Top 10 PR Fails You Should Know About

March 6, 2015 Max Bergen


No matter how established a company is, mistakes still happen. And when they do, that's where a good Public Relations (PR) team will come in handy. From social media to marketing and advertising, here are the top 10 PR fails you should know about.

1. Digiorno's usage of the hashtag #WhyIStayed

Now social media is an awesome marketing tool for many companies, but when used inappropriately it can damage your brand. Take DiGiorno's usage of the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Shortly after Janay Palmer Rice made the decision to stay with husband Ray Rice after a domestic violence incident, #WhyIStayed started trending on the Twitter scene. DiGiorno tried to jump in on the conversation by tweeting " #WhyIStayed, You had pizza." After a few minutes the controversial tweet was removed and the company publicly apologized, stating they were unaware of what the tweet truly meant before tweeting about it. It's always best to check what's trending before creating a huge PR fail for your company.

2. Paramount's 9/11 Mishap in Advertising

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles newest movie was truly a huge hit, but the advertising leading up to the movie's release showed some cause for concern. The poster depicted the heroes falling from an exploding tower, causing many to take offense at the image, stating it was too similar to the tragedy of 9/11. The similarity was even more striking considering the Australian release date was on September 11th. This was one unfortunate oversight in marketing that lead to one of the biggest PR fails for Paramount.

3. Esurance's Dirty Little Secret

Esurance isn't safe from controversy either. A recent billboard incident raised a lot of eyebrows. Esurance promised in its billboard message to "Cover your home in a click" but from a distance the spacing between the "c" and the "l" in the word "click" caused the message to be a bit more dirty than it was intended to be. I’ll leave it up to you to decipher this four letter PR fail.

4. LG's Double Standard When it comes to the iPhone

LG made a valiant attempt to poke fun at Apple's #bendgate on Twitter by tweeting "Our smartphones don't bend, they are naturally curved". The only issue was, the tweet was sent from an iPhone. Talk about a huge PR Fail, when the company doesn't even use its own phone.

5. American Apparel's Explosive Comment

To celebrate the Fourth of July, American Apparel went to Tumblr and posted a picture of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. After receiving a flood of comments, the company officially apologized stating their social media manager was born after the Challenger incident and didn't know what the picture depicted. This is one PR Fail that should never have happened.

6. Bad Timing for the NRA

Shortly after the Aurora mass shooting inside a Century movie theater which killed 12 people and injured nearly 70 others, the NRA sent out this scheduled tweet: "Good Morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?" Well needless to say this should have been rescheduled given the situation. Talk about bad timing on this PR Fail.

7. New England Patriots Racist Twitter Incident

Automation isn't always our friend, and that proved to be true with the New England Patriots. To help celebrate being the first NFL team to have 1 million followers, the Patriots were sending out custom 'digital' Patriots jerseys. Awesome idea, one problem, one of the page's followers had a bit of a racist twitter handle, "IHATEN**GERSS."  The team publically apologized for one of the biggest PR fails of all time.

8. Susan Boyle's Racey Album Party

The singer Susan Boyle's PR team made an embarrassing PR Fail when they created a hashtag to celebrate her upcoming album release, #susanalbumparty. It was surely not their intention to suggest the singer was into extracurricular activities of the sort. They rushed to change it to #SusanBoylesAlbumParty, but needless to say there was no putting the genie back in that bottle.

9. Chrysler Twitter F Bomb Fiasco

The Social Media Manager of Chrysler contributed to one of the biggest PR Fails of all time for the company. Instead of tweeting from their personal account, they dropped the "F bomb" on the Chrysler account. The infamous tweet was as follows, "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to {Insert F Bomb} drive.  Chrysler later apologized and fired the person responsible.

10. Bing Self Promotion During the Japanese Earthquake

Bing decided to do an awesome deed and raise money for victims of the Japanese earthquake. Sounds like a pretty amazing thing to do right? Turns out it backfired big time for the search engine giant. Why, because Bing suggested they would donate $1 for every retweet they received. So instead of a good deed, they were perceived as exploiting a tragic event for some social media engagement. Talk about a PR Fail with the best intentions.

So what did we learned here? Brand reputation is at the core of every PR professional’s job description, whether it’s for your company brand or your client’s brand. We can easily sit back and laugh (and believe me I laughed), but many of these were at best embarrassing for the brand, and at worst a job ending event for the PR pro on the receiving end of the fail. Nobody’s perfect and we’ll always make mistakes, but it’s always a good idea to reflect and learn from the lessons that others have learned the hard way.

We only included 10 here, and I found a lot more that didn’t make the list. Leave your favorites in the comments below.

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