The American Red Cross found itself in hot water after a pool-goer tweeted a photograph of the organization’s poster she saw at a local recreation center in Salida, Colorado.
“Hey, @RedCross, send a new pool poster to @SalidaRec bc the current one they have w your name on it is super racist,” tweeted one critic.
Titled “Be Cool, Follow the Rules,” the poster depicts an ethnically diverse group of cartoon children swimming and playing together in a pool. Children who are following the pool rules are marked as ‘cool,’ while those who are running, diving or pushing each other into the water are marked as ‘not cool.’
The only problem – most of the children exhibiting ‘cool’ behavior are white, and most of those labeled ‘not cool’ are children of color.
The incident quickly turned into a full-blown social media crisis when others joined the discussion, re-tweeting the photo with their own comments and a “#NotCool” hashtag.
To its credit, the Red Cross was quick to react and issued a statement on Monday apologizing for the misunderstanding:
“The American Red Cross appreciates and is sensitive to the concerns raised regarding one of the water safety posters we produced. We deeply apologize for any misunderstanding, as it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone. As one of the nation’s oldest and largest humanitarian organizations, we are committed to diversity and inclusion in all that we do, every day,” the nonprofit wrote on its website.
In addition, the organization has also engaged with critics on social media, informing them that the poster is being removed, and new materials are being created instead.
And while some people may consider this latest controversy unwarranted, and the social media backlash – an overreaction, it highlights an important communications lesson for modern brands. Be it a part of an advertising, marketing or PR campaign, all types of branded materials should to be carefully examined for potentially offensive or controversial content. And when a PR crisis does break out, a swift and coordinated response is the only way to contain the situation and take control of your own narrative.
So, in other words, if you want to be prepared and ready to protect your brand’s reputation, ‘be cool and follow the rules’ of an effective crisis PR response.