Both apparently warranted special preparedness recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Given that neither is a national emergency or threat to health (although, I spoke with a lot of smart people who tried to convince me that a zombie apocalypse was imminent because the CDC published its article about the same time the media decided to cover just about every cannibalism arrest around the world), why did the CDC take such an action? Ostensibly, it was to make Americans pay attention. A little controversy can go a long way to getting people to read an article or brochure – even if a lot of people are reading it just to complain about it. I also think someone at the agency thought it would make them appear more hip and in tune with today’s generation rather than a serious, stodgy organization.
But ever since the bridezilla piece came out in July, I’ve been troubled. Not because the agency spent government dollars to develop the pieces. After all, at the heart of each were important reminders about how to prepare for emergencies.
No, what really bothered me was that it ran counter to what I would consider the CDC brand.
The CDC was created to save lives. As its tagline states, its mission is “Saving Lives. Protecting People.” The organization deals with somber topics ranging from natural disasters to disease outbreaks to pathogens of food-borne, water-borne, vector-borne or zoonotic origin. When the worldwide H1N1 pandemic threatened, the CDC was on the frontlines, planning and managing the U.S. response.
It’s not an organization that should make itself a joke.
While these pieces got people talking, the information was presented in such a tongue-in-cheek manner that the agency runs the risk of people not paying attention when a real emergency strikes.
This issue isn’t unique to the CDC. Brand authenticity and consistency are essential to all organizations. What you do and what you say you do must be in harmony for people to believe in what you stand for. What’s more, the people behind your brand must believe in it, as well. You don’t want an Equinox-type fiasco where your creative director tells The New York Times that she never works out and believes “fitness is a fraud.” This kind of coverage, while edgy and irreverent, doesn’t reinforce the company as either a fitness club or temple of wellness (according to the company website, it is focused on the latter), and leaves people wondering why they are investing in your brand or company at all.
That’s not to say a serious company can never be silly. Social media channels offer the opportunity for a little levity, such as an executive who decides to tweet on a regular basis about strange occurrences around the world. The key is deciding up front that this is the direction the company is going to take and maintaining consistency within the channel once you head down this path. Waffling between serious and silly is where companies get into trouble and confuse the people with whom you are trying to communicate.
Do you feel that your brand identity is consistent? Does your organization portray itself in a dependable way that is clear to your customers? If not, what do you think you need to do to fix it?
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