No, Not All PR is Good PR

Gaining publicity and media coverage is a tricky game to play. Brands still think that any news with their name on it will guarantee a favorable outcome, but that’s not the case anymore.

In the past, news quickly faded into history and the consequences of a flawed publicity stunt were comparatively minimal, making risk-taking a legitimate element of a successful brand building strategy. However, in today’s era dominated by social media, no mistake goes unnoticed or is forgotten. Ever.

It is more important now than ever that companies focus on risk management, particularly in the age of “cancel culture.” All it takes is one person misinterpreting your campaign to create a damaging impact.

To safeguard your brand reputation, it’s crucial to evaluate your ideas from the perspective of every demographic. Otherwise, daring and questionable concepts can swiftly transform into recipes for disaster. Before you jeopardize your brand for a fleeting moment in the headlines, consider the lessons learned from these PR mishaps.              

An Apology from Pepsi and Kendall Jenner

In the midst of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, Pepsi saw an opportunity to create an advertisement that was bound to make the headlines – and it sure did.

The commercial featured supermodel and reality TV star, Kendall Jenner, leading a protest reminiscent of the BLM movement, trailed by paparazzi. In a seemingly symbolic gesture, Jenner hands a cold can of Pepsi to a police officer, who then grins at the camera, as if magically resolving the issue of the protest. The scene concludes with the words “live bolder, live louder, live for now.”

The public’s reaction to this commercial was so severe that it had to be removed from all platforms. Consumers worldwide refrained from purchasing Pepsi products, as it became apparent that the company was capitalizing on the significance of the BLM movement.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Pepsi issued an apology, expressing, “we sincerely regret any insensitivity conveyed. We are taking down the content and suspending any further distribution.” Given that Pepsi products cater to a diverse audience, it was surprising to witness such a controversial release without due consideration for the potentially negative ramifications.

Nice Try, Tesla

Tesla, renowned for its innovative marketing endeavors, encountered a major setback with a publicity stunt that went wrong. 

In 2019, the company unveiled their highly anticipated cybertruck, which was said to have “bulletproof” glass. During a live demonstration showcasing the vehicle’s supposed invincibility, metal boulders were hurled at the windows. However, in an unexpected turn of events, the “unbreakable” glass shattered not once, but twice.

In a twist that couldn’t have been more conspicuous, this epic failure turned out to be a calculated publicity stunt orchestrated by Tesla’s marketing team. As a result, consumers not only lost faith in the reliability of Tesla vehicles but also caught Elon Musk in a lie, just to gather media attention.

The debacle generated an overwhelming amount of negative publicity, leading to the creation of T-shirts featuring images of the shattered glass and a flood of memes circulating on Twitter. While Tesla did succeed in achieving their goal of viral media coverage, the consequences were disastrous. The company’s stock price plummeted by 6%, and they lost many once-loyal customers.

Krispy Kreme Klub

In 2015, Krispy Kreme introduced a promotional campaign called “KKK Wednesday,” aiming to entice customers with discounted donuts. Unfortunately, this marketing move immediately drew associations with the Ku Klux Klan, a notorious white supremacist hate group, despite the intended meaning of “Krispy Kreme Klub.”

Soon after, the incident sparked a wave of photoshopped memes on Twitter, and in no time, Krispy Kreme found itself branded as a racist company that seemingly endorsed extremist groups like the KKK. All of this resulted from what initially seemed like a harmless strategy to boost donut sales.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Krispy Kreme issued an apology, expressing deep regret for any inconvenience or offense caused to their loyal customers. Although their apology was appreciated, the harm was already irreversible as they were widely perceived as a brand associated with white supremacy.


The #DeleteUber fiasco caused critical damage to Uber’s reputation, forever changing how they are viewed by the public eye. Uber found themselves in a sticky situation when they seemingly exploited customers by deciding to raise their prices during a taxi driver protest against the immigration ban. 

People were furious, feeling like Uber was just trying to cash in on the chaos. Social media took a liking to the story, and the #DeleteUber hashtag started trending immediately. The fallout from this mistake was real. Uber’s reputation took a serious hit. Customers felt betrayed and started deleting their accounts faster than you can say, “cancel ride.” 

It was a wake-up call for Uber that actions have consequences. If you want to keep your reputation intact, think twice before trying to make a quick buck off of a serious political issue. 


Be Controversial, With Caution

Rushing into action without thoroughly assessing the implications can be a recipe for disaster. While using controversial topics to grab media attention can be tempting, there’s a right and wrong way to go about it. It’s crucial to consider your current audience and the audience you aim to attract. Will they be in agreement or will your actions harm your brand’s reputation?

That said, your favorite brands wouldn’t have the devoted following they have today without taking some risks. However, it’s essential to exercise caution before impulsively implementing unconventional ideas. Take the time to evaluate how they could be perceived from various perspectives. Carefully analyze potential weaknesses, and the viewpoints of different demographics.

Consider the potential negative impact your ideas might have if they offend a specific group. Certain publicity stunts have the power to push you backward rather than forward. Be prepared to respond and have a well-thought-out strategy in place in case you face backlash. Continuously monitor your online presence because once something is posted, it’s there forever.

Remember, even a small misstep can leave a lasting mark on your brand. So no, not all publicity is good publicity.


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