Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Rental van company Wicked Campers, whose vans are synonymous for their outlandish paint-jobs and offensive slogans, is in a social media firestorm and facing the fury of thousands of outraged citizens.
But right now they’re riding the dragon: the outrage over their smutty slogans is backfiring and the company is loving the international media exposure it’s generating.
To add fuel to the fire the founder’s son, Leanne (formerly known as Liam) Webb, dressed as a Drag Queen to stage a truly bizarre media conference declaring “Things are much more fun once they’re banned”.
But playing the conflict card and allowing outrage to build is a high stakes and very dangerous strategy.
Currently Wicked is enjoying the spotlight but if this outrage is harnessed and focussed strategically it could destroy them. And there is precedent.
In May this year Deutsche Bank refused to bankroll a port expansion in the Great Barrier Reef, partly due to public outrage.
Other financiers were quick to follow suit and that was a body blow to the Adani Group’s plans.
In the same vein in 2011 Westpac recognised the public objected to a proposed luxury brothel and publicly pulled the funding. And outrage group PETA brought Australian Wool producers to their knees by targeting retail chains selling clothes made from Australian wool. ( PETA is revving up activity in this space again).
The Wicked crisis began with a Facebook post late last week which snowballed into to an online petitionwith nearly 120,000 signatures (by 12pm 16/7).
Today other factions are being drawn into the crisis. That's the next wave and that’s where Wicked could run into trouble.
One local Mayor has stepped into the media spotlight and called for Wicked Campers to be banned from the municipality’s Caravan Parks and parking stations. That won't harm his chances of re-election.
But if the community outrage is directed at a regulator, for example the Department of Transport, Wicked may find itself having to justify why it is ‘fit and proper’ to hold a licence. That would be much more effective than a complaint to the Advertising Standards Board.
Never underestimate the power of public outrage, and beware of letting a monster grow that could take you down. When you ride a dragon you usually get burned.
If I was advising Wicked my tips would be:
Respond to social media outrage loudly and clearly to nip it in the bud. Never, ever let it build.
Don’t mock the public and fuel the crisis, it will come back to bite you.
Recognise which issues will take flight and which will burn out – there is a clear pattern and if you don't know it then ask us.