Experts in Crisis Management Failure

Crisis happens.  We’re all humans and we all make mistakes.  As we go through life we learn the best thing to do after making a big mistake is to own up to it and sincerely apologize.  Walmart must not have learned this.  A man named Chuck Netzhammer from Louisiana tried to order a cake with a Confederate Flag image on it and was denied.  Netzhammer was shocked by this and decided to test the limits by attempting to order an Isis Flag cake.  What really through Netzhammer through a loop was the lack of resistance in supplying him with an Isis Flag cake.  Netzhammer supplied the internet with a video of his denial of the Confederate Flag cake and approval and purchase of the Isis Flag cake.

Walmart Isis Flag

While Netzhammer’s experience was enough to make millions mad Walmart made it even worse when they tried to deny and deflect the blame.

According to USA Today, Walmart blamed Netzhammer for “taking advantage of an associate who did not know the flag and its meaning.”  Walmart did apologize and stated the cake never should have been made.  Shortly after Walmart’s statement the video Netzhammer put up was marked as spam/malicious content and taken down from YouTube, although it is now back up.

Walmart does not know how to handle a crisis and this incident proved it.  Walmart wasn’t wrong for banning the sale of Confederate Flag paraphernalia as many retail outlets across the country have in leui of recent events.  Walmart was wrong for how they handled the situation.  It may be very true that the “talented bakery associate” was not familiar with the Isis Flag.  Louisiana is a Southern state and with the recent bans it would be almost impossible to not know what the Confederate Flag looks like.  But the Isis Flag is not as well recognized.  Had Netzhammer ordered the cake by its name, Isis Flag,  it is possible that cake would have been denied as well.  But that’s not the point.

Walmart made numerous errors in reacting to this crisis.  The first was blaming the bakery associate and portraying them as ignorant.  The associate wouldn’t have been “ignorant” if Walmart had done a better job of training their employees on what is and is not acceptable.

Walmart also went wrong in stating Netzhammer took advantage of the associate.  In all reality Walmart took advantage of Netzhammer by sending him on this wild chase for a cake and publicly showing offense to it.  This is a classic example of why big brands should collaborate with an outside agency.  Outside agencies provide a neutral voice because they are removed from the brand and have no hard feelings.  Walmart was too offended and embarrassed to be neutral so instead they blamed the customer.  Can you really blame a customer for purchasing your products?

While it is unknown who reported the video it doesn’t look good for Walmart.  Even if Walmart did not have the video removed much of society will still say they did.  Walmart will survive but their reputation will hold on to this incident for a while, although they likely will not care as they continue to profit every second of the day.  It is their continued profit despite crisis that proves they don’t have to be apologetic as a brand.  Can you blame them for that?

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