FedEx is screwing up the easiest PR move of 2018
Dropping the NRA after the Parkland shooting is easy, obvious and profitable. Why aren’t they just doing it?
When FedEx stayed silent following the increasingly intense calls from consumers to boycott the NRA, I figured they just needed some time to line their ducks in a row.
It’s a big company, right? 🤷🏽
What I didn’t expect is that they were just putting the final touches on a PR fuckup so epic, that they’ll be teaching it as a case study in marketing classes around the country for years to come.
But why wait? This PR statement from FedEx is a lesson that everyone in corporate America needs to study right now so they don’t make the same incomprehensibly expensive mistakes.
This is 2018, the year brands became a proxy for the American political battleground.
It’s a lesson in how you can’t talk to customers anymore. A lesson in how PR can no longer be done. A lesson in how if you’re a brand, you have to get comfortable taking a side.
Let’s take a look at what happened here.
🚫 The awful 2nd person press release
“FedEx Corporation’s positions on the issues of gun policy and safety differ from those of the National Rifle Association (NRA).”
It’s striking to see that as they found themselves at the center of an emotionally charged national protest, FedEx chose to release a biscuit dry press release in the 2nd person.
This might be standard protocol, but an unprecedented branding crisis is a good reason to bypass standard protocol.
The company was radio silent for days after consumers turned their attention to FedEx. And when they finally responded to the statement, it was just plain tone-deaf.
In 2018 America, people don’t want to talk to the 2nd or 3rd person. They want to talk to the 1st person. They want to hear from the person who’s in charge — you know, like the CEO.
What’s the strategy here? It’s all fun and games on Snapchat — and you bring out the PR hacks when things get rough?
FedEx should have released a personal statement from an executive.
This would have shown the world they were confident enough about their decision that a sentient being was willing to slap their name on it and be held accountable for it.
Of course, if there’s any statement no one wants to put their name on, it’s this one. As we’ll see, it’s a pretty shitty statement.
🚫 The very off-putting case of gaslighting
“FedEx is a common carrier under Federal law and therefore does not and will not deny service or discriminate against any legal entity regardless of their policy positions or political views.”
Who at FedEx thought it would be a good idea to gaslight American consumers?
In this part of the statement, FedEx finally responded to protestors who were asking FedEx to deny service to the NRA — which is to say, no one.
No one was asking FedEx to do that.
We all know that offering NRA members a 20% discount is an affiliate marketing partnership, not a legal requirement. It’s an mutually beneficial alliance that helps organizations boost one other’s legitimacy.
Why did they bother including this? Was it to throw us off the scent? Was it to prove how committed they are to neutrality?
🚫 The attempt to play “neutral”
“The NRA is one of hundreds of organizations in our alliances/association Marketing program whose members receive discounted rates for FedEx shipping. FedEx has never set or changed rates for any of our millions of customers around the world in response to their politics, beliefs or positions on issues.”
Yes, that was exactly where they were going with this.
FedEx outlines all the ways its beliefs are completely the opposite of the NRA’s before concluding that they are simply in a neutral business relationship with the NRA:
- FedEx supports background checks (NRA actively lobbies against this)
- FedEx believes only the military should have access to assault rifles like the AR 15 (NRA actively lobbies against this)
- Believes urgent action is required at the local, state, and Federal level to protect schools and students (NRA is lobbying to arm schoolteachers with guns)
FedEx must have missed the memo: Doing business with someone working against your company values is grounds for removal. That is what company values are for.
I’m looking at FedEx’s Purple Promise, a core values document that FedEx purportedly uses to drive its business decisions.
Why even bother having this if you’re not going to follow through with it?
Let’s compare with how another corporate business, Lufthansa, responded when faced with calls to remove advertising from Breitbart:
Lufthansa didn’t shrug their shoulders and say, “What can ya do?”
They evaluated the issue brought to their attention against their corporate values and did what they needed to do.
Final thoughts: You will not survive 2018 as a neutral brand
Look, I know it’s more complicated than this. There’s plenty of speculation that FedEx’s CEO, who is a major Republican donor and a gun nut, is behind the decision to stick with the NRA.
But business is business and I feel for FedEx’s marketing team, which now has an enormous challenge ahead of it.
This is hundreds of millions of dollars of brand equity wiped away overnight. This is imagery that does not go away.
This is a sense of knowing a company knows that it’s acting against its own stated values — and is willing to twist and turn that fact to make it seem like a virtue.
It’s a damn shame. This should have been easy. FedEx had a chance to be on the right side of history and make an easy buck riding on the back of a PR opportunity.
Instead, they’re now locked into a boycott led by a child who survived a school shooting.
Doesn’t seem worth it.
Thanks for reading. You can come yell at me on Twitter now. I’m @nandoodles.