The massive community backlash from the so-called royal prank-gone-wrong by two shock jocks on 2Day FM says a lot about the power of the people rather than the power of a company’s board or the regulators.
So powerful was the community outcry when news spread that the prank had tragically culminated in the death of a nurse at King Edward VII Hospital that advertisers started to withdraw their advertising from the show and the company was forced to suspend it.
It was a similar community reaction to the comments made a few weeks ago by Alan Jones about the Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father with suggestions that he had died of shame.
The regulator did nothing but consumers took to Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, attacking the advertisers until they buckled under the pressure and withdrew their advertising. It also prompted Macquarie Radio Network to announce the temporary suspension of all advertising in its breakfast show and called it “21st century censorship via cyber bullying”.
In like fashion, the prospect of suspending the 2Day FM show along with the desertion of advertisers extended to the sharemarket, with the listed entity’s stock Southern Cross Media Group falling 6 per cent, as investors punted that the loss of advertisers would have a significant impact on the bottom line.
It is part of Australia’s culture to crack jokes but this time the joke turned from black comedy to a nightmare for all concerned.
It is yet another example of the power of social media to exert huge pressure on companies rather than the ineffectual regulators.
Just last week, Starbucks bowed to public pressure and pledged to pay taxes in the UK, despite regulators not being able to sanction the company for avoiding tax in the past three years as it was technically operating within the law. However, the consumer backlash – including people protesting outside its stores and the potentially huge damage to the brand – led to the company “volunteering” to pay 20 million pounds in tax.
Starbucks issued a statement that was gobsmacking but spoke volumes about the power of consumer and community backlashes. It said “it would pay a significant amount of tax during 2013 and 2014 regardless of whether the company is profitable during these years”.
Starbucks told the BBC the company had “listened to our customers” and was “making a number of changes in our business to ensure we pay corporation tax in the UK” – something it urged UK Uncut and other concerned parties to “carefully consider”.
There is no arguing that the 2Day FM prank was in poor taste but the tragedy that followed could never have been imagined. Nor do we know the background to it.
What we do know is the culture at Southern Cross Media Group is nasty and allows shock jocks to pull pranks all the time. The idea of a joke is everyone laughs, rather than it being at some unsuspecting person’s expense.
The board sets values for a company and if management takes decisions that are in contravention of the company’s values then something has to be done. Investors and directors of Southern Cross Media need to look at those values to see where they are falling short.
In this case the company has come out and said every attempt was made to ask for approval to run the pre-recorded tape but time ran out and it went to air and received lots of attention, which the station would have loved, until it all went horribly wrong.
What does it say about the brand? Does it put the quest for top ratings ahead of values?
With the power of social media growing exponentially, the debate is just about to begin.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.