Gorilla Glue CEO Mark Mercurio said in an email the brand hasn’t altered its media plans in response to the social media frenzy but declined otherwise to comment beyond company statements. The Cincinnati-based company made its main communication with a Feb. 8 social post expressing empathy for Brown and noting that its Spray Adhesive product isn’t indicated for use on hair, skin or clothing. Subsequently, Melanie Blumental, Gorilla Glue’s manager of digital, social and public relations, told USA Today in an email that the brand was not behind a photoshopped tweet that made it look like it had retweeted a racist tweet about Brown.
Social and traditional media have kept the story alive even after Brown last week got the Gorilla Glue out of her hair thanks to the pro bono work of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. A big boost came from a skit by Kenan Thompson and Regina King on “Saturday Night Live” in a spoof ad for the law firm of Commode & Commode seeking plaintiffs harmed by dumb uses of Gorilla Glue. In real life, Brown dispelled incorrect reports last week that she planned to sue the company.
In social media, a sort of Gorilla Glue Challenge emerged, including a man gluing a Solo cup to his lip to prove Brown’s problem was fake, only to reinforce that it wasn’t.
But unlike most accidental social media crises, Gorilla Glue’s publicity is almost entirely spot on brand message – that its products are for “The Toughest Jobs on Planet Earth.” People who intentionally put its products in their hair or on their skin may come in for social media or SNL ridicule, but each case, especially the copycats who’ve used the product in efforts to disapprove its endurance, just serve to reinforce the brand message.
Compare that, say, to Procter & Gamble Co.’s Tide Pods, which in 2017 and 2018 battled a similar if more dangerous Tide Pods Challenge in social media that had people putting the poisonous pods in their mouths. That drove home a message P&G fought and very much wanted to avoid—that Pods were dangerous, particularly for kids, and forced the brand to alter its 2018 Super Bowl ads to remove Pods in favor of liquid detergent.
For Gorilla Glue, this appears to be a classic case of “no publicity is bad publicity,” says Robert Passikoff, founder and president of consultancy Brand Keys.
“Brown’s bad news was their good news,” Passikoff says. But importantly, he adds: “Nobody died. It’s one of those things where from a brand perspective, almost everyone is saying, from a rational perspective, you probably ought to watch what you’re putting on your head.”
It’s tempting for marketers to wade into any social media firestorm involving their brands, but in this case, Gorilla Glue is probably best served by laying low.
“The brand’s actions feel right for the moment,” says Brian Dolan, co-founding and managing director of CPG Camp, which provides marketing training from brand leaders. “They have much to lose by appearing negligent or, worse, appearing to capitalize on the situation. Reinforcing instructions for use, expressing empathy for the victim and providing advice to resolve, while temporarily pausing any media, positions them as a responsible advocate for brand safety.”
That the situation has spawned some racist social media posts seems like it has the potential to create negative perceptions about Gorilla Glue among Blacks, but Wil Shelton, CEO of Wil Power Integrated Marketing in Los Angeles, doesn’t believe it has based on what he’s seen in social media. “They didn’t really have control over what she did,” Shelton says.
The incident does highlight continued deficiencies in availability, distribution and marketing of hair-care products for Black people, who have long turned to non-beauty products like mayonnaise when they can’t find beauty products that meet their needs, Shelton says. In Brown’s case, she turned to Gorilla Glue she already had at home after running out of Got2B glued hair spray she had been using.
“We do need more accessibility for Black-owned hair-care brands,” Shelton says, “and more shelf space and availability given to them than we have had in the past.”
As for Gorilla Glue, this isn't the first time the brand has had a nice February sales bump due to factors beyond its control. Five years ago, the brand appeared to be the primary beneficiary when Henkel's rival Loctite brand ran a category-first Super Bowl ad.