Without a doubt, we live in some peculiar times.

As business owners, we are constantly building up, perfecting and defending our brand. It’s difficult enough to respond to critics, competition and any of the unusual slings and arrows hurled at your business every day. What do you do when you have to defend your brand from something completely unexpected?

That’s what happened to Sophil US recently, after a bizarre sequence of events landed them in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. You probably heard about the situation: Roseanne Barr, on the hot seat for some controversial –and many said, blatantly racist—comments on Twitter, issued a relatively soft apology for them and attributed them, in part, to the sleep aid Ambien.

That’s where the pharmaceutical company came in. In response to this allegation, they tweeted: “People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Take all of the politics out of the situation and what the response to the situation is: a brilliant piece of marketing. It’s no wonder that it quickly went viral, eliciting nearly 200,000 likes and engaging more almost 80,000 people within a few hours. Here’s why it worked so well:

It was quick. Whenever something as high profile as this happens, the sooner you respond, the better. Sophil realized this. Pharmaceutical companies already have a bad reputation, by default, and any lingering suspicion of what the drug might do would exacerbate that.

It built up their brand, rather than attacking another. Look at the first line: “People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world.” The tweet tells the audience that racism isn’t tolerated at the company by describing how diverse it is, and adds in a caveat that the team is working to help people lead better lives.

It was truthful. The pharmaceutical company could have downplayed the side effect angle, all together, the way they try to do in commercials through small print and rapid voice-overs. They didn’t. They owned it with the phrase: all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects. Notice they used the word “all” and not “ours.” Side effects are common throughout the industry, not just at Sophil.

It was humorous. Saying racism is not a known side effect was probably not necessary. Would anyone believe such a thing was possible? However, rather than saying Ambien might reduce a person’s inhibitions and inadvertently reveal their inner character, they took the high road and added, in a concise, human way, that the claim was false.

The response was brilliant because it reinforced the company, made them look benevolent, and it did it in a way that didn’t cast a negative light on why the tweet was necessary in the first place.

It’s unlikely that a small business owner will have to deal with an international problem like this. If you do, tread carefully. Remember, responding to anything political, no matter how good your intentions, will probably anger half of your customer base. Just remember the basics: be quick, be personable, don’t be offensive and keep it light.

What did you think about the response? Let us know in the comments!