Phallic Halftime Blunder Teaches Media Lessons
This weekend, my alma mater’s marching band made a very embarrassing mistake that provided three important media lessons for credit unions.
The Kansas State University Marching Band performed what was otherwise a very impressive space-themed show during the school’s first home football game on Sept. 5.
However, one marching formation that was supposed to depict Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise was unfortunately misshapen. Instead, the band appeared to depict a phallic-shaped object being shoved toward the beak of the University of Kansas’ Jayhawk, our in-state rival.
A video of the offensive performance went viral. Not only did it circulate on social media, it was picked up by major media outlets around the world. The Pride of Wildcatland’s blunder was also featured on a number of non-sports sites such as People.com, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton’s website and two days later, as I write this column, the band is still on Buzzfeed’s Top 10 trending list.
Lesson #1: These days, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Be honest: Have you ever given Kansas State University much thought? Maybe you did if you’re a college football fan and faced us in a bowl game. But if not, you probably didn’t know a Wildcat from a Jayhawk … until Saturday. Now, the entire world knows K-State. And consider that K-State’s target market is high school students – nothing appeals to teenagers like a good phallic joke.
Granted, this wasn’t how K-State wanted to attract the most publicity in the history of the school, but it happened. As the famous P.T. Barnum quote goes, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
Like K-State, credit unions aren’t typically top of mind for consumers. Unless your credit union was just seized by the NCUA, any publicity – even, God forbid, a data breach – can be leveraged into improved name recognition if handled properly.
Lesson #2: You can run, but you can’t hide.
For a no-name ag school located in the middle of nowhere, K-State is remarkably good at social media. The school’s president, Kirk Schulz, does an excellent job of maintaining his Twitter account (@kstate_pres), which I follow. Schulz, the K-State band and others immediately apologized for the incident on social media. The band even released a chart showing that it did, in fact, intend for the formation to be a spaceship.
However, they erred in apologizing for people being offended, rather than apologizing for offending people. There is a difference, and people quickly pointed it out.
Then, the university went dark and made things even worse. Director of Bands Frank Tracz had agreed to a live Q&A interview Monday with the campus paper, The Collegian. Five minutes before the interview was scheduled to begin, Tracz informed the paper’s editor he needed to first speak with Schulz and Athletic Director John Currie. Not long after, he informed the paper that the interview had been cancelled.
Instead of follow up story headlines that explained the incident was a mistake and the university stood by the band’s performance, Kansas State got bad press for circling its wagons and muzzling the band director. It resulted in the public assuming the band botched the formation on purpose and led to speculation the university will fire the band director.
How many times has the NCUA, a credit union organization or a credit union refused comment on an event everyone is talking about? Do the rumors go away as a result? Absolutely not. In fact, not saying anything fuels the fire and results in the credit union community or your field of membership creating its own story and publishing it on social media. These days, there is no way to control the message, but you must at least participate in the conversation. Saying nothing doesn’t make the problem go away; it only makes things worse.
Lesson #3: Own it and build from it.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, the K-State football team will host the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech University. Less than a week ago, only K-State and Louisiana Tech fans cared. Now, millions of people will want to watch the game … or, at least the halftime show. What will those wacky Wildcats do this week? I’d say the odds of our next home game being broadcast somewhere other than an online feed are pretty darn good. And if not, the university’s subscription feed will make a big profit.
I mean, c’mon … it’s Kansas State University! I received a fine education there, and it is one of the nation’s top research institutions, but it’s no Ivy League college.
Most know K-State because of its football program. Head Coach Bill Snyder, who elevated the program from the worst in the history of college football to an annual contender, plans to retire after next season. When Snyder leaves, K-State’s media mojo will probably go with it.
Stanford University’s marching band has a reputation as, by far, the raunchiest and most controversial band in the country. Yet, that has done nothing to sully the academic reputation of one of the world’s finest institutions.
I don’t think a university should borrow from Kim Kardashian’s celebrity playbook and make a name for itself as the kings of trashy halftime shows. However, a little self-deprecation and perhaps a cheeky formation during the next home game would keep the publicity train rolling.
When I competed in the Miss Kansas pageant, one contestant tumbled down the stairs during the swimsuit competition. Everyone was horrified, but she picked herself up, gave a cute little curtsy, put on a big smile and continued down the runway. And guess what? She won the swimsuit portion of the competition because, the judges said, she showed unflappable poise.
If your credit union experiences a public embarrassment, own it. Leverage the media attention to build name recognition and appeal to human nature.
People love self-deprecation. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? That promotion went viral not because people supported the charity (do you even remember which charity it supported?) but because famous people embraced looking ridiculous in public.
We’re all human. We all make mistakes. Social media shares those mistakes with the world, whether you like it or not. Savvy, proactive media management can turn a mistake into a publicity win.