Marketing Gone Wrong: Backlash after Window Film Co. Uses Sandy Hook Photos in Ad

February 5th, 2014 by Editor

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, according to the old adage. So what do you do when your well-intentioned marketing campaign backfires, inspiring resentment toward your window film company that goes viral on social media? Commercial Window Shield (CWS), a window film dealer with locations in Alexandria, Va.; Bonita Springs, Fla.; Taylors, S.C.; and Toledo, Ohio, currently is facing scrutiny for an ad it circulated featuring a crime scene photo from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

The photo, which the company’s owner Adam Staley says was available publicly, features a broken glass window from the Newtown tragedy. The company has faced a media onslaught since news of the email got out.

“We did not have any malicious intent whatsoever,” says Staley. He shared the emails exchanged during the controversy with Window Film magazine.

After the initial email was sent on January 28 marketing safety and security films and featuring the Newtown photograph, Adam and Sarah Staley issued the following email apology to E. Patricia Llodra, First Selectman for the Town of Newtown, Ct.

“Although it was not our intention, we understand that the email was insensitive and disrespectful. Our intention was not to profit from a tragedy,” reads the email. “Security window film is a current topic of discussion among many schools and towns throughout the country, and we were attempting to shine light on this safety measure. We took the wrong approach with the email, and would like to offer our most sincere apologies; not only to those that received this email but also to the entire Newtown community.

“We ask that you are able to forgive us for this gross misjudgment as we did not mean to re-open unhealed wounds,” continues the email. “The fact that I have unintentionally disrespected those affected by this tragedy makes me sick.”

Llodra issued a response to the couple thanking them for their “sensitivity to our concerns.” She adds, “We appreciate that you had no bad intentions and we very much value your speedy response to our request. Please be assured that we harbor no ill will.”

The company had been hired to install shatter-resistant window films in seven school buildings in Simsbury, Conn., this past December, according to a CWS statement. The company says it also “was hired for similar projects by 36 school districts in Long Island, N.Y., in July and another Connecticut school district—Glastonbury—in August.”

So what can you do to keep your window film company from making a similar mistake? Liza Noland, president of Ignite Brand Marketing, a window film dealer-focused marketing services firm based in Phoenix, Ariz., says, “Given the caliber of this particular company, it shows that this unfortunate situation can happen to anybody.”

When starting a new ad campaign, Noland says there are several things to consider when creating the message:

1. Who is my target audience? “Understanding this is critical to the success of your campaign,” she says. “What is their need for your product or service, how does your company fit that need, what is their motivation to buy and in that, are there any sensitivities?”

2. What is my brand? “Sometimes understanding yourself is more difficult that your prospective customer. Spend time defining the personality of your company,” adds Noland. “A SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) can be very helpful in doing this. Capture ‘who you are’ into a few key bullets and define your boundaries. A marketing campaign should fit this personality and should never compromise your brand values.”

3. What are my goals? “Define what you want your marketing campaign to accomplish. Of course, you want to increase sales but how does this particular campaign help you do that? Is it through product/benefit education (often helpful in window film), brand awareness, a sale or promotion? Understanding what you are trying to accomplish often lays the framework for the message you want to create,” she states.

4. Review, Gather Input, Revise. “If you are the only person who has had input on the campaign, you should strongly consider getting third-party opinions. Ask people within the company and unbiased parties outside the company to review what you’ve created. Be open to constructive criticism and make sure that the message they take away is the one you originally intended to communicate. Rule number one—if you have to explain it for them to understand, you need to revise your message,” she recommends.

Noland says that considering what has happened, the Staleys have taken the best approach possible to managing the backlash.

“In the end, if an ad is put out that offends your audience, the best response is to simply say ‘I’m sorry,’ as was done in this case,” she adds. “Keep your response simple and sincere, revise your campaign to address the sensitivity and then let your product and service speak for itself.”

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