Where Coke went wrong during the riots

For many of your customers, your organisations and your communications are an irrelevancy this week. Worse than that, you stand a good chance of being berated just for opening your mouths and trying to engage even your most loyal customers.

If you’re at all unsure how significant the events of this past week are in shaping the way the world will work in future, read Mark Ritson right now here.

The global economy is teetering on the edge of its second wholesale collapse in three years. Until the sickening violence on the streets of London and other British cities kicked off, all eyes were on the US. But the global economy is now a contextual backdrop to a more local story – one to which nobody yet knows the ending.

My fear is that this isn’t going away, that unrest on our streets will be a normality as opposed to an anomaly.

Because, depressingly, while the immediate scenes are shocking, what lingers is the sense that we lack a solution. These despicable looters are greedy and lacking in moral fibre, of that there is little doubt.

“As Croydon burned, Coke tweeted: ’Today is #Happiness Happens day!’ True the message came from Atlanta, but still…”

But then many of them come from a generation that seems hooked on the idea of instant wealth and of success without too much hard work. Years of cuts to public services ahead, increasing inequality and the state of the global economy that we face aren’t likely to solve that problem.

And so I come to you, and your brands. You need to think carefully about what and how you communicate.

As the nation watched the pictures of Croydon burning on television on Monday night, we saw several brands thoroughly misreading the mood on social networks such as Twitter.

Coca-Cola tweeted out: “Today is #Happiness Happens day! Wherever you are create an instant sing along ’Happy and You Know It…’” True, the message came from Coke HQ in Atlanta, far away from the trouble, but still, the news of the riots was on TV in the US. If Coke wanted to engage with its second largest global market it would not have taken much to check what the mood was like so that it could work out how it could be most relevant.

Even more alarmingly, local brands such as retailer Peacocks tweeted out: “Who’s watching Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model?! x” at the exact time when all its customers, especially those of its Harringay store, which was smashed up in the riots, were probably glued to the terrifying events unfolding on the news.

Communications and engagement are going to present a difficult balance to negotiate right now and maybe for a while yet. Don’t go searching for good PR as you risk being seen as profiteering from a crisis. There are plenty of ways to act positively for the communities you exist in. But if you can’t add something useful, valuable, supportive or positive, perhaps it would be best not to say anything at all.

Mark Choueke, editor

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