Jesse Aaron

The Fathead PR Crisis Transformed by Reddit

By: Jesse Aaron | January 8, 2014 | 
58

The Fathead PR Crisis Transformed by RedditBy Jesse Aaron

Introducing Fathead, a company that makes all sorts of life-sized decals of almost anything you can think of, including NFL stars.

Not too long ago, they had a remarkable experience on Reddit that began, oddly enough, with a PR crisis.

When Crisis Breaks on Reddit

About six months ago, Redditor frigidcoke ordered a Tom Brady fathead for his new office. As a New England Patriots fan, this was a perfect addition.

Unfortunately, frigidcoke did not receive a Tom Brady fathead; instead, he was shipped a different player’s fathead — and not just any other player.

Frigidcoke received quarterback rival Tim Tebow (in fathead form), instead.

Being a Pats fan, and the fact this was a hilarious mishap, frigidcoke would not let the unruliness stand.

He swiftly snapped a photo of the mess up and posted it to the NFL subreddit.

PR Crisis Controlled and Transformed by Reddit

This organic post rapidly took off, pulling nearly 3,000 up-votes and hundreds of witty comments.

Mike Cole, an avid football fan and sales strategist for Reddit, noticed the post and, realizing this was a potential PR crisis, contacted the Fathead marketing department with a golden opportunity.

The Fathead PR Team Responds

While the original post was still brimming with exposure, the Fathead marketing team produced a relevantly hilarious, slightly self-deprecating, and perfectly timed sponsored headline in the NFL subreddit.

Sponsored headlines automatically get placed above first position posts, so this was the best-case scenario as far as responses go.

This was their headline:

Fathead's PR Crisis Transformed by Reddit

This headline racked up 136 up-votes, 78 comments, and even got active Redditor and NFL punter Chris Kluwe to comment as to the reason why they didn’t make a fathead of his likeness.

Also, a Fathead spokesperson light-heartedly responded to allegations of the whole thing being a setup:

Fathead's PR Crisis Transformed by Reddit

At this point, it’s fair to says the PR crisis has been averted, controlled, and with a special gift to frigidcoke, transformed into a positive branding and sales experience.

Frigidcoke created another post in the NFL subreddit that was up-voted even a bit more than his original:

Fathead's PR Crisis Transformed by Reddit

You may be the thinking this is the perfect end to a great PR story, but in fact, the story does not end here.

Just five days after the whole shindig went down, Tim Tebow was signed to the Patriots, causing uproar in the Patriots subreddit community.

Mike Cole reached out to the Fathead team again with a new golden opportunity.

This was the result:
Fathead's PR Crisis Transformed by Reddit

This sponsored headline linked back to the follow-up post by frigidcoke, instead of linking to the Fathead website.

This was an odd move because they are paying for the exposure of this headline. Fortunately, the community appreciated, raved, and poked fun at the whole series of events.

Reddit for PR Pros

Since Reddit remains a mysterious place to many public relations professionals, this story shows that, yes, there is indeed hope for us. As we have witnessed, members of the Reddit staff helped Fathead navigate through what might have been public evisceration.

The end result was an averted PR crisis that was controlled and transformed to benefit both the community, and the organization involved.

It’s important to mention the strategic application of a targeted sponsored headline. For those who are unfamiliar with Reddit terminology, this is essentially a paid advertising spot for “first position” placement in a subreddit (a niche community) of our choosing.

Here’s an example:

Fathead's PR Crisis Transformed by Reddit

In this example, we’re in the NFL subreddit so a football-themed headline is appropriate. We do not want to fill this space with a headline or link that violates the Reddit self-promotion rules or even social media law, but we do want to attract attention.

The best way to do this, as we’ve witnessed, is social monitoring, research, and open-minded marketing.

Key takeaway for PR professionals: start exercising our creative side so we can move and act swiftly in the face of a future crisis.

A little self-deprecation can go a long way when we mess up, so don’t be afraid to publicly accept that mistakes were made, and roll with the punches.

About Jesse Aaron


Jesse Aaron is a professional blogger with a passion for homebrewing. He writes on a variety of topics on Mashbout.  

  • TripWhisperer

    reddit JesseAarone SpinSucks Kudos to that sales/marketing guy at Reddit. Talk about on the ball and a brand that “gets that community”

  • It’s amazing how a good sense of humor about yourself, and your organization, can defuse so many potential nightmares.

  • @TripWhisperer Seriously! I think that type of self-deprecation is great for reddit and most online communities in general. We see so many scripted promotions and lectures it’s refreshing when a real personality/voice comes through, especially from a business.

  • MattLaCasse Spot on Matt. Demonstrating those values and personality removes the stigma of business/suit-culture and makes it easier for us to relate.

  • Jesse Aaron Agreed. Some entities view crisis comms as damage control rather than seeing it as an opportunity. Admitting you screwed up, especially in this case, is OK. In my experience, people are far more willing to forgive a screw up than a cover up.

  • susancellura

    Love this! It makes me so happy that people do have a good sense of humor. What fun that experience must have been (once the crisis was averted). I think it is fabulous that they went back asked for the Brady Fatheads back. Hiliarious! I also took away some good information regarding Reddit. Thanks!

  • susancellura Awesome! That follow up kept the karma train rolling and cemented their image as a reddit-friendly company. I think the way Fathead conducted themselves, down to the comment section, is a leaf we can all take out of their book (I think I used the idiom right? haha).

  • Good stuff. The response was self-depricating and fun, but they did more than resolve the issue, too.

  • Timing really is everything, isn’t it? I’m an occasional redditor, and as a communications professional, the subcultures built on the site’s framework are simply fascinating. 

    For many communications people, reddit has a reputation for being very much like the Wild West — lots of cowboy vigilantism and a dark underbelly. If you understand the culture of the subreddits, there’s lots of opportunity.

  • Really smart and informative post, Jesse. And I laughed out loud at the fantastic sense of humor the guys at Fathead had – and weren’t afraid to use. I love them already – and have never heard of them before!

  • I am scared to death of Reddit. I read and lurk a lot…but rarely participate. But when I see stuff like this (and the picture of the guy’s dog who got on top of the fridge and couldn’t get down), I’m reminded of how fun the web can be…particularly if you have an organization that allows their marketing team to be HUMAN. I love how they responded to the Reddit criticism. It could very easily have gone a different route, but they handled it with humor and self-deprecation. Thank you for sharing it!

  • ClayMorgan Yes, this is definitely an example of real-time strategic communication fueling both short and long-term value.

  • jasonkonopinski Most definitely 🙂 Your grasp of subreddit cultures is very accurate – I also find them unmatched in helpfulness. Last month I resorted to the buildapc subreddit for my first build and they answered all of my questions faster than most customer service lines. They even have a dedicated IRC, how cool is that?

    Also, your last line should be posted on everyone’s wall 🙂

  • belllindsay Thanks Lindsay, I appreciate the kind words! It was a very fun story to put together and I’m glad there were some key takeaways for strat comm professionals 🙂

  • ginidietrich Haha I think I have the same feeling towards Pinterest as you do towards reddit 🙂  just can’t seem to get into it and haven’t really taken the time to participate (though I do lurk on popular boards).  You hit the nail on the head though: “allowing the marketing team to be HUMAN”  <<< that’s what makes (or limits) companies in the realm of digital/social media.

  • Jesse Aaron ginidietrich Pinterest is a scary place.

  • Like a lot of people here, I know very little about Reddit, have heard the nightmare stories and am plenty intimidated by it. At the same time, like most people here, what jumped out at me was Fathead’s use of humor—self-deprecating humor in particular.
    And that’s an excellent lesson. We talk constantly about different social media platforms and mobile and email marketing and SEO and response rates and conversion and measurement and all the rest … but at the core of what we do, the fundamental principles transcend everything: storytelling, relevance, emotional resonance, responsiveness, authenticity and, if course, humor.

    Also, I wish they had Fathead when I was a kid. I would have had KISS on my wall growing up. Great post, Jesse — thanks!

  • jasonkonopinski Jesse Aaron ginidietrich I LOVE PINTEREST!!!

  • CommProSuzi

    belllindsay It’s the line “there’s a good chance we’ll ship you the right one” that slayed me!

  • I love, love, love this! A great breakdown of a case study in handling what could have been a major crisis, I mean, we take our football seriously here and that type of mix up is blasphemous (FYI- I live in FL- the Tim Tebow capital of the world, where people do actually still ‘tebow’ at any given time during parties….I kid you not, so I intimately know of both the supreme love and hate of the man).

    As other people mentioned Fathead did great because they were human, their messaging stayed on brand and maintained their brand voice. They were quick to react, smart and creative about their response. They used their knowledge of reddit, the situation, and their individual market and worked a plan to resonate with them all.

    What I like most however is that they took this crisis on the offensive vs. defensive. They made it part of their communications out reach, vs as looking at it as something to defend against and push away. This is something that is possible in almost all crisis situation, but often organizations too quickly go on defense and don’t look at the opportunity available to them. 

    Great post!

  • CommProSuzi

    I would LOVE to know more about the conversation between Mike Cole and Fathead’s marketing team.  Did Cole suggest the promotion and then Fathead ran with it?  It’s a great problem to have. 
    I’m with those of you who go blank when staring at Reddit’s screen. However, after reading the comments, now I’m curious to learn more about the demographic make up of Reddit users v Pinners.

  • LauraPetrolino So, did you like this post or not, Laura?

  • belllindsay LauraPetrolino meh…..I don’t know, it was ok I guess…

  • Love this post. It also asks a big question. Do we really have to monitor every possible channel for chatter and if so is there a certain qualifier like (only when it gets 50 votes or a network of X size)
    Also dude I clicked the 25% off link…..and was very disturbed at the post below it. I know Reddit is like no man’s land. lawless for the most part. It is one reason Sponsored tweets are sometimes dangerous. You might pay for ‘Buy the new Coke flavor’ and it can show up right above ‘Obama is a communist muslim terrorist who wants to kill grandma and enslave our kids ‘ tweet or a bullying tweet. Fathead now has an ad above a very disturbing post.

    All that aside creativity is really important. And this is a bit of semi-real time marketing not just PR. It is also very labor intensive. If Mike Cole never contacted Fathead how would they have known or responded? And what about Mike Cole? Talk about a heavily labor intensive sale. Curious how much those ads cost? $50? $100? $1000?

  • LauraPetrolinobelllindsayyou guys are a rough crowd. BTW did you like the post that was below the 25% off ad on reddit?!

  • RobBiesenbachhumor goes a long way. Showing empathy when you mess up goes further. Owning it with humor is incredible. Helps to be a button down org that can make decisions without lawyers to deal with.
    Right now dealing with a client breakup that shouldn’t of happened but they refuse to take ownership of what they have done to me recently (no apology) nor have they taken ownership for what they haven’t done the last year in support of my work. Arrogance creates emotion which breeds all sorts of a bag of worms to open up.

  • Howie Goldfarb Regarding monitoring, maybe a lesson here is it helps to have other eyes and ears working for you. In this case, the source had an interest in tipping off Fathead, since he was in sales (I think?) for Reddit. So kudos to him, too, for seeing the opportunity.

  • Howie Goldfarb Yes, get the lawyers out of the way!

  • ginidietrich jasonkonopinski Jesse Aaron You don’t say.

  • LauraPetrolino AGREE! with your assessment and overall “like” of this post. I do need to note, however, that you’ll never find this Floridian (and alumna of the 3-time National Champion FSU Seminoles) Tebowing anywhere. 🙂

  • Howie Goldfarb  I’m about to blow your mind Howie – the redditor you are mentioning (the “disturbing” post) happens to be Chris Kluwe! While some may find his comment distrubring, this is simply his sense of humor (which aligns with reddits for the most part haha). 

    In my opinion, Kluwe is one of the most socially engaged professional athletes who stands behind his values and backs them up. He even publicly supports major league gaming. He also does make some http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/17fylz/iam_roger_goodell_nfl_commissioner_ama/c854msh and you can learn a lot about him, the NFL’s strict PR in http://deadspin.com/i-was-an-nfl-player-until-i-was-fired-by-two-cowards-an-1493208214.

    I’m realizing now, through the lens of someone isn’t familiar with some of the more popular reddit accounts/reddit humor, this may seem a bit odd. The reality is that Loate/Chris Kluwe’s comment was actually a huge honor for this sponsored headline. If you dig deeper into the comments you’ll notice Fathead even followed up with a funny photoshop 🙂

    While I’m not sure the exact price, they were self-serve targeted sponsored headlines. I do think they were expedited to be published via reddit, but the costs are transparent (http://www.reddit.com/ad_inq/).

    Thanks for your comment Howie, I’m glad you pointed out /u/Loate’s comment as this might shed even more light into the mists of reddit.

  • RobBiesenbach Howie Goldfarb Spot on.

  • CommProSuzi Hahaha now that would be an interesting case study 🙂

    I do believe Mike Cole brought the initial post to their attention and surely suggested possible responses they could take, along with strat comm tips (tone, humor, etc.). But all the social engagement and follow-ups were that of the Fathead team it seems. RobBiesenbach pointed out that this was a mutually beneficial relationship. I think this also demonstrates the community values of reddit (both employees and redditors themselves).

  • Jesse Aaron Howie Goldfarb OMG, Chris Kluwe is the most well-spoken athlete that’s ever lived. HUGE fan of that deadspin article and other stuff he’s written.

  • LauraPetrolino Thanks Laura, I appreciate your kind words! 

    Your insights on ‘offensive vs. defensive’ are the root of this story’s success I think. Even though the entire series of events occurred online for the most part, it must surely be intimidating when thousands and thousands of people see your company mess up (especially in this fashion for an eCommerce business).  I find that ability to remain level-headed and socially engaged admirable.

  • RobBiesenbach Thanks for the comment Rob! Yea I wouldn’t mind a Dokken fathead haha 😀  

    I think your fundamental principles are the best take-away, thanks for sharing your insights!

  • RobBiesenbach Jesse Aaron Howie Goldfarb  YES @ChrisWarcraft is a massive inspiration to many communities (reddit/MLG/LOL being my personal favorite haha).

  • Jesse AaronRobBiesenbachHowie GoldfarbI fully support Chris and his pro-equality efforts with the NFL. Thanks for clarifying and we are all adults here I think. Well at least the days bdorman264doesn’t come by 8)

  • Jesse AaronRobBiesenbachwhen I moved to LA in 92 one of my best friends for a few years used to hang out with Don Dokken when I lived with him we had the new guitarist for the bullet boys slum on our couch a few months.

  • Jesse AaronjasonkonopinskiI remember when Jason was caught using corn instead of flies to catch trout. He entered the susquehanna river fly fishing contest but someone caught him switching to corn with their iphone. But it only came out after he took in 2nd place and won an orvis fly vest. When he was outed Orvis quickly came out with a fly that was a corn fly. And gave them to ever one of the entrants as a gift. They even gave Jason new hip waders thanking him for the new product line.

  • MattLaCasseJesse Aaronlike when ginidietrichwas caught eating manwiches by the Vegan Lady Society.

  • Howie Goldfarb Jesse Aaron RobBiesenbach bdorman264 Tru dat!

  • Howie GoldfarbJesse Aaronginidietrich Precisely.

  • This is a great post! It just shows that no matter the platform, if you respond and interact with a community instead of ignoring them, hoping it will go away, good things can happen. Thanks for putting this together Jesse Aaron.

  • Howie Goldfarb Jesse Aaron RobBiesenbach WHAATTT?! Now you just blew my mind haha that’s awesome. I hope you have some nostalgic pictures somewhere 😀

  • Howie Goldfarb Jesse Aaron RobBiesenbach bdorman264 Context changes everything…..this is all really interesting though

  • cksyme

    StephenApp I agree. Sometimes I wonder if people are turned off by difficulty of navigation there. Takes a while to learn your way around.

  • StephenApp

    cksyme it does. Also has a reputation for being time waster. I think assumption is that nothing of value occurs on the platform

  • Aaron W Jaco

    tl;dr: Reddit is awesome

  • SpinSucks

    LAinGA Don’t you love it! Super smart, right? ^lp

  • JesseAarone

    TheCoffice Thanks for sharing! Just signed up for Coffice, looking forward to the launch!

  • TheCoffice

    Sweet! Thx Jesse! RT JesseAarone: TheCoffice Thanks for sharing! Just signed up for Coffice, looking forward to the launch!

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