Best Practice: Method Learns From a Sudsy Snafu

Posted by Tim Fernholz



Yep, this ad again. 

Last week, we talked about how GOOD Company Finalist Method dealt with a public relations snafu: A viral video they created to promote more accurate labels on household labels created a backlash because of content—animated soap bubbles from a fake brand called Shiny Suds cat-calling a woman in the shower—that evoked sexual harassment. Like the ad’s critics, I found its humor pretty repellant, but there was definitely a contingent in the GOOD community who found the controversy overblown. Method’s leaders have found the incident a useful lesson in how to manage their relationship with their customers.

Katie Molinari, the company’s spokeswoman, called to talk about what the company learned from the ad, and she noted its positive results: A favorable write-up in The New York Times, over a million views on YouTube, and people following through on the ad’s request to reach out to legislators about labeling issues.

But a company that proclaims its focus on creating advocates, not customers, needs to be careful about its brand image, and Molinari pointed me to a section in a forthcoming book by Method’s founders that offers an “Error Autopsy” of the Shiny Suds controversy.

“We knew the video contained content that some might consider mildly sexual, but we wanted to convey a sense of invasion so people would understand how important the issue was,” cofounders Eric Ryan and Ryan Lowry write:

We were careful to cast a confident woman, we showed less skin than a Victoria’s Secret ad, and we made sure the bubbles came across as more annoying than menacing … [In one week,] it had almost a five-star rating and was picked up by hundreds of online news sites with positive reviews.

Sounds like a huge hit, so why the error autopsy? … As the video neared two million views, we started receiving angry messages on our customer service line and blog. It turned out that some individuals’ groups felt we were condoning bad behavior with our dirty little cartoon bubbles.

Our intent in this campaign was to raise awareness for transparency in cleaning product labeling, not make people feel creeped out by watching naughty bubbles. However, we understood the concerns associated with the video and removed it from YouTube and all other controlled sources. The decision came down to our values, and even though we knew our brand would never intentionally do any harm, we listened to what individuals were saying. In the end, we learned that when you create a conversation, you might not always like where it goes, but as long as you stick to your values, your advocates will stick by your side.

“People perceive us as an optimistic and fun brand that does push boundaries and is edgy, but this was kind of a great gut check to realize that we can be true to who we are as a brand, but do it in a way that fits with our brand voice,” Molinari says now.

That’s one important lesson for companies (and writers, for that matter) as they engage the public through the internet and in social media: It’s not just what your message says, but what it says about you.