Here’s How Best Buy Could’ve Avoided Their ‘Serial’ Twitter Gaffe
“Serial,” the most-downloaded podcast of all time, ended this week, creating a pop culture vacuum that probably won’t be filled for a few weeks. But on its way out, the podcast inadvertently became part of a marketing controversy.
Fans of the real-life crime drama know that a Best Buy location in Baltimore plays a significant role in the narrative. Here’s the essential information: A high school senior was murdered in 1999; her ex-boyfriend was convicted of the crime; and the case against him hinged on a phone call he allegedly made from a Best Buy parking lot.
Last week, Best Buy tweeted a reference to the series. The attempt at humor flopped, and the company deleted the tweet hours later. However, enough people saw the post for it to make the rounds, and by the end of the day Best Buy had issued the dreaded Brand Insensitivity Apology.
Given that “Serial” grabbed ahold of pop culture for a few months, it’s understandable that Best Buy would want to publicly acknowledge their role in the story. The problem, as Slate analyzed, is the story isn’t fiction—there was a real murder victim, and a potentially innocent man is now serving a life sentence.
Was Best Buy insensitive? The answer is subjective, but the more useful takeaway for brands is to absolutely look a gift horse in the mouth. Accidentally becoming part of pop culture is not always an opportunity to produce content. And hijacking a story for a quick boost in traffic or sales can torpedo a long-term content strategy.
There’s also the issue of internal approval. If Best Buy wanted to become part of the “Serial” conversation, it could have avoided disaster by having a separate approval process for any content that involves pop culture reactions. There’s an almost extreme level of zeitgeist-awareness and sensitivity that’s required to determine whether any comments about real (or sometimes fictional) events will evoke a negative response. Brands can’t fix a culture that feeds on outrage and negativity, but planning how to clearly vet and approve content before it goes live can save you from a PR crisis.
Brands should aim to tell their own relevant stories, but when they become part of the story, especially if that story is tragic, it usually carries more risk than reward.Image by David Kohl