‘Tis the season to be jolly, unless you’ve topped our list of PR blunders in 2012. There are definite lessons to be taken from the gaffes made in 2012. Many companies are quickly grasping the power and influence social media now has upon their business, their brand and their fans. This year proved the good get better and the bad can get worse in the blink of an eye.

Hurricane of Emotion – Hurricane Sandy

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, countless brands flocked to social media sites to share their sympathy for those affected by this monster storm. It didn’t take long for American Apparel to capitalize on Hurricane Sandy, tweeting an online deal to “bored” residents in New England. Not surprisingly, the tweet generated immediate backlash, causing customers to boycott the brand. The situation became aggravated when American Apparel refused to comment. When they finally broke the silence, it was far from an apology. CEO Dov Carney was quoted saying their marketing strategy was necessary to regain the lost revenue from the storm. He even went as far to say the ad was, “not a serious matter.” Gap and Urban Outfitters also offered their customers online deals taking advantage of Hurricane Sandy: Urban Outfitters implemented an “all soggy” free shipping campaign and Gap encouraged their shoppers to follow suit and visit their on-line store. Gap and Urban Outfitters were quick to apologize and retract their campaigns, but the damage was done. These are good examples of “newsjacking” at its best. Hurricane Sandy


Lesson One: Never utilize people’s misfortune for promotion. If you make a mistake, act fast, acknowledge it and quickly rectify the situation.


Big Mac, Big Fail – McDonalds

Like most PR blunders, this one started out with good intentions, hoping to introduce actual farmers that produce McDonald’s food to customers. McDonald’s initiated #McDStories, expecting fans would use Twitter to share positive experiences about the company. Instead, #McDStories quickly became a source for dissatisfied customers and even animal activists to unleash nasty opinions and voice negative remarks. Within hours, McDonalds discontinued to the #McDStories initiative, but soon thereafter a new hashtag #McFail was created by McDonald haters. #McFail was being used by the Twittersphere to discuss the disaster.


Lesson Two: When inviting a response on social media, carefully select direct words, monitor closely and prepare for the unexpected.


Keep Your Personal Views Personal – Kitchen Aid

During one of the 2012 presidential debates, a KitchenAid employee took to Twitter to express her personal political stance. The tweet read, “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.” The employee defended herself by saying the disrespectful message was tweeted accidentally to the company’s account instead of her personal account. The company released a statement declaring the tweet was no reflection on KitchenAid’s views or opinions.


Lesson Three: Monitor who controls your social media. Every post is forever associated with your brand.


Eat Less Chikin – Chick-fil-A

Chik-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy expressed his support for “biblical families” this year, generating an intense backlash toward the company. Customers boycotted the fast-food chain due to its opposition of same-sex marriage and organized protests outside the restaurant. The president did not back down from showcasing his beliefs, despite the criticism Chick-fil-A was receiving; instead he responded his company was “guilty as charged.”


Lesson Four: Separate politics from marketing. Be equipped and prepared to respond. CGPR weighed in on the controversy in a USA Today article, Chick-fil-A.


Steer Clear of Controversy – Popchips

Popchips and Ashton Kutcher joined together for a marketing initiative that ultimately created quite an uproar in Indian-American communities. Kutcher starred as a Bollywood producer in a Popchips ad campaign, sporting a “brown face,” traditional Indian clothing and a fake nose. In response to Indian-Americans’ outrage at the ad, Popchips yanked the campaign. Although the company released a statement taking responsibility for the ad, Kutcher ignored the controversy, saying nothing. The ad campaign is still linked to his Twitter feed, showing his lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation.


Lesson Five: Choose celebrity partners carefully, have a crisis plan in place and react thoughtfully, but quickly.



In a year full of PR blunders, there were these standouts:


Share the Love – Justin Bieber

After learning of the Facebook and Twitter campaign posted by her family, “Get Avalanna to Meet Justin Beiber,” Beiber flew Avalanna, a 6-year-old brain cancer patient and her mother to New York. Avalanna experienced her dream, a Valentine’s Day date with Beiber. He developed a friendship with Avalanna and took to social media to express his feelings after her passing. He tweeted, “RIP Avalanna. i love you.” More than 220,000 followers retweeted the five-word tweet, spreading the love and memory of this young six year old whose life was taken too early.


Lesson One: Social Media can shed light on tough situations and tragedies and, when used properly, can bring people together from around the globe for the greater good.


Let Earth People Experience Space – Red Bull

Red Bull showcased Felix Baumgartner’s plunge from the edge of space, owning an extraordinary event in history. Capturing eight million live viewers, Red Bull generated strong engagement with old and new customers. This was not just another special event, but also, an inclusive experience enabling earthbound humans to participate on this record-breaking attempt. Viewers could see breathtaking views and feel Baumgartner’s sense of panic when he started to fall out of control – a true first.


Lesson Two: When you can provide an extraordinary experience, do it. You will be memorable and find ways to grow your brand family.


Apology Accepted – Apple

Apple has built its brand and community by focusing on perfection, but even this giant can make blunders. After receiving widespread criticism for giving the beloved Google Maps the boot and offering a new mapping software on the iPhone 5, Apple CEO Tim Cook came out with a respectful public apology, but more than a week later than this initial change. In his apology, he acknowledged the faults in the new software and even gave customers suggestions on alternative products, like Google Maps.


Lesson Three: When a brand is faced with a mistake, senior management must promptly propose a solution to fix the issue.


Inner Beauty – Dove

Dove created an eye-catching campaign this year to raise awareness of its “Real Beauty” campaign. This campaign, timed during Valentine’s Day, encouraged Twitter followers to share stories via #DOVELOVE about the most beautiful women in their lives. Dove streamed the replies in real time at London’s Victoria Station, enabling consumers to view the stories throughout their busy day. Dove also passed out promotional goods as Valentine’s Day gifts. #DOVELOVE


Lesson Four: Engaging customers with your brand via social media and partnering can create a powerful, positive experience.



The Brighter, The Better – Tropicana

Tropicana started off the New Year on the bright side, literally. In January, Tropicana hung a huge “artificial sun” in London’s Trafalgar Square and passed out more than 35,000 cartons of juice, sunglasses and blankets. As a part of its “Brighter Mornings” campaign, Tropicana encouraged commuters and tourists to slow down and enjoy the sunrise. Tropicana filmed the day and uploaded the video to YouTube, where it received 600,000 views: Brighter Mornings. The day generated international media coverage.


Lesson Five: Create memorable events that leave positive, lasting memories for customers – they will remember you.


As people begin to sign back on after the holidays and look forward to the new year, we hope everyone can learn from the good, the bad and the ugly PR moments of 2012.


We hope you and yours have enjoyed a safe and happy holiday season.