business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

This morning’s submission isn’t as much about keeping your eyes open as keeping your mouth shut - or, at least knowing that everything and anything you say is, for all practical purposes, on the record.

Aflac the health insurance company, announced yesterday that it has fired Gilbert Gottfried, who provides the voice of its trademark duck here in the US. The reason? Gottfried - who in addition to his kid-friendly voiceover work (he was the voice if Iago the bird in Aladdin), also is a particularly abrasive and foul-mouthed comedian - posted a series of tasteless jokes about Japan, the tsunami and earthquake on Twitter over the weekend.

Aflac wasted no time in making the decision. The company reportedly does as much as three-quarters of its business in Japan, and insures one out of four households there; Aflac’s CEO, Daniel Amos, reportedly flew to Japan over the weekend to show support for the company’s employees and customers. (It isn’t hard to imagine that Aflac will be writing a lot of checks to people whose lives are forever affected not just by the natural disasters, but the resultant problems at Japan’s nuclear reactors, which seem to be getting worse with every passing hour.)

It is yet another demonstration of the simple reality that one has to know what is appropriate and what is not. While that’s always been the case, the current Facebook/Twitter/YouTube environment means that virtually everything we say and do is out there for the world to see and react to, and like it or not, if you offend the wrong person’s sensitivities, it can have an incalculable impact on your business.

We learned it with Groupon a few weeks ago, when some folks saw its Super Bowl commercials as being inappropriately edgy. And now, we learn it yet again ... though, to be fair, Gottfried’s transgressions seem particularly nasty and pointless.

There’s another great business lesson here.

It probably is a pretty good bet that Gottfried’s jokes became a lot more public when he got fired, but Aflac nevertheless was both swift and decisive in its moves. The company could have just said nothing, and waited to see what would happen. It could have just that the jokes did not represent its own views, and waited to see what would happen. But somebody at Aflac was smarter that that, and knew that if you have a problem - or even a potential problem - you cannot afford to wait these days to make your move. Momentum can be your worst enemy at times like these.

By the way, it wasn’t just comedians who were losing jobs over tasteless Japanese jokes.

The New York Post this morning reports that “the press secretary to Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor and likely Republican presidential contender, resigned after writing on a Web site that Otis Redding's classic ‘(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay,’ was ‘not a big hit in Japan right now’.”

You have to know when to keep your mouth shut.

And that’s our Tuesday Eye-Opener.
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