The Scary Clown Epidemic & Smart Situational Marketing

October 17, 2016

As a leading Phoenix marketing agency, we have to stay plugged in to national trends and current events. And few recent headlines have been more prominent than the “scary clown epidemic.” Since August, reports of sinister-looking, threatening clowns have emerged in at least 20 states.

Although this might sound comical, the effects of these clown sightings have been significant. Some schools have been closed, arrests have been made, and countless children and adults have been unsettled. Law enforcement officers have even expressed concern about vigilantes targeting clowns.

Understandably, professional clowns are not happy about the negative PR they have received a result. A board member of Clowns of America International told CNN that the scary clown epidemic has been bad for business. Even Ronald McDonald, one of the world’s most beloved and recognizable clowns, has been affected by the scary clown craze, with McDonald’s recently announcing it would scale back the clown’s appearances. The company said it felt the measure was warranted, given the “current climate.”

Although some might feel this is an overreaction, it is more accurately characterized as a smart pre-emptive move. McDonald’s, more than any other fast food chain, focuses its marketing efforts on children. And some children—whether justified or not—have become terrified of clowns. This is not a good association for an iconic brand ambassador like Ronald McDonald.

In today’s viral, social media-driven world, deft handling of sensitive marketing and advertising situations is more vital than ever.

Here are just two examples of great crisis marketing:

  • In 1982, Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol brand faced an existential threat, after seven people died from tainted pills. Johnson & Johnson removed $100 million worth of inventory off the shelves and introduced tamper-proof packaging—two moves that allowed the product to not only survive, but retain its dominant market share.
  • Black Friday, the annual post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy, used to receive mostly positive media coverage. Outbreaks of fighting in the stores—and employees forced to work long holiday hours—began to shift public sentiment about Black Friday. Outdoor retailer REI recognized this change in perception and capitalized on it. The company announced it would close on Black Friday, pay their workers, and instead, encouraged them to enjoy outdoors recreation. This savvy acknowledgement of public sentiment earned REI favorable treatment in the press, while boosting its image as an employee-friendly company.

The Takeaway

You don’t have to be a top Phoenix marketing agency to recognize when larger, trending events create a marketing opportunity. By practicing smart situation marketing, you can offset negative consumer shifts and improve your brand reputation.