A Howl-O-Scream-Inspired PR Nightmare

Busch Gardens Howl-O-ScreamIn the midst of recent ISIS hostage events, some American businesses are having to tread lightly.  This week, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, made headlines when it chose to remove certain props from its annual Howl-O-Scream Halloween event.  Following the horrific ISIS hostage beheadings, some customers reportedly complained about the insensitivity of Busch Gardens’ Halloween display, which included rubber severed heads, reminiscent of recent ISIS events.  Video of the ABC News report can be viewed here.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.07.05 AMCriticism reportedly came after several photos (right) were published in a local newspaper, resulting in a wave of backlash from some of the concerned public.  These photos displayed some Howl-O-Scream scenes, severed rubber heads clearly evident.

On September 18th, Busch Gardens released a statement via their Facebook page regarding its decision to remove certain props from their Howl-O-Scream display.  The company stood by its decision, stating, “The horrible tragedy and loss of life for journalists and an humanitarian aid worker in the Middle East is unspeakable and we would not want anything in our park to seem insensitive to that.”  It continued to state that the removal of the props would not detract from the attraction experience.

This comes in the wake of another PR mistake, after 20th Century Fox received major criticism for its promotion of its TV Series Sleepy Hollow, urging consumers to celebrate “Headless Day” a few weeks earlier.  The Sleepy Hollow PR Team quickly followed with an apology, providing their condolences for the affected families and apologizing for the poor timing, specifically with the insensitivity and promotion of #HEADLESSDAY.

In addition to its Facebook page, Busch Gardens released another statement as well, part of which read, “The props in this year’s event were designed and purchased several months ago. In light of recent events, some of these props have the unintended consequence of appearing insensitive and are being removed. Busch Gardens apologizes for any offense they may have caused.”  This leads to the topic of ethical relativism.

Under normal circumstances, the gruesome rubber severed heads are a normal display for the annual Howl-O-Scream event.  Should Busch Gardens have acted earlier and prevented the situation all-together?  Would that have been following its duty of non-injury to its customers, or does not providing the typical Howl-O-Scream experience, a traditional, annual event, violate the company’s duty of fidelity?

Customers attend the event for a specific purpose, which includes the realms of terror and fear typically associated with Halloween.  Does updating a display following IS events help protect customers, or ultimately take away from the experience they expect and pay for?

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4 Responses to A Howl-O-Scream-Inspired PR Nightmare

  1. Christina Scheblein says:

    I think people need to put this in context. Halloween is meant to be a frightening holiday. Is it necessary to boycott everything that is scary because of recent events? What would happen if everyone who lost a loved one via murder or tragedy boycotted Halloween because it reminds them of their emotional trauma?

  2. veronica perez says:

    Since this issue happened so close to the ISIS beheadings it came out as insensitive to the audience. The creative director in charge of decorations of the park should have been aware of recent events and spared some props but it is a misunderstanding. Busch Gardens took care of the situation correctly and removed the props from the park and released a statement letting the public know that they were not meant to harm or disrespect the ISIS victim’s family. People should keep in mind also that Halloween is a holiday that celebrates the dead so gross and obscene props are necessary to scare people. With that said there are plenty of props to choose from to scare park goers.

  3. Mark.Sugden says:

    I really liked this as a topic, seeing as it connects with my ISIS one and that it is getting close to the halloween season.

    Like we talked about in class, the event does need to hold up their end of the bargain and give the customers what they paid for (fidelity) (to get scared and enjoy themselves), but I feel like there are other ways that people could get scared other than seeing severed heads. I thought it was the right thing to do by taking the heads outat the earliest convenience because it is what some of the guests wanted. It was not their fault because Busch Gardens most likely planned it out months in advance without any knowledge of what was to come with ISIS and the beheadings .

  4. jake kauffman says:

    I don’t really see something wrong with this. Allover the country halloween is celebrated with gore, violence, blood, and candy. The only thing wrong is that this years halloween came at a time where the was conflict, especially with beheadings. Was it a little to much for a “family friendly”atmosphere? maybe . But in terms of the spirit of halloween, not at all! This all depends on the person involved. If it is a conservative captain america then yes there is a pr problem, but in terms of the public there should be no issue.

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