AIG, right or wrong, wears the mantle of the worst financial institution involved in the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. To its credit, the international insurance giant paid back its bailout and worked hard to restore its reputation.
For anyone watching football playoff games and other major events the last few weeks, you witnessed a simple testimonial advertising campaign featuring real AIG employees saying, essentially, we’re back, everything’s great. The ad thanked Americans as taxpayers for the assistance and pledged to work hard to restore trust and serve its customers.
The campaign also cited AIG’s role in insuring people in Joplin, MO after its horrific tornado, and in the Northeast for Superstorm Sandy.
Except apparently the company’s board and its legal team didn’t see the ads and didn’t communicate with the people in the marketing and public relations departments. The board announced mid-campaign that it was deciding whether to sue the U.S. government — in one form or another the same “people” and “taxpayers” the ad thanked — because shareholders didn’t get a fair deal from the government. The story was on the front page of the New York Times for a couple of days, and received ironic notices in major media nationally. The board/legal eventually decided to not join the lawsuit, but the milk was spilled and the marketing side was crying.
The ads seem to have disappeared and no doubt a lot of money that went in to smart advertising, a forceful re-branding campaign and slogan and ample production is lost. What the company does now is a coin toss.
Should it just resume running the ads — risking hypocrisy charges and feeling the campaign was already gutted? Or should it just pull back and wait six months or more and try again? And if it waits, does it come back with the same campaign, or start over?
AIG’s crisis was on its way down the drain, finally, when the left hand didn’t realize what the right hand was doing. Or, the board/legal side of things ignored the damage it might do by pursuing the lawsuit in the midst of the restoration campaign.
Sounds like a lose-lose.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.