First it was Carley’s comments at a graduation – now it’s Pepsi with CEO Indra Nooyi making inflamatory remarks regarding America’s role in the world today:
After talking of her childhood back in India, Ms. Nooyi began to compare the world and its five major continents (excl. Antarctica and Australia) to the human hand. First was Africa – the pinky finger – small and somewhat insignificant but when hurt, the entire hand hurt with it. Next was Asia – the thumb – strong and powerful, yearning to become a bigger player on the world stage. Third was Europe – the index finger – pointing the way. Fourth was South America – the ring finger – the finger which symbolizes love and sensualness. Finally, the US (not Canada mind you) – yes, you guessed it – the middle finger. She then launched into a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees us as an overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful nation that gives the middle finger to the rest of the world. According to Ms. Nooyi, we cause the other finger nations to cower under our presence.
Pepsi has posted a comment and a copy of her remarks. The blogosphere is wound-up on this one. Frankly, it isn’t a great speech, it’s geographically incorrect, the metaphor doesn’t work and is offensive, and the comments are definitely controversial…
It breaks most of the rules of effective public speaking, some of which are – ensure your content, tone and comments are in line with your brand – both personal and company; ensure the topic illuminates the brand and doesn’t detract from it; focus on subject matter that is relevant to your message; use clean and clear metaphors that aren’t so multilayered that they cloud the content and your message… the list is a long one. What did Pepsi hope to gain from speaking on this topic?
Aside from all that, there is another lesson here for all communicators in that the blogosphere is an incredibly powerful medium for distributing executive’s remarks, and stimulating debate on them – so much more than conventional media. Hugh covers this.
Brands are being shaped at wire-speed in the blogosphere. Having a blog might not just be a proactive communications tactic but also vital for reactive communications. Rather than the staid press release or statement, imagine a Pepsi blog right now with dialgoue taking place and Indra engaging with the enraged community of Pepsi drinkers. She might even rally a few supporters along the way.
Transparency and open dialogue would have enabled a much better response to an unfortunate metaphor.