Handling Bad Press with Grace

It's easier to survive bad press with humor and grace.
It’s easier to survive bad press with humor and grace.

Last month, the “Daily Show” returned to Comedy Central with its new host: Trevor Noah. Fans are worried about how much he’ll depart from the show’s original formula, but we do know that one gag he probably won’t copy is former host Jon Stewart’s fondness for bad-mouthing fast-food chain Arby’s.

That’s because when Jon Stewart left the air in August, the faux feud was finally put to bed with an extremely marketing-savvy response. Arby’s spent $230,000 to run a commercial during Stewart’s goodbye episode and respond, once and for all, to years of comedic abuse.

The 30-second television ad played “Thank You for Being a Friend” (aka the theme from “Golden Girls”), reliving some of Jon Stewart’s best barbs:

“Isn’t there anywhere else we can eat?”

“Technically, it’s food.”

“Why not challenge your stomach to a fight?”

It ended with a simple message: “Not sure why, but we’ll miss you.” And so ended a fantastic running joke on late night — without leaving a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

What This Teaches Us About Handling Bad Press

Just because your brand faces backlash or bad press, it doesn’t mean that it’s time to call it quits.

An Arby’s spokesperson told Digiday: “It goes to show that if you keep your sense of humor, you can turn what could have been a negative situation into something positive and fun for the brand.”

It does help that a humorous response fits well with the voice of Arby’s brand. But dignity and grace are just as artful tools for receiving what could be construed as bad press. Defensiveness and hitting back are among the worst ways to address that problem, should it ever arise. And sometimes, as Arby’s did, taking things in stride and biding your time is better than reacting right away, when people are still trying to make up their minds.

In this case, their tactics and timing were well-played. Although today’s smart television consumers are usually turned off by blatant product placement and overt grabs for their favor, this tasteful reply was well received by audiences and commenters on social media.

So: Smooth move, Arby’s. Now we’ll just have to see who Trevor Noah mocks in your stead.

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