Wicked Campers has been in the midst of a media controversy over the last few days. Sebastian Vasta takes a look at how the brand could better manage the online and media crisis.
The latest cry to end Wicked Campers’ misogynist toilet humour is certainly not the first time the budget backpacker van company has been in trouble.
But it’s certainly the loudest the online outrage has ever been.
The vitriol has gone viral, and been picked up by mainstream media around Australia – and internationally, with media monitoring service iSentia recording a total of 133 syndicated stories or pieces since Sunday across 61 different news outlets.
This time, it would seem that the brand won’t be able to shrug off its breaches of advertising standards, the Code of Ethics, and common decency.
That’s been the pattern to date: Provoking and then shrugging off. That’s what a pubescent, bogan, troublemaking yob would do… and that’s exactly how this brand wants its target audience to see it. Because mocking women, homosexuals, or other races is fun, isn’t it?
This brand needs to change.
They say the first step to solving a problem is to admit you have a problem. But that’s just it. The Wicked Campers brand persona is the unapologetic yob. They love the furor. It’s on brand. It’s on message.
It’s what they think they need to do to sell horribly sunburnt backpackers some wheels for the summer.
But now the Wicked yob’s time is finally up. So what happens next?
The company’s response that we’ve seen so far has been to take their Facebook page offline for a while, then bring it back without the ability to post on the Timeline, and having censored the rest of the comments.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter has a post within the last week. That’s not a response.
Wicked Campers, you need to be taking swift action to save yourself. That means meeting the online storm head on with a positive message. And sure guys, you can still target “the youth” if you want. But you’d better find a new way to flog your “tourist time bombs” to them.
Here are five things Wicked Campers needs to do right now – like, yesterday – to salvage their business online:
1. Stop being silent online.
Sure they’ve given some media interviews, but you’re selling to Millennials who live online. You’ve enraged plenty of the ‘older’ crowd on social media too.
Shutting down your Facebook page is the online equivalent of screaming with your hands over your ears. And that’s too immature – even for a teenage brand.
Instead, publicly apologise for your continued insensitivity. Say it in the style of your vans, if you want. Spray-paint “We ****ed Up” all over the internet.
2. Commit to re-spraying every single camper immediately.
You need to back up your apology with an action that shows you mean it.
Make a statement online, now, about starting again with the paintjobs, and keep social media updated on your progress.
Big job, sure. But it’s what people want – and the rebranding is also necessary. Even the kids who were idiotic enough to think the ‘slut’ van was a laugh will think it’s uncool now. Your fleet of mobile billboards just became constant reminders of bad news.
3. Invite the online audience to suggest better slogans.
Look, we get it, the slogans worked for you. They gave the brand its personality. And some of them were actually funny and not offensive.
We also get the market you’re selling to and what can happen on road-trips around Australia.
We’re not that old. But there’s a way to tap into the party vibe of an endless summer in our stunning country without racism and boob jokes.
You can use slogans to give your new brand its personality too. And you can find them from within your audience.
It’s not a tacky competition, there’sno free hire to win (it’s cheap enough already). It’s a chance to make those mobile billboards actually stand for something positive.
4. Bear the brunt of the backlash.
You might be saying we’re crazy to suggest a social media campaign. Won’t that just invite all the people you’ve pissed off to tweet a bitchy suggestion?
Yep. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.
You need to prepare for that and meet it head on with positive messaging that shows you’re not walking away from what you’ve done, and moreover you’re serious about making amends.
You can’t ignore what’s being said about you. You’ve always tried to be atypical and show you understand a young audience.
Now’s your chance to be an atypical brand and actually be open to criticism.
Not all of the suggestions will be appropriate, but with the right responses you’ll go some ways to turning anger into a more positive outcome, even advocacy.
5. Make friends, not enemies, with support groups.
These “right responses” should link to appropriate information, resources that combat domestic violence, misogyny, discrimination.
You’ve earned scorn from many corners. But to really show you’ve changed, you need to partner with some of the organisations you’ve offended.
Yes, there will be a few awkward phone calls. Call it your penance, and suck it up.
You’re an international company that has a direct line to an impressionable but hard-to-reach generation. And you’ve been using that power to spread what message?
Instead, you could be doing real good among your target market by connecting them with positive education, even help. Instead of encouraging unacceptable behaviour, why not get involved in catching it and stamping it out?
You get messages and photos all the time showing what fun people are having in your vans. Find a way to reward and celebrate positive content, while still being true to your audience. You’re facilitating their experience of a lifetime.
You can help them learn from it, too.
It can be done. A serious message doesn’t make your brand uncool.
Movember (and its sponsors) started introducing younger age groups to both moustaches and the topic of depression over a decade ago, and I’m pretty sure that’s even before the current crop of hipsters started growing facial hair.
You can – no, you need to help advance the perception of the many people you’ve wronged. You know, most people on the planet.
Back up these positive messages by donating a percentage of each rental to a charity of the hirer’s choice. Donate to these organisations with (roadworthy) vans, the interiors of which you’ve customised for their work. Do whatever you can to build up these relationships.
Start making this happen now, and don’t put a time limit on when you’ll stop.
Sebastian Vasta is a social strategist for online community and social media management agency Quiip