A trio of Aussie cricketers have been on a very steep learning curve over the past week, but there are lessons for all of us in the ball tampering incident.
Over the Easter long weekend, my Aussie family fun, melted chocolate Easter egg eating and beach going was periodically paused to watch what was the fallout of the ball tampering incident. As a whole, we Aussies are passionate about a few things in life with beer, sport and generally ‘being Australian’ at the top of the list.
When it comes to sport, cricket casts a wide net with all types of Australians, no matter their sex, religion, ethnic group or socioeconomic status, finding passion within the game. Cricket is unique in its rules – yes it has laws that each player has to abide by, but players must also act according to the ‘spirit of the game’.
As it says on the Cricket Australia website:
“Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.”
The ‘spirit of the game’ is a big deal for Aussies. We think of ourselves as an honest, good sport, kind of nation. As I watched the cricket catastrophe unfold, there were some clear lessons that brands (and we creators of content) should keep in mind when talking to consumers – especially if we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle.
Lesson 1: Don’t be un-Australian.
It’s safe to say that what David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith partook in was by no means in the ‘spirit of the game’ and therefore, it was not Australian. Believe it or not, there’s a Macquarie Dictionary definition of un-Australian, which has something to do with driving past a pub rather than stopping in for a beer, but at its core to be Australian means to be true-blue. Be trustworthy, be honest and don’t BS.
Thanks to social media, we humans are now able to broadcast our outrage for the world to see and, when the ball tampering incident was revealed, the pile-on from social media was intense. Whereas in the past we may have only discussed our disdain with the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker, nowadays we can post it online for all to see. It’s this public nature of the outrage that makes brands nervous. As these types of pile-ons become more frequent, they’re going to be something brands have to learn to live with – the question is: how? First lesson, don’t be un-Australian – be honest and trustworthy. And the second lesson...
Lesson 2: Be a good mate.
As pile-ons occur, brands have to be seen as taking action. Pepsi pulled its ad 24-hours after its pile-on incident last year and Dove apologised immediately once its ad was called racist. And rightly so – these ads, as they were labelled time and time again, were tone-deaf.
But back to cricket: For Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, sponsors such as Weet-bix, CBA, LG and Asics all quickly separated themselves from the cheating trio. And although they got one thing right: they acted quickly, it felt defensive. After all, brands are quick to piggy-back on the success of these guys when the sun is shining, but when something goes wrong, they’re quick to dump. It feels cheap, like the opposite of mateship.
So, what is the solution? Sure, a brand and doesn’t want to align with a cheat – and that’s understandable. But is kicking a man when he’s down being a good mate? Should the brand have said, “While we don’t support the actions of Steve, David and Cameron, we are still very much fans of the game of cricket and we’re here to work with these players and their families as they navigate this difficult time.” Can brands be supportive and make a statement at the same time?
It comes down to doing what feels right – not doing what’s safe. Yes, it’s safe to pullback and affirm how north your brand’s moral compass points (unlike the dodgy people you wrongly aligned yourself with), but to use an American sporting metaphor this time: it’s very Monday-morning quarterback. Hindsight is easy. What’s hard is sticking by a mate when he’s in a tough spot. And that’s why some brands that dumped their shining stars too soon, are now experiencing backlash. They may need their own press conference soon, in which case, they’re wise to remember lesson three...
Lesson 3: Be fair dinkum.
Once the cricketers returned from Cape Town to Australia, their apologies were streamed on Facebook, TV and just about everywhere you could turn. My son and I watch as Steve Smith cried and apologised for his failure of leadership and Cameron Bancroft apologised too. And their apologies did seem to turn the tide – many Australians started to feel sorry for them and as a nation, our empathy for these young guys grew. Then came David Warner’s apology, a day later. As he broke down about the affect his actions had not only on himself, but his team and his family, it was tough to watch. Yet the sympathy we extended as a nation to Bancroft and Smith fell a little short for Warner. Maybe we needed someone to blame, maybe we just don’t like Warner as much. But either way, his day-late apology didn’t garner the same empathy as the others.
The lesson here? Don’t delay for the correct PR spin to help tackle your problem – just be fair dinkum. As a brand, you can’t expect all of social media to love you all of the time and sometimes it’s hard to tell what the tone of the nation will be. It’s best not to hide when things go wrong.
Ultimately, when dealing with a hiccup on the road to smooth branding, Aussie brands are wise to dig deep and remember what’s at their core, their customers’ core and the core of the nation: we’re a no-BS kind of nation. And, as those of us in content creation toss around words like ‘real’, ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’, isn’t that what we actually mean?
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