How to Avoid a Shitstorm When Advertising During a Crisis

Photo credit: Josep Castells


We’ve all seen it; a brand or media personality puts out a tasteless message that is completely out of touch with the times and a tremendous backlash follows. What often starts with simple ignorance results in days, if not weeks, of outrage, as online commentators and newspaper opinion pieces argue back and forth about what was said and done. For lack of a better phrase, this is what we refer to as a shitstorm. 

Influencers are highly observed, meaning that in times of crisis, it’s more important than ever for brands and their collaborators to carefully consider every message that is put out to avoid causing a shitstorm.


Shitstorm Examples

Perhaps the most well-known example of an influencer-involved marketing shitstorm came in 2017 with Kendall Jenner’s “Jump In” Pepsi commercial. As you’ll likely recall, the advertisement featured Jenner acting in a savior role amidst a protest that borrowed imagery from Black Lives Matter protests. During this time, the conversation around the Black Lives Matter was reaching the mainstream and was heavily discussed around the United States.

Many accused Pepsi and Kendall Jenner of trivializing the movement and blasted both for being out of touch. The advertisement was promptly removed, and Pepsi and Jenner apologized for the campaign. Jenner has since spoken about the humiliation she faced in the wake of the offense caused by the campaign, and the advertisement has now gone down as one of the most misguided attempts to capitalize on a sensitive national crisis in history. 


Photo credit: Pepsi Global


During these early months of the pandemic, it appears that most major brands and advertisers have been incredibly cautious with their messages, which has led to audience approval. Some brands have opted for public displays of charity, while others have kept sharing light messages of support. According to a recent survey by Morning Consult, audiences have particularly responded to brands who’ve provided updates on how their services have changed during the crisis while displaying genuine empathy and offering viable solutions.


How to Avoid a Shitstorm

So what is the best way to avoid these missteps happening in the first place? It all begins with planning. Although we always highlight the importance of the planning stages of a campaign, the stakes at the moment are even higher than usual. Now, it’s worth acknowledging the difficulty of planning right now as the time to create campaigns is even more compressed and organizers are less centralized. Coupled with the fact that demand for engaging campaigns relating to the situation is extremely high, we understand why it could be tempting to take shortcuts during this process.

We recommend against this. These preliminary stages are essential in weighing up the possible risks upfront whilst gauging the shifting moods of the masses. Perhaps there are trends pointing to certain consumer behaviors or reactions to events as social distancing measures continue – the planning stage is the ideal time to research what is popular or prevalent and what is not. 

Perhaps another brand has taken a similar risk to what your team is proposing and there was a shitstorm? Take this time to cover your bases and ensure your message will strike the right tone. If there is no precedent set by another brand or influencer, why not create a short survey on social media to see what is most important for your community’s values and opinions during this time? In the best-case scenario, this could present you with insights into consumer demand or even give you future campaign ideas. At the very least, your audience will likely appreciate you taking the time to listen.

As for sharing specific scientific details surrounding the crisis, we suggest you avoid these statements as much as possible. If this information is central to your product or services, only work with well-researched and officially documented data. Not only can offering uneducated advice or information cause a shitstorm, but it could also risk the health and safety of your followers.


Tips for Working With Influencers During a Crisis

1. Who to deal with?

Before you can refine how to deal with an influencer during this situation, you must first get a handle on who to deal with. Unlike before where brands need to consider the kind of content an influencer creates, their overall personality, and the engagement they inspire, brands now should have a closer look at the following questions: 

• How are influencers handling this particular event outside of brand campaigns?

• Are they addressing it at all? And if they do, how do their messages come across? 

• Are they inspiring positivity and resilience or do they appear to weigh into more negative territory? 

Of course, as we recently discussed it’s essential that influencers are maintaining authenticity and their own individuality, but in these times one person’s brand of authenticity may be more valuable than another’s. 

Think about the kind of reactions you want to generate with your campaign and consider whether the influencer will be able to generate this. You want to choose a partner who can independently and believable convey this mood without overstepping any boundaries and potentially igniting a shitstorm. Thankfully, there are many talented and professional content creators who have proven themselves ready to rise the challenge, so finding the right person is by no means an impossibility.


2. How is the audience reacting?

In addition to how the influencer is responding, how are their followers reacting to their recent content? Are they supporting the influencer’s views, or do they seem to be expressing skepticism about their position? Although the influencer will be the face of your campaign, you need to consider that it is their audience you want to purchase your product or spread your message.


3. What to include in the message?

As we mentioned in the How to Avoid a Shitstorm section, it’s also essential that you communicate the importance of influencers avoiding any technical discussion of the crisis itself unless it relates to the approach of the campaign. Again, this is incredibly risky territory, and this is one of few occasions where taking a hands-on approach in guiding your influencer toward the exact nature of the content you wish for them to share. It’s difficult to advertise amidst a wall of hard facts without it being lost or being perceived negatively by followers, so proceed at your own caution.



We hope that in reading this article, you feel more confident in your ability to avoid a shitstorm. Of course, the purpose of this post was not to inspire worry, but more so to guide you towards safe but effective choices that will help you maintain the support of your followers. As discussed, it all comes down to careful consideration in who your collaborators are and taking the time to undertake a thorough planning stage. 

Now more than ever, keep pushing towards spreading an authentic message and take the time to connect with your followers in an even more meaningful way. If you want to find the right influencers to work with or have any other questions or concerns about avoiding a shitstorm, please get in touch with us at So you don’t miss our weekly blog post, subscribe to our newsletter here.