6 Examples of Horrific Public Relations Disasters During 2017
It may be Happy Halloween for the rest of us, but these six companies might still be cowering in a corner due to their self-inflicted PR disasters this year. Our staff chose these examples from the past year:
United Airlines Bloodies Up A Passenger
David says: Here’s a pro tip: If you can, try to avoid beating up your customers.
United Airlines sparked worldwide outrage when it had Dr David Dao, a seated and paying passenger, dragged off a plane they’d overbooked. Dr. Dao refused to give up his seat, citing concern for his patients to whom he had to return.
As the doctor was dragged down the aisle, he was bloodies and knocked unconscious. The airline’s inadequate response included at statement from the CEO, saying “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers” that only fueled the social media flames.
Mark Zuckerberg Uses Puerto Rico Tragedy To Pimp Facebook VR Product
Michael says: Apparently, no one told Mark Zuckerberg that human misery is not a golden product placement opportunity. Because, yeah, he did that.
Only after people flooded Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile with complaints did it occur to him that maybe Facebook Live isn’t a good tool for disaster tourism. He subsequently apologized, according to The Guardian:
One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world,” he said, adding that he also wanted to publicize Facebook’s partnership with the Red Cross.
Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.
Culture, Über Alles?
Katie says: One of Uber’s lengthiest and most publicized scandals this year began in February when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler released a blog post detailing the abysmal handling of sexual harassment complaints by HR and upper management.
Amidst the #DeleteUber hashtag trending on social media, then-CEO Travis Kalanick released a statement that announced an investigation. If this issue is viewed as an isolated event, apart from all of Uber’s other problems this year, the statement itself was actually quite concise and seemingly genuine.
However, in June, after 20 employees were dismissed in connection with the investigation, an email from Kalanick in 2013 to his employees surfaced and showed the public a different, more casual attitude toward a related topic.
There are many morals to this story, not the least of which is creating a culture where inappropriate behavior is handled the way it should be.
From a PR perspective, Kalanick should have remembered that anything put in writing can show up someday for the public to interpret however it wants. The way it appeared is that Kalanick was only cracking down on sexual harassment because he had come under scrutiny.
The brand was already in hot water, and the last thing Uber needed was for something like an email sent as a joke to add fuel to the fire and bring the existing issue even more into the forefront of people’s minds.
Pepsi Appropriates Political Protest With Kendall Jenner Commercial
Alyse says: When it comes to crisis management spectating PR professionals are happy they did not have to deal with, it’s hard not to mention the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad of 2017.
Not only did the message get lost, but the interpretation of the ad was wide and far just plain offensive.
In a political climate that has the country divided, protests and marches filled with people standing up for what they believe in have occurred frequently across the United States in the past few years. While attempting to be relevant, Pepsi angered many as it misrepresented what a real protest looks like and seemingly trivialized the seriousness of police brutality.
After the backlash, 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 apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”
Connor says: So here’s the pitch for Confederate: what if the South won the American Civil War, slavery is now a legal, institutionalized enterprise in present-day United States, and the country is heading towards a another civil war? Throw in showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff coming off the conclusion of their hit series Game of Thrones, and you’ve got something there, right?
Unfortunately, the real-life America we actually live in today is rife with racial injustice and inequality, with news headlines revolving around national anthem protests, white “nationalist” (supremacist) rallies, police brutality, economic disparity and more. The premise of Confederate faced immediate backlash from the media and public at-large.
As Matt Goldberg states in Collider, it’s “deeply misguided to create an alternate history where slavery exists rather than just confronting the real issues with race we face today.”
But it isn’t just the content of the show that was problematic. The announcement of the show came in the form of a small press release, with a limited plot description and a major emphasis on Weiss and Benioff, with only a short mention that they would be accompanied by two black writers and producers, Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman.
HBO CEO Richard Plepler later apologized for the launch, stating ‘“Where we screwed up is we tried to announce a complicated subject in a press release.”
He’s not wrong, but with the current political climate and racial issues we’re facing in our country, he’s missing the point. Maybe we need a little less focus on”Confederate” and a lot more on America.
White Is Purity
Kaila says: NIVEA accidentally leaned into the white supremacy movement.
NIVEA began a campaign in March in the Middle East for its “Invisible for Black & White” deodorant. In the ad shown above, the company proclaimed that “white is purity.”
The company received harsh criticism on Twitter from people complaining that the campaign, company and ad were tone deaf.
NIVEA replied with what looked like a quick cut and paste apology:
The NIVEA Middle East post was not mean’t to be offensive. We apologize. It’s been removed. NIVEA values diversity and tolerance.
Had the company responded with a more compassionate apology, the NIVEA wouldn’tve landed on this list. Not only did they sound deaf, but they replied in what could be perceived as a heartless tone.
This example goes to show that even if marketers are targeting a specific geographic region, they are not immune from the criticisms of the world at large. Given the political climate in the United States, it might have been expected that there would be some backlash over a campaign touting white purity, even if only for a deodorant.
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