By Cyndi Pyburn

When one thinks of brands that have been in crisis mode, they are often CPG companies.  There are many great examples where CPG brands have bounced back from very unfortunate situations that could have destroyed reputations  – Tylenol (cyanide), Maple Leaf Foods (listeria), Domino’s Pizza (unhygienic prep), JetBlue (delays).  In all cases, they owned their mistakes, acted quickly and learned from their experiences.   In addition, these brands likely had strong reputations before their crisis and a large loyal base of fans that helped to insulate the brand.  They all made a come-back.

Often, Hollywood jumps on the bandwagon to illuminate ‘wrong-doings’ to spark conversation with the hope of driving change.  While the focus isn’t CPG companies, but larger societal issues, the impact simply isn’t there.  Let’s explore a few.

Concussion sought to illuminate and raise awareness about the issue of brain damage from sports, in this case football.  Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian born pathologist, coined the term ‘Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy’ … brain damage seen in other sports like boxing and hockey.  He studied the brain of ‘Iron Mike’ of the Pittsburgh Steelers and correlated his deteriorating mental health to numerous concussions from pro football. It was the first of many diagnoses of CTE in deceased ex-NFLers – now 87 and counting, which has mushroomed into the cloud that today hangs over the NFL.  While the NFL embraced the dialogue and conversation, they are still in denial of some of the dangers of the sport and don’t try to fix them.  Today, concussions remain very much a topic of concern not only among pro players but amateur players as well, and across many sports. 

The Big Short sought to explain the global economic crisis resulting from high-risk subprime loans.  The story is about a hedge fund manager who realizes that the US housing market is unstable as it is built on high-risk subprime loans (these are loans to people who may have difficulty maintaining the repayment schedule).  With a system of easy credit conditions, predatory lending, bank deregulation, over-leveraged and debt burdened Americans, and financial innovation and complexity, together created a perfect storm leading to the collapse.  The hedge fund manager envisioned an opportunity to profit from the situation and packaged insufficient loans into collateralized debt obligations (OCDs) which were large enough to be considered AAA ratings.  Copious amounts of money were to be made selling these risky subprime mortgages to Wall St. banks.  In early 2007, loans began to default which lead to economic collapse.  Today, OCDs are back into the current market under a different name.  

Snowden, the 30 year old whistleblower was a former NSA (National Security Agency) contractor.  He revealed that the NSA has been collecting and storing personal communications both within the USA and abroad.  US Intelligence and partner spy agencies are involved in warrantless mass surveillance of citizens without their knowledge.  Snowden’s revelations were met with charges of property theft and unauthorized communication of national defense information by the US government.  To avoid prosecution, Snowden currently has temporary asylum from Russia.   While the US government states they are investigating legislative reform, the practice of surveillance continues. 

Spotlight brought the sexual abuse of children under the care of the Catholic Church to light.  The ‘Spotlight’ investigative writing team (from the Boston Globe) uncovers a pattern of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Massachusetts and the ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese.  The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law admits he knew of the sexual abuse of children and did nothing to stop it.  The team blows open the Cardinal and the pedophile priests.  The Archbishop of Boston was promoted to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the biggest churches in the world. 

Deepwater Horizon, currently in theatres across the country, depicts the BP oil spill disaster in 2010.  The explosion and sinking of the oil rig created an oil gusher on the sea floor for 87 days until it was capped.  It was estimated that a total discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the ocean.  11 people went missing and were never found.  The extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, fishing and tourism has had massive repercussions.  The investigation indicated defective cement on the well and charged BP with gross negligence and reckless conduct.  BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in US history.  Since 2010’s Deepwater, 44 oil spills have occurred worldwide, half of which are in the US. 

While Hollywood dramatizes these societal issues and sparks conversation, they do not set-off a movement, a call-to-action, a worldwide demand for change.  They actually don’t even generate outrage. They inform, entertain and make important points, but there is no moral backlash.   Ultimately these movies enable the audience to relate more to the issue.  Hollywood doesn’t seek to solve the problem, only to illuminate it.  Marketers cannot mimic Hollywood and manage a brand crisis without solving the problem.  Marketers must be honest, own the mistake, apologize and make amends by putting practices in place to ensure that it never happens again.  Never!  Too bad society doesn’t do the same.