Perhaps it was the political and social uproar of 2016 that prompted major brands to take a stance on certain issues this year. On the other hand, 2017 also saw big companies stumble by not taking a stance. Looking back at the last year, we picked out a few PR disasters, wins and the lessons they offered to all of us.
1. An UBER year to forget
2017 hasn’t been a great PR year for UBER, to say the least! In February, #DeleteUBER rose to the top of the news as UBER’s CEO Travis Kalanick appeared to be supporting US President Trump’s Muslim travel ban by turning off surge pricing to New York’s JFK airport amidst a taxi driver protest. In November, the tech company came under fire once again, trying to cover up a massive hack and security breach that exposed the data of 57 million users and drivers.
The Lesson: Don’t wait until it’s too late
Usually, when a company of UBER’s size messes up, they genuinely apologise and pledge to do better next time. What they shouldn’t do is to pretend it never happened or ignore the growing crisis entirely. As UBER loves referring to themselves as a tech company, they should have used ‘tech’ tools, such as predicting social sentiments, to measure the looming crisis and react faster and more appropriately.
2. United Airlines clashes with passengers
In April, a stomach-turning incident involving United Airlines made headlines around the world, as a passenger was dragged off the plane to make room for airline staff. The company’s PR team was just as unprepared as the airline staff, as the company got tangled up in insincere statements and claims that the plane was overbooked.
The delayed and half-hearted response from Oscar Munoz, CEO of United, went immediately viral, as consumers were up in arms over the insincere apology and lack of remorse. United failed to show empathy with its paying customers and came across as uncaring and brutal. Making things worse, it wasn’t the only incident of its kind for United in 2017.
The Lesson: Consumers value transparency
Don’t ever ignore problems, as consumers want your company to be honest. The United Airlines incident underlines the need for crisis comms training, strategy and planning. When your brand makes a mistake, you need to own up to it and publicly apologise. Remember that the longer your brand remains silent, the more guilty you appear. Tackle PR issues head-on and you will build trust and credibility with your customers.
3. Always, #LikeAGirl
Although Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign launched a few years ago, 2017 saw their most powerful video yet, focusing on the idea of ‘failure’ and how it can be used to fuel motivation and passion for success. Changing the theme every year, the 2017 campaign set out with a positive approach to female empowerment.
The Lesson: Promote what you stand for
The brand, Always, is leading the way when it comes to promoting gender equality within our society, and this is clearly reflected in their campaigns. Always is not only a market leader for feminine products, their campaign’s theme also matches the ethos of their brand image. Raising brand awareness and a strong identity does not always need to solely be about products.
4. The revolutionary Pepsi
If the Kardashians weren’t already laughing material, Kendall Jenner’s involvement in Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now’ campaign surely manifested their value to all of us. Being featured in the Pepsi commercial, Kendall Jenner appears to walk away from a photoshoot to join a passing demonstration in the street. The reason for the demonstration isn’t entirely clear. As the group approaches the police blocking the street, Kendall Jenner seemingly solves the issue by handing a policeman a Pepsi, resulting in the crowd’s euphoric frenzy. Nothing about the campaign resonates – or makes sense.
Pepsi put their product in the centre of social issues while simultaneously trivialising real world issues. Needless to say, this did not go down well with the public. Taking a stand without actually taking one can do more harm than good. Pepsi received backlash for featuring signs stating ‘peace’ and ‘join the conversation’, though they failed to do just that themselves!
A Tweet by Bernice King, Martin Luther King’s daughter, responded in the best possible way:
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) 5 April 2017
The Lesson: Don’t trivialise real issues
While most of us are proud to have to right to protest and voice our opinions, there are still many people around the world who have to fight for this basic right. Trivialising real problems and pretending a consumer product can solve (unnamed) conflicts is taking it a step too far. Leaving the post-truth world of 2016 behind us, 2017’s public wants to support companies whose beliefs they can align with.
It’s hard to know who is to blame for Pepsi’s ‘Live for now’ campaign, as everyone involved should have realised this was a major faux-pas waiting to happen. Having had an impartial, outsiders’ viewpoint could have put a stop to this campaign that was produced in-house. An external agency would have been more sensitive with their execution. Crowd pleasers simply aren’t enough, and more often than not – they can do more harm than good.
5. Heineken taking Worlds Apart
In the wake of the Pepsi campaign flop, Heineken released a video called ‘Worlds Apart: An Experiment #OpenYourWorld’, leveraging the rollercoaster of navigating modern social and political stances with a genuine approach.
The video experiment brought together individuals with opposing views on transgender rights, climate change and feminism. Unaware of each other’s views, they were tasked to build a bar, and after its completion, were shown a video of the other person talking about their views. They were then given a choice: to walk away or discuss their difference over a beer.
The Lesson: Be daring but sincere
The campaign was genuine, using real people taking on real issues. Framing it as an experiment rather than an ad, the campaign offered real value to viewers. Unlike Pepsi, it didn’t pretend to solve (unnamed) issues, Heineken emphasised their strength of bringing people together. Heineken achieved what Pepsi set out to do by being sincere, honest and daring. Bottoms up to Heineken!
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