The Panda Effect

May 19, 2010

The Panda Effect

  With all the coverage and discussion on oil spills, I keep thinking about a conversation I had a few years ago with the head of communications at an oil major in Europe. We were talking about crises that the industry had suffered and he mentioned that there was nothing like the “panda effect.” I told him I was not sure what he meant. Now I do. He said that in high risk industries such as oil, safety risks are just part of the job. Deaths are expected and they happen. But, he said, when animals or wildlife are harmed and the pictures are blasted across the media, the “panda effect” does its most serious damage.  Hard not to see his point as visual after visual pictures wildlife affected by the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. 
On a similar note, I was talking to someone just this past weekend about the oil spill and she mentioned birds she saw on TV covered in oil slick.  “I am an environmentalist and this really upsets me,” she said. I reminded her that 11 families lost their loved ones as well and somehow that single fact does not get the same attention and outrage from the public and media.  She looked at me somewhat sheepishly and I felt a bit guilty for making the point. But here was an example of the panda effect in action.

The panda effect on reputation is unavoidable but now more powerful than ever with the spread of news online.  Every day I am reminded of  this one fact.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

  • Richard.Lin
    Posted at 15:32h, 21 May Reply

    Hi,Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross. I’m a university student in China, having interest in PR. I read this article, but still confused about the “panda effect”. Does it mean that harm to animals will cause much more reputation crisis than to human beings? Would you please explain it to me? Many thanks! —-Richard

    • Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross
      Posted at 16:32h, 21 May Reply

      Thanks Richard for the question. I am trying to say that in certain industries which are inherently dangerous, unfortunately people lose their lives. It is the difference between working in oil or mining, for example, and working in retail. Some industries have implicit hazards. The harm to wildlife (the panda effect) accelerates reputation crises because of the many visuals you see on television, online and in print. People never really see the dead bodies of people in an accident although they understand how tragic it is to lose someone dear to them and its huge impact on families. So, the panda effect spreads faster and captures more attention in most situations, not all. I hope this helps. Best, lgr

  • Shofola
    Posted at 14:45h, 27 May Reply

    Well, its the unfortunate truth that in some industries damage to the Environment and Wildlife gets the public to react faster than the perils of human beings…just shows how used to fatalities we are….”The Panda Effect”…I’ll remember that one !

  • hannah
    Posted at 02:37h, 31 May Reply

    i love pandas

  • Rhea Drysdale
    Posted at 02:01h, 01 June Reply

    Why are we more receptive towards “pandas” in the news than human loss? Personally, I think pandas are simple. Humans are usually to blame for the death of other humans whereas pandas are innocent and helpless. I think humans like to push uncomfortable topics out of our consciousness, especially *real* graphic violence inflicted by one human on another. Having to face a death forces us to look at how we, or a system we’re a part of, contributed to the death of someone’s child/parent.With BP, we played a part in funding an operation that led to the death of 11 men and a catastrophic environmental situation. It’s much easier to point a finger at executives than to accept the demand that fueled their actions or mistakes. Pictures of the men killed would emphasize the humanity of the situation whereas a leak buried far below the Gulf isn’t something most of us can relate to.

    What is the role of the men killed in BP’s reputation recovery? Is it important to post images of and actively communicate about their deaths in order to accept responsibility, learn from the accident and move on? Does more coverage of their deaths help the company AND the public? Or do we need pandas because the bigger picture is just too much to comprehend/bear (pun intended)?

  • Leah Anderson
    Posted at 10:51h, 05 October Reply

    oil spills should be controlled as soon as possible to prevent environmental damage:::

  • Desk Antiques 
    Posted at 00:37h, 20 October Reply

    oil spills can really damage the environment so bad that it would take years to repair the damage~,~

  • Shandra Macmullen
    Posted at 10:57h, 08 March Reply

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  • Albert
    Posted at 20:06h, 10 September Reply

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