The Custard Blog

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The 6 biggest PR blunders of 2012 (Part Two)

If you’ve been anywhere near a newspaper this year, you’ll know that there have been more than a few epic PR fails. In part one you’ll have read about American Apparel’s ‘Sandy Sale’, Virgin Mobile US’ chloroform ad and Thomas Cook UK’s inability to understand good PR, all of which are cringe-worthy events to say the least.

Without any further ado then, here’s part two of the PR blunders roundup for 2012:

4.      McDonalds’ #McDStories McFail

Way back when in January 2012, McDonalds wanted to generate some good PR for itself, and so some marketing whiz-kid came up with the #McDstories twitter campaign.

The idea was that people would tweet gooey stories about how eating McDonalds helped to bring their family together, or how their kids are happiest when tucking into a Happy Meal. Unfortunately, that did happen.

It all started with this tweet from McDonalds:

Which was quickly followed by tweets like:



The promoted campaign was reportedly pulled after just two hours, but by then it had grown legs and couldn’t be stopped. People have finally finished tweeting their horrible #McDstories, but the fiasco has still gone down in bad PR history.

How can we learn from this?

Know your enemy – if your brand has an equal measure of lovers and haters, be aware that a backlash may occur.

 5.      Starbucks’ tax dodging

McDonalds’ fail clearly didn’t teach people about the wrath of Twitter users, as Starbucks found out.

The coffee giant is just one in a long line of major corporations that have managed to slink past the taxman – Amazon and Google have also had the tax avoidance spotlight on them in the last month.

The coffee company’s tax avoidance hit the headlines in October 2012, when an investigation by Reuters revealed some puzzling numbers. Somehow, Starbucks paid just £8.6m in corporation tax in 14 years, even though it reported sales of £3bn.

Because big numbers have a tendency to confuse me, I’ll let this handy video explain what happened:

The real PR fail for the company came at the London Natural History Museum’s ice rink on 17th December 2012, which was being sponsored by Starbucks.

Starbucks set up a live Twitter feed on an enormous monitor at the ice rink and advertised the #spreadthecheer hashtag so that people could appear on-screen with their festive tweets.

Rather than Christmassy tweets about Santa and Rudolph though, those still enraged by Starbucks’ tax avoidance hijacked the live feed:

How can we learn from this?

It’s simple – don’t be a tax dodger. Starbucks clearly didn’t anticipate such a furious backlash, which shows poor planning on their part. They at least managed to pull the campaign reasonably quickly, but you should always be ready for a negative outcome.

6.      Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ comment

And finally, we get to the truly awful PR fail that was Todd Akin’s horrific ‘legitimate rape’ comment.

First of all, for those thinking ‘who the hell’s Todd Akin?’ He’s a republican representative for Missouri that was in the running for the 2012 senate seat. After his eye-popping remark though, he unsurprisingly lost.

Here’s exactly how it went down:

His comment had far-reaching implications though – there’s evidence to suggest that it even damaged Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Funding was pulled for Akin’s senate race, which probably aided his failure, and many that had been edging more towards a republican vote practically flew back into the open arms of the democrats.

How can we learn from this?

Vet each and every one of your representatives to make sure they don’t make any catastrophic blunders on live TV, in print or on the internet.

What do you think – should I have included any other PR mishaps? Or do you have any additional suggestions on how we can learn from these companies’ mistakes?


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