Macy’s Caught Off-Guard By Blackfish Backlash?

SeaWorld’s “A Sea Of Surprises” is definitely surprising Macy’s. And not in a good way. But I guess you should never underestimate the power and energy of the orca-defending community. Or the power of television. And Blackfish is doing enough damage to the image of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, that we just might have to file a corporate incident report.

Buzzfeed gets in on the action with a sharp story about how Blackfish snuck up on Macy’s:

Blackfish, a damning documentary about SeaWorld’s treatment of animals after one of its whales killed a veteran trainer in 2010, premiered at Sundance in January, about three months before SeaWorld went public. Analysts who cover the company didn’t see it to be an issue. In September, J.P. Morgan analysts said it had “negligible, if any, impact on attendance,” given that it garnered just $1.8 million in the box office from its July 19 release. Goldman Sachs didn’t mention it in September and October notes about SeaWorld. The film didn’t show up in conference calls either, though visits have been falling.

But the documentary stopped being a non-issue when CNN aired it on Oct. 24, sweeping the ratings of every group under 55 during a Thursday night showing. Twitter said it was the most talked-about show on CNN in October, with 67,673 tweets seen by 7.3 million people. (It was the second-most tweeted about non-sports program that night after Scandal.)

Blackfish, SeaWorld, and the issue of whales in captivity have all been far more visible since then — and Macy’s is now catching a lot of the heat.

The company has drawn disparaging commentary for the float on its Facebook page and from celebrities including Alec Baldwin and Jason Biggs. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is leading an online campaign to get rid of the float and has protested at Macy’s New York flagship store.

I guess while we are on the topic, can we just pause for a second to note how utterly vacuous and meaningless Macy’s standard PR line about this controversy is? Here’s what Macy’s told Buzzfeed (and pretty much every other news organization that has sought comment):

“[The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade] has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate, or other forms of advocacy, no matter how worthy….Its mission has always been about entertaining millions of families and spectators. While it is understandable that such a widely embraced event can sometimes feature elements or performances that some people may find disagreeable, Macy’s intention is to provide a range of entertaining elements without judgement, endorsement or agenda.”

By that standard, SeaWorld could duck all the heat about Shamu by swapping in a float celebrating the use of slaves to grow the cotton industry. And Macy’s would be okay with that, and let it roll (without “judgment” or “endorsement,” mind you). As long as it was “entertaining.”

PS: Note to Macy’s PR specialists: Since Macy’s actually chooses who and what will be featured in the parade, there is an implicit endorsement no matter how many times you try to say there isn’t.

PPS: When said PR specialists also say that the Macy’s parade “has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate, or other forms of advocacy, no matter how worthy” are they saying that the criticisms of SeaWorld raised by Blackfish are, well, worthy? Because that would be awkward.

Anyhow, read the whole Buzzfeed story, for lots more juicy goodness. It includes some of the pointed and clever tweets and comments that Macy’s has been dealing with. Like this one, from Jason Biggs:

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6 thoughts on “Macy’s Caught Off-Guard By Blackfish Backlash?”

  1. As always Tim Zimmerman, great article. Thank you for standing up for the whales. And CCN–bless you a million times over for buying the rights to air Blackfish. Macy’s? Bite me. Everything I used to buy from Macy’s I will now get on line.

  2. Frankly if there is no social responsibility in all its dynamics, one would presume Macy’s in this instance is something of an “ostrich”! As a high profile retailer Macy’s and others have an innate responsibility to project favourable and positive themes in all its marketing therefore the shame must be acknowledged and the float abandoned if there is any conscience in society whatsoever!

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