New Balance shoes is the latest unfortunate victim of the “be careful what you say getting taken out of context” syndrome, aka what happens when your mainstream media interview collides with social media.
In a recent Wall St. Journal interview, New Balance public affairs VP Matt LeBretton discussed why his company supported President-elect Trump throughout the campaign and now, after the election. The primary reason: New Balance prides itself on making their shoes in the US. The problem:
- LeBretton probably didn’t ask if the reporter, Sarah Germano, if she was going to tweet about the interview or just write an article.
- As it turned out, Germano tweeted a snippet from a LeBretton statement about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal that both New Balance and President-elect Trump oppose.
- The tweeted quote – with Trump “we feel things are moving in the right direction” — was out of the context of TPP. Yet, a hoax Neo-Nazi site re-tweeted it under the banner, “The Official Shoes of White People.”
- News organizations picked that up, and New Balance has literally been trying to put out a PR firestorm since – some angry customers even posted photos and videos of them burning their New Balance shoes.
- Competitor Reebok has reached out to New Balance customers directly via Twitter, suggesting they switch brands.
New Balance has responded with multiple social media postings that it supported Trump because of his positon on TPP and trade in general, but opposes his more extreme views and all forms of bigotry and hate. But online and media commentary about New Balance, as well as about corporations taking advocacy positions, continues unabated.
Of course, a company has the right to take policy positions that protect its market share and stock value, as New Balance did. And it’s hard to think through every statement made in an interview to see if it could be a mis-quote or mis-tweet. We’re not sure if this is just a one-off bad example or a cautionary tale that any single news sound bite – when reduced to 144 characters — can come back to bite you hard.