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13 frighteningly bad advertising, marketing and PR fails from 2017

It’s the end of October, which means one thing- spooks, ghouls, and all manner of other horrible visions.
In the PR and marketing game the spectre of catastrophe looms large all year round, though. Need proof? Here are 13 frighteningly bad recent advertising, marketing and PR fails that show even the biggest brands get it catastrophically wrong at times.
[Tweet “Happy #Halloween – @SmokingGunPR shares 13 terrifying #PR and #marketing fails “]

  1. Bell PottingerUK – a company collapses

As our MD, Rick Guttridge, expressed in his think piece last month, the demise of one of the biggest PR agencies in the world was bad for the sector as a whole, bringing our game into disrepute. Put simply, allegations of involvement in a political scandal in South Africa, which had its roots in fuelling the fires of racial tension, is pretty much the worst kind of story a PR firm could be in. Hence the fact this company is no more.

  1. United Airlines – overselling, over-reacting

This should need no introduction. Just in case, though… when a United Airlines plane didn’t have enough seats left for one ‘priority passenger’, another was asked to move. He understandably didn’t take too kindly, and was beaten by security as they took him off the flight, all of which was caught on camera
3. Pepsi – hijacking civil rights

The last issue of our weekly media wrap, the Blagger’s Blog, had another shocking example of this situation, but Pepsi and Kendall Jenner were the originals this year. The ad campaign revolves around the young managing to quell the fury at a #blacklivesmatter protest with the aid of an ice cold Pepsi, undermining and hijacking the entire cause.
[Tweet “What were they thinking? @SmokingGunPR on terrifying #PR, #advertising and #marketing nightmares”]
4. Nivea – the accidental white supremacists
One of many on our list that can be chalked down to complete idiocy on the part of the ad company, skincare giant Nivea wanted to try and articulate how good its ‘invisible’ deodorant range is, which comes in a white canister. Sadly, though, this was done through the slogan ‘White Is Purity’, and subsequently re-appropriated by far-right groups.

  1. Adidas – poor wording

Sending out an e-shot and tweet congratulating people for finishing an endurance race is an obvious thing for a sports brand to do. What nobody expected, though, was for Adidas to invoke the 2013 Boston marathon bombing with a campaign three years later which said, verbatim; ‘Congratulations, you survived the Boston Marathon.’

  1. Fyre Festival – the ultimate disaster movie

An ultra-exclusive festival on a private Bahamian island for the cool price of $12,000, the marketing material said, along with celebs who were paid to endorse. Skip to the event, and Fyre was beyond bad- an unfinished site, stranded punters, no music, (or food or drink), and half the outbound flights cancelled to prevent the chaos worsening.

  1. Nikon – men only

nikon-d850-men-only-pink-version-coming-soon nikonphotogslineup-800x418
Attempting to launch its new camera by asking the ‘world’s best photographers’ to test it out, before amalgamating the results, seems like a good, if rather spurious, concept. Then Nikon went and asked 32 men, and 0 women to take part. Queue a passionate backlash against the brand.
[Tweet “These terrifying #advertising, #PR and #marketing nightmares are perfect for #Halloween, via @SmokingGunPR”]

  1. Adventure Island – DIY

When homophobic graffiti was spotted at the UK’s ‘No.1 free admission theme park’, Adventure Island, one caring citizen, who also happened to be gay, tweeted the company asking for it to be removed. The business responded, inviting him to come down and ‘lend a hand’ painting over the words. Not the smartest, or most respectful, move.

  1. NME – missing cover star

When UK grime hero Stormzy spoke out about his battle with mental illness it was a landmark moment for the music industry, and public perceptions. NME wanted a piece of it, so ran their own story about the issue, slapped the aforementioned artist’s face on the cover, but forgot to contact him. Did someone say boycott?

  1. London Dungeon – dead prostitutes don’t sell ticketsLondonDungeonApologiesForInappropriateTweets_620x349

We’re not sure what the London Dungeon was thinking when it decided to run its Valentine’s Day meme campaign tied in to Jack the Ripper, famed killer of ladies of the night, but it certainly wasn’t ‘we should probably tone these down a bit’. Worse still, the meme-based apology didn’t exactly calm the situation down either. 
[Tweet “#Halloween not scary enough for you- here are 13 terrifying #PR, #marketing and #ad nightmares”]

  1. Daily Mail – check your sources

Wikipedia is a website that anyone can update, with any information. We’ve seen people add themselves to the 1966 French World Cup squad, just for jokes. By comparison, a newspaper should be grounded in facts and evidence, so when Wiki banned people from using the Daily Mail as a source it did the publisher’s reputation no favours.

  1. Currys PC World – our bins, not yours

Localised, so not the fault of the overall company, but this still made national headlines. Currys PC World in Wrexham decided to send a message out to homeless people who were looking for valuables they could use from the bins out back, but whoever wrote the note lacked empathy, compassion, and an understanding of appropriate tone.

  1. Cosmopolitan – weightless secrets

And, finally, we have Cosmopolitan US, which ran a story about a woman who had overcome a rare form of cancer. Rather than simply sharing this as a tale of one person battling the odds, though, the magazine issued a tweet which stated ‘How This Woman Lost 44 Pounds Without *ANY* Exercise’. No, just a life threatening illness.

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