The Three Types of Brand Crisis

And how brands can use social media analytics to avoid them

When Pepsi released its controversial “Kendall Jenner solves #BlackLivesMatter with a soda” ad, much of the world responded with a collective groan of “not again…” While the specifics were new, we’d seen this kind of brand misstep a thousand times before: a tone-deaf attempt to capitalize on current events, surprisingly blind to its own insensitivities. Same notes, different lyrics.  

And this is the paradox of the modern brand crisis — familiar yet alien. Every brand crisis has its own particulars, but the common elements are maddeningly uniform. Apple’s batterygate may not share many obvious similarities with Pepsi’s ad, but the underlying system is the same: a lack of awareness of how consumers think and feel.

However, despite this common core, it is not helpful to think of all brand crises as the same. Doing so puts you at risk of relying on a single, over-generalized approach to crisis response and avoidance.

But it’s equally unhelpful to think of all brand crises as unique. This prevents brands and agencies from developing a framework and/or playbook to help them evade and lessen different types of crises.

Luckily, there is not one single type of brand crisis, nor is there infinite. There are three:

  1. The “should have seen it coming” crisis
  2. The blind side hit
  3. The unforced error

By understanding the characteristics of these types of crisis, brands and agencies can improve the way they prevent, diagnose, respond to and recover from PR fiascos.

Here’s the quick version of how these crisis clusters differ.

The “should have seen it coming” crisis

Like Apple’s batterygate, many brand crises make you want to slap your forehead and say “How did they not see this coming?!” These are not spur-of-the-moments slips of the tongue, or immediate public flashpoints. “Should have seen it coming” crises are examples of brand’s failing to listen to the conversations consumers are constantly having about them. People have been talking about iPhones’ shortening charges for years; Apple shouldn’t have been surprised when this negative sentiment finally reached a head.

Insight to Action: Monitor the steady-state conversations your customers are having about your brand and products online. Nip any burgeoning crisis in the bud.

The blind side hit

In the days leading up to Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad, there was no conversation about the soda company’s racial insensitivities. After the ad launched, there was an abundance of it. While you certainly can’t deny that Pepsi “should have seen it coming” when they reviewed the Jenner spot, there is no denying that the company took a massive hit essentially overnight. As a result, the conversation is likely to be volatile until the damage is undone, if possible.

Insight to Action: Understand the cause of the blind side hit as fully and quickly as possible so you can respond promptly and appropriately. What’s causing the negative sentiment around your brand? Analyze negative conversations and determine their drivers.

Knowing the ins and outs of these three crisis types is just the beginning. The real work begins in determining how to use this information to help your company avoid a crisis. 

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