Aflac Duck vs Common Decency

What do Gilbert Gottfried and Chrysler have in common? We’ve all heard the jokes where they are the punch lines, but no one is laughing in the social media landscape.

Both have been the cause of drastic crisis communications measures.

Gilbert Gottfried built his reputation as a comedian with a crass sense of humor and a grating voice. His most recent claim to fame was providing the quacking voice of the Aflac’s duck mascot. Recent coverage of the horrific events happening halfway across the world has shown a spotlight on the insurer’s international business. Although many people might not have known the scope of Aflac in Japan, one would think a spokesperson/spokesduck or one of their employees would have an inkling. After a series of insensitive earthquake and tsunami jokes that Gottfried posted on Twitter, the insurer quickly terminated the relationship.

Chrysler launched a new campaign, including a TV commercial featuring rapper Eminem, alluding to the company’s phoenix-like return from the brink of financial disaster with a steadfastly American pride and determination. Chrysler’s social media agency undercut that messaging by posting remarks on Twitter that disparaged the city of Detroit (the home of Chrysler’s headquarters) and called into question the skill of local drivers. According to the New York Times, the tweet read, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motor city and yet no one here knows how to (vulgarity) drive.”

Is it a lack of sensitivity? Are people making too big a deal? Is the immediacy of social media tools creating an atmosphere where a lack of filter and being provocative are just the endgame for gaining more readers/listeners/viewers?

Social media will turn its attention to the next big thing, but what are the real world repercussions? Should these 140-character phrases cause the loss of accounts for the businesses? Or the loss of jobs for employees? How quickly will tarnished reputations recover? Does “don’t insult the client you intend to promote” really have to become an official communications industry guideline?

-Rich Meddaugh
Secretary, PRSA Capital Region Chapter

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