Before stepping into the world of eyewear, I used to work in PR & Marketing for the fashion sector. I guess you can say I am now working for the other side, the editorial side.  With the experience I’ve had, I also understand it is important for brands to send out the right message because if you get it wrong, people will be quick to have an opinion. This is especially true with the power of social media! So, I was shocked when I saw how angry people were with Polette Eyewear and I thought “Ooooo what did they do to upset so many people?”.

What happened? Where did it go wrong for Polette Eyewear?

I investigated because I was curious and straight away I saw the problem. Right now, we are in the worst pandemic of our lifetime. COVID-19 is on the news EVERY DAY! You cannot miss it. If you don’t know what I am talking about, have you been hiding in an underground bunker? Ha! 

From the news, I think the general public is getting a strong message that medical supplies are running low, especially with cases hiking every day around the world. It is a priority to get basic medical supplies like masks and sanitisers for all the medical staff on the front line for the people fighting this virus. Perhaps Polette didn’t see how urgent that was or they genuinely didn’t realise. 

So, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, they ran a “See clear, stay safe” promotion giving two free masks with every purchase. Majority of people on social media were so angry with them. Looking at all their social media feeds, I’d say 95% of people were upset with this campaign. The public felt they were being insensitive to the pandemic. Here is the advert below.

The Original Polette Face Mask Ad
The Original Polette Face Mask Ad

A lot of people were asking “Why give masks to ordinary people like us when the medical staff don’t even have enough and they are the ones battling COVID-19 on the front line, why not donate what you got to them?!”, good question.

Here is something interesting about masks. I am Chinese born in Hong Kong. After SARS happened back in 2002, almost all people in Asia got into a habit of wearing a mask for things like the common cold or flu so wearing a mask is normal practice, it is no big deal. This, however, is not the case in western culture. In the UK where I am now based (and have been for 25 years), we have been told by our government that wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily protect you and we have a shortage of masks so please let our medical staff have them first.

Was the Polette campaign insensitive?

Personally, I don’t think it was done on purpose to be insensitive but I do believe their marketing team should have done more research before trying to jump in and get publicity off the back of it. We are in the middle of a pandemic and everyone is dealing with their own battles whether it is losing loved ones, working on the frontline or being financially struck hard. People will be sensitive to this subject in their own way. Polette has their own factories in China and when the outbreak first happened, masks were like gold dust. I often read news from Hong Kong and believe it or not many businesses did give out free masks to the general public. However, this type of marketing strategy doesn’t work over here especially now with a shortage of supplies. 

The public were so angry that Polette made two separate statements explaining their reasons for the campaign. My advice to Polette is, do more research on different cultures before launching a campaign. This is especially important for international businesses. Another no, no is don’t write a statement trying to justify it. With so many people being so annoyed, they are at high risk of losing both current and potential customers.

What made it worse for Polette?

Sometimes there is no way to rectify a marketing crisis so just say “Sorry, we messed up and we will learn from it. Please forgive us and we can see why this may be insensitive”. It is utterly vital for a brand to deal with a marketing crisis correctly because it can help earn your company some credit as a business. Polette just made things worse with their not one, but two statements which were labelled by the masses as “non-apologies” and “arrogant”.

As a blogger with a PR/marketing background, I often see brands giving us bloggers (AKA press) zero respect. We need to work together to get the best result. I hope other companies can learn from this and the most important thing… do your research first!

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