When PR campaigns turn into one big #epicfail

By Penny Moodie

With the Victorian #YourTaxis campaign going viral for all the wrong reasons late last year, we thought it would be useful to reflect on a few reasons why PR and social media campaigns often fail miserably.

Reason #1: Negative feedback isn’t accounted for

Like the recent taxi campaign, many companies with poor public sentiment have turned to social media to invite feedback and to start a “conversation” with the public. The only problem is that this tactic often gives disenchanted customers an open forum to broadcast their frustrations and hijack the campaign.

In an attempt to rebuild their tainted image after the Blackfish documentary and shed light on their treatment of Orcas, SeaWorld decided they would educate the public with an #AskSeaworld campaign. You can probably guess how this turned out. People from all over the world jumped on Twitter to accuse the company of abuse, murder and dishonesty, and animal rights groups such as PETA used it as a platform to raise further concerns about the ethics of using animals for entertainment.


If you’re a large organisation encouraging feedback, be prepared for more customers slinging their frustrations your way than there will be singing your praises, and decide how you will deal with the negative feedback. Preparation is key.

Reason #2: It’s in bad taste

There is a fine line between being edgy and being downright offensive. But there is still clearly a line and common sense must prevail. Companies have time and again abrasively crossed this line in the most outrageous fashion, which leaves the public flabbergasted, the brand damaged and the CEO scrambling to apologise.

An ad placed in American retail giant, Bloomingdale’s holiday catalogue featured a photo of a woman laughing, and a man staring surreptitiously at her. The caption then read, “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” This obviously promoted a backlash on Twitter, with people accusing the company of promoting date rape. The company tweeted an apology and stated that “upon reflection” the campaign was in bad taste.


Do some serious reflection on the likelihood that your campaign may be offensive before going public. Hint: if you think there’s a possibility you might offend someone, you probably will.

Reason #3: Piggybacking off tragedy

Believe it or not, as a “tribute” to the firefighters who responded to the Boston Marathon bombing, New York-based perfume company Demeter Fragrance released a “First Response” perfume with the scent of smoke and burning rubber. Not surprisingly, this unusual marketing move was branded as “insensitive” and the company was accused of exploiting the tragedy for their own gain.


Using timely events to promote your brand can be a great idea, but if it is a tragic event, it is more than likely that you will be accused of taking advantage of people’s pain for your own gain.

Why is this relevant to me and my business?

At the end of the day your brand and your reputation are extremely valuable assets. As Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” A PR crisis can often be avoided, however occasionally they will arise without warning. A comprehensive crisis management plan is essential for every company, to guarantee that if a crisis breaks out, a calm and considered approach will be taken to ensure it doesn’t escalate.

At Six O’Clock Advisory we offer a multitude of services to protect and enhance your brand reputation so that your company thrives in line with consumer expectations, whether it be in times of adversity or in periods of organisational growth. Find out more.