A funny thing happened on the way to the finish line. Fun-making memes emerged after photographs of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt were published marking two historic wins in the Rio Olympics. The images were very similar and featured two different athletes doing the same exact thing, yet the reaction from fans and the world was decidedly different.
The image of Michael Phelps darting to his win over mouthy rival Chad le Clos in the 200-meter butterfly finals captured le Clos looking over to see Phelps take the lead. The image most ripped off by meme creators was captured by David Ramos of Getty Images. It was iconic because le Clos notoriously shadowboxed and danced in front of Phelps prior to the race to get under Phelps’s skin.
The memes took seconds to begin. “Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners,” the best one read.
Fast forward, though, to Usain Bolt’s easy victory in a 100-meter semifinal heat five days later, and you have an almost identical action but a very different reaction. Bolt looked back, almost in jest, at his competitors in the 100-meter semifinal. Cameron Spencer, also of Getty Images, captured the moment well.
And the world rejoiced. Bolt was so fast that in the closing second of an under-10-second race, he could turn and look at his competitors? Holy smokes!
But what le Clos and Bolt did was the same thing. They turned to see where their competition was. One won, one lost. And the difference in perception afterward was polar opposite.
The hypocrisy of winning, or at least that of fans reacting to it, has an underlying lesson for brands. If you’re going to do something bold, you’d better be on the right side of it. The public loves winners. It embraces them. It lampoons losers.
Whether you’re Chick-fil-A not condemning an executive’s stance on gay marriage (some said was right, others wrong), the NCAA refusing to host events in South Carolina over the confederate flag (some said was right, others wrong) or even just a company trying to newsjack a pop culture event with brand-related content, you can’t afford to be wrong.
This imperative makes managing your social and digital teams far too important to hand off to junior level employees or to not have adequate approvals built in to your content management and creation process. For many, this is “yeah, knew that” logic. But even if it is the case for you, you’d likely be shocked by how many brands don’t even have a process, let alone an experienced, senior-level communicator at least overseeing social media.
Do you have a content strategy? A content calendar? An approval process for social copy and creative? Do you trust the person hitting “publish” on your social content implicitly?
We hope so. For the answer could one day be the difference between winning and losing.
NOTE: We did not place the images here because Elasticity does not subscribe to licensing for Getty Images, and we respect the rights and privileges of the respective photographers. You can see the images, where the USA Today and Time websites display them legally, in the links above.