London Weight Management

 

This video is a textbook example of PR failure. You can thank London Weight Management for this fine sample of lazy marketing.

 

[Sorry folks, the video’s been yanked by London Weight Management. Try searching directly at YouTube.]

 

The Online Citizen has featured an article about it here, written by Anita Kapoor.

 

She’s said whatever there is to say about the objectionable content of the video itself quite succinctly, so I am not going to go there. This PR fail is interesting because we haven’t heard London Weight Management’s response yet. Assuming they have one, that is.

 

A highlight from LWM’s website, about exactly how they help their clients lose weight:

Customers need not take medication, administer jabs, exercise nor starve in order to lose weight.

 

Oh dear. Insulting your potential clients AND lying about how to lose weight? I don’t need to drag any quotes from experts into this post: it is common sense. Exercise=weight loss. Simple as that. If you want to keep the weight off permanently, that is.

 

Now, the usage of the “your worth is based on how you look” by beauty companies is nothing new or shocking. Fair and Lovely did it. Ironically, they are owned by Unilever, the same company that owns Dove.

 

In this video, Fair and Lovely would like you to know that you are totally unemployable and thus worthless if you are not fair (and lovely).

 

 

In this video, Dove would like you to know that beauty, alas, really is only skin deep, and dependent on one’s Photoshop skills and makeup artist.

 

 

The fact is, companies that sell beauty products are not selling a product. They are selling a dream, an ephemeral ideal that the vast majority of women will never match up to in real life, mostly because you cannot Photoshop your not-so-flat stomach or imperfect chin on the fly when strolling down Orchard Rd. Sorry, the tech for that isn’t available yet – try in another 50 years.

 

The reason why Dove decided to go with the “you are beautiful just the way you are” key message in their branding is that they realized quite some time ago that consumers are getting smarter. Dang! They’re evolving!

 

Women don’t want to be badgered into buying beauty products because they feel horrible about themselves. They want to buy them because they want to improve on an already existing, perfectly unique canvas: themselves. It’s “empowerment” and “entitlement” instead of “meeting expectations.”

 

At least, this is what Dove wants you to think. Sorry to disappoint, but you know it’s just clever branding strategy, right?

 

So what was London Weight Management’s heinous PR crime? They were simply using an ad strategy that has been used for beauty products since the 50’s. What’s wrong with that? It’s not like they created the strategy, or the underlying gender relationships that made this such an effective strategy  (a very long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away).

 

London Weight Management has failed to observe the number one rule that has to be taken into account when crafting a brand or an ad campaign’s key message: Know thy audience.

 

The problem, as the good ad folks who service Dove’s account have realized, is that consumers are evolving. The face of women’s identity in Asia is changing, and will continue to do so.

 

Singaporean women, who are a relatively liberated lot compared to some of their Asian counterparts, are not very likely to receive LWM’s messages from that ad positively. Have they looked at their target market recently? Probably not in great detail. If they had, they would have understood that the paradigm of “worth + non-loserdom= beauty” does not work quite as well as they would think here, because a good chunk of Singaporean women in the 25-40 age group here have their worth anchored to other things, like their career and financial independence and/or stability.

 

The other astoundingly stupid thing that LWM did was to push too far. It is one thing to push boundaries for shock value. This is not a new ad strategy, either. This video has not just pushed the boundaries, it has raped them and then killed their grandmothers: LWM have gone out of their way to paint women as pathetic, humiliated, worthless creatures who are complete losers (and also faint inexplicably) if they are fat.

 

LWM is not the only one guilty of using this key message in ad campaign. Done subtly, “You are a loser if you don’t use this product” is a key message that can be very effective for beauty and weight loss brands. I’m not condoning, just saying that it does work.  However, it is usually much more subtle than this, a gentle suggestion that maybe you would be happier, healthier person if you lost weight using whatever machines/herbal supplements these companies are peddling.

 

The massive PR failure here is that LWM not only failed to understand their audience, they approved two ad strategies that clash violently: going to extremes to prove a point, and using the normally effective “worth + non-loserdom= beauty” key message.

 

The bottom line is: anything a beauty company tells you is a cleverly crafted lie to get you to throw money at them. In LWM’s case, it was a stupidly, lazily crafted lie.

 

Oh, and if you intend to lose weight: Cardio, oatmeal breakfasts and cutting sugar and fat from your diet are a much cheaper, healthier way to do it. It’ll probably save you a heart attack or two in the future, too. Just saying.

 

Isabella Loh

 

You know the story by now, right? If you don’t, read it here. What I was really amazed by, (apart from her complete lack of logic), was her complete lack of PR skills. She is a textbook example of how NOT to handle a PR crisis. I am not going to talk about her apology statement, because it was probably not written by Isabella Loh anyway; much more likely that the PR staff at WRS wrote it.

 

Now, it’s not easy dealing with journalists. Especially when those journalists already have information that’s true, and you can’t deny it without looking like a liar to the general public. She could have saved herself – somewhat – from derision online, but she made a few very unwise choices when she talked to the media.

 

Mistake #1: She admitted to making a statement that cast doubt on her objectivity and/or credibility.

Devil worship. Enough said.

 

Mistake #2: She dragged our 35% President, Tony Tan, into it.

You know those people who CC the boss in an email conversation as a strong-arm tactic to get what they want or impress the boss with their cleverness?

 

Guess what? Everyone kind of hates them. It was an exceptionally foolhardy thing to do considering the fact that Tony Tan was not actually her boss. Did she really think that Tony Tan’s office was going to just let that slide?

 

Pro PR tip: If you have to drag someone like the President into a conversation of any sort to make yourself look good or defend your position, you may need to rethink that position.

 

Mistake #3: Weasel word statements.

Know why people make jokes about not being able to trust politicians? It’s not just their profession. It’s the words they use. Ms. Loh made two remarks that are spectacular examples of weasel word statements:

 

a)  Her vague comment about receiving negative feedback, from a varied group comprising:

“…corporations, friends of the zoo, the public and the media, especially over the event’s relevance in relation to conservation.”

 

Cardinal PR sin #1 committed here: Thou art so vague that your statement beggars belief.

 

No, really.  This is almost as bad as Fox News’ much-derided usage of ‘some say’ or ‘people say’. Who? Who are these people who complained? We don’t need their street address, we just want some numbers. Knowing exactly how long Ms. Loh was sitting on this information before acting on it would help, too, but nope. She blew that tiny chance to bolster the credibility of this particular vein of her argument.

 

Mistake #4: Given the chance to project a somewhat human and caring image, she blew it. She said that she had:

“not been informed about the contract for grading the student’s work.”

“However, the Straits Times understands that a media release which mentioned the collaboration had been sent out.”

 

This is the classic “dog ate my homework” excuse. Somebody else is at fault. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t informed. There’s a  triple whammy of PR-fail in this statement.

 

Cardinal PR sin #2 committed here: Using the passive voice to dodge blame and accountability. Lady, next time just save yourself a lot of pain and say that you’re looking into it, even if you don’t want to take the blame.

 

Cardinal PR sin #3 committed here: Assuming  that reporters can’t smell lies and half-truths. Oh, come on. This is what they do for a living. I would presume that as a CEO of a company that runs a major tourist attraction, she would have had some form of media training by now. Hint to WRS: Now is a good time to start.

 

Cardinal PR sin #4 committed here: Caught equivocating with nowhere to run to. Now, there are two possibilities: One, she was telling truth. Sort of: it’s possible she didn’t read the media release. So it was not so much her subordinates’ fault for failing to inform her, as it was her fault for not reading her e-mails. Even if she hadn’t known about the student’s involvement before (a) cancelling the event, and (b) speaking to the reporter, the smart thing to do would have been this: Politely ask the journalist to call back in half an hour, and trawl her inbox/desk etc for any memos, releases, etc. about the Halloween Horrors event.

 

In fact, she should have been prepared for this before the media contacted her. Did she think she would get away with no media interest in an abruptly cancelled event that generated $4 million in revenue for the Night Safari last year? With 2 weeks left to the launch date?

 

The other possibility is that she had read the release, and she was equivocating. Which is just about the dumbest thing you can do when you are (a) talking to a reporter, and (b) completely unprepared for your conversation with a journalist.

 

Pro PR tip: If you are brave/stupid enough to speak directly to the media about a dumbass decision that you made, make sure you do your homework first. And never assume that the journalist you are talking to is not privy to basic information. Like the fact that a media release was sent out. About the thing you claim not to know about. Sotong.

 

So thanks to Isabella Loh and her cancelled infrastructures of “devil worship,” you now know what NOT to do when faced with a PR crisis.