More than a Slap: Small Business Takeaways
Updated: Apr 19
Contributors: Vanessa Bravo & Erin Bohling
Date: 12 April 2022
The 2022 Oscars has been one of the most talked about events in the last decade and will go down in history. Let's recap: As Chris Rock was presenting the award for best documentary, he sparked a joke comparing Jada Pinkett-Smith to GI Jane because of her shaved head. The joke didn’t land well with the couple as Jada has spoken about her struggle with alopecia in the past. As a response, Will stormed the stage, slapping Rock across the face before yelling expletives and demanding that Rock keep Jada's name out of his mouth. The Academy has condemned Smith’s actions and he has received a 10 year ban from the event.
The slap heard around the world was more than a slap, however.
The many different nuances and perspectives of this situation are endless. They could be discussed for hours, and they have. But that’s not what we are here to talk about. A media frenzy like this one has a ripple effect that impacts not only the people directly involved in it, but also a network of people on the outside. This includes the small businesses that we work with every day at LCG Brands. It is important for businesses to be aware of pop culture events like this one, along with the pros and cons of its impact and what can be learned from this.
Small businesses have a lot that can be gained from a massive media event such as the infamous slap. On the pro side, small businesses can boost their relevance by being aware of pop culture and what’s being talked about. Social media and digital marketing can be considered forms of popular culture in their own right (Savell), giving businesses of all sizes an opportunity to integrate global media into their marketing strategy. This can be done by taking advantage of trends that can align with your brand and utilizing a social media following to capitalize.
On the con side, an event like this brings up the concern for small businesses of what would happen if they were to experience something like this. Something as small as a negative Yelp review can be detrimental for small businesses, they certainly don’t experience the same capacity to be forgiven as a celebrity like Will Smith. Small businesses are under more pressure to achieve perfection and it’s no secret that perfect isn’t always possible. So… what if a dramatic atrocity happened to your small business? It is crucial for small businesses to gain community support and trust. This will be the backbone of crisis management if your company ever needs to react quickly to a negative event.
Additionally, small businesses can learn an important lesson about crisis management from the responses to this event. Smith has been criticized for his speech directly following the incident as well as his apology posted to Instagram. An apology in a situation like this should be timely, direct, genuine, and inclusive to all who have been impacted. It should also be shared in a way that will reach the appropriate audience- the people who are owed an apology. The way that Smith avoided apologizing directly to Rock during his Oscars speech and used Instagram to later share his full apology has been received by many as a half-hearted effort towards damage control. Businesses can take note of this response and use it as an example of what not to do, should they need to utilize this type of crisis management in the future.
The truth is that celebrities like Will Smith are forgiven because they have status and a big fanbase that supports them, which unfortunately is not the same for small businesses. There are several important takeaways for small businesses in light of this. Be prepared for shifts in pop culture and be ready to capitalize on events. Understand how to appropriately respond in cases where crisis management is required. Most of all, take advantage of pop culture and news media when possible. Understand that, as a founder, you need to take responsibility for everything that happens within your organization because that’s what great leaders do, just like The Academy took responsibility for Will’s act.
Dellatto, Marisa. “The Academy Is Launching a Formal Review of Will Smith's Chris Rock Slap.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 31 Mar. 2022,
Rubin, Rebecca. “Chris Rock Responds to Will Smith's Oscars Slap at Standup Show: 'I'm Still Kind of Processing What Happened'.” Variety, Variety, 31 Mar. 2022, https://variety.com/2022/film/news/chris-rock-responds-will-smith-oscars-slap-1235218763/.
Savell, Katrina. “Pop Culture Marketing: 5-Steps to Success for Companies Great and Small.” Benchmark Email, 16 Jan. 2020, https://www.benchmarkemail.com/blog/pop-culture-marketing-5-steps-to-success-for-companies-great-and-small/.
Segal, Edward. “An Apology Tour and Other next Steps That Could Be in Will Smith's Future.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 31 Mar. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2022/03/29/an-apology-tour-and-other-next-steps-that-could-be-in-will-smiths-future/?sh=4e0ec2d8fe59.
Segal, Edward. “What Business Leaders Can Learn from Will Smith's Apology for Slapping Chris Rock.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 5 Apr. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2022/03/28/what-business-leaders-can-learn-from-will-smiths-apology-for-slapping-chris-rock/?sh=55af1182754c.