The 10 most epic PR disasters of 2014 » SMEInsider

The 10 most epic PR disasters of 2014

All publicity is good publicity? Not from where we’re standing. Here are 10 corporate facepalm moments of 2014 that are enough to drive a reputation manager to despair. 

1. MasterCard gets a #PricelessSurprise

Persuasion is a delicate art, and journalists are the most cynical customers of all. So how did MasterCard try to eke out some positive publicity from its sponsorship of the Brit Awards in February? Ah – by telling journos they couldn’t have a press pass unless they let publicists write their tweets for them. You can imagine how long it took for the official hashtag to become mired in ridicule and accusations of censorship. A nasty surprise for MasterCard, no doubt… but for everyone else, it was priceless.


2. Bank of America accidentally calls customer a “slut”

It’s so embarrassing when your automated system sends a customer a letter with their name spelt wrong or formatted weirdly. You know what’s worse? When your automated system addresses the letter to “Lisa is a slut McIntire”. Know what’s worse than that? When the recipient, Lisa McIntire, is also a prominent journalist and feminist campaigner.


3. Valentino’s handbag faux pas

Fashion houses love to show off when a celebrity is spotted sporting their stuff, and that’s completely fair enough. Except, of course, when the celebrity in question is actually attending the funeral of a beloved friend.

When Amy Adams was snapped stepping out of a cab with one of its newly released bags on her arm, Valentino’s PR team wasted no time in using the photo to promote the purse’s launch – not realising, they later said, that it was taken at the funeral of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose tragic death shocked Hollywood earlier this year. Adams, understandably, was outraged at what appeared to be the opportunistic trivialisation of her Doubt co-star’s demise and it seems unlikely she’ll ever be seen toting the designer’s creations again.


4Michael Bay crumbles on stage at the Samsung conference

Nothing makes an event organiser’s heart sink like a keynote speaker insisting that they don’t need to rehearse. Director Michael Bay’s excruciating turn at CES 2014 is a perfect illustration of why.

Fittingly for a filmmaker famous for gratuitous explosions, Bay crashes and burns just 40 seconds into his speech before claiming that the autocue is “off” and promptly running away. Way to look spectacularly unprofessional and insincere, both at the same time. Samsung must be thrilled.

5. Zara releases a “Holocaust” t-shirt for kids

When the fashion chain Zara released a fun “Wild West” themed stripy-children’s-top-with-Sheriff-badge in August, it took about 0.001 seconds for the internet to point out that it looked alarmingly like the concentration camp outfits and Stars of David issued to Jewish victims of one of the most horrific atrocities in living history.  Zara pulled the shirt from its stores, but not before an international backlash accusing the company of being staffed by closet Nazis. Oh dear.

zara happy holidays

6. Uber exec threatens to stalk critic in revenge

Poor Uber. The taxi booking and payment company has made strides in funding and building its customer base this year, but a series of gaffes and lawsuits have propelled it into a reputational car crash of epic proportions.

The company’s arrogance reached fever pitch when its refusal to address alleged sexual and homophobic attacks by drivers contributed to a negative article by Silicon Valley reporter Sarah Lacy, who mentioned that she would be deleting her Uber app. So, did the company change its tactics and try to engage with critics to quell the mounting bad press? Did it heck. Senior executive Emil Michael responded by demonstrating the company’s stalking capacities and suggested that his “dirt-diggers” could expose damaging details of Lacy’s private life, leaving her fearful of an attack on her children.

If the fallout from a quasi-blackmail attempt wasn’t bad enough, Uber then came under fire again this week for seeming to take advantage of the Sydney hostage crisis by racking up prices in the city during the siege. Stay classy, guys.

taxi face

7. Danish zoo slaughters giraffe and feeds it to the lions

Remember those trips to the zoo when you were a kid, when you had the chance to gawp at the most magnificent animals from the Lion King in real life? Remember how the zookeeper then led your favourite animal out in front of a crowd of kids, shot it in the head and carved it up to feed to one of the others? No, neither do I. But, that’s exactly what happened at Copenhagen Zoo, where Marius, a healthy giraffe, was put down because he was ineligible to take part in the zoo’s breeding programme.

Despite the consternation and horror of animal lovers and campaigners around the world, who had pushed for Marius to either be given to another zoo or prevented from breeding, Copenhagen Zoo remained adamant that its decision to kill Marius, and to do so in front of children, was a good thing. To make matters worse (in the light of international criticism, at least), it then shot four lions the following week.


 8. US Airways replies to customer complaints with porn

Everyone hates a delayed flight, and angry people have a discomforting habit of taking to social media to inform everyone that they’ve been wronged. Which is why US Airways, quite sensibly, is vigilant about monitoring its Twitter feed and ensuring that it replies to disgruntled customers swiftly and with helpful details of what they should do next. Unfortunately, for some customers, that publicly released helpful information inexplicably turned out to be an explicit pornographic image involving a naked woman and a model aeroplane.

There are no words.

us airways

9. NYPD gives detractors a fun way to tweet their brutality pics

With a string of high-profile civilian shootings, protests and riots to contend with, it’s not been a great year for the public image of America’s police force. They would be forgiven, then, for keeping a low profile when it comes to social media.

As such, it came as something of a surprise when the NYPD sauntered straight into PR hell by setting up the Twitter hashtag #MyNYPD and encouraging people to submit snaps of their interactions with the police. Cue a deluge of photos depicting police violence, including an 84 year old man brutalised for jaywalking and countless young women being punched in the face. Launched in April, the hashtag is still going strong… but not in the way the police force had hoped.


10Cinema plays Nymphomaniac trailer to cinema full of children

Parents who had taken their children on a family-friendly outing to see animated mega-hit Frozen at Pinella Park Cinema in Tampa, Florida, were in for a rude shock when the projectionist somehow managed to play an R-rated trailer before the film began. The horrified audience were treated to a preview for Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, which is so explicit that it was temporarily banned from YouTube.

The mistake apparently caused a stampede to the exit, with one grandmother telling Fox News: “It seemed like forever when you’re trying to, you know, cover a little guy’s eyes…I didn’t have enough hands to cover his ears too and he got the sound down real good.”

To get a sense of just how disastrous the mixup was, take a look at the 100% Not-Safe-For-Work trailer, below. Those of a delicate constitution: just take our word for it.