Misshapes, Mishaps and Missteps: Learning From Blob Trees and Steve Harvey

By Frances K. Cox, Principal, The Fratelli Group

The Reese’s response to its misshapen Christmas tree peanut butter candies is a great example of the right response to a crisis — a topic my colleague, Pete, and I discussed on our recent Fratellicast.

Rather than deny and risk falling into what I call the DAP Trap — Denial that leads to Anger that then leads to Panic and hasty decision making — Reese’s embraced their less-than-perfect creations (essentially blob-shaped tree candy) with an #AllTreesAreBeautiful Twitter campaign that isolated haters and won over fans.

By not over or underreacting, Reese’s displayed communications — and marketing — savvy and turned brand backlash into brand gold.

Can the same be said in the Miss Universe case? If you haven’t heard by now, the pageant host, Steve Harvey, mistakenly declared Miss Colombia the winner, when in fact, she was first runner-up, and Miss Philippines had won the crown.

Needless to say, it was a mistake of international proportions, at least among pageant fans. Rather than make history as a back-to-back win for Colombia, the event instantly became known as the moment when the wrong winner was crowned.

You can find a written apology from the Miss Universe Organization on its “News” page in the post that announces the winner:

“The excitement of live TV was evident tonight on The Miss Universe stage with over 10 million live fan votes tabulated. Unfortunately, a live telecast means that human error can come into play. We witnessed that tonight when the wrong winner was initially announced. Our sincerest apologies to Miss Universe Colombia 2015, Ariadna Gutierrez-Arévalo, Miss Universe Philippines 2015, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, their families and fans. We congratulate Miss Universe Philippines as Miss Universe 2015.”

I’m not sure there is much else that can be said, though it would be nice to see a more prominent apology on the website and not buried on a subpage in a post with the headline, “Crowning Moment Miss Universe.”

At the least, the organization owned its mistake, gave a reason and then offered an apology. It’s probably the best approach in such a difficult situation.

I don’t think the same can be said for Steve Harvey. Yes, he did apologize on live TV when he corrected the crowning, but his immediate reaction after walking off stage, as captured in a Snapchat and reported by USA TODAY, was to deny it was his fault. He claimed the teleprompter was wrong. Denial. The DAP Trap closed right on him.

Fortunately, Mr. Harvey reversed course before Anger and Panic could set in. In the post-event press conference, he owned up to his mistake calling it human error, a (no doubt coordinated) message reflected in the Miss Universe Organization statement. He echoed those sentiments in his tweeted apology — misspelling both contestants’ home country names but apologizing and owning his human error nonetheless.

It is unclear whether a better initial response from Steve Harvey and a more prominent apology from the Miss Universe Organization could have turned this brand backlash (for a good example on that front, see Donald Trump’s Twitter account) into brand gold. But I can say that owning the mistake and then reacting with balance is the best bet for avoiding the DAP Trap and coming out with your head held high — crown or no crown.