We can all agree that humor has its place in PR. A witty headline can grab more attention, a crafty subject line can get an email opened – but humor can become a PR nightmare when used in the wrong way.
Oftentimes humor is used as a brush-off, the hope that a situation can be diffused. Three high profile tweets show how humor can be abused, while two other situations teach a positive lesson on the power of humor in PR.
Gottfried quacks his last – It seems obvious that a natural disaster is never something to make light of, but Gilbert Gottfried missed the social cue. Following the floods in Japan, his tweets – yes multiple tweets – offer a prime example of tactless humor. The result: after 10 years of inspiring millions to mute Aflac commercials, Alfac muted Gottfried themselves.
Use caution around major events – Kenneth Cole took ethnocentricity to new heights when the company hijacked the socially charged #Cairo to promote its spring line (see Greg Hakim’s post on hijacking hashtags). The result: KC apologized and the designer will think twice before aligning spring dresses with spring uprisings.
Death, is it always too soon? – Roger Ebert may have had a positive social agenda when he tweeted about the alleged drunk driving death of Jackass star, Ryan Dunn. But when the tweet came hours after the accident, before alcohol was confirmed to be involved, thousands felt it was insensitive versus moral.
Now, as a student of social media and the teachings of transparency, I should add a disclaimer before we get to the positive examples: I am unabashedly in favor of all things Tina Fey – especially when it comes to 30 Rock. Now we can continue…
Choose your brush-offs wisely – Alec Baldwin is kicked off a plane for playing Words With Friends and next thing Tina Fey knows, American Airlines is talking about pulling the show from in-flight entertainment. With no lives in danger and no social movements involved, this situation was a perfect example of using humor as a PR brush-off.
Sensitivity comes first – Much like her character on 30 Rock, Fey’s cast doesn’t give her a break. So when Tracy Morgan launched into a homophobic rant during a stand-up routine, Fey condemned the action and offered no excuses for the star’s behavior. After expressing her genuine sentiments, the final line in the statement is an acceptable joke – for such a serious situation. Fey went one step further in last week’s episode by incorporating a similar storyline for Morgan’s character, Tracy Jordan. Although the on-air version of the incident is altered – Fey uses the show as a platform to provide some transparency on the issue, rather than run from it.