Brand management during a crisis: Should Warner Brothers pull the Batman movie?

Suffice to say that we have all been shaken by the recent and shocking events in Denver this past Friday.

From a news standpoint, I will leave it to the CNNs of the world to cover the tragedy.  However, and in the wake of the incident, there have been conflicting reports as to what Warner Brothers might and should do regarding the premier of their summer’s blockbuster movie Batman.

As you can well imagine, the cost to produce, distribute and promote a major motion picture is significant – to say the least.  As a result, success at the box office in the opening weekend is critical to setting the tone relative to whether or not the movie will be a moneymaker.  In short, the opening weekend is the “BIG” weekend for a new movie.

Given what happened in Colorado, there have been suggestions that Warner Brothers should pull the movie in its entirety – at least for the time being.  Other reports have indicated that WB will pull ads in which the character portrayed in the film resembles the shooter so as not to make audiences feel uncomfortable.

Regardless of how the company handles the situation, one thing is certain . . . everyone will be watching and ultimately judging the WB brand.  This is especially true when it comes to the public’s pocketbooks.  According to reports while ticket sales are still somewhat brisk, experts suggest that they will likely be affected.

The negative impact resulting from the tragedy is not just limited to this particular movie.  Money News reported that Cinemark Holdings Inc., the Plano, Texas-based owner of the theater in Aurora, dropped 4.5 percent.  Even the industry as a whole has felt the effects as Regal Entertainment Group, the largest U.S. theater operator, fell 4.3 percent, as did Carmike Cinemas Inc. which dropped 1.6 percent.

Against this terrible backdrop, what would you do if you were Warner Brothers?  Would you pull the movie?  Would you take a more measured response by reducing the amount of advertising for the film? Or would you set up an online website where people can make donations to the families of the deceased. How about WB setting up a special fund, donating a percentage of every ticket sale to donate to the survivors’ medical costs, etc.?

One thing is certain, and as demonstrated by the contrasts between the manner in which Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol tampering crisis in 1982 as opposed to how Exxon mismanaged the Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the public and media have long memories.

Achieving the difficult balance between serving shareholder interests and public sentiments is a difficult task in situations such as these, with far reaching consequences.  So deciding on an appropriate response is fraught with many challenges.

Whatever Warner Brothers decides to do, they would be wise to remember the famous line from a past blockbuster movie and be certain to “choose wisely.”



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Author and Host of the PI Window on The World Show on Blog Talk Radio.

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