While corporate and personal branding initiatives are often well-planned activities, sometimes, even the best plans fail. Other times, crises occur and if not handled properly, they lead to major corporate branding fails.
A PR failure is every company’s nightmare, especially in the connected internet age. From United Airlines to Pepsi, corporate branding fails can hit giants as well. Here is a list of some of the biggest fails involving prominent brands.
In April 2017, United Airlines, a low-budget airline operating across the world, found itself in the middle of a PR storm. A video emerged online of a passenger being forcefully evicted from the overbooked airline so as to make room for the airline’s members of staff, who were to be on standby. After the video was posted online, the company’s CEO made the mistake of issuing an apology that was not really an apology, seemingly pushing the blame on the passenger, despite the obvious mistake of having the flight overbooked. After intense online pressure, boycott threats, and a drop in the company’s stocks, the CEO finally issued the appropriate apology saying, “We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”
Lesson learnt: In today’s interconnected age, it is best to take your time to issue a statement than to issue a wrong statement. Even if you are doing what a leader should do by protecting your staff members, showing sensitivity to customers still counts.
Sometimes, branding fails can manifest themselves through seemingly well-thought-out advertisements. An advert can either sell your brand or leave you with egg on your face, depending on how your message is crafted. In June 2012, Korean Air found itself in trouble with an advert, which claimed that Kenyans are primitive while announcing the exciting news of direct flights being launched to Kenya. The offensive advert read, “Fly to Nairobi with Korean Air and enjoy the grand African savanna, the safari tour, and the indigenous people full of primitive energy.” Well, the ‘primitive energy’ part did not go down well with Kenyans online, who used Twitter to express their displeasure. Thankfully, the airline pulled down the advert and published a sincere apology through its Twitter handle.
Lesson learnt: Brands ought to craft their messages properly, taking into account the socio-cultural aspects of the society, otherwise, what may seem like the ultimate punchline may end up being the ignition of a huge PR storm.
A critical part of advertising is to be aware of the tone and the context. Well, Adidas learnt this the hard way, after sending an email whose subject line read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!?” The email was sent to participants of the Boston Marathon and while it was meant to be humorous, it turned out to be a bitter pill as this was sent some 4 years after a bombing at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. Thankfully, the company quickly issued an apology for their insensitivity, saving them a potential PR storm.
Lesson learnt: Don’t push the joke too far.
It is always refreshing when brands join popular movements as part of their socio-cultural awareness efforts. However, this has to be done right or else, they, like Pepsi, learn that the devil lies in the details. Earlier on in the year, Pepsi released an advert featuring Kendall Jenner. In the advert, the company meant to stand with protesters of the Black Lives Matter Movement. In the advert, she walks away from a photo shoot to hand over a Pepsi to a police manning the protests. Well, netizens were not pleased with the advert, which was criticized for being insensitive to the issue at hand. Pepsi later pulled down the advert and issued an apology.
Lesson learnt: It is important to be involved in social issues of the moment but the involvement should be culturally appropriate.
Dove has been trying to market its brands as being suitable for people from all races. Only that this message comes across as being racist. In a series of ads run on social media, the company shows ‘before’ photos of black women and ‘after’ images of white women. Well, this has not gone down well with many people especially on social media, where the ads have been criticised for being racist. Dove recently issued a statement claiming that the intention was to indicate that the products cut across all races but people are having none of it.
Lesson learnt: Tone-deaf ads will not fly even with the best explanation. It is best to simply create ads which do not have racial or in our case, tribal undertones in them.
Corporate branding remains the backbone holding up any great company that you can think of. Building a strong corporate image can be tough but it is worth it. However, seemingly minor mistakes may bring down a successful corporate brand if not handled properly. The devil is always in the details.