You may have heard of this adage – Any press is good press. In this new world where news is not news until the blogosphere gets a hold of it, I propose that we retire it. Its a quaint idea but its time is past.
On August 14th Dell announced that it would recall 4.1 million lithium ion batteries made by Sony. Then news weighed heavily on the already drooping stock price of Dell and seems to have had some impact on Sony’s as well.
There have been only six incidents of laptop batteries catching fire, but that was enough to force a recall of 4.1 million batteries. The total cost of the recall is expected to be over $200m which will probably be shared in large part by Sony, the manufacturer of the batteries.
Most commentators are commending Dell on taking charge of a potentially bad situation quickly and decisively. Can’t argue with that. But I wonder if this would have happened at all had it not been for this picture that surfaced on the internet.
Time for another adage – A picture is worth a thousand words. If it hadn’t for this picture and the ensuing furore on the internet, who knows if the recall would have been found necessary. 6 out of 4.1 million is a pretty low rate of incidence. And let’s face it, if you hadn’t seen this picture, you wouldn’t know what to think of a news report ‘laptop catches fire’. Your mental image could have been say that of just a wisp of smoke coming out. Or you may have thought, maybe it was being used near a gas burner in the kitchen. The human mind converts words into mental images in very different ways. Until, that is, you see a photograph. Cellphone cameras and the internet are a potent combination. Bad news for manufacturers.
Another instance of bad press that the companies concerned must be ruing is the recent Pesticide Cola. The merits of the study and the accusation is a different matter and has been given a full analysis on indianeconomy.org here. But as subjects go, this is a great one to catch the fancy of the consuming public. No pictures here, so the word picture has to do. But everything else is beautifully set up. Pesticides are deadly if consumed in large quantities. (Did you know that consuming pesticide is the most common method of committing suicide by Chinese women in the hinterland. It seems the suicide rate is very high). Coke and Pepsi are consumed by a public that tends to be urban and educated. Kids drink a lot of it. Nobody knows what the heck BIS means and in what quantities is it harmful. You put all of this together and the facts stop mattering. Fear takes over. And the sensationalistic media. And there is very little that Pepsi or Coke can say that will put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Handling PR, which now increasingly is about the internet and the blogosphere, is exceedingly difficult. The larger the company, the more people like to take potshots at them. If they are multi-nationals, all the better. Understanding this new world of media is one of the most important things CEOs and Marketing Executives must do to be successful and avoid disasters like the two above.