much even though the death toll is thousands of times higher. Our altruism only goes as far as the next news cycle and then we’re fed another story of death and horror to satiate our dark curiousities.
The PR people behind Joe Fresh understand this and it is quite evident if you take a look at their homepage.
This is a screenshot taken on April 25th, not even 48 hours after the incident. If you look way down at the bottom of the shot you’ll see, keeping in line with their design guidelines, a canned apology. Are people at the company affected emotionally? Perhaps, and the employees of this company certainly haven’t had an easy time dealing with the outcome this week. It is also worth remembering that outside of one or two buyers, nobody had knowledge of these working conditions. The buyers probably had vague notions as well.
Here is an example of why people in first-world countries need to demand better. Employees, outside agencies, regular folks and CEO’s need to start creating cultures where suppliers do treat their workers like humans. These are the types of situations that good leaders and companies feel deep loss from and vow to improve. While this is difficult when there are so many available workers in these countries, it is possible with political, economic and especially internal pressure. The companies that truly want to change will accomplish it.
So what’s going to happen with Joe Fresh?
1) They will make a statement wherein they will detail a new internal plan to purchase only from pre-qualified factories.
2) The media will talk about how this is a good step and the company learned from a valuable lesson.
3) Over 200 people will have died.
4) Within one year a number of people that boycotted Joe Fresh will reflect upon the new internal policy and deem it successful, they will begin purchasing products again and everyone else will still not care.
5) The brand will continue expansion plans across Canada.
6) Another company, perhaps the same one, will have to deal with the exact same tragedy.
We’re involved in a demanding culture and while we like to think we’re good and honourable people, our collective memory is becoming shorter. Take another look at the above screenshot, their statement didn’t even necessitate a top placing on their site compared to ponchos. Joe Fresh understands the bulk of their customer base is only paying attention long enough to think ‘that’s sad’ and move on with their day. They’ll feel a twang of guilt the next time they pick up a pair of nineteen dollar chinos but that will fade when their friends tell them how attractive they look – and only for nineteen bucks.
After all, it happened in another country, we have our own problems to deal with here.
P.S. – Further reading from the Huffington Post about how clothing retailers refused to implement new safety plan policies in Bangladesh factories – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/26/retailers-reject-bangladesh-factory-safety-plan_n_3162093.html