“Any publicity is good publicity” not always true, right? PR wouldn’t be the same without the odd (I say odd lightly) reputation-damaging blunders right? There are endless amounts of contenders for the biggest PR disasters ever – however, we haven’t got ALL day – so I’m going to narrow this down to three – oh so many to choose from!
- Pepsi’ ad with Kendall Jenner
The internet was in uproar of April 2017 after a Pepsi ad featuring the ever so famous Kendall Jenner was aired. The short advert shows the model strolling up to a political protest – resolving it by simply handing out a can of Pepsi, however this advert was branded extremely insensitive, given the divided political climate which was going on in the United States at that time. Of course twitter went into melt down, ends on ends of tweets circulating the twitter world. Below are just some of the tweets which went viral after this tasteless ad.
Just one day after the ad aired Pepsi apologised and removed it from the internet. You can view the famous ad that sent the twitter world into chaos on the link below.
The company released the following statement, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further roll out. We also apologise for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
However, Pepsi were hit with a stroke of luck, as United Airlines came along and stole the thunder with their own PR disaster, causing the wind to blow over on the Pepsi ad controversy and the internet’s fury to redirect to United Airlines – talk about perfect timing!
2) United Airlines
2017 seems to be the year of PR crises! United Airlines are never short of a PR crisis, I mean their practically professionals, from banning two girls from flying because they were wearing leggings to forcing a mother to hold her toddler in her lap for a full flight after giving away the toddlers paid seat to a standby passenger – however the worst has to be demanding an elderly doctor, David Dao, to leave their flight due to an overbooking, breaking his nose and knocking out teeth in the process – apparently! Understandably, when the video of the elderly man being forcibly removed from the aircraft by officers went viral in 2017, the public went into meltdown, some even still mentioning the Pepsi controversy – no-one ever forgets.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz addressed the situation stating, “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologise for having to re-accommodate these customers.” He also called the doctor “disruptive and belligerent” which of course did not settle the public’s outrage, if anything it made it worse, resulting in many people calling for Oscar Munoz’ removal.
You would like to think that these crew members knew that when Mr Dao refused to leave the plane willingly, it was going to end Ugly with a capital U! Let’s be real, this was never not going to be caught on video and go viral! Shame on United Airlines.
H&M also hit a serious reputation crisis after the image of a black African-American boy modelling a jumper reading “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hit social media. The company faced serious backlash with accusations of racism. Of course twitter users were quick to jump on to slam and shame the advertisement, many people had a lot to say, including New York Times columnist Charles Blow:
Although H&M did react quickly, pulling the ad and the jumper and issuing an apology, “We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top, the image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale. We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.” However, the damage was done and could not be undone. It caused the company to lose a huge brand collaborator, The Weeknd, as he vowed not to work with them again.
This incredibly viral – for all the wrong reasons – crisis certainly left people wondering why and how somebody with H&M did not spot that this advertisement of a black child in a hoodie with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the Jungle” may be seen as racist, still do this day I ask myself how?
Niamh Cosgrove is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-cosgrove-62b986131/ ; Twitter: @niamhcosgrove