The Custard Blog

Words of wisdom from our team of online marketing experts

The 6 biggest PR blunders of 2012 (Part One)

With Christmas just around the corner now, it won’t be long before we’re saying goodbye to 2012 altogether.

Before the year is out though, I just thought I’d go through some of this year’s biggest PR and marketing blunders.

Why? Because they’re all ludicrously funny in a ‘what were they thinking?!’ way, and because we can all learn from them.

In no particular order, here are six of the most ridiculous, laughable and face-palm-inducing PR blunders of 2012:

 1. American Apparel’s ‘Sandy Sale’

In October 2012 the Franken-storm that was Hurricane Sandy slammed into North-eastern USA. In total, the storm caused 131 fatalities and $63 billion of damage.

However, some smart cookie at American Apparel thought there couldn’t possibly be a better chance to cash in on such a well-timed natural disaster. In order to make the most of it, the retailer knocked up the following:

Sandy Sale
The ads were sent to every American Apparel customer that was signed up to its newsletter and produced immediate results.

Unfortunately, they weren’t the results American Apparel was hoping for. The campaign completely bombed, with thousands of people taking to Twitter to berate the retailer for its very poor marketing choice.

How can we learn from this?

Don’t use natural disasters as a way to increase sales.

2.    Virgin Mobile US’ chloroform ad

In early December, Virgin Mobile US (which was bought by Sprint Nextel in 2009) geared up its Christmas ad campaign. This included an image that seemed to definitely made light of rape:

Virgin Mobile US
When I first saw that ad I had a ‘wait – what?’ moment. Honestly, what could the company possibly have been thinking?!

Despite the backlash on Twitter, Virgin Media US kept schtum until Richard Branson stepped in:

Richard Branson

How can we learn from this?

Employing people with a little common sense would probably help. Other than that, make sure that everyone in your marketing department understands that rape should never be used as a theme for a jokey ad.

3.      Thomas Cook UK’s inability to understand good PR

Who knew it – there’s a man called Thomas Cook living in the UK, and he had the good sense to contact holiday provider Thomas Cook UK. Why? To ask for a free holiday after all the pain and suffering his name’s caused him, of course.

It went something like this:

Thomas Cook UK
Lara was probably fired after that. Especially when it emerged that had jumped on the golden PR opportunity and offered Mr Thomas Cook a holiday in Thomas Cook UK’s stead (this is getting confusing!):
While it certainly wasn’t a PR blunder for, Thomas Cook UK definitely fouled up on that one.

How can we learn from this?

When offered an opportunity such as Thomas Cook UK’s one, take a step back, consider the benefits and then act rather than instantly dismissing it. It could give you an impromptu viral marketing campaign that essentially pays for itself (as was’s outcome).

Since there’s so much to say concerning the top 6 PR blunders, I’ve decided to split this post in two for easy-reading. Stay tuned for the next three mishaps!

Work with us

If you like what you see and want to know more, click this button and make it so:

Get Started Now