Marketing Minute: PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Debacle at the Oscars

I know what you’re thinking, “another marketing column about a celebrity awards show!?”

Yes, I’m doing another column after an event that happened at a celebrity awards ceremony. This time it’s following an epic blunder at the Oscars.

You can find a lot more thorough explanations and reactions to the mishap, but here’s a quick rundown:

  1. “Moonlight” and “La La Land” were two of the nine nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture.
  2. “Moonlight” won the award.
  3. Somehow the presenters of the award were handed the wrong envelope and read “La La Land” as the winner of the award.
  4. The Oscars’ production team realized the wrong movie was announced.
  5. Jordan Horowitz, a producer of “La La Land,” announced that “Moonlight” was the actual winner.
  6. Utter chaos happened on the stage.
  7. Even more chaos happened on social media.
  8. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the accounting firm in charge of the vote counting and envelope management, issued an apology.

If you remember how awkward the Steve Harvey Miss Universe mishap was, this comes close to beating it.

The awkwardness of “La La Land” and “Moonlight’s” cast and production crew doesn’t even begin to compare to how awkward PwC felt in that moment and still feels today.

After all, they are the accounting firm responsible for tallying the votes and providing secured envelopes for each winner to the award presenters.

Their process for counting and handing the results to presenters was considered foolproof, so a failure of this magnitude will certainly affect their brand, one that survives on reputation for audit and assurance.

Interestingly enough, Huffington Post actually asked the employees of PwC that oversee the Oscars what would happen if the presenter announced the wrong winner a week before the show. Their response was “it’s so unlikely” that they didn’t have an exact procedure for dealing with it.

Marketing Takeaways

The PwC Oscars debacle is so fresh that we won’t really be able to dissect all angles of the mishap until more information is revealed and retroactive steps are taken to repair the damage. However, we can make some assumptions as to how PwC will handle this from a marketing perspective.

PwC has already taken the first steps in the aftermath of this error. They quickly resolved the problem and issued an apology for the mistake.

https://twitter.com/PwC_LLP/status/836128345360211968

Fixing the error and apologizing will not stop the backlash, but they are necessary steps in the right direction. As a brand, you’re going to make mistakes. Hopefully, not on the same scale and in public spotlight as PwC, but mistakes are a part of business.

In order to manage customer expectations and retention, it’s important that you recognize mistakes as they occur and do your best to mitigate the damage afterward. PwC caught their mistake onstage, fixed the error, and apologized shortly after.

Businesses must take a similar approach when handling customer mistakes. Remember, it’s always easier and cheaper to retain a customer than it is to find a new one. You must be willing to admit errors and occasionally take the blame, even if you weren’t entirely at fault. Marketing is about acquiring and retaining customers, sometimes that requires customer relationship management.

As far as what PwC’s next steps will be – we can expect three possible outcomes.

  1. They continue as if nothing has happened.
  2. They sink a ton of money into marketing themselves as “trustworthy.”
  3. They take an honest approach that mistakes happen.

I don’t think PwC will pretend as if nothing has happened. They’ve already accepted blame and issued an apology, and the event is too public for it to go unnoticed. They will need to address this mishap with their marketing-communications, especially if they hope to retain the Oscars as a client.

That leaves us with options two and three.

I could certainly see PwC going the route of option two and trying to reposition themselves as a “trustworthy” brand through a large marking campaign. The Oscars is the centerpiece of their brand messaging and is a selling point to new clients. When errors like this happen, brands typically try to overcompensate for the error by remarketing the exact opposite position of the error.

I talked about Uber in the last column and how they were taking a huge hit for their undermining and inconsiderate tweet during an immigrant protest. Their response was to dump a ton of marketing spend into branding a new $3 million dollar pledge to immigrant drivers.

This step is a retroactive attempt to brand oneself counter to the measure of the mistake. In PwC’s case, that would mean branding themselves as trustworthy, reliable, and mistake-free. I think they’ll take this route.

The third option is my favorite. Options one and two seem to belittle my intellect and just doesn’t come off as genuine.

However, my favorite way to handle this type of error, even at this magnitude, is to be transparent and honest. Find me a person who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you a liar.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt our stomach drop when we’ve called someone by the wrong name or sent a text to the wrong contact. Granted these didn’t happen on stage of the Oscars in front of millions of viewers, but they are mistakes nonetheless.

When issues happen at your company, take them as opportunities to humanize your brand. Own up to the error and don’t try to point fingers at anyone other than yourself. Customers appreciate honesty and transparency. Information is too readily available for brands to mask mistakes with marketing.

Taking the third approach and issuing a sincere explanation that recognizes the error and the steps you are taking to not let it happen again is the response people want to see. Customers are tired of companies hiding their mistakes or covering up issues. Don’t try to ignore problems or overcompensate for mistakes, use real emotions during these times to create common ground with your customers.

Your brand is likely to take a hit, but taking a transparent and honest approach to your marketing communications will mitigate any long-term backlash.

So, PwC, the ball is in your court.

About the author

Derek Miller

Derek Miller has an entrepreneurial spirit, scattered mind, and marketing background. He writes about digital marketing on sites like Entrepreneur, Score.org, CMI, and Mr. Online Marketing. You can follow him on Twitter @itisMillerTime