50 Shades of Inappropriate Marketing

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse and partner violence. Be wary of the external links in particular.

50 Shades of Grey. It’s a thing. It’s not going anywhere and we have all accepted this. Recently, due to the release of the film adaptation, the books and characters found themselves in the spotlight again.

It’s not news to anyone that 50 Shades is widely believed to depict an incredibly unhealthy, even abusive, relationship. Although claims have been made that the book simply depicts BDSM, and not emotional abuse, many beg to differ.

I’m not here to wade in on the arguments about the content and themes of the books and movie. That has been done by others more eloquent than me and in a better place to judge, as depicted in the links above. What I am concerned about is that businesses are trying to tap into the 50 Shades hysteria as a marketing tool while ignoring the problematic messages it sends their customers.

Domestic violence is a big problem in New Zealand. The NZ Women’s Refuge estimates that they help a woman in an abusive relationship every 6 minutes via their phone line alone. One in three Kiwi women will experience partner abuse at some point in their lives and fourteen women will be killed this year alone by a member of their own family. The statistics are horrifying and the realities for many Kiwi women are inescapable. I, and many others I know, have been abused by people we have trusted during our lives. The effects are long lasting and hugely damaging.

Given the public backlash to 50 Shades, whether you agree with the assessments or not, it seems unfathomable that any brand not directly involved with the movie or books would align themselves with its image. And yet that is exactly what at least one Kiwi brand has done this week. A well-meaning but ultimately ill-thought out marketing campaign was launched encouraging women to treat themselves well. It was front-run by a fake social media account pretending to be Christian Grey.

You don’t have to have read the books or have seen the movie to see the problems that inherently come from conflating Christian Grey’s public image with the treatment of women. Whether you are a fan of the series, whether you agree with the varying assessments of the abuse depicted, it doesn’t make sense for any brand to align themselves with such a polarising and potentially damaging phenomenon. Reputation is key in the world we live in; to market using such a divisive tool opens you up for a multitude of reputational and communication problems. And to make matters worse, the marketing ploy was integrated with an online dating application.

Putting aside that the campaign will have breached the terms of use of both Facebook and the dating application involved, it raises the issue of correlating online dating with abusive partners in a world already concerned about the ease with which dating apps can be turned into hunting grounds for abusive individuals.

Given all of these factors it staggers me that the campaign made it off the ground. Surely someone in the team at some point stopped and asked if it was really such a good idea?

The brand involved was contacted by several people via social media but maintained that their intent was to flip the paradigm on its head. It remains to be seen whether the campaign will be pulled; either way, it seems Kiwi women, and men, aren’t done pushing back on the inherent sexism and poor thought that creeps into our mass marketing.


Edit: At the time of writing this the brand concerned had taken their social media account offline. It’s my view that by removing themselves from the conversation they have failed to address the serious concerns their consumers have about their marketing campaign. Hopefully they will be back and better prepared for the discussions in the coming weeks.

Customer Service: Not just another thing your boss does

Last Sunday was the monthly meet up of #brunchclub, a bloggers networking group I belong to . This month, the queen bees (the lovely Laura, Lizzy and Madi) organised goody bags and a guest speaker. The speaker this month was Nate, co-owner of Tuihana Café in Dominion Road.

With a foot in both the café and IT worlds and two of his own businesses there is no doubt Nate was talking to his key demographic. Some of the things he said were so important, and so worth highlighting, that I live tweeted them. Note: Sadly, I ran out of characters for a hashtag so I will link to them all at the end of this post. One thing in particular, however, hit me hard enough I felt it deserved its own blog post: service recovery.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 22.06.20

In my 12+ years working the most important thing I have learned is that no matter your business model or sector your customer is everything. This may be easy to see for a café, which has people walking in from the street to buy things all day, but it is just as true for any business no matter how far removed they are from Joe Bloggs on the street. And in a world that revolves around customers the most important asset a company has is customer loyalty.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we hire the wrong staff. Sometimes the unexpected happens. Sometimes customers have bad experiences. How we remedy those is often the difference between customer loss and customer loyalty.  Most people realise that good service leads to loyal customers. What many don’t realise is that a mistake or bad customer experience is more often than not an opportunity to improve the service you offer.

Service recovery is a tricky business but the true essence of it lies in the opportunity you as a business have to go above and beyond. When a customer has a bad experience don’t just apologise. Don’t just put it back to how it should have been as if nothing happened. Do more. Exceed expectations. Show them they matter to your business on a personal level.

Imagine you worked in a café and a regular customer’s coffee order was made incorrectly. How would do you deal with it? Would you apologise and make them a new one? I would. I’d also give them their money back. Your mistake has cost them time they may not have had to spare. It has frustrated and disappointed them. Making a new coffee shows you know you made a mistake. Refunding their money shows you know it had an impact on them personally.

This, I believe, is what Nate was getting at when he said he empowers his staff to make decisions. He may not have specifically advocated for free coffees when something goes wrong but he allows his staff to assess whether that’s the right response at the time. When you have staff who understand the value of customer loyalty and service recovery, and you allow those staff to act in the best interests of both the business and the customer, everyone wins. And isn’t that what it’s all about in the end?

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 18.36.16




Live tweeting of Nate’s talk can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.