Last week, things went from zero to about 500 degrees for Crock-Pot after a beloved “This is Us” character died in a fire sparked by one of their popular slow cookers. The onslaught was immediate and unforgiving, catching Crock-Pot completely by surprise. Outraged fans took turned their tears into fury and took it all out on the fictional 20-year-old, second-hand, malfunctioning appliance. Hammering away across all imaginable channels, the brand was so blindsided that they created a Twitter account just to deal with the fallout.

You read that right: they didn’t have a Twitter account.

For marketers, instant PR like this is a double-edged sword. When a catastrophe like the United Airlines Debacle of 2017 happens, it’s clearly a more straightforward damage control affair. When your brand instantly enters a vast public consciousness, though, even if the initial impetus is negative, it can absolutely be an opportunity. 

Control is key to reacting in an agile and clever manner. Marketers know that retaining control of a situation requires having the keys to the castle. If your brand doesn’t at least maintain a presence on all dominant social platforms, you’re already behind. When things start to boil over, you won’t have any of the data you need to make an informed decision on how to respond.

Data & Research are important to making almost any decision. Had Crock-Pot been routinely using social platforms to get to know their audience, they would already know a lot about how to respond. Demographic and engagement data, trending hashtags, historically popular content and messaging—this is all key information when crafting a critical response. Most interest-based communities are vocal online. Popular websites like Reddit usually have subcultures dedicated to any topic imaginable. A quick dive into those areas should give marketers an idea of what the tides of opinion look like to fans and members of those communities.

What’s Your Objective? This is the first question you need to ask when a crisis hits. For Crock-Pot, the response objective didn’t have to be purely damage control (and to their credit, it wasn’t). Massively increased organic exposure gives brands a chance to get a message out. Crafting that message so that it doesn’t fuel the flames is critical, but the increased exposure should always be viewed as an opportunity. You could even (re)build some brand loyalty by taking accountability, leaning way into the challenge, and shifting the focus of the story. In Crock-Pot’s case, fans were reacting in an emotional way to a fictional situation so there are a few potential objectives:

  • Address the Damage: Crock-Pot was smart to address its audience’s pain by sharing those same feelings in a tweet, while also ensuring customers of the safety of its product.
  • Brand Awareness: In Crock-Pot’s case, it could remind customers of the value it brings to every family dinner it helps prepare, showing that it helps create the best memories for real-life families.
  • Sales: Maybe too soon for Crock-Pot, but who knows? Maybe a “We Love Jack Too" sale could work? In any case, you should think about if you can capitalize on your new mega-exposure for some kind of sale or offer,  but tastefully.
  • Loyalty: Can you inspire a turn of the tide in your favor (#CrockPotisInnocent)?

Pick Your Channels: Once you’ve evaluated your data, done your research, and chosen an objective, you’ll need to decide on a cohesive and unified response. Your messaging should be consistent and in line with your KPIs for this campaign. (Yes, it’s a campaign—you need to treat it as such.) You’ll need to respond on the proper channels, ensuring that the outraged public can see your glorious riposte. There will be budget discussions for boosted posts and ads, creative considerations, and plenty of late-night emails. 

Measure Your Success (or Failure): Remember: as digital marketers, we collect valuable data whether we win or lose. It’s key to evaluate an objective-based campaign based on the metrics you decided on at launch. Social, search, display, and email all need to be scoured for learnings that can be used in the future. 

While your brand may never experience a marketing challenge at the level of #CrockPotGate, it never hurts to be prepared. Thinking through how to manage a crisis as well as who at your organization you can rely on for help will allow you to mobilize quickly and start turning the tide.  

Oh, and as you’re preparing for your Super Bowl party this weekend (and the ugly-cry inducing This is Us episode right after) don’t give your own Crock-Pot the side eye. Just remember to unplug it.


UPDATE 02/03/2018: NBC and Crock-Pot just teamed up to create a brilliant Facebook video starring Jack (the character killed in the fire, played by Milo Ventimiglia). The promo copy reads "Milo reminds us to come together for the Big Game. Watch This Is Us on NBC, Sunday, February 4." Well played, guys! 


Amani Mansour and Eve Simon contributed to this blog (and if we're being honest, are still shaken by the whole Crock Pot fire and aren't ready to watch how Jack dies)


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