This article strictly offers academic insight. It should be used for educational purposes and not viewed as an attack on institutions and individuals. The writer assumes no responsibility for the contrary interpretation.
This article draws lessons from what some brands were up to in September. It looks at positive and negative insights crucial for communication practice in Africa.
- Victoria University’s vexed brand ambassador Campaign
Victoria University publicly unveiled Bad Black as a brand ambassador, causing a public outcry. They denied the appointment the following day. The cycle of YES and NO appointment continued, which showed casual brand seriousness. What they did wrong: announced and then backtracked; released a speech as a press statement on the issue, which was an oversight; and publicly associated themselves with a controversial personal brand that clashes with their values. Anyone who is in the PR game will tell you it will be among the worst releases of 2021. For such controversial issues, VU should have used extremely short public statements and avoided many media interviews on the issue. Think about this: the same university has Gospel musician Baby Gloria as their ambassador and their poster girl. You are simply saying, “let us have a brand that is so confusing that it is next to anything. Some sectors should never be associated or be next to untrustworthy imagery.
You need to think about everything public and what your brand stands for and who will be associated with. “Every name represents value and values.” –Apostle Moses. At what point do you pause minding about your reputation and go for trending, even breweries are mindful of their reputations. What about a university? What message was the university sending to parents and employers?
What Victoria University should have done better: appoint bad black but not make it public; ensure she does not identify herself as a brand ambassador publicly and tame her content with a script. Brand custodians should get out of the excitement and resist the temptation to publicly unveil every brand ambassador? If you are not an NGO into humanitarian work pushing for a cause, it is pointless to have a brand ambassador programme going public. It is laughable to find someone’s bio describing them as a product or service brand ambassador.
The culture of disruption that rides on manipulation and spin is not sustainably safe. Communicating one issue and then backtracking is a disease that can only be sustained by spin and manipulation. How long are you going to spin? Your key stakeholders will be turned off for good.
It is wrong to think public outcry is the same as talkability. The appointment caused a public outcry.
The VU Public appointment of Bad Black as an ambassador should have never been even a public ceremony considering her problematic reputation. The University Vice-Chancellor should have been protected from that entire process unless there was no one else to delegate to. I doubt the university should have faced public criticism if they stuck to the “She is our student “narrative and were silent on the brand ambassador. Marketing teams must learn to look beyond online numbers on day one.
To those who think clout-chasing rules: positioning, values, and standards are triplets in branding. Imagine if your eyes were under your feet. Disruption does not mean that you invent your yardstick of wisdom. There is nothing to celebrate about disruption if the approach can affect business continuity and sales. The reputation of a university can affect their license, funding, enrolment and employability of their students.
2. KCCA campaign name TWAT stirs controversy online.
Kampala City Council Authority was roasted on Twitter for using a controversial acronym name for their campaign. Tweet under their ED handle mentioned TWAT for the smart city campaign. How did “twat” which can’t even be said in front of children get approval? Classic case of a gap in proper PR research and communication planning. No communicator should let happen unless the approving authority pushed it through against their advice.
KCCA ED decided to joke about the oversight in a tweet reply which was a better approach than defending it. The Gods heard. It helped to extinguish the fire. This second PR blunder teaches us that sometimes, slow communication can quell any media storm against a brand. The crisis did not go into day two. Double check everything you get from creative. Have more campaign name options to choose from, befriend Google. If possible pre-test all messages in your circles first or in a dry run.