Becoming an antifragile brand
Last month Oasis legend Noel Gallagher decided to take a pop at up and coming music star Lewis Capaldi:
Music is f*****g w**k at the moment. Whose this Capaldi fella? Who the f****s that idiot!
Capaldi’s response was nothing short of brilliant. Performing at Glastonbury he walked out to the video of Noel Gallagher’s criticism, dressed in a bucket hat and parka (a classic Gallagher outfit), before dedicating his performance to Noel at the end.
Capaldi’s entrance went viral. It got his name all over the press and social media and won him lots of new fans.
Gallagher responded by calling Capalidi, F***ing Chewbacca. Capaldi countered by changing his Twitter photo to Chewbacca and his name to Chewis Capaldi. He was running rings around him.
Gallagher's words were designed to do damage. But Capaldi took ownership of them. He wore them as a badge of honor. And in doing so he became antifragile. The more you messed with him the stronger he got.
In plain language, antifragility is the opposite of fragility.
If you mess with something fragile you do damage. If you mess with something antifragile you make it stronger. Take golf as an example. The fragile golfer loathes the wind. The antifragile golfer uses it to their advantage.
And it’s the same with brands. The majority of brands are fragile. Increases in volatility (randomness, stressors, mistakes) are a PR departments worst nightmare. Just look at Facebook’s share price in 2018.
But occasionally, just like Lewis Capaldi or the skilled golfer playing in the wind, brands can actually benefit from increases in randomness, stressors or mistakes.
Last year KFC ran out of chicken and were forced to temporarily close 700 UK branches. For the majority of companies, such a monumental fuck up would be a complete disaster. The default response is to issue a formal apology:
We’re launching a full and frank internal inquiry Bla Bla Bla …
But this is fragile. It only ever adds fuel to the fire. Fortunately, KFC’s PR team intuitively grasped antifragility.
Instead, they took out a full-page ad in UK newspapers, showing an empty bucket of chicken, and the letters of their famous logo rearranged to read “FCK”.
People started to see the funny side and just like that, an impending disaster was spun into a positive PR story. That's antifragility.
The key is ownership. You either own the story or you let the story own you. And as we've seen through this article the best route to taking ownership is:
1. Embracing your flaws
You will never get bullied for having a big nose if you walk around with a t-shirt saying, “I’ve got a big nose”.
This is Eminem's rap battle theory: you say everything about yourself before somebody else does.
And then you're antifragile. Nothing anyone says can hurt you.