Would you use a major advertising campaign to restore confidence in your battered brand? I sure wouldn’t. Advertising is great for creating awareness, but not so adept at establishing credibility. After all, the advertiser has total control over what is said as well as when and where it appears, so authenticity can be a tad suspect. PR and social media, on the other hand, carry far more third party credibility, especially in times of crisis.
I ask these questions because SeaWorld just launched a major advertising campaign to try and restore its reputation some two years after a scathing documentary called “Blackfish” attacked the theme park chain for cruel and inhumane treatment of its prized attraction, killer whales.
It the ads, SeaWorld features an in-house veterinarian, Chris Dodd, who says, “I wouldn’t work here if I wasn’t able to give these whales the world class care they deserve. So, don’t believe what PETA and Blackfish are saying.” Sorry, Mr. Dodd, but those comments make me a tad suspicious since SeaWorld also happens to be your employer.
The SeaWorld campaign really misses the mark in terms of addressing the larger issue: should these amazing, wild creatures be penned up in man-made tanks and forced to perform like circus lions before an adoring crowd? I think not. But, if SeaWorld loses the whales, what will be left to attract tourists? And, therein lies the conundrum. SeaWorld’s stock has dipped 40 percent in the past two years and attendance to their 11 theme parks has decreased by four percent. Imagine what those numbers would be like if the whales were to be set free?
In one of the other SeaWorld ads, Chairman and Interim CEO David D’Alessandro says, “There’s been a lot of misinformation and even lies spread about SeaWorld. We want to provide the facts, so people can make up their own minds on this important issue.” Perhaps. But, I’d be much more comfortable if an independent, blue ribbon panel was releasing the facts and not the theme park itself.
I think SeaWorld is swimming upstream if they think the average American wants to see killer whales kept in captivity. I also appreciate the reality that SeaWorld is really stuck between a rock and a hard place (or whatever the nautical equivalent of that aphorism may be). Popular opinion will force them to set the whales free at some point, so why pay money to visit a killer whale-less SeaWorld?
But, that’s SeaWorld’s problem. In the meantime, I’ll just paraphrase Ronald Reagan and say, “Mr. D’Alessandro, tear down those whale tanks!”