How to fuck up your brand in an instant

PwC is one of the biggest auditors around the world, and is a brand that has built its reputation on accuracy.

And so they have been trusted to handle the Oscar tabulation process for 83 years – the technically challenging task of counting the votes, writing the name of the winner on a card, and then handing the right card to the right person giving out the right award.

This week they fucked up royally. The two PwC accountants who were supposed to be taking care of the envelopes were instead backstage taking pics of celebrities and posting them on Twitter.

It led to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway telling millions of viewers that La La Land had won best picture – the top award of the night – rather than the actual winner Moonlight.

Instead of springing into action, the accountants froze backstage when things went wrong. And so the producers of La La Land got as far as giving their acceptance speeches before proceedings were corrected, and the cast and crew of Moonlight were invited to collect their Oscar.

It took a further three hours before PwC admitted their error, and took responsibility. No doubt they were trying to find a way to wrangle out of the mess. Five days later PwC are “still investigating” what went wrong and “how this could have happened”. And they have said nothing on their website to explain themselves either … yet.

The debacle is seen as the Academy’s worst blunder in its 89 year history. The two PwC accountants responsible have been banned from attending future ceremonies. And the Academy’s relationship with PwC is under review.

Brands go to extraordinary lengths to protect their image and reputation and to be seen as good corporate citizens. History is littered by examples when a hard-won reputation nosedives — from sporting legends Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong to business giants like BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and Volkswagen after its emissions cheating scandal.

In his remarks before the show, one of the PwC accountants had said PwC’s relationship with the Academy Awards is testament to the firm’s reputation in the market for being “a firm of integrity, of accuracy and confidentiality”.

When billions of dollars worth of financial auditing and legal-advisory services flow through your offices each year, it’s important to reassure clients that your firm is diligent, detail-oriented and accurate. So when a representative from PwC couldn’t keep a couple of envelopes straight at the Academy Awards, it’s way more than an embarrassing flub. It’s a symbolic hit to what the firm’s brand stands for.

Richard Sauerman
Richard Sauerman
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