Social media smack down, Part 3: Media round-up…

As the dust slowly settles from the Category 5 social media storm sparked by Amy Schumer’s explosive Instagram call to boycott Wendy’s last Sunday, the verdict becomes clear: Wendy’s took this one on the chin…

Forbes: “Social media can have a huge impact on brands, for good and bad. Wendy’s recently learned that truth as it received both adoration and backlash on social media. Its major flaw was only responding to the positive attention and completely ignoring growing protests.”

To say that Wendy’s PR Department had a rough go of it this past week would be an understatement.  When you find yourself scrambling to cobble together a statement for CNN to defend your company from accusations of being insensitive to sexual assault in its supply chain, you know things are definitely not going as planned.  And when that statement is so weak that it prompts a second wave of negative publicity, you know things have really gone off the rails.   

And that pretty much captures Wendy’s week in a nutshell.  We have already chronicled on this site the two stages of Wendy’s “Social Media Smackdown,” and you can find those posts here and here, if you haven’t seen them already.  What we wanted to do today is to provide a round-up – or, perhaps better said, a partial round-up – of the countless media stories that flowed from this particular PR debacle, highlighting those stories that best convey the social media spectacle created when Wendy’s tried to squeeze some free publicity out of a tweet by hip hop artist Chance the Rapper.

The top story in that respect was published in by author and business consultant Blake Morgan, author of the book “The Customer Of The Future: 10 Guiding Principles To Winning Tomorrow’s Business.”  Her editorial, titled “Three Reasons Why Wendy’s Missed The Mark By Not Responding To Customers,” recounted the history of the social media spin cycle in which Wendy’s found itself trapped this past week, and concludes:

… A brand’s reputation depends on how it responds to and interacts with customers. Wendy’s missed the mark by choosing to only respond to positive press. It’s a move that could seriously hurt its image and add fire to the protests.

And before reaching that conclusion, Morgan laid out the three reasons why she feels Wendy’s failed so spectacularly to manage the PR crisis confronting the hamburger giant following Amy Schumer’s Instagram post:

Here are three reasons Wendy’s missed the mark by not responding to its customers.

1. Every customer counts. Wendy’s made the cardinal sin of only responding to positive messages from its customers. Every customer counts, no matter if they love or hate the brand. By not addressing the protests and allegations, Wendy’s is leaving some of its customers out and trying to push aside bad feelings with positive press.

2. Take ownership of controversy. Authenticity and transparency are key to surviving any crisis. Ignoring news that it supports unethical farms won’t make the claims go away. If anything, it ignites the protestors even more and gives the idea that Wendy’s has something to hide. Wendy’s needs to take ownership of the controversy by addressing the charges and its customers, even if that means admitting it made a mistake. The longer the company waits, the greater chance that it will lose control of the messaging and not be able to recover.

3. Start a conversation. The beauty of social media is that it allows brands to be accessible and have conversations with customers. However, those conversations need to happen with all customers. Wendy’s did a great job talking to supportive customers, but it also needs to have a conversation with customers who aren’t as supportive. As Wendy’s stays silent over the controversy, customers on Amy Schumer’s Instagram are having a real conversation about the issue. The longer Wendy’s waits, the angrier customers will get.

While one might dismiss much of this as inside-baseball PR consulting talk, one thing is clear: Wendy’s definitively lost customers this week (and not a small number of customers, at that).  And if the brand doesn’t ultimately do the right thing, that number will only keep growing.  What is perhaps even more indicative of the depth of the mess in which Wendy’s stepped this past week is the fact that the company appears to be losing the broader business community, as well, a community that is growing – as evidenced by Morgan’s piece – every bit as mystified as we are about why Wendy’s does not simply “admit its mistake” and join the Fair Food Program.  

And Forbes was not alone.  More and more media outlets have continued to pick up on the back and forth, including CNN, where Wendy’s published its deeply unsatisfying statement in its defense, and where the editor included a link to CNN’s powerful video on the Fair Food Program’s unique success in fighting sexual violence in the fields (which we have embedded here below, and which is most definitely worth a watch, as a reminder of the harsh reality of outrageous abuse, and remarkable story of unprecedented justice, in the background of this media mess):

Over the course of the week, the news spread steadily to more and more national (and international!) media hubs, including the New York Daily News and The Independent in the UK.  Here’s a brief excerpt from The Independent’s article:

Schumer ended the caption by imploring Wendy’s to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Programme, and asked fans to boycott the company.

The Fair Food Programme, as stated on its website, is a “unique partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms”.

Companies that have partnered with the programme include McDonald’s, Burger King, Whole Foods, Subway and Walmart.

According to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Wendy’s “stands alone” as one of the last largest food corporations in the US “who has refused to join the Fair Food Programme and respect the rights and dignity of farmworkers in its supply chain”.

The Fair Food Programme benefits around 35,000 labourers in the US and has helped to improve the working conditions for individuals in the tomato industry, the New York Times states.

Charmed star Milano also criticised Wendy’s for not joining the programme.

“This is about sexual violence against women in the workplace, the only programme proven to end that violence in the US agricultural industry, and your refusal to join that programme, plain and simple,” the actor and activist wrote on Instagram.

The list goes on:  People Magazine, InStyle, UpRoxx, Men’s Health Magazine and Women’s Health Magazine, and a wide swath of online hip hop media outlets (here’s one example, among many, many others).  Here’s an excerpt from the Women’s Health Magazine, in which the writers dug into the history of the Wendy’s Boycott – and found Wendy’s reasons for failing to join the program “a little vague”:

Turns out, The #BoycottWendys campaign is far from new—it actually started back in 2005 and focuses on The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program. According to its website, the program is “a partnership among farmers, farmworkers, and retail food companies that ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms.”

Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut), Whole Foods, Chipotle, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s have all joined the program, but there’s one restaurant missing from that list, according to the The New York Times: Wendy’s. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which benefits around 35,000 workers, has campaigned against Wendy’s as a result, and urged them to join the program, but they have yet to do so.

The campaign has specifically helped improve working conditions for laborers in the tomato industry and lowered violence and wage theft. It also asks member companies to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes to lead to better wages. Wendy’s reason for not joining is a little vague—a spokesperson told the NYT that they buy tomatoes from indoor greenhouse farms, but it’s not clear whether their conditions for laborers are any better. So, Wendy’s is getting serious heat over this from celebrities (like Alyssa Milano) and non-celebrities alike.

College students have asked their schools not to allow Wendy’s restaurants to operate on school premises, and there have been several protests in cities across the country. The campaign is also heating up on social media again after Amy’s Insta post. Wendy’s has yet to publicly comment.

With that, we will call it a wrap for today!  From the extensive coverage, we can draw one conclusion: Unfortunately for Wendy’s, while its spicy chicken nuggets may have some fans, no one’s buying the company’s line about Wendy’s commitment to ending human rights abuses in its supply chain, no matter how hard its PR department tries to spin the story.  And no matter how hard they try to dig themselves out, that is a hole from which Wendy’s will not escape until it joins the Fair Food Program. 

Stay tuned for more news from the Wendy’s Boycott in the weeks ahead!