It's been a tumultuous week for Lionel Messi. It was announced on Wednesday that the Barcelona superstar was handed a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud. The bright side is, he's not expected to see any actual jail time thanks to a Spanish law preventing first-time offenders serving time for sentences under two years. He is appealing the decision.
When something of this nature happens it puts the club in a tricky situation. How do you handle such an event from a public relations standpoint? Most teams would do the smart thing and put out an official statement and then forget it ever happened and never mention it again. Is that what Barcelona did? Nope.
Instead of going that route, they decided to create a social media campaign to support and/or cheer up Messi. The hashtag "We Are All Leo Messi" was pushed out there in hopes that Barcelona fans would use it to send positive messages to their hero in his time of need.
On the surface that sounds like a decent idea, but this was just an ill-timed and poorly thought out attempt to win over the supporters in light of a very negative week. Does Messi deserve unconditional support from Barcelona fans? Maybe. It shouldn't be a requirement of any sorts. It's completely up to you if you want to support (forgive?) him for his legal troubles.
Needless to say, the hashtag didn't go over well with the world. While, I'm sure some people followed directions and used the hashtag as instructed, the majority used the chance to make jokes and poke fun of the situation. For example:
He's worth 200m & didn't pay 13m in taxes. How are any of us supposed to feel bad for him? He's not even serving time #WeAreAllLeoMessi— Mel (@mel11ism) July 9, 2016
I, too, earn an absurd amount of millions and yet felt compelled to defraud the country who gave me my livelihood. #WeAreAllLeoMessi— Milanista Esq. (@LaDiavolina) July 9, 2016
Sometimes saying nothing at all is a much better plan than trying to make it all better with sentimentality. Barcelona made a mistake by trying to put a band-aid on six-inch gash. Supporters of the club shouldn't feel bad about supporting their hero in this rough time, but their social media and/or public relations departments did Messi no favors in trying to move past this incident.
It wasn't the time or the place to try and turn perception around. If supporters want to show their love for Messi they can do so on their own accord, they don't need a forced social media campaign to do it.
While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, it's not far from the truth:
Lol #WeAreallLeoMessi is the greatest social media PR disaster of modern times.— Rahul (@rahulxc) July 9, 2016