PR & Marketing: Preying on the Pitiful = PR Fails?

by PR Coach on March 5, 2011

What attracts us to celebrity train wrecks?

What is it about a train wreck like Charlie Sheen that attracts so much attention by the public? Are we so hungry for the downfall of celebrities?

It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. The public’s appetite for tragedy is insatiable and is fueled daily by trash talk TV and tabloid journalism.

But what’s really disgusting is when PR and marketing “professionals” use personal tragedy to further their own PR and marketing agendas. Some days, I’m not very proud to be in the communications business!

It was just weeks ago that Kenneth Cole issued his now infamous tweet that shook the world. He blatantly used the turmoil in Egypt for his own commercial advantage. He reluctantly apologized only after a huge public outcry in the mainstream and social media.

Apparently, others have not learned from these lessons.

Over at the Atlantic, Alex Madrigal notes Corporations Try to Ride the Sheen Machine on Twitter including the Red Cross, McDonald’s and Ford.

Reprehensibly, the Red Cross was among the first out of the gate with this Tweet: “We may not collect #tigerblood, but we know our donors & volunteers have fierce passion for doing good! #RedCrossMonth.”  Gee, great Red Cross. That really makes me want to support you. Not.

McDonald’s followed shortly after with its Tweet: “Despite all the rumors there r no plans 2 bring #mclobster or mcsushi 2 the US menu. We r working on a new menu item called McWinning.” This is a reference to Sheen’s catchphrase that he is “winning.”

In a follow-up article, Madrigal adds Poster Revolution, AMC Theatres, Audi, Arby’s, Songza and Twitter itself to the list of More Corporations Getting High on a Drug Called Charlie Sheen.

Twitter is making money by selling “promoted tweets” on the #tigerblood and #winning hashtags by these genius marketers preying on the Charlie Sheen train wreck.

Talk about #PRFails!

In Charlie Sheen, Decontructed The New York Times editors do a great job of analyzing the current feeding frenzy.

I’m not defending Charlie Sheen. He has his own demons to fight and he must take responsibility for his own actions. And, there will always be tabloid journalism to satisfy the curious and the macabre.

But there’s no excuse for lame PR and marketing professionals taking advantage of others’ tragedies. Shame on them!

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

Photo credits: Collision between two engines, Bay of Quinte Railway, ON, 1892 from Musee McCord Museum via Flicker; Poster Revolution Charlie Sheen Winning

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