Brands can find themselves dealing with negative events or crises. In the age of social media communication gaining constantly in influence, it is critical for them to manage their public communications appropriately. If the negative event is not of their own making, a humorous response can have a positive impact on customer reactions. However, if the negative event is serious or the brand’s responsibility, a serious approach to apologising and making amends is more effective.
In 2018, Amul was accused of using non-vegetarian ingredients in its products. Thanks to
social media, the allegations spread fast among its customers, giving rise to serious concerns among them. In the face of this crisis, Amul responded with a two-pronged approach. Along with an intensive and serious campaign to counter the allegations, Amul released one of its famous topicals starring the Amul girl. “Main 100% Vegetarian Hoon” she declares in the ad that was released on social media. [Source: https://m.rediff.com/business/report/how-amul-is-quelling-the-non-veg-rumours/20180921.htm]
This is one example of how firms can counter negative feedback through public
communication. The right type of communication in such situations can make or break a brand. In the age of social media, especially, it is extremely critical for organisations to manage such crises immediately and effectively. Their crisis management strategies can be serious or humorous, and it is important for brands to know which is more effective. A study looks into the question: Which type of response leads to more favourable consumer responses?
The study found that use of humour in the face of a negative event can be effective, but the
impact depends on the nature of the negative event. If the event is defensible (that is, the brand is not responsible for it), humour works well to shape customer perception. The use of humour in social media responses to negativity leads to a psychological response known as humour appreciation. It increases positive emotions and reduces negative reactions by enhancing people’s moods and encouraging them to re-evaluate the event as less unpleasant.
However, if the negative event is not defensible (the brand is responsible for the event), then
humour does not work. In fact, in such cases, the use of humour can have a more detrimental effect on the brand as customers might perceive the use of humour as trivialising the negative event. Humour in response is accepted by consumers only when the degree of responsibility of the brand is low and the nature of the “violation” is acceptable or minor. Otherwise, even on social media, a humorous response can backfire. Instead, sincere apologies and intentions to make amends or prevent future re-occurrence are more impactful.
A good example of the use of humour for defensible negative events is the following
exchange between Amazon and Zomato in 2015. Making fun of Zomato’s multiple logo changes over a short period, Amazon used their promotional hashtag “#AurDikhao to troll them on twitter, saying “@Zomato Loved all the logos you used in the last 6 months. Was #AurDikhao the brief to your designer? :)” Zomato trolled them back with a witty response involving the comment “@amazonIN You should've seen the ones that didn't make the cut ;)” and the image below (that parodies the Amazon logo). [Source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/social/amazon-india-trolls-zomato-gets-trolled-back/articleshow/46878714.cms]
In contrast, when comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres used jokes in her 2020 in-
show apology for allegations of a toxic work environment on her show, it was received poorly by viewers and PR experts alike. [Source: https://glean.info/4-crisis-communications-lessons-from-the-ellen-degeneresapology/] Another example is the use of the riots following George Floyd’s death and then US President Donald Trump’s controversial tweet by Bristol Dry Gin. Their promotional post, “when the shooting starts, the looting starts. Voted No 1 gin by rioters for its complex botanical mix and high flammability,” predictably met with hostile reactions. [Source: https://www.makemorenoise.co.uk/2020/07/- 08/navigating-crises-with-humour-should-a-pr-blunder-be-a-laughing-matter/]
This study has significant implications for brand, marketing, communication, and social
media managers. It gives them an interesting insight into how they should design their social media communication strategy in the face of a volatile platform where a mistake can trigger a call to “cancel”, leading to heavy losses. They can use this study’s finding as a rule of thumb for social media responses to negative events: If the event is minor and/or the brand is not responsible, humour is a good tool to counter the bad publicity, but if the negative event is serious and/or the brand is really to blame, then a serious and sincere approach is better.
Social media can be a powerful tool for businesses when used right. Here’s a discussion of how it impacts B2B firms.