Oxygen Earns Marketing Failure in Response to 'All My Babies' Mamas' Outcry

Show Is So Wrong That It Has Ignited Ire of Four Groups That Don't Often Agree

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Oxygen plans to air a show called "All My Babies' Mamas," starring rapper Shawty Lo and the 10 mothers of his 11 children. The teaser video puts the household's dysfunction on full display, complete with Shawty Lo having difficulty naming his children, catchy nicknames for the mothers, such as "Jealous Baby Mama and "Shady Baby Mama" -- and, of course, the requisite catfights among the women.

The only thing worse than the show's premise is the epic failure of the Oxygen marketing team.

When Oxygen launched in 1998, its mission was "to be a breath of fresh air for women who watch TV." Today the NBCUniversal Media Village website proclaims Oxygen "deliver[s] relevant and engaging content to women who like to "live out loud.'" Apparently, today's woman finds relevance in "Girls Behaving Badly," "Bad Girls Club" and, presumably, "All My Babies' Mamas." And living out loud entails a significant amount of inappropriate public behavior.

While the programming quality (or lack there of) is consistent, its alignment with the brand is not.

But many had long ago tuned out the network, meaning the misalignment would have gone unnoticed had the network not crossed over the line with Shawty Lo in tow.

'All My Babies' Mamas'
'All My Babies' Mamas'

Oxygen is so enamored with its own product that it completely lost sight of the market. Every marketer knows that it is virtually impossible to please everyone; still we consider the entire landscape in an effort to anticipate what could go wrong.

In the reality-show business, producers have learned to tolerate some amount of market displeasure. I get it. Those early complaints can ignite buzz, which leads to your true audience tuning in.

The Oxygen team demonstrated a lack of insight into the show's dynamics and the market's reaction.

The show is wrong on so many levels that it simultaneously ignited the ire of four groups: 1) proponents of family values 2) child-welfare advocates 3) women's rights supporters and 4) the African-American community. (It should be noted these groups are not always mutually exclusive.)

It appears that all four groups may have decided this is the "reality straw" that broke the camel's back.

Cori Abraham, senior VP of development for the show, stated in its press release that "All My Babies' Mamas" "will be filled with outrageous and authentic over-the top moments that our young, diverse female audience can tweet and gossip about."

Reading this amid the early outcry, I was confident the network at least had plans for listening and engagement. Translation: It would quickly hear and respond to the public, thereby quieting the protest.

Wrong! Ten days into the controversy, the Oxygen team had not made a single response via social media to the well over 100 posts to the Oxygen Network Facebook page (each with "likes" and comments), tweets from handles with tens of thousands of followers and a Change.org petition with 26,000 signatures (as of this writing). Any social-media practitioner knows the No. 1 rule with "reasonable" negative posts directed to the brand is to publicly acknowledge the concerns have been heard.

The rule of thumb in digital crisis management is to respond via the channel(s) where the conversations are taking place. Another recognized best practice is to take one core message and place it into all the channels simultaneously to ensure there is no misinterpretation and to maximize the chances that all vested parties are informed.

News of the show spread roughly in this order: 1) press release on the website; 2) urban music and lifestyle online media; 3) social media (Facebook and Twitter); 4) African-American media and bloggers; and, ultimately 5) mainstream media.

So how did Oxygen respond after the problem festered for 10 days? Yahoo's Shine has reported that an email was sent to the New York Chapter of the NAACP from Oxygen President Jason Klarman, and RadarOnline has reported receiving an "exclusive" statement.

The problem with this approach is that a personal email is subject to being released only in part. And failure to respond via the appropriate channels means the problem will persist because the parties seeking answers do not know their concerns have been addressed.

One day after RadarOnline published part of its exclusive statement and news of the email was reported in Shine, I could not find evidence that the information had reached Twitter or Facebook in sufficient volume to quiet protesters' calls for a response.

As a marketing professional, this episode has been painful to watch. What do you think this says about Oxygen's marketing organization?

Lauren McCadney heads social media at a leading technology-solutions provider. Opinions are her own.

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