Is All Press Good Press?

  • February 14, 2012
  • Starr Million Baker

Super Bowl ads cost a LOT of money. Start-ups are short on money to spend on ads, but long on time to spend on brainstorms asking themselves “how do we get our share of that attention, without paying for it?” Online start-up PawnGo thought they had the answer to that question in the form of a tongue-in-cheek attack on Patriots’ tight-end Wes Welker. Welker had an unfortunate case of the butter fingers during the Super Bowl and dropped what could have been the pass that got his team the win. PawnGo saw an opportunity and took it – having a truckload of Butterfingers delivered to a high traffic area in Boston with a gift tag for Welker and the Patriots.

Funny? I thought so. Smart? Eh, debatable. Here’s what went wrong:

– PawnGo underestimated its audience. Patriots fans are the hardest of the hardcore and didn’t really get the joke. The city charged PawnGo a $1000 littering fine and opened up the company to bashing from all sides. Lesson: know your audience.

– PawnGo didn’t do its homework. Apparently, PawnGo’s biggest competitor is a Boston-based online company – and you better believe the local media and Boston fans around the country published that fact (and promoted the company) at every turn. Lesson: evaluate the risks of your actions.

– PawnGo was caught off guard by the outrage. Just a few hours after the stunt, the CEO issued an apology (one that was a bit back-handed and insincere, in my opinion, and might have been better if it had been thought about beforehand). Lesson: be prepared for the worst case scenario.

So it comes down to the age-old question – is all press good press? Thousands more do know PawnGo’s name, and it will probably ring a bell for awhile yet. But does that awareness equate to a positive impact on its business? I doubt it. The company exists in the online world – the same online world where consumers search for recommendations from friends and strangers alike for the vast majority of purchases, and in the click of a button can get a perception of your brand that shapes their decision-making process. Would you do business with the company virtually hated by all of New England? Or check out its competitor instead? Let me know.


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