Snapchat, the popular visual
messaging app, came under serious fire on Wednesday, April 20th,
after releasing a controversial filter.
Snapchat’s filter in question was intended to “honor” Bob Marley on the
unofficial marijuana holiday by allowing users to take a selfie and then alter
the image to make the user look like Marley—dreadlocks, Rasta beanie, brown
skin and all.  

Social media was quick to decry the
Bob Marley filter as racist, insisting that it was 21st century
blackface.  Additionally, others are
angry that the legendary Jamaican is being portrayed as a marijuana symbol—Bob
Marley contributed a lot more to music, and to the world in general, than merely
music to get high to.

In the face of public backlash,
Snapchat seems to be standing firm on their decision to make the filer
available…or are they?  At the time of
writing, the popular messaging app has issued a somewhat informal, half-hearted
statement, which may or may not have come from an official spokesperson: “The
lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate
and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his
music.  Millions of Snapchatters have
enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.”

Snapchat also retweeted one fan of the Marley filter’s
tweet—@MsBebe_Tweets tweeted “Do snap chat really have the traveling bong and
the Bob Marley filter today??????I can’t stand y’all! Lmao.”  

Snapchat’s crisis communications
team failed them across the board, and being that the app generates a huge
amount of revenue selling advertising space/filters it could seriously cost
them—the public blunder could lose them users, which the app is entirely based
on.  Here’s what Snapchat got wrong:

  1. Snapchat didn’t act decisively.  The key to crisis communications is to be
    proactive, not reactive, and to put out fires immediately.  Thus far the young tech company has only issued
    an unenthusiastic statement, and retweeted one fan’s supportive tweet.  Seriously?
    Retweeting @MsBebe_Tweets’ support isn’t nearly a good enough response,
    Snapchat.  In fact, it’s
    counterproductive, as it makes it seem like you’re not taking the issue
    seriously.  Your users, many of whom are
    personally insulted, want more.
  2. Speaking of acting decisively, the relationship
    between whoever issued the Snapchat statement and the company itself is a bit
    Some sources site the
    individual as a spokesperson; some sources site the individual merely as
    “someone close to the company.”  Snapchat
    shouldn’t have left any room for questions.
    Rather, the CEO of the company should have formally, and definitively
    issued a statement.  A statement from the
    top would have shown everybody that Snapchat offended that the company is
    taking the matter seriously, and would have gone a long way in regards to
    damage control.  
  3. An important part of crisis communications is
    taking responsibility.
    deflected blame by insisting that they launched the filter in partnership with
    the Bob Marley Estate.  That may be true,
    Snapchat, but it doesn’t change the fact that the filter was featured on your
    messaging app; you gave it the green light.
    It’s your platform, and it was targeted to your users—take
  4. Snapchat doesn’t address either of the two
    issues in their response.
    they’re going to stick to their guns or issue a formal apology, they need to
    address the fact that: 1) social media is decrying the filter as racist,
    digital blackface.  And 2) that they’re
    using Bob Marley as an icon for marijuana culture, in total disregard of his greater
    contributions to music and society.
    Snapchat acknowledged that Bob Marley is an icon, and they claim that
    they respect his life and music; their filter, however, points to the
    contrary.  It’s insensitive, offensive,
    and many would say racist.  Don’t pander,
    Snapchat.  Address the heart of the
    issue, regardless of whatever your stance on it is.

Ultimately, crisis communications comes down to being
proactive as opposed to reactive, and the ability to act decisively.  Snapchat was slow, indecisive, and shallow in
their response to the public backlash they received for their Bob Marley
filter.  Will the way they handled this
crisis damage their brand irreparably?
Most likely not.  But it certainly
won’t win them any fans, and it most definitely won’t help their bottom line.

What do you think of the Bob Marley Snapchat filter? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Contributor: Jack Haandraadts, Account Coordinator at Marketing Maven