Acronyms can easily turn a perfectly acceptable marketing slogan or business name into a laughing stock – for example, the Authorised Service Shop (ASS), the Wisconsin Tourism Federation (WTF), Seattle’s South Lake Union Trolley (SLUT) or Microsoft’s Critical Update Notification Tool (now wisely renamed the Critical Updated Notification Utility).
It then often comes as something of a shock when a business makes a real howler of an error with their wording choices – particularly when that’s a very well established business that should know better. Enter the Hull branch of the renowned donut chain Krispy Kreme which decided in its infinite wisdom to name its half term activities Krispy Kreme Klub Wednesdays – that’s ‘KKK Wednesdays’ just in case you hadn’t spotted it. The event was advertised on Facebook and was a perfectly innocent community project aimed at offering kids something to do during half term. However, from the number of complaints that were received about the ‘KKK’ associations with the Klu Klux Klan it clearly didn’t have such innocent connotations for everyone.
You would have thought that a business that already has two Ks as its name would have some sort of guideline that clearly states no K word should ever be tagged on the end for marketing purposes. But no, the event went ahead named as KKK Wednesdays to the point of extensive local advertising and in the end the Hull branch had to issue an apology, saying “Krispy Kreme apologises unreservedly for the inappropriate name of a customer promotion at one of our stores…this promotion was never intended to cause offence. All material has been withdrawn and an internal investigation is currently underway.”
This is one of those situations in which you might hear many people roll out the old saying that it is ‘political correctness gone mad.’ Obviously, Krispy Kreme in Hull wasn’t intending to hold an event that had any connection to one of America’s most infamous hate groups. However, the reality is that whether or not you personally would be horribly offended or simply laugh something off, when you’re talking about business marketing you need to take a much broader perspective and genuinely consider whether what you’re about to release out into the world is likely to be unacceptable to someone. The speed with which Krispy Kreme responded, pulled the advert and apologised unreservedly shows just how damaging that kind of reputational association can be. That’s the case in any sector, whether you’re going to sell donuts, high-end fashion or legal services. So, the lesson to be learned here is very simple – think your marketing through, test it on as many different people as possible and review your acronyms inside out before you publish…
This blog first appeared on Huffington Post.