Good and Bad PR: Best and worst PR of 2017
4th January 2018
With another year behind us, I wanted to round up some of the best and worst good and bad examples of 2017. Some of these will sound familiar from this very column, but there are a few new arrivals to look out for too…
Nike’s Sub 2 Marathon
Back in May, I wrote about Nike’s attempt to break the sub-two-hour marathon record; and I still have as much love for the campaign now as I did back then. Held in the city of Monza in Italy, on a Formula 1 track, Nike’s Breaking2 run was completed by Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge in 2 hours and 25 seconds… painfully close to the target. Two other runners took part too, but couldn’t keep up with Kipchoge, who entered history books as the fastest human ever to complete a marathon (although it didn’t officially qualify as a world record attempt, due to the use of pacers and drinks that were handed to the athletes). The whole thing was live streamed and they were each kitted out with top-of-the-range Nike gear, including ZoomX VaporFly Elite trainers, designed specifically for the job at hand (proving a point about just how good Nike’s footwear was).
This was a phenomenal marketing campaign on Nike’s part and an amazing effort to do something that people would be talking about for years to come, which is why it landed so much coverage on the likes of the BBC, Wired, Mashable, GQ, Men’s Fitness, The Guardian, in pretty much every marketing title and far too many other places to name here.
With a Nike-sized budget, you’d maybe argue that this kind of stunt is easy sells itself, but that’s exactly the mark of a successful campaign and it was hugely impressive.
Lucozade on the Underground
This isn’t one that I wrote about at the time it took place, but Lucozade aced its PR activity back in June of 2017. You might remember the ‘find your flow’ TV ad campaign that the drinks brand launched in the summertime, which had some amazing supporting PR activity.
Thousands of bottles of Lucozade Energy were given away to commuters travelling via Oxford Circus over a few days at the start of June, for ‘Whoosh Hour’, each containing a chip in the bottom that could be used for one free contactless journey on the tube, by swiping it over the point where they’d normally tap an Oyster or contactless bank card.
It was a really simple stunt that generated a tonne of positive media coverage and it was the first time an FMCG brand had launched an item that could be used for contactless travel. It got recognised by loads of top marketing press and by national media and titles such as ShortList.
If there’s one thing the president of the United States, Mr Donald Trump, is good at, it’s being a blithering idiot. From start to finish, he’s been a model example of a PR disaster in the flesh; from firing FBI director James Comey in May amidst the scandal surrounding Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections (which Trump obviously knew about) to calling North Korean leader Kim Jung Un “rocket man” during a speech at the United Nations and threatening to “totally destroy” the country. As I’m writing this, there’s news of Trump boasting publicly about how he has a “bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear button than the North Korean leader, which is a game he really doesn’t want to get into playing.
In 2017, Trump also tweeted about his intention to ban transgender troops from serving or enlisting in the US military, saying it could not “be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” US courts thankfully barred his decision and the Pentagon is set to begin accepting transgender troops into the military 1 January after court orders required the date to be adhered to.
Oh yeah and of course there was the time that Trump enforced a travel ban on nationals from six mainly Muslim countries, along with those from North Korea and Venezuela… one week into his presidency. He rushed it through and said it was necessary for national security and even went as far as to say "If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the 'bad' would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad 'dudes' out there!" There have been a couple of revisions made to the ban over the course of the year, but people are just as annoyed about the whole thing now as they were in the beginning.
Basically, if you Google ‘Donald Trump’ then you’ll be faced with a hoard of largely negative articles about the US president that are really hard for him to escape.
In April last year, it was hard to ignore the stories about the passenger that was forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight bound for Louisville, Kentucky from Chicago. The footage, captured by passengers, was pretty harrowing and was soon doing the rounds across all the top media titles around the globe.
After realising the flight was overbooked and no passengers volunteering to give up their seats, representatives from the airline randomly chose four passengers to disembark, but one man refused. The airline than got assistance from law enforcement to forcibly remove him and the footage showed the man looking battered and bloody. A passenger also said that the seats were actually being cleared for airline employees who were needed for shifts in Louisville, throwing the airline’s statement into doubt.
The two officers who removed the man were later fired and the airline was forced to issue apology statements in an attempt to defend its actions. It was a little too late by then, however, as the news had spread far and wide and the reputational damage was done.
The bad PR nightmare continued for the airline after a rabbit it was transporting for a passenger died and a poor taste letter from the CEO to his employees.
Pepsi Leaves a Poor Taste
Finally, around a similar time in 2017 to the United Airlines scandal, Pepsi faced huge backlash after releasing one of its advertisements feature Kendell Jenner.
In what the brand allegedly intended to be a message of “unity, peace and understanding”, an advert showed Jenner stepping out from a modelling shoot to join a crowed of young and diverse protestors. In the footage, the Kardashian family member was also seen to be handing a can of Pepsi to a police officer controlling the protest, which seemed to suggest Pepsi was the answer to clashes between law enforcement and those taking a stand; trivialising a very important issue.
It was instantly criticised for its lack of sensitivity with regards to the Black Lives Matter movement and for appearing to trivialise demonstrations.
The ad was later removed and Pepsi issued an apology saying it had “missed the mark”, but that led to further backlash because it seemed to be more aimed at saying sorry to Kendall for putting her “in this position” rather than the people the advert could have offended.
I wonder what good and bad PR will come from 2018 and, more importantly, what other mistakes we can “look forward to” from a certain Mr Trump. Happy New Year everyone!