How can Brands Take Back Control in Social Media Crisis?

What do you think when you read the words in the picture?

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Just a Joke? Offensive? Tasteless? or Sexist?

The London Dungeon attraction, which takes tourists through a dark show of the city’s history with a bevy of actors and actresses, suffered a furious backlash on social media for the  graphic jokes on both its Twitter and Facebook accounts on February 14th, 2017.

The tourist attraction posted quotes referencing sexual acts and murders as part of its “Dark Valentine’s Day” marketing campaign on social media, trying to entertain its guests. However, critics said the collection of images was sexist and offensive.

Some posts, referencing the museum’s murderous muse, seemed to glorify women killers such as Jack the Ripper. One example reads: “Jack The Ripper just messaged. He wants to Netflix and kill.”

Others discriminate against women, especially female sex workers. Perhaps the most controversial post, later deleted, is that “What’s the difference between your job and a dead prostitute? Your job still sucks.”

Those “offensive” jokes had drawn criticism on the Twitter, the public saying the campaign is “misogynistic” and “disgusting”. Some pointed out the fact that the London Dungeon is a family attraction and the inappropriate messaging would affect its reputation and revenues.

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On February 15th, the London Dungeon had been forced to apologize for its “offensive” promotional marketing campaign, but the public rejected to receive it, thinking the apology is not good enough.

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This unsatisfactory result is not surprising. The London Dungeon should take most responsibility for this unpleasant crisis. Sensitive as the public is nowadays, especially on the social media, it’s crucial for the brands to understand how to communicate with them. Misjudging what the target audience want or like will lead to a terrible public backlash.

In this case, the original intention of the London Dungeon’s marketing campaign has no serious problem, but the expression form the brand adopted is not appropriate. Even though I don’t know much about the history of London, the words like “dead prostitute” still make me feel uncomfortable. I noticed that some people on the twitter thought the public overreacted to these graphic jokes, and expressed their disappointment that people nowadays cannot take any jokes. Yes, that’s true!!! Therefore, how to avoid reaching the bottom line of these people will be an important lesson for all the brands at present.

The company issued a longer apology to the press that read:

“We apologise that our social posts caused offence. 

Our ‘Dark Valentine’ campaign was a range of posts aimed to highlight the darker side of history and create debate and conversation.

As a brand we strive to entertain our guests so they can enjoy the London Dungeon experience – both in our attraction and on social media.

However on this occasion we recognise that some of the topics many felt were inappropriate and therefore we apologise for any offence cause.”


Additionally, it was too late for the London Dungeon to make a public apology. Living in the fast-paced society, people has no patience to wait for explanation. From my perspective, the response made within 24 hours after the incident generally will lead to a good result. However, the London Dungeon responded the next day of the posts, and only deleted the most controversial tweet without any explanation. Since the late response has already pissed off the public, the longer apology made on the press seemed to become feeble and weak.

This case just got me revisiting a familiar issue: how can brands take back control in social media crises? The London Dungeon was unable to avoid the crisis since it misread its target customers, but it still had chance to control the situation if it had preparations. I believe it’s necessary for all the brands to set up a team responsible for social media crisis. When one marketing campaign is going to be carried out, the team should analyze the potential threats, prepare a “Plan B”, and test the robustness and timeliness of the response protocol.

It’s hard to choose between PR and Marketing to answer the question, who will take most responsibility to handle the social media crisis. In my point of view, they should work together. The crisis usually is resulted by the marketing’s mistakes, while the unpleasant public reaction is caused by the PR’s inefficient responses. I won’t say who should take blame, but they have duties to solve this crisis together. Actually, PR and marketing are two brothers in one family.

Last but not least, thank you for your time and stay happy 🤓