January 9, 2013 By blogging

Biggest PR Blunders of 2012

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Making mistakes may be human nature, but unfortunately, when a mistake is attached to a brand, it’s considered a public blunder and a PR crisis.

2012 was a year full of slipups. Some of which made us cringe, others made us laugh, but they each provided us with a lesson to learn from. Watching these disasters unfold left us on the edge of our seat, as well as feeling remorse for the PR team trying to pick up the pieces of their clients’ broken reputations. As a PR agency, it was interesting for us to see how each dilemma was thoughtfully handled.

As we go into the New Year, we’d like to reflect on what PR Daily considers “The 10 Worst PR Disasters of 2012.” You most likely remember hearing about these blunders at some point last year, but here’s a recap…

10. “President Obama’s First Debate”:

At the start of the 2012 presidential race, President Obama was predicted to easily win the election against Mitt Romney. But after a lackluster performance at the first debate on October 3rd, a second term seemed questionable for him. President Obama came across as unprepared and uninformed next to Mitt Romney, who gave sound, well thought out answers during the debate. The polls quickly tightened, and resulted in a close race until the President ultimately won the election on November 6th.

9. “Hashtag hijacking”:

Sure, having a hashtag trend for your company sounds like a dream, but with “hashtag hijacking” on the rise, be careful what you wish for.  We were introduced to hashtag hijacking in 2012 when over and over again, we saw companies promote a hashtag, then lose control of its message once it was released to the uninhibited realms of Twitter.

The perfect example of hashtag hijacking is McDonald’s “#McDStories” from March. The company’s goal of people reliving happy memories they have associated with the fast food chain turned to be a “McFail” when everyone’s memories seemed to be about getting sick from its food.  McDonald’s pulled the campaign within two hours, but sadly for them, people are still sharing their own special #McDStories.

8. “Homeless Hot Spots”:

Yes, Homeless Hot Spots. In case you missed it, the New York marketing firm BBH Labs released its trial of “Homeless Hot Spots” at South By Southwest in February. The firm gave homeless people in Austin devices which turned them into “wireless hot spots,” meaning people could pay to access the web using a homeless person. The homeless men and women who were serving as “hot spots” were able to keep the profits. The idea was best described by Wired as something out of a “darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.” Needless to say, the program never became anything more than a trial [and error].

7. “Lance Armstrong”:

Lance Armstrong was cycling’s most famous and decorated athlete, until recently when he was stripped of his seven Tour de France wins as a result of a 200-page report of doping accusations against him from the USADA. Armstrong has been fighting accusations for years that he doped during his Tour de France victories. Although he refused countless interviews, he unwaveringly denied the accusations. When the USADA presented its 200-pages of Armstrong’s doping details in late 2012, he finally submitted and announced he was going to stop fighting the charges and hand over his titles. IntegratePR will be discussing more about this case in another blog post next week!

6. “Chick-fil-A”:

After Chick-fil-A president, Dan Cathy, vocally expressed his and the company’s strong religious views and opposition of same-sex marriage, the chain was under fire for months. While some people supported Cathy for expressing his views, any positivity was overshadowed by outraged protestors. Chick-fil-A was boycotted for months and some cities even blocked openings of any new establishments. Matters got even worse when the company’s PR chief passed away from a heart attack during the crisis.  Chick-fil-A is still receiving backlash and negative press from Cathy’s comments.

5. “Superstorm Sandy inspired social media gaffes”:

As we discussed in a previous blog post, Hurricane Sandy, a devastating natural disaster, was turned into a parody on social media and an opportunity for retail sales late October. There were numerous “Sandy” Twitter accounts that made light of the destructive storm. Trying to take advantage of the Sandy headlines, American Apparel offered a special Hurricane Sandy Sale and the Gap suggested people should do some online shopping while taking cover from the storm. The retailers’ compassionless ploys received national backlash and were ultimately unsuccessful.

4. “GOP Misteps”:

Two favored Republican Senate candidates lost their respective elections when they each gave cavalier opinions about abortion. Missouri candidate Todd Akin expressed his beliefs that during a “… legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” and if for some reason it doesn’t happen, abortion wouldn’t be acceptable because “the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” After this comment, Akin continued to campaign, even though Romney begged him to step down, and he eventually lost the race to Claire McCaskill.

In Indiana, Richard Mourdock made his view on abortion and the value of life clear when he said “…I came to realize that life is that gift from God and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen.”  He lost the election to Democrat Joe Donnelly a few weeks later.

If this case taught us anything, it’s to think before you speak.

3. “Pink Slime”:

If you are unsure of what pink slime is, it’s a finely textured beef that’s used as an additive in most U.S. ground beef. Pink slime is nothing new; it’s been used in beef products for years and media outlets have continuously reported its possible health risks. No reports could prepare us for when in March, ABC news uncovered that pink slime is treated with ammonia.

Despite various PR efforts to protect pink slime companies, most of the manufacturing plants either shut down or filed for bankruptcy after food companies cut their ties and the public learned about the use of ammonia.

2. “The 47 Percent”:

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney misspoke multiple times during the election. His comments about corporations being people and his binder full of women will not soon be forgotten, but it’s his “47 percent” remark that will go down in history.

While unknowingly being recorded, Romney told campaign donors:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

Based on election results, more than just 47 percent of the nation did not appreciate his comment.

1. “Susan G. Komen for the Cure”:

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure fiasco with Planned Parenthood was the most drawn out PR disaster of 2012.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced its decision to stop donating money to Planned Parenthood in February coincidentally right after its new vice president and opponent of abortion, Karen Handel, began her position. People were immediately outraged Komen would drop their donations to Planned Parenthood. Anger went viral on several media platforms including Twitter. Komen waited 24 hours to respond to the backlash, and then waited another week to issue a public apology. The organization’s efforts were appallingly overdue, and for months, Komen suffered from its choice of defunding Planned Parenthood. Many of its staff members resigned and its fundraising plummeted. It seems that Komen will have to work for years to recover from this PR nightmare.

Share your favorite PR blunder from our list, or maybe one that wasn’t included, on our Facebook page!