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POSTED 21.12.2017

2017 – The year of tone-deaf PR campaigns

PR stunts will gain you media attention and get people talking, but as StoryLab’s Emilee Jennings explains, that’s not always a good thing.

In 2017, we were bombarded with numerous tone-deaf campaigns from major corporations trying to sell us everything from body lotion to fizzy drinks.

There were so many big brands involved that it really makes you wonder, how did these campaigns ever get the green light? Did no-one foresee a public backlash?

These five companies all made headlines in 2017 because of their tone-deaf PR campaigns. They harvested by the bucketload the kind of negative attention no company wants.

Here’s our 5 epic PR fails of the year:

Nivea accidentally promotes white supremacy

In March, Nivea released an “Invisible for Black & White” deodorant ad campaign. In the ad, the company proclaimed “white is purity.” Those words alone would be enough to make most people shout stop. But, Nivea apparently did not foresee a problem. Not surprisingly, a social media explosion of fury ensued — but it also attracted attention from white supremacist groups with one saying, “We enthusiastically support this new direction your company is taking. I’m glad we can all agree that #WhiteIsPurity.” Nivea, you’re fired.

Dove celebrates the seven shapes of women’s bodies

A limited-edition run of seven different body wash bottles was supposed to show the diversity of a woman’s body by providing curvy, petite, and pear-shaped containers. A statement from the company read: “They’re one of a kind – just like you.” On paper this sounded like a good idea, but it didn’t work out quite as planned. First of all, there were just seven different shapes, which many women said reinforced body insecurities. And how exactly was this supposed to work anyway? Were women supposed to choose the bottle that most closely aligned with their body types? No surprisingly customers in their thousands told them where to ‘Dove it.’

Pepsi protest fizzes up

In April, Pepsi ran an ad that featured people of every gender and colour enjoying some ice cold drinks – with celebrity and reality TV star Kendall Jenner. Sounds good so far, but the advert depicted a protest and showed how a Kardashian sharing a Pepsi could somehow help prevent things getting out of hand. The backlash appeared instantly with people saying it trivialised the widespread #blacklivesmatter protests against gun killings of African Americans by police and minimised the danger protesters encountered in the streets. The ad was, er, canned.

Greggs replaces baby Jesus with a sausage roll

Towards the end of this year, British baking chain, Greggs jumped on the controversy band wagon. Photos promoting the baker’s new Advent calendar showed three wise men gathered round a manger in the traditional fashion but, rather than gazing in wonder at the son of God, their eyes fall upon a sausage roll. This campaign, more so than the others, was slammed for what many critics believed was childish attention seeking. But, in this case it may have worked because sausage roll sales surged after the campaign. Nom Nom!

Chinese washing detergent changes colour of skin

Now this campaign actually took place in 2016, but it was so bad that we thought it deserved a spot on the list – with the backlash continuing into 2017. In the advert, a pouch of Qiaobi cleaning liquid was forced into a black man’s mouth and he was then bundled into a washing machine by a smiling Chinese woman. After a cycle of muffled screams, she opened the lid and a grinning Asian man climbed out. He winked at the viewer before the slogan flashed up on screen: “Change begins with Qiaobi”. This ad didn’t face much criticism until it went viral outside of China – and a bizarre explanation of the ad men’s plans. “We did this for some sensational effect,” an agent for the company admitted. “If we just show laundry like all the other advertisements, ours will not stand out.” Right.

Photo from The Evening Standard.