Halloween-themed parties are nothing new. I personally find they’re a blast. I’ve been to a few myself (and still have the costume from at least one of them, I think). I appreciate being scary and original, but sometimes originality can really backfire – especially if it’s insensitive to real word problems that are literally close to home. Oh, and timing’s everything.
So get this: A nightclub in London’s West End UK came up with the “brilliant” idea to host a themed Halloween bash. The club, Scotch of St. James, was a haunt for such musical legends Jimi Hendrix and Sir Paul McCartney. Not resting on their popularity, they took things one big step too far when they decided to name their themed costume-mandatory party, “Saturday Night Ebola Fever”.
Like I said, timing’s everything. It was quickly pointed out to the night club that Africa was then right at the peak of the – you guessed it – the Ebola Crisis (pick up a newspaper or watch the news, guys!)
Talk about shooting oneself in the foot! More than 5,000 people at the time had died of the disease – maybe a little sensitivity of human suffering was in order? At the very least, the whole thing was just tone-deaf.
As the founder and CEO of Street Child, a charity that the time was also running a campaign to raise funds to fight the virus said, “To trivialize matters like that let alone to instrumentalize them for one’s own enjoyment or commercial gain is beyond the pale. Anyone trying to make any personal benefit let alone light out of the Ebola situation is reprehensible.”1
But once it’s said, you can’t “unsay” it.
Oh, and the media will just keep saying it:
Washington Examiner: London club to host ‘Saturday Night Ebola Fever’ Halloween Party
Evening Standard: Mayfair club under fire for ‘Ebola’ themed Halloween party
The Week: London club forced to cancel ‘Ebola-themed’ Halloween party
MomxDad, the company promoting the event, considered canceling it, but instead slightly rechristened the party, of course dropping the “Ebola” bit.
Their spokesperson announced: “It is still our intention to go ahead with the charity event, albeit with a new flyer and name, with the aim of raising as much money as we possibly can to help Ebola victims and stop its spread.”2
They also stated that the original name was “just a play on words”3 (hmmm…maybe…).
At least they in sticking to their (maybe?) original intent of raising funds to fight Ebola.
Because it got me thinking: Was the nightclub really hosting a Halloween event for the express purpose of raising money for a worthy cause, or was it just being used as an excuse to throw a party and get some publicity for it?
In any case, their move all but put a stake in the heart of the whole event and the promoter to boot.
To add one more sorry detail to this whole debacle, the event organizers advertised they would be accepting a 10-pound (about $16 U.S.) “discretionary donation” that would go to Doctors without Borders. (Weak, people, weak)
In the end, whatever their intent the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
How ironic a Halloween bash would end up getting so much publicity – of the BAD kind.
Sure, parties are cool but muddling your messaging between superficiality and seriousness makes for a complete mess.
Your messaging must always be proactive – communicating what you’re doing differently that makes the difference. It’s NOT about saying you’re awesome; it’s how you’re causing (positive) DISRUPTION in your industry.
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Power, Amy. “5 Horrific PR Flops: Halloween Edition” Business2Community. business2community.com/public-relations/5-horrific-pr-flops-halloween-edition-01366798, October 30, 2015
Sleigh, Sofia. “Mayfair club under fire for ‘Ebola’ themed Halloween party”, EveningStandard. standard.co.uk/news/london/mayfair-club-under-fire-for-ebola-themed-halloween-party-9819949.html, October 27, 2014
Faircloth, Amy. “Do Not Try to Fight Ebola With a Dance Party”, Jezebel. jezebel.com/do-not-try-to-fight-ebola-with-a-dance-party-1651221890, October 27, 2014