The not so enchanted April

Did April Fool’s Day not get the memo? The 1st of April has dragged on through the whole month with PR disasters and foot-in-mouth fiascos, though sadly none of them have turned out to be jokes. From abusive airlines to email mishaps, the one thing us PRs can learn from this abysmal month is what not to do.

Read on for three vital lessons from this month’s PR fails.

United Airlines

The US airline flew from sunny skies into a PR storm with a slew of blunders this month. In a moment that turned a PR crisis into a full-blown disaster, footage of passenger Dr. David Dao with a bloody lip being dragged from the aircraft was plastered across social media facing a fierce backlash from people across the globe.

In a very lukewarm response, the airline’s CEO apologised for having to ‘re-accommodate’ customers, glossing over the issue and ultimately failing to limit the damage from the damning videos.

What the airline should have done was own up quickly and take full responsibility. A compassionate approach and determination to make things right should have been the way to go, and the airline would have least come out looking like a company that cares.

Sadly, no such luck for United. Failing to safeguard their reputation and prevent further blunders, the airline exacerbated its problem with a string of other lapses in customer service and safety. In the weeks following the attack on Dao…

– A ‘stray’ scorpion stung a man on a United flight to Calgary

– A couple were removed from a flight on the way to their wedding in Costa Rica for sitting in the wrong seats

– A giant rabbit called Simon died during a trans-Atlantic United flight

In a bizarre twist, United Airlines issued a response to the latter that was much more sympathetic than the one issued for Dao. Proof that United really does need a crash course in crisis comms!


Face palm. Who came up with this idea? Adidas has faced a PR storm after sending a disturbing mailer to people who had taken part in the Boston Marathon. The email subject line you ask? ‘Congrats you survived the Boston Marathon!’.

While ‘you survived’ is a typical response to marathon runners, congratulating people for getting through an event in which 3 people were killed in 2013 is just cringeworthy.

People were quick to point out the brand’s massive faux pas on Twitter and Adidas swiftly issued an apology. But the damage was already done.

In the apology, Adidas stated that ‘clearly, there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday.’ And that’s precisely the problem.

With any PR campaign, release, social media post or e-newsletter the key is planning. Plan thoroughly and plan for the worst. Surely a simple SWOT analysis or even a board meeting would have revealed Adidas’ painfully obvious gaffe?


Being branded as ‘the worst ad ever’ was never going to go well for Pepsi.

Seemingly made with the notion that the Black Lives Matter movement would be much more effervescent if carbonated drinks were involved, Pepsi developed a video ad in which Kendall Jenner ditches a fashion shoot to frolic down the streets with a denim clad protest before solving the whole affair with a can. Peace, love and Pepsi.

The response was- shocker- overwhelmingly negative, with a general consensus that using a protest to sell fizzy drinks is tasteless and trashy. The backlash was so intense that Pepsi hasn’t even attempted to defend itself and has instead pulled the ad completely.

The key here is this: don’t be opportunistic. Latching on to a popular movement, a cause or a current event can often prove to be risky business. Trying to peddle goods at the same time is a sure fire way to anger your stakeholders. Don’t try and pull a Don Draper with an ‘I’d like to buy the world a coke’ advert. In the real world, causes cannot be promoted with cans, violence and inequality cannot be solved by Kendall Jenner in a blonde wig, so let’s not pretend so in our adverts.

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