Home > Management Tips > BRAND IN CRISIS: Sony


December 21, 2014

Recently the big story in the news has been North Korea’s hacking of Sony Pictures in retaliation for producing “The Interview” (a film about a fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader).  The media has focused on Sony’s choice to not release the film.  This has become such a hot topic that even President Obama has commented that he wishes Sony would not have caved to the pressure from the North Koreans.

As interesting as this all is from a news perspective, it is even more interesting from the branding perspective.  Specifically, how Sony has handled the response and the resulting damage to the company’s brand.

The primary sound bite being reported by the media is that Sony bowed to pressure from a rogue regime which supports terror by canceling the film.  For Americans, this is a highly offensive act.  Americans are not cowards, but to view Sony in the media right now, they are cowards.  Therefore, they are un-American.

Anyone who spends the time to dig below the headlines will see that Sony’s CEO has been active in trying to dispel this storyline.  He has repeated countless times that Sony didn’t cancel by choice, but was forced to cancel when the theaters refused to carry the film.  While this may very well be true, it doesn’t matter, because that isn’t the story that is sticking.

Public perception is everything to a brand, and right now, Sony couldn’t be in a worse position.  Trying to blame anyone else (even when it is true) is never a winning strategy.  Sony would be well served to follow the advice of Steve Adubato from his best selling book “You are the Brand.”  Steve suggests “when an initial incident or embarrassing situation occurs, look inward and never, I mean never, blame [others].”

While only time will tell how Sony handles this crisis, I do have some advice for the CEO at Sony from a marketer’s perspective.  It is time to get out in front of the situation and stop playing defense.  Release the film as soon as possible.  Do whatever you must to make this possible in a matter of weeks, not months.  Use Netflix, Sony PlayStations, or even setup a website to distribute the video through direct streaming, but do it quickly.  Time is not on our side.  Next, get out there and announce that Sony will not be intimidated by terrorists.  Defend the first amendment, remind the public of what freedom is all about, and be bold.  If you follow these simple steps, you may be able to turn your companies largest crisis, into its greatest success.

- Casey Richards

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