Most brands understand the need for PR crisis plans, and build strategies around a number of scenarios; an employee goes rogue, a customer takes up a personal vendetta on social media, etc. What many don’t plan for, however, is their own well-intentioned ad campaigns turning against them.
When launching a new ad strategy, many marketers’ biggest fear is a campaign that flops. Low ROI or wasted budget are definitely issues, but a bigger problem might be looming – a self-created crisis. Sometimes, even with honorable goals (like promoting unity and acceptance of diversity), things can go awry. Here are three examples from this year of brands campaigns that needed an extra round of review.
- Adidas’ Boston Marathon email | Adidas wanted to congratulate this year’s Boston Marathon participants on their awesome achievement, and offer the opportunity to snag some official event gear to celebrate. Unfortunately, whoever drafted the subject line for the email containing this information should have taken a second look before sending. The phrase “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” was met with backlash – the poor choice of words seemed callous in light of 2013’s Boston Marathon bombing. Adidas did provide an example of how to respond to a crisis correctly, however. The company immediately issued an apology and took full responsibility for the mistake, saying “Clearly, there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent.”
- Dove’s “Real Beauty” bottles | For over a decade, Dove has been leading the body-positive movement for brands with its Real Beauty campaigns – which have generally been well-received. However, the campaigns latest iteration not only didn’t resonate, it caused consumers to question how much Dove really knew about body positivity. The company released a limited run of its body wash in varying sizes and shapes of bottles, meant to evoke the idea that “there is no one perfect shape.” Instead, consumers found the bottles patronizing and suggested that they actually encourage women to compare themselves to others, which is the opposite of what body positivity hopes to achieve.
- Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial | Already 2017’s likely candidate for most tone-deaf ad of the year, Pepsi’s April commercial featuring Kendall Jenner struck out on nearly every front possible. The spot features Jenner leaving a photoshoot to march alongside protestors who are being blocked by police. Jenner then presents a can of Pepsi to one of the officers, who sips it and smiles – and then both sides celebrate. In the current political climate, the ad seems incredibly silly and trivializes major issues. The Kardashian/Jenner clan, while a social media powerhouse, can also be a polarizing force. Add in backlash from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, and you have a recipe for disaster. Pepsi ultimately pulled the spot.