A lesson from the 'CBB' fiasco

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You've heard of "Celebrity Big Brother," right? Where they lock a bunch of C-list celebrities in a house hoping something interesting will happen? In the U.K., the program is part of the core scheduling of Channel Four. It's done great business over the years pulling in consumers, column inches and cash from advertisers. However, this year's "CBB" spun out of control.

It started over chicken soup and ended in accusations of racism, hatred and bullying. One of the bright lights of Indian film, Shilpa Shetty, was set upon by the cream of British womanhood-Jade Goody, a footballer's friend, a dwindling pop star and a previous "Big Brother" housemate. It was like watching Bollywood vs. Jolly Good.

Shilpa pours chicken soup down the toilet. Jade harangues her, prompting Shilpa to say, "Oh God, now I really feel like a servant."

Jade and Shilpa row over stock cubes, and Jade rails at the Bollywood star. Danielle, Ms. Football, says, "I think she should f-- off home."

Alleged racism on "CBB" comes up in the House of Commons. Protesters in India burn a "CBB" effigy in the streets.

Jade talks with Danielle, referring to their housemate as "Shilpa F--wallah" and "Shilpa Poppadom."

India's trade minister admits Jade's bullying could jeopardize diplomatic relations between India and the U.K.

Jade gets evicted, and Shilpa goes on to win.

But that's not the story. The story is how those associated with the spectacle reacted.

A contrite Jade admitted she was "embarrassed and disgusted" with herself. Channel Four executives were in a tough position but seemed to fumble every ball that came their way.

But the example for us all is Charles Dunstone and his company, Carphone Warehouse, which sponsored the show. It acted decisively, supported its people instead of pandering to promotion, and dropped the sponsorship. In doing so it strengthened its relationship with both customers and staff.

Mr. Dunstone showed that good communications thinking doesn't take a back seat when things start to go wrong; in fact, it steps front and center to take control. That leaves us all with a question: Are we as prepared for when things go wrong as we are for when things go right?

Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications, London, a global communications strategy shop with offices in six countries.
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