Quick GrabTaxi apology over breast cancer campaign gaffe seeks to soothe consumers

Mobile taxi app comes under fire for insensitive slogan and photos as users lash out on social media

GrabTaxi today made a hasty and categorical apology over its new breast cancer awareness PR campaign #GrabitBeatit after finding itself in the midst of a Twitter storm over its treatment of such a sensitive topic.

"We apologise that it comes across as insensitive to breast cancer survivors, their families and the wider public," the company said in a statement on Twitter. "Breast cancer is not a trivial issue and we regret the taglines are not reflective of the seriousness of the issue."

Users were quick to voice their displeasure at receiving a notification from GrabCar, GrabTaxi’s private vehicle booking service, stating: ‘LOVE BOOBS? So does cancer’.

The slogan kicked off the brand’s attempt to raise awareness of breast cancer and encourage women to self-check for signs. T-shirts advertising the message followed, as well as a YouTube video titled ‘What if BOOBS didn’t exist?’ 

Consumers criticised the company for insensitivity and portraying a sexist angle on an extremely delicate issue and filled Twitter with their outrage.

 GrabTaxi has since removed the video from its campaign messages, but said it will continue to sell the t-shirts – at RM30 (US$7) each – as all proceeds will go to charity. It is still engaging with users on Twitter, thanking them for their "constructive feedback", and says it will continue the campaign.

"We chose a tagline that would capture the public’s attention, because greater awareness can save lives," GrabTaxi’s statement continued.

Tarun Deo, managing director of Golin Southeast Asia, says GrabTaxi has done well is come out quickly with a message that speaks to users’ concerns.

"In general - a single tactical campaign hit or miss will not make or break a firm’s reputation but this is another example of the fact that social media has democratized our business and you get instant feedback on what is good or not so good," he added.

Annabel Fox, managing director of W Communications in Singapore, says GrabTaxi’s message is "flippant" rather than sexist.

"Charities often create very shocking campaigns, but if a brand does it, and uses humour, it is certainly going to cause a black lash," she told PRWeek.

"As a PR stunt goes, of course they have generated a lot of exposure with this, in a market which is very competitive. But it is tactical rather than strategic and doesn’t fit in with their positioning of being a ‘safe & worry free ride’, so I wouldn’t think it would help to build the brand's market share in the long-term."

The key is creating commentary that is congruent with a brand’s personality, said Ray Rudowski, Edelman regional director for crisis planning and training.

"Judging from the various conversations it’s sparked, they did achieve the goal of raising discussions," he said "But those discussions appear to be about the campaign approach and not the message being delivered. It’s a gamble when your approach risks alienating the very demographic you’re trying to inspire."

Alvin Ng, creative director at FCB Kuala Lumpur said that the campaign’s intentions were good and at the ideas stage, creatives are always trying to come up with new ways to get people engaged.

"But I think that the insights is where it kind of failed. The target audience should be women because breast cancer is more prevalent for them and looked at from that perspective," he said. "They failed to spend more time to look deeper and really identify the issues."

Ng also did not know how relevant the campaign’s #GrabItBeatIt hashtag was to the intended message of trying to get more women to do self-examinations.

"If anything it came off as more derogatory than nice," he said. "And as for the t-shirts, while I think that’s a good thing because the money goes to charity, I’m not sure how many they’d sell and it’s likely that more men would buy it then women when it’s a case of wanting everyone to do so."

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