Adidas’ Boston Marathon Gaffe Proves You Need to Know Your Audience…and History.jpg

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as George Santayana once wrote.

And those who forget history are the most likely to find themselves in a crisis.

Case in point: Adidas.

The sporting-goods company decided to congratulate runners in the Boston Marathon with an email that had the subject line: “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

Under normal circumstances, that would be a completely innocent and somewhat innocuous bit of marketing outreach. But, a scant four years ago, the Boston Marathon was the scene of a terrorist attack that killed three people, injured hundreds more and shook the city, the running community and the nation at large.

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So, clearly, any reasonable person would decide that an event that was the scene of an event imbued with such trauma should be treated with more thoughtfulness and care than, say, a local motocross. Unless, of course, you work in marketing at Adidas.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb for any bit of marketing tied to a big event. Know the history of the event, and know the audience. In the case of the Boston Marathon, we aren’t talking about ancient history. We’re talking about one of the bigger terrorist attacks on our soil in the last decade. Hell, they even made a Mark Wahlberg movie about it, Patriots Day, that was released just this year. It is inexcusable that such recent history be forgotten or – even worse – disregarded.

Second, the intended audience here runs the Boston Marathon as a sense of triumph and accomplishment, but also for remembrance and patriotism. The ability for the event to bounce back and now engender a sense of pride and spirit transcends just the physical ability to finish the race. This audience would reject a flippant mention of survival as minimizing the honor it is to run a race in the memory of those who lost their lives.

Here’s the good news. Mistakes happen, and we are a nation of second chances. A strong apology, with an acknowledgement of the gravity of the error, is the right first step. (And make sure you don’t screw up a simple apology, like United did.)

But the next step to handling this crisis is an internal look at whether teams are spending enough time understanding history and the audiences they are trying to reach. That’s the best way a brand like Adidas can ensure it doesn’t stumble into a crisis like this again.

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