I don’t know if you’ve seen ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic biopic of two great American anti-heroes, but it’s well worth two hours of your time. The film ends in a shootout in which Clyde, played by Warren Beatty, looks lovingly across at Bonnie, played by Faye Dunaway, one last time before the pair are ripped apart by machine gun fire.
It’s a shockingly brilliant finale and, exactly 50 years after the film’s release, it was replayed on Sunday night on the stage of Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. Beatty and Dunaway were reunited and tasked with announcing the Oscar winner for best film and, well, you know what happened next. Beatty opens the red envelope and looks at the card within. He looks again. Looks over at the officials. Frowns. Looks once again at the card. Looks at Faye Dunaway. She shoots him a look that is half a century old and he finally hands her the card. “La La Land,” she exclaims.
The ensuing chaos certainly kept global audiences amused on Sunday. Two accountants from PwC, the official ‘tabulators’ of the Oscar Ceremony, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, oversaw the calculation of the votes and the winning envelope distribution on the night. It was Cullinan who picked up the envelope from the previous award category, Emma Stone for Best Actress in La La Land, and handed it to Beatty. It was therefore PwC’s fault that, for a whole two minutes, Moonlight was not awarded the Oscar and La La Land was – a mistake that the firm subsequently apologised for the following day.
PwC is a B2B firm. That means the people who select it are not like your auntie Gladys and the decision to hire it is not like buying some teabags.
So what has this got to do with marketing? It has become the fashion when any major company makes a goof that makes the headlines to immediately embark upon the same tired and inaccurate ritual. The brand in question is “plunged” into catastrophe, the crisis management clichés are quickly trotted out and every manner of brand expert duly informs a rabid media of the untold damage that this crisis will immediately have on brand equity, reputation and the bottom line.
Sure enough on Sunday night and then Monday morning, everyone quickly went through the motions. USA Today predicted that “short-term damage” to the PwC brand was inevitable. ABC News claimed that the Oscars mistake has put PwC’s “reputation in jeopardy”. Advertising Age concluded that the “Oscar Oops” could “spell lasting brand damage” for the firm. My favourite article was the Wall Street Journal’s, which argued, completely nonsensically, that the error would “hit the brand” but would not impact on the business. What? You’re the Wall Street Journal, get a grip. If it hurts the brand it’s going to hurt the business. But it’s going to do neither, so why even bother writing this crap?
A special Oscar mention goes to “London-based independent branding specialist with decade’s worth of industry experience” Nigel Currie, who managed to get his nonsensical assessment into more than two hundred global media titles on Monday. His sage analysis was that this was “as bad a mess-up as you could imagine”. I even had some bloke on Twitter chide me that this was a bigger crisis than the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. Yes, the 11-people-dead, $60bn, ocean-fucking, business-killing Gulf of Mexico disaster. That one.
And, of course, it’s all balls. Total balls. Giant monkey marketing balls covered in tinsel and silly string. Clearly most marketers and the journalists that cover these kinds of things are morons. Are you telling me that this morning all over London there are clients sitting in large corporate offices having urgent meetings because some bloke from accounting got a bit dizzy and picked up the wrong envelope and now, well, we are just not sure that we want to continue with that audit from PwC? Do you really think that about three days from now anyone will actually remember the name of the accounting firm that ballsed this up? Do you expect that PwC will suffer anything other than a bit of minor piss-taking over the next 48 hours?
PwC is a B2B firm. That means the people who select it are not like your auntie Gladys and the decision to hire it is not like buying some teabags. Almost all of PwC’s work comes from existing clients and is based on decades-long relationships. The brand that PwC has is forged from relationships between consultants and clients and not late-night Sunday TV and Faye Dunaway. To think anything else is childish, stupid, pointless drivel.
Marketing has become increasingly a pastiche of itself. Hopelessly out-of-touch commentators making hugely unsupportable observations that aren’t just questionable, but massively and hilariously stupid.
You want a crisis? You want one to really worry about? One that should, but won’t, damage the PwC brand and its hard-won reputation? Try googling Antoine Deltour, the ‘Lux Leaks’ whistleblower. Stop reading about the Oscars and spend the time understanding why he was fired from PwC and is now awaiting the outcome of his appeal against conviction for violating Luxembourg’s secrecy laws. That’s the brand crisis that journalists and marketers and social media should be focused on. Maybe if they make a movie about Deltour and his heroic and entirely selfless decision to shine a light on the shitty, shitty business world we all currently operate in we might finally get to talk about him one day. And PwC will have a real crisis to manage.
Meanwhile I will leave the marketers to live in La La Land.