Harvey and Hugo

{Harvey and Hugo}
Business Central, 2 Union Square Darlington,
Phone: 01325 486 666
Throw us a Bone: 01325 486 666 Sign up to our Newsletter
Back to the blog

When it all goes wrong

Here at Harvey & Hugo, we take great care of your reputation. We have your business at heart, and we always want the public to see your best angle.

We put our heart and soul into doing things right, spreading your good news and generating positive publicity.

But what happens when it goes wrong? These are some of the most spectacular PR fails of last year, a valuable lesson that not all publicity is good publicity.


Pepsi and Kendall Jenner

We can just imagine the talk at this creative meeting: “Everyone loves the Kardashians, right? Or, if not loves, is fascinated by them? And Black Lives Matter is huge at the moment too, right?

“So, why don’t we get Kendall Jenner to cure racism, police brutality and class warfare with a can of Pepsi. It’s gonna be great.”

Except it wasn’t – the ad was widely criticised for being crass and insensitive, and was pulled shortly after release. Perhaps the most scathing response came from Bernice King, the daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, who tweeted a photo of her father with the caption: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”

Lesson learned: Don’t jump on bandwagons.


United Airlines

The American airline saw its stock plummet after a video emerged of a passenger being violently dragged off an over-booked flight.

However, instead of immediately apologising, which would have gone some way to dampening the flames, United dug their heels in and stood by the decision, before issuing what was deemed a half-hearted apology.

It was only after a fierce backlash and boycott threats that the firm issued a more sincere apology, for what it was worth. Consumer perception levels fell to a ten-year low and social media had a field day.

Lesson learned: Apologise immediately – and mean it.


Adidas’ Boston Marathon email

In 2013, two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring several hundred more.

In 2017, Adidas sent an email to Boston Marathon participants with the subject line ‘Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!’

The backlash was immediate – but, to be fair, so was the apology, and managed to strike a genuinely contrite tone: “We are incredibly sorry. There was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. We deeply apologise for our mistake.”

Lesson learned: The apology was swift and heartfelt, but the whole debacle could have been avoided if someone had just thought a little harder.


As you can see from the first two examples, the original gaffe was exacerbated by the poor response. Admitting to a mistake and apologising can go a long way in terms of damage limitation, so don’t point fingers, claim a ‘misunderstanding’ or try to find a scapegoat.

In PR, as in life, mistakes happen – it’s how you deal with them that matters.

If you find yourself in a PR pickle, don’t worry! We will help manage the crisis and do what we can to protect your reputation. Throw us a bone on 01325 486666 to find out how we can help.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter