The 19th century American showman and circus owner Phineas T. Barnum is credited with inventing the saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’. A peerless self-promoter, Barnum operated in a time when telegrams were at the cutting edge of communication – and reputation destroying gaffes were rarely made public.
Fast forward to 2017 and a series of social media blunders by a bookmaker clearly highlights how times have changed.
Not only did Star Sports tweet a picture of a blacked-up darts fan dressed as Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot – it used Barnum’s views as a form of defence before finally taking down the post two days later.
The caption attached to the tweeted photo – taken at a professional darts event in London – claimed it was “An early contender for best fancy dress costume”.
As the tweet went viral, the person running the Twitter account – someone we strongly suspect is now looking for a new job – kept fanning the flames. When contacted by a journalist they justified their actions by boasting about the post’s wide social reach, claiming “It has had an unprecedented response in terms of retweets and likes.”
“Ultimately you’re not going to please everybody all the time. We have never had anything on our social media that has had such a positive response.”
When Labour MP Stella Creasy entered the online discussion, the bookmaker – which styles itself as a ‘Gentleman’s Bookkeeper’ – told her “This wasn’t some guerrilla marketing stunt Stella; one of our team attended on a social night out. We thought it was a very impressive attempt at fancy dress and merely shared it with our followers.”
“Please stop taking things so seriously.”
Yup – that’s right.
Four decades after the BBC removed The Black and White Minstrel Show from the airwaves – and in an era when the harassment of women and online bullying are regular front page stories – a company justifies its racist actions by taking the view that the publicity was worth it.
One of the thousands who responded to the tweet with disdain wrote “I’m done with trying to explain racism to grown ups who should know better. This is 2017, not 1977.” Another replied “So racism & misogyny are OK with you as long as it’s not a marketing stunt? Good to know your company’s values.”