Miley 10 days later, and aggressive handling of a customer complaint


Two links crossed my screen in recent days, thanks to Eric Mower + Associates PR giants Peter Kapcio and Danielle Gerhart. One deals with another look at Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance fallout, and the other is a wild take on customer service.

The customer service example comes first, because it’s simplest. The language is rough, so if that offends you, read past this. As someone who in a past life handled newspaper readers’ complaints, I can identify with the “in your face” response of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, in Austin, TX. Its “customer service department” took a complaint and turned it into a viral video. That doesn’t happen every day, and while it boosts the theater’s reputation with its core, it’s surely only in that niche in which it operates that this would work.

With its audience and regular fan base, the over-the-top response probably plays well. It’s hard to see a response like this burnishing the reputation of say a Procter & Gamble, Ford or Apple. But then those companies probably don’t often get profanity-laced complaints.

The second comment is about Miley Cyrus and it comes from Jonah Berger, Wharton School professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of New York Times’ bestseller, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. And instead of conjecture and opinion, he bases his assessment that her performance will enhance her career on research.

Recently, a few colleagues and I examined how negative publicity impacts sales. Sometimes it’s hard to say whether attention is negative or not, so we picked a situation that was unambiguously negative: Michael Jackson’s run-ins with the law.

Pop star Michael Jackson released many #1 hits over his career, but he also had fairly frequent legal troubles. Child abuse investigations, financial mismanagement, even dangling his newborn baby over a balcony. How did the negative attention he received affect his album sales?

You might expect sales would go down. After all, how would being accused of child abuse make people want to buy MJ’s albums?

But interestingly, sales went up. The more negative attention Michael Jackson received in the media, the more albums he sold.

So is any publicity good publicity?

Well, not quite. We’ve all heard that there is no such thing as bad press. But that’s not exactly right. My colleagues and I also looked at how New York Times book reviews affected book sales and found a more nuanced relationship.

Sure enough, positive reviews increased sales. But the effect of negative reviews was more complex. For well-known authors (e.g., Stephen King or John Grisham), negative reviews decreased sales, but for unknown authors, or people releasing their first book, negative reviews actually increased sales. By a whopping 45%.

Our research found that whether negative publicity (or word of mouth) helps or hurts sales is driven by the psychology of attention. Purchase depends not only on whether people like something, but also whether they are triggered to think about it. Consider the last time you picked a restaurant or chose a movie to watch on Saturday night. If something doesn’t come to mind, there’s no way you’re going to pick it.

Some facts to back up what I wrote August 27:

All the buzz yesterday involved Miley Cyrus’ performance at the Video Music Awards Sunday night. Even the satirists at the Onion weighed in on mainstream media’s hissy fit over the former Disney star channeling her inner Madonna [who she was made up to resemble] via Britney Spears.

As a crisis manager, however, is Ms. Cyrus in trouble? Only if she tries to patent her tongue extension — Michael Jordan may fight her on that one.

Are you kidding me? In a world of breathless “what’s the next hot thing,” where Paris Hilton is again mostly thought of as an overnight in France and the Kardashians are as done as The Three Stooges, Miley Cyrus hit a grand slam.

Clearly, this was a break from Cyrus’ past, and a smart, if harsh, statement about her future career path. Not everyone liked it, but she will benefit from it.

The first example enhances a reputation in an aggressive and unique way; the second is not the crisis all the critics want to paint it as.

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.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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One Response to Miley 10 days later, and aggressive handling of a customer complaint

  1. Samantha Nephew says:

    Your argument on “all press is good press” is so much better than the one I made earlier last week. So much to learn!

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