It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re located. Whether you’re a company marketing canned pasta rings or cars, the lesson holds true. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use a tragedy to promote your product. Automaker Volvo learned that the hard way when a post to microblogging service Sina Weibo angered readers, who accused the company of taking advantage of an airline tragedy.
Weibo is immensely popular; for lack of a better comparison, it’s China’s version of Twitter. That means brands post marketing messages there, just like on social media everywhere else. In our opinion, many brands should just not bother to make social media posts at all, unless it’s to provide customer support.
Brands don’t listen to us, though. You’ve probably heard of MH370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared entirely over the weekend. Volvo’s social media representatives, who the company says are from an outside agency, apparently wanted to make a nice post about the airline disaster. If you still think of Volvo as a Swedish company or a division of Ford and are confused about why they’re even posting on Weibo, well, it makes more sense than you might think. The Volvo brand is now owned by a Chinese company, and many of the passengers on the Beijing-bound plane were Chinese.
We don’t read Chinese, but the Wall Street Journal tells us that the original message read as follows:
The rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane is in full swing. Passenger safety is also a top priority at Volvo Cars, let’s pray together for the 239 lives that were on board of the plane. Bless them, and may a miracle occur.
The message also featured some candles. Isn’t that nice?
No. No, it isn’t. If you’re going to express condolences as a brand, do that; if you’re going to promote your product, do that, but for gosh sakes, don’t do it in the same message. No one really cares what a car company has to say about an airline disaster, though.
‘Inappropriate and Wrong’: Volvo’s Chinese Social Media Faux Pas [Wall Street Journal]