9 PR Stunts that Backfired Big Time

By Guest Author

PR is undoubtedly a critical aspect in modern business. Well executed PR has the potential to yield significant brand recognition and revenue. Bad PR on the other hand… it has the potential to completely cripple a company’s integrity. Any publicity is good publicity you say? Well you will surely disagree with that figure of speech after reading a few of these.

1. Paramount Pictures PR Fail

2014 saw the long awaited Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie grace our silver screens. However, an unfortunate coincidence with the poster sparked anger across social media.
Clearly, paramount’s less than diligent marketing team failed to pick on the link between the release date of the film and the shelled quartet leaping from an exploding skyscraper. Needless to say, Paramount pictures received a lot of negative press for this blunder.

2. UK Supermarket Horse Meat Scandal

Who could forget this sensational scandal? Back in 2013, the UK media practically exploded when Irish food inspectors announced they had discovered traces of horse DNA in the meat products of many top UK supermarket chains.

As a result, sales of frozen meat products plummeted overnight, with many supermarkets forced to offer public apologies in the form of adverts and newspaper spreads.
Inadvertently, this scandal helped drive sales for many UK butchers in a kind of ‘knock on’ effect. I bet the supermarkets weren’t anticipating that!

3. Ghettopoly

Although this scandal is old enough to be considered ‘retro’, it is still a perfect example of PR gone wrong.

‘Ghettopoly’, based on the popular board game monopoly, caused a major stir after offending many minority communities in the US. This controversial board game substitutes hotels for crack houses and even replaces the loveable thimble with a rock of crack cocaine.

Needless to say, Hasbro (the creators of monopoly) aren’t too happy with this parody of their iconic board game and are even using the negative press surrounding this pariah to launch a legal dispute against the game. Unfortunately, Hasbro lost the dispute due to the fact that they do not own the rights to monopoly.

Peter Herbert, the chairman of the society of black lawyers is quoted to have said: “I can’t remember seeing anything quite as racist or stereotypical for a long time. It’s the sort of game the SS would like to play”.

4. Belkin review scandal

Consumer electronics conglomerate Belkin suffered a spate of bad press after an employee advertently used a crowdsourcing platform to generate positive reviews.

A Belkin employee utilising Amazon’s crowdsourcing service – Mechanical Turk – to generate fake reviews can only be described as a PR blunder of monumentally idiotic proportions.

The actions of this individual have caused the company to come under scrutiny from the tech world, forcing the company’s president to release a formal apology and a swift dismissal for the offending employee,

5. Auto industry CEOs fly in private jets to plead for bailouts

In possibly the most furiously ironic PR fail ever, CEOs from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler flew to Washington in their private jets to plead for a $25 Billion bailout of taxpayer money.

Now, don’t be so quick to judge. Those CEOs are probably so used to travelling in uber-luxury that they’ve forgotten their dire financial situation.

It has been estimated that their plane journeys cost approximately $20,000 each. Pocket change when you’re begging for billions. Still, this stunt infuriated a fair few members of the public. However, the CEO’s have acknowledged this and will be attending in hybrid vehicles in future

6. Sainsbury’s 50p challenge

Now, you really must be fresh out of marketing ideas if you hang a poster in your store window ASKING people to spend more. Well that’s exactly what UK superstore Sainsbury’s did, and became the butt of many jokes thereafter.

Except this poster wasn’t meant for the public, It was actually intended to be displayed in the staff room in a bid to get employees to encourage more spending amongst customers. Needless to say, these types of PR stunts work better when the customers are not aware of your motives.

Perhaps even funnier still, supermarket chain Lidl released a poster in the wake of the Sainsbury’s gaffe, encouraging every one of their customers to save as many 50p’s as possible.

It just goes to show, one can always benefit from someone else’s bad PR.

7. McDonalds twitter fail

If you’re looking for a good source of PR fails and blunders, look no further than twitter. Whilst twitter may be an excellent platform for companies to connect with their audience and increase brand recognition, it also gives your audience voice, much to the dismay of McDonalds…

McDonalds started this twitter campaign – #McDStories – with the honest aim of spreading good news about the fast food firm… and you could say that it backfired big time!

Within minutes, thousands of twitter users descended on McDonalds, each describing their gruesome tales of their own McDonalds experiences. Even animal rights activists PETA got in on the action!

8. Malaysia Airlines Ultimate Bucket list
Now this doesn’t sound too offensive, I mean, everyone’s got a bucket list right? There’s nothing offensive about a bucket list is there?

Well, let me just say that Malaysian Airlines timing could not of been worse with this social media campaign. Since the disappearance of MA flight 370 and the destruction of MA flight 17, in which a total of 537 lives were lost, a bucket list seems a bit insensitive considering.

Malaysia Airlines agreed and has since rebranded the campaign to ‘win an ipad or flight to Malaysia’, thereby avoiding further potential PR fiascos.

9. Hurricane Sandy Sale

Many Americans will remember hurricane Sandy as the most destructive force on the East coast for generations. Not to mention the people who lost their lives. Clothing Company American Apparel on the other hand was capitalising on the disaster.

Using the slogan “In case you’re bored during the storm” and offering 20% off everything, American Apparel launches a marketing campaign to profit from the disaster.
Many were appalled by the underhandedly exploitative nature of the sale and vehemently voiced their opinions on twitter.

About the author

This post was written by Mark from Phipps PR. Mark is an online PR fanatic and he loves finding creative ways to get better exposure – hopefully with making a faux pas like the ones above! Mark’s background is in business management but he is also part time coder and loves everything related to the internet.

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1 Response to “9 PR Stunts that Backfired Big Time”

  • Monica

    Well, these are all good ones. When I read about the McDonalds one I cant stop thinking about all the Premier League clubs that have tried to use Twitter to hold “live interview with their players”.

    every time it ends up being a lot of spam and shit towards the premier league players that have to read about how useless they are.

    It just backfires. All the time.

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