Finished, completed, ran. Any of these words could have filled in the blank in, “Congratulations you ____ the Boston Marathon!” without any incident. Unfortunately, Adidas chose ‘survived’ in an email blast sent to those who ran in the marathon.

While this crisis occurred a few years ago now, there are two main lessons that arose from this incident that still hold true today:

  • Be exceedingly aware of the surrounding context of your message, and understand and anticipate the potential consequences. Due to the tragedy that occurred at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the email was insensitive and lacked any foresight.
  • Your audience can be bigger than you think. What was intended to be an email to Boston marathoners quickly went viral.

An Adidas spokesperson quickly offered a public apology for the company’s mistake saying,

“We are incredibly sorry. Clearly, there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday, we deeply apologize for our mistake. The Boston Marathon is one of the most inspirational sporting events in the world. Every year we’re reminded of the hope and resiliency of the running community at this event.”

As is the common tale, crisis is often self-inflicted. By following the above takeaways, companies can avoid crisis and reputation damage.