The other hidden lessons in Red Lobster’s Super Bowl flub

red lobster exterior

I’d bet a basket of Cheddar Bay Biscuits that Red Lobster and other brands are taking advantage of these three weeks between the Super Bowl and the Oscars on Feb. 28 to get their social media ducks in a row. It would be the wise thing to do in the wake of the seafood chain’s much-analyzed flub, when it let the ultimate pop culture gimme—a shout out by Beyonce in a surprise song she dropped one day before the Big Game—pass it by.

The big lesson: Don’t activate your social media team only during big events. The Oreo blackout moment at the Super Bowl a few years ago taught brands to be ready for anything throughout the broadcast; this year’s Red Lobster moment reminded brands to pay attention before and after said event, too.

But there was another lesson looming between the lines—a lesson we may be less comfortable talking about. A lesson about diversity.

Sure, Red Lobster has been a frontrunner on diversity. And it’s not as if the outcome of that Saturday’s events would have necessarily been any different if its prior CEO Clarence Otis, one of the few African-Americans to hold such a lofty title at a Fortune 500 company, was still in charge.

But the incident raises a few points that large companies need to consider, even if they’re uncomfortable:

1. Diversity is about more than race

Sure, black people pay attention to Beyonce. So do young people, urban people, women, and the list goes on. And they do so at times other than during the Super Bowl halftime show.

So, executives, look around. If you, yourself, don’t check any of those boxes and neither does anyone in your c-suite, there’s a chance you might miss out on the next “Beyonce moment,” too.

Diversity among decision makers—and/or the people they listen to—ups the odds that someone will recognize a pop-culture flash rooted in a culture other than your own.

2. Always be watching

A lot of people will be tuning in to the Oscars just to see how host Chris Rock addresses the #BlackActorsMatter backlash (and no, that's not a real slogan). And brands that fancy themselves social media savvy already are finessing their empathetic messages about diversity in Hollywood to “spontaneously” tweet out at just the right moment during the broadcast.

But only firing up your radar for the big moments—be they the Super Bowl, The Oscars or when 10,000 people take to the streets to protest some issue—again means you may miss out when Beyonce unveils one of her most talked about songs the day BEFORE you tune in.

3. Stop letting fear shape your message

Sure, some people would be offended by a reference to the “F” word (which precedes the Red Lobster reference in the song), just as some consumers think a pregnant woman shouldn’t be shown on TV. But many other people will embrace the reference for the “You go, girl!” moment it was meant to be. 

The point is, your social media team should have a good sense of what is and isn’t appropriate in the Twitterverse. Set the mission and guidelines, and then unhook the leash.

Allowing a shorter path of communication between your team and your audience will prevent the kind of scrambling we saw when Red Lobster responded (late) to their followers’ disappointment at the missed opportunity with: “Our bad. We’re really busy for some reason. #ThanksB.”

Even with the internal flub, Red Lobster’s sales shot up 33 percent after Beyonce’s free endorsement. The next brand may not be so lucky.


More from our partners