The past several weeks I have had the opportunity to take a look at Timothy Coomb’s Situational Crisis Communication Theory, also known as SCCT. In my recent paper, I had the chance to apply this theory to the recent crisis Heineken faced, when a commercial was aired that many publics viewed as racist. The following is a brief overview of the theory, along with an exert from my paper speaking about the crisis and how SCCT applies to it.
To briefly overview SCCT, the thoery is composed of three elements, those being the crisis situation and crisis responsibility, crisis repsonse strategies, and a system of matching the crisis situation to the crisis response strategy (pg. 7, Walton, Cooley, and Nicholson). The theory is made up of three response clusters, which include the victim, accidental, or preventable clusters. Crisis response stratagies include three categories- deny, diminish, and deal. To learn more about the theory, I recommend reading Institute for PR’s article which can be found here.
The following is a look at how Heineken’s recent predicament can be looked at through the SCCT model, and how I think the company handled the crisis.
“In the current news, stories have been publicized about Heineken and their recent beer commercial, which has caused a crisis for the company. In the commercial, a bartender sees a woman, Caucasian, with a wine glass, and slides her down a Heineken beer, which goes past two African-American women. At the end when the beer reaches the Caucasian woman, the words ‘Lighter is Better’ comes up. The message was intended to be about the light beer being better, but when many viewers saw the commercial, complaints about racial implications were brought to the company’s attention (Chokshi).
If we look at this issue through the SCCT model, we need to examine whether this is first a crisis or not. As the definition states, I would state that is, due to the fact it was a major commercial advertised in several countries, including the United States, Australia and New Zeeland in early March (Chokshi), and had the potential to negatively effect Heineken as a company, along with effecting the distribution and sell of their beer across the globe.
Looking at the three core elements of the theory, crisis situation and crisis responsibility, crisis response strategies, and a system of matching the situation to the response strategies. In regards to crisis situation and crisis responsibility, we know the three clusters are victim, accidental, and preventable. In this situation, the crisis would fall under the preventable cluster. If Heineken would have caught the error and foreseen the racial implication, the commercial could have been changed. They could have possibly done more market research and testing of the commercial before airing it, having the testing audience made up of different races.
Secondly, crisis response strategies for this situation could fall under the deny, diminish, or deal categories. Heineken decided to pull the commercial of television and online, and issued an apology, stating, “….While we feel the ad is referencing our Heineken Light beer, we missed the mark, are taking the feedback to hear and will use this to influence future campaigns” (Snider). I agree that issuing an apology and pulling the ad was the best strategy. The company saw they had made a judgment and advertising error, and chose to accept responsibility for those mistakes. I think this is a great situation where having pre-draft crisis management messages, which is a part of Barton and Coombs’ crisis prevention practices (Institute for PR), could be of great use. Although the message would need to be edited to fit the particular crisis, having a pre-drafted message to quickly respond would be very helpful. The crisis became publicized when rapper, “Chance the Rapper”, tweeted about the commercial, on March 25th, and by March 26th the ad was pulled, showing how Heineken was fast in their response, which we know can “is active and shows an organization is in control” (Institute for PR).
It is important in the third core element that the situation matches the response. The publics in this case viewed Heineken as very responsible for the commercial, therefor the apology they made seems to fit with the situation They should have, and did, take an aggressive approach responding, which is when “an organization actively communicates with stakeholders about the crisis such as utilizing the victim-centered messages” (Coombs). They acknowledge missing the mark and assure its stakeholders they are going to use the feedback in future campaigns. If we reference the “Master List of Reputation Repair Strategies (Institute for PR), Heinekens response would fall on the most accommodating end of the spectrum, that being an apology where it “indicates the organization takes full responsibility for the crisis and asks stakeholders for forgiveness” (Institute for PR).
Overall, I think Heineken used the correct crisis response strategy and it fit the level of their responsibility. I would recommend they make sure to do wide testing before releasing and approving an ad to air, and make sure it is tested throughout different races, ages, genders, sexual preferences, etc. Making sure to take into consideration past issues, and not repeating the same mistakes twice, would be important. It defiantly does not want to apologize one week and then two months down the road, repeat the issue or have a similar one. Overall, I do believe they handled the crisis correctly. “
Chokshi, Niraj. 28 March, 2018. Heineken Pulls ‘Lighter Is Better’ Ad After Outcry Over Racism. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/business/media/heineken-racist-ad.html
Snider, Mike. 27 March, 2018. Heineken Pulls ‘Lighter is Better’ Commercial After Some Call it Racist. USA Today. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2018/03/27/heineken-pulls-lighter-better-commercial-after-some-call-racist/461395002/
Institute for PR. 30 Oct. 2007. Crisis Management and Communications. Retrieved from: https://instituteforpr.org/crisis-management-and-communications/
Coombs, Timothy W. 22 Sep. 2014. Crisis Communication: Evidence and the Bleeding Edge. Institute for Public Relations. Retrieved from: https://instituteforpr.org/state-crisis-communication-evidence-bleeding-edge/
Walton, Laura Richardson., Cooley, Skye C., Nicholson, John H. ‘A Great Day for Oiled Pelicans:’ BP, Twitter, and the Deep Water Horizon Crisis Response. Mississippi State University. Retrieved from: https://bb.siue.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_1183861_1&course_id=_36998_1