5 reasons Skittles’ response to Trump was perfect
This week, Donald Trump Jr posted a callous image on Twitter comparing Syrian refugees to potentially poisoned Skittles. The message was clear – if you wouldn’t risk eating Skittles in case a few of them might be poisoned, you shouldn’t accept Syrian refugees in case a few of them are terrorists. The crisis management team at Skittles responded masterfully, distancing themselves from the controversy and ensuring their values were known to the public.
Like most of the propaganda issued by the Trump campaign, the tweet was one-sided, overly simplistic and bigoted. Far from the Obama campaign of eight years ago which was founded on the ideas of hope and change, Trump’s campaign seems determined to hone in on feelings of fear and anger.
Here’s the tweet that sparked the controversy, which was liked more than 28,000 times and retweeted more than 17,000 times.
For Skittles, getting dragged into one of the dirtiest, most controversial political campaigns in American history without warning undoubtedly constituted a communications crisis. Their parent company, Wrigley Americas, issued a brief statement in response to the tweet that has been widely praised for its dignified response. The response from the Corporate Affairs team will be the stuff of crisis management case studies for some time to come.
— Seth Abramovitch (@SethAbramovitch) September 20, 2016
For anyone that’s keeping count, note that the response was liked more than 40,000 times and retweeted more than 27,000 times.
Here’s what Skittles got right in managing this incident.
They were prompt
Just five hours elapsed between the time Trump’s tweet was posted and the Skittles/Wrigleys response. The Golden Rule of crisis response is to get a response out within 60 minutes, to go from being dragged unexpectedly into the US Presidential campaign, to going viral, to getting a response out within five hours is not at all bad going.
They were human
The humanitarian crisis in Syria is profound. According to the UN, around 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. This week alone, 25 humanitarian workers were killed trying to deliver urgently needed aid. Exploiting this conflict for political gain is cynical, and the Trump campaign has been called out for that.
Skittles’ message: “Refugees are people” was simple, human, dignified and true.
They chose the right medium
The old maxim ‘the medium is the message’ still applies. Instead of responding on Twitter, which might have been seen as flippant, Skittles responded to a senior reporter with a well known publication. The Skittles team also chose to reply through their parent company Wrigleys, and to use the VP of Corporate Affairs as their spokesperson. This showed that they were taking the matter seriously, and addressing it with an appropriate level of seniority.
They kept it short
The Skittles holding statement is 29 words long, and uses straightforward language. It’s not easy to say all you need to say in a paragraph that short, but they managed to hit all the right notes. Brevity is wise because one badly chosen word can be widely misinterpreted causing further problems – the shorter statement, the smaller the chance of getting it wrong. There was no corporate-speak or PR lingo. Anyone could read and understand the statement in moments.
They were direct
Skittles were honest about their concern for their own reputation. The brand did not want to be seen as exploiting the unexpected and unwanted publicity for marketing purposes. The statement’s opening words: “Skittles are candy” explained why Trump’s analogy was so wrong, but also served to remind us that this is a brand that is not about politics.
Crisis management teams will no doubt study Skittles’ swift action to distance themselves from the controversy and look for how and where it can be applied within their own industries. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign suffered another embarrassment as it turns out they stole the photo used in the original tweet… from a refugee.
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