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What do Oscar Pistorius, Carnival Cruises and Tesla have in common?

Right here and now in the year 2013, we’re all pretty accustomed to brand crises. Chick-Fil-A and gay marriage, anyone? Or how about Labatt and Luka Magnotta? Of course, more recently there is every company that ever used Lance Armstrong as a spokesperson. Generally, there are three ways brands find themselves in a sticky situation—inadvertent association with a crime or other embarrassing situation (Armstrong sponsors), an unexpected problem with their product (Toyota recalls), or a negative reaction to a conscious decision (Chick-Fil-A). And this week we have prime examples of all three.


In the first category is Nike. When South African Olympian and national hero Oscar Pistorius was arrested for the alleged shooting murder of his girlfriend, the Twitterati quickly pounced on an ad for the Swoosh featuring Pistorius and the eerily unfortunate tagline, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” Now, Nike is no stranger to dealing with sponsored athletes in trouble, with Tiger Woods, Lance Armstong and Michael Vick all forcing the shoe giant to navigate their own uniquely dodgy circumstances. Of course none of those are as serious as a murder charge. So far, Nike is sticking to PR 101 and tastefully finding other ways to say, “No comment.” The company issued a statement saying, “Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families concerned following this tragic incident. As it is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”

Carnival Cruises dealt with a major malfunction that turned the drifting and helpless passengers into instant reality show contestants for CNN. The company’s Triumph cruise ship finally made its way home to port in Mobile, Ala., after being stranded at sea for five days following a fire in the ship’s engine room. With stories of raw sewage seeping down walls, social media guaranteed every ounce of poop was accounted for. No one wants their brand associated with feces in confined spaces, especially when that confined space has your name on the side of it. As travel expert Jason Clampet, co-founder of travel website, told AdAge, “You have 3,100 people on that ship telling their family and friends they’re never going on a cruise again, you have tweets and photos coming out now, and you have a freakin’ CNN helicopter overhead. You think that’s not going to resonate?” It appears the brand has taken steps to contain the damage, using its Facebook, Twitter and boots-on-the-ground presence in Mobile to be as transparent about how its dealing with it all and helping its customers. Though it’s been far from perfect.

Then there’s Tesla. Elon Musk’s much-hyped electric car brand took a major hit when a New York Times reviewer had to get his test ride towed after running out of charge on a road trip from DC to Boston. Musk responded, essentially calling the writer a liar and the review a sham. The writer has responded. It’s essentially devolved into a He Said, She Said that is basically a no-win for Tesla. Even if it does prove the story inaccurate, the anger with which its gone about responding has put the brand under an unflattering light.


One of the most common lessons in brand crisis is not to let it happen in the first place. But realistically, the true long-term consequences of any crisis aren’t determined by the event itself, but how the brand chooses to deal with it.