We’ve all seen examples of PR campaigns that made our jaw drop. Some because they were so good, which we covered in our Best PR Campaigns of 2020 blog. But, some made our jaw drop because they were… not thought through enough, to put it nicely.
We all make mistakes, it is a normal part of the process. But, since we could always learn from bad examples, we decided to make a list of bad PR examples. So, this is how not to promote your brand.
1. Pepsi and Kendall Jenner ad
Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad is the first on our list of bad PR examples. In 2017, Pepsi launched a campaign starring Kendall Jenner, an American media personality and model. It portrayed young people walking down the street and protesting peacefully while Jenner is filming a photo shoot nearby.
Jenner was then shown as having sort of an “enlightenment” moment. Then, she stopped the photoshoot and joined the protestors. Smiling, she walks through the crowd directly towards police officers. She grabs a can of Pepsi, and hands it to one of the officers as the protestors cheer happily.
The ad came shortly after some of the biggest protests against racial inequality and police brutality in the USA. The protests were such an important event in American history. They even started a whole new movement called Black Lives Matter.
Pepsi thought it would be good to give some recognition to the protests and the new movement. But, their intention didn’t go so well with the public. Many people saw the ad as an insensitive and rather cheap way of product promotion at the expense of much bigger social issues.
Afterward, Pepsi apologized and withdrew the campaign. Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner fiasco serves as a great example of why it is not smart to mix the promotion of your own products with serious social issues. If you want to support a movement, do it without (also) using it for marketing needs.
2. Tinder’s response to criticism
In the age of social media, even dating became something you can do online. When it comes to online dating, Tinder became the go-to app for millennials when it comes to finding love (or something close to it), as it is being used by tens of millions of people around the world daily. But, with the success comes criticism.
In their 2015 article, in which they talked to Tinder users, Vanity Fair saw the whole Tinder-dating concept as “dating apocalypse”.
Tinder reacted on Twitter with one-too-many tweets, as the company was all but satisfied with Vanity Fair’s article, as you can see in some of their tweets below:
A lot of people saw Tinder’s reaction as overreacting, ranting, and meltdown. That is definitely something that caused bad PR for the company, as it is not a smart way to respond to criticism.
3. Easy Jet vs unsatisfied client
Another bad PR example is Easy Jet’s online response to criticism. In the summer of 2019, a passenger flying with Easy Jet from England to Switzerland posted a picture of an older lady on the plane who had to sit on a backless seat.
The passenger tagged Easy Jet in his tweet so the company could see what is going on in one of their planes. As journalists immediately started replying to the tweet asking for further information on the story, Easy Jet noticed the tweet too and had one of the worst responses possible. They asked the passenger to take the tweet down and discuss the situation privately. Easy Jet’s response, understandably, resulted in even more online backlash.
The lesson to take from Easy Jet’s response: your brand is nothing without your customers, so make sure you put them first and learn to publicly apologize, instead of protecting your brand at all costs.
4. Tesla unveiling ” bulletproof” Cybertruck
In 2019, Tesla, an American electric vehicle manufacturer, unveiled its new truck which they described and praised as bulletproof prior to the official launch.
To prove the truck’s strength and resistance, Elon Musk and colleagues used metal ball to try and shatter the truck’s glass during its live reveal. Unfortunately, things did not go as they expected. The glass on the vehicle shattered. Twice.
Even though the “bulletproof” truck reveal came out as a little frivolous, it did not damage Tesla’s reputation that much. But, it serves as a great example and constant reminder to test out your product multiple times before claiming publicly it is something it may not necessarily be.
5. #DeleteUber campaign
In 2017, after Donald Trump’s ban on traveling to the United States from Muslim-majority countries, protests arose in various airports across the U.S. One of the protests happened at JFK Airport in New York.
To support protestors, New York Taxi Workers Alliance urged its members to avoid any pickups around the airport for an hour. Uber, one of the world’s most famous taxi companies, tweeted that they had stopped the surge pricing around JFK Airport, which usually results in higher ride prices during busy hours.
Uber explained that they wanted to join other taxi drivers in supporting the protestors, but in their own way. Instead of canceling any pickups for an hour, Uber continued picking people up from the airport, but without the higher price. People saw Uber’s move as being “on the other side of morality” and started a #deleteUber campaign. To show their disappointment in Uber’s move, many people started deleting the app from their phone. The campaign negatively affected Uber’s reputation and business, as hundreds of thousands of customers deleted the app and turned to Uber’s competitor companies.
The lesson to take out from Uber’s response is similar to the one we learned from the first case we covered in our list of bad PR examples – that of Pepsi and the Black lives matter movement – if you are going to support a movement, make sure you do it without profiting off of it in any way. Otherwise, you are up for a PR disaster.