In the world of public relations, there is a costly difference between mistakes and stupidity. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life; stupidity really requires some effort.
Most acts of stupidity in public relations stem from a decisive disregard for the public on some important level, be it underestimating our intelligence, our patience or our values. When brands succumb to denial or deception, the public knows. We can feel it, because the public has “gut feelings” just like any individual. Deep down, we know when someone is lying to us, cheating on us or condescending to us. Alarms go off.
After a tone deaf, misguided and dismayingly inappropriate attempt to sells pizzas by encouraging attendees at the presidential debate to ask the candidates if they preferred pepperoni or sausage pie, Pizza Hut has prudently implemented a change in strategy. Instead of interrupting democracy in action, Pizza Hut has decided to shift the contest online and randomly select a winner willing to simply offer his/her email address and zip code. The prize–a pizza a week for 30 years or a check for $15,600–remains unchanged.
This, of course, is a dubious way of admitting a mistake without really admitting a mistake. It’s another stunt to compensate for a PR debacle, and it effectively catapults Pizza Hut from the land of screw-ups to the netherworld of stupidity. The public isn’t buying it, and we resent Pizza Hut for thinking we would. Shame on them.
Does anyone really believe Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr when he states that moving the contest online was a “natural progression of the campaign”? That’s dishonest and the public knows it. It makes our stomachs turn. It’s insulting on every level.
Nevertheless, we’re all adults here, and we have sadly accepted such realities as part of our flawed world. Perhaps someday the truth squads that monitor presidential debates will cover PR campaigns, too. We’d like to think that public relations professionals are a little more honest than politicians (at least the ones who don’t work for Pizza Hut).