Top 3 Worst PR Crises in Recent History

Top 3 Worst PR Crises in Recent History

PR disasters can happen to the best of us; here is how some of the top brands in the world handled them!

If the Try Guys situation taught us anything, it was that even the people with the most squeaky-clean images could land up in a public relations (PR) crisis at some point in their careers. And it doesn’t just have to be a cheating scandal as it was in their case. PR crises can arise from anything—a problem with your product, an unsavory reply to a customer’s tweet or even a bad advertising campaign. 

To help you fully grasp how PR crises affect businesses, here is a list of some of the worst crises that some of the biggest companies in the world have dealt with over the years. 

Pepsi x Kendall Jenner

Pepsi x Kendall Jenner
Screenshot from the Pepsi ad

I’m sure everyone reading this article remembers when back in 2017, Pepsi launched a protest-centric advertisement campaign with Kendall Jenner. Around that time, the U.S. witnessed many protests against former President Donald Trump and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

The ad showed Jenner leaving a photoshoot halfway to join a protest. The protestors reach a spot where they are head-to-head with the police, and Jenner then defuses the tension between the police and the protesters by offering a police officer a can of Pepsi. 

Soon after its release, people began criticizing the ad saying that Pepsi was trying to co-opt the movement to increase its sales. A Twitter user tweeted, “If a black girl tried to give a cop a Pepsi in a protest march, I’m pretty sure he’d give her a Dr Pepper spray in return,” referring to the use of pepper spray to deter protesters. Some responded sarcastically—a Twitter user posting a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King being escorted away and captioning, “Now just wait one second officers…I have a Pepsi.” 

Amid all the backlash, Pepsi apologized and took down the advertisement. It took the brand nine months to recover from the negative brand image this advertisement had built for them. The purchase consideration for Pepsi among millennials went down from 27% in early April (around when the advert came out) to 24% by mid-July, recovering to 29% when Pepsi released a new seasonal drink flavor in November. 

Nestle India’s Maggi Noodles disaster

Nestle India’s Maggi Noodles disaster
Image courtesy of Nestle’s website

One thing that almost all Indians universally have in common is their love for Nestle’s instant noodle brand, Maggi. But in April 2015, this love for the instant noodle brand was shaken when Indian regulators found excess lead inside Maggi packets. Health regulations allow for 2.5 parts per million (ppm) of lead in instant noodles, and Maggi had 17.2 ppm. The noodles also contained monosodium glutamate (MSG) despite their packets clearly stating they had “no added MSG”. 

The company was fined INR 3 lakhs (US$3,641.17, based on the current exchange rate) for its false claims of containing no MSG and had to pull down 35,000 tons of the product from the shelves. Up until two months after the scandal broke out, the brand made no public statement. When it did, at last, they only responded, “MAGGI Noodles are safe but due to recent developments on unfounded concerns we have decided to withdraw the products.” 

To recover from the scandal, the brand leveraged the decades of good reputation it had built with its audience and created a campaign called #WeMissYouToo. This campaign featured people talking about how their lives had changed since the ban. While the brand struggled to come back initially, it did eventually win back its consumer base, with its sale volumes going from 254,500 metric tons in 2014 to 264,000 metric tons by 2019.

The Tide pod challenge

The Tide pod challenge
Image courtesy of Amazon’s listing

While the previous PR crises on this list involved mistakes on the part of the companies, this one had nothing to do with Tide pod’s parent company Proctor and Gamble (P&G). In 2017, teens across the U.S. began partaking in the Tide pod challenge—a meme where everyone called Tide pods a forbidden snack. As the meme grew in popularity, people began pretending to eat these forbidden snacks, which eventually encouraged some to actually bite into the Tide pod. 

Naturally, this didn’t reflect that well on P&G. The company spokeswoman Petra Renck had to make a statement to clarify that their products were meant to clean clothes and that “they should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke. Like all household cleaning products, they must be used properly and stored safely.” They went further to release public service announcements highlighting the dangers of eating Tide pods and urged social media platforms, like YouTube and Facebook, to remove content that depicted people eating them. 

The company continued to sell Tide pods while dissuading people from engaging in the dangerous challenge. The public took note of P&G’s proactive approach to handling this crisis, and by the end of 2018, sales of laundry pods continued to grow in the U.S.. 

There is a commonality in all three situations: these crises didn’t lead to the companies’ downfall. While they may have had to put extra effort into improving their brand image, they all ended up redeeming themselves successfully. According to a survey by Clutch, how a company responds to a crisis can have a long-term impact on its brand reputation. So, as long as you have a crisis plan in place and respond quickly and effectively, you should be able to escape a crisis relatively scot-free. 

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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