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5 Of The Biggest PR Disasters Ever

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5 Of The Biggest PR Disasters Ever

It’s a basic tenet of advertising that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but is that really true? Can you really say that anything that keeps you in the public eye is better than being forgotten? No. No, that can definitely not be said when you consider some of the horrible press the companies on this list got for products and stunts that they just plain should have known better than to even consider.

But you really can’t blame them for thinking that way. Consider, for a moment, the Snuggie. Everyone’s “favorite” backwards robe owes all of its success to mockery. Let’s face it; the Snuggie has done the impossible. It’s gotten people the world over to hand over millions upon millions of dollars for a fleece version of what everyone complains about having to wear for free at the hospital.

The sleeved blanket has existed for a long time and under many brand names, but it was never as popular as the Snuggie brand got. How did it happen? Well, the Snuggie made a direct-response commercial that got a lot of attention. Attention in the form of mockery and ridicule. And that mockery and ridicule made Snuggie a household name. Soon it was being made fun of on popular television shows … and everywhere else. And they just couldn’t keep them on the shelves.

So, maybe you can’t blame the companies and people on this list for thinking they could get away with blatant racism, admissions of guilt in capital crimes or inserting curse words into children’s products. Then again, go ahead.

Ghettopoly

Actual crack pipe probably included

Actual crack pipe probably included

What do you get when you cross a board game that educates players about the concepts of free market real estate development and inner-city gangster culture? The same thing as when you combine ‘bad’ and ‘idea.’ Evidently it wasn’t a bad enough idea that for Urban Outfitters to turn its back on, however, and so it found its way onto their shelves back in the wild and woolly days of 2003.

How in the hell this obviously racist and tasteless game ended up in a major retailer’s inventory is absolutely baffling. From the official description: Buying stolen properties, pimpin hoes, building crack houses and projects, paying protection fees and getting car jacked are some of the elements of the game. Not dope enough?…If you don’t have the money that you owe to the loan shark you might just land yourself in da Emergency Room.

Urban Outfitters pulled the game from its shelves, but the damage had already been done. The NAACP, black clergy, and leaders were obviously and justifiably outraged and several news sources picked up the story an ran. The result was that the inventor of the game, David Chang of Pennsylvania, was sued by Monopoly producer Hasbro due to the game’s similarities to Monopoly. David had to pay Hasbro $400,000. Just more than half of his estimated profits from the game.

The game was pulled, Hasbro got nearly half a million dollars, racism was defeated (well…) and David Change got $379,000 in estimated profit. The only loser was Urban Outfitters. Ah, capitalism.

If I Did It – OJ Simpson

tee hee

Did I? Didn’t I?

I don’t think anyone would accuse OJ Simpson of being a smart man. Smart enough to hire the best lawyers money can buy, absolutely. Smart enough to stay out of the spotlight after one of the most surprising acquittals ever? Not so much.

You’d think a man who had just had his life returned to him after what can only be described as a legal miracle would retire quietly to a Caribbean island and enjoy a shackle-free life but that’s just not OJ’s style. Nope, he’d rather say he’s searching for the ‘real killers’ while playing golf. Instead of relaxing in his living room with a brandy and cigar, he’d rather break into a Las Vegas hotel room and steal sports memorabilia. And instead of shutting the hell up and waiting for people to forget about him, he’d rather make a public spectacle about himself by explaining how he would have killed his wife – you know, if he were the sort of person to do that, which he totally isn’t you guys. Seriously.

The book is called If I Did It and you can buy a copy right now. It actually exists. The original launch of the book was canceled, but many copies had already been printed. Harper Collins was behind the original, canceled launch, which was to be publicized with a special aired on Fox. Rupert Murdoch himself stepped in and put an end to that fiasco. And you know if big RM himself comes down and says something’s a bad idea, it has to be epically bad.

The book was published after the family of Ron Goldman, one of the ‘its’ the title of the book refers to doing, got publication rights. Did you catch that? The family of one of the murder victims wanted the book, written by the accused killer, to be published. The very book that the accused is hoping will vindicate him. I’m not sure, but I think that probably says quite a lot about the quality of Simpson’s arguments in the manuscript. This sort of falls in the, “Give a man a rope to hang himself with,” category, if you ask me.

Phillip Morris’ “Smoking Deaths Positive” Thing

Cigs

We’re all keenly aware that there is no greater example in this world of the evils of the profit motive than cigarette companies. They sell the only product that, when used as instructed, kills the customer. They have no remorse. No soul. They just want to sell you a poison that has no benefit. Take any of the ingredients other than tobacco that goes into a cigarette and try to sell them for human consumption and you will have some serious legal problems. For those of you with any lingering doubts about the Philip Morris moral compass’ polar orientation, I present to you this study:

What that study says, basically, is that it is a good thing that smokers die early. It costs their government, in this case the government of the Czech Republic, less money. You know, just like the victims of street violence, car accidents and genocide. According to CNN, Philip Morris commissioned the study in response to the Czech government’s report that the health costs of smoking outweighed its benefits. Not ready to lose one of its assisted suicide markets, the tobacco giant set out to show that, no, a bunch of sick and dead Czechs could actually be a good thing. Needless to say, anti-tobacco groups were keen to jump on this bit of news.

KFC’s Free Chicken Coupons

KFC

This is perhaps the least dramatic entry on the list but the one with the biggest economic impact for the company that messed up. That company was KFC, and their mistake was underestimating the incredible drawing power of Oprah Winfrey. And the negative result didn’t come because of a negative reaction – it came because the reaction was too positive.

In March of 2009 the chicken chain bit off more than it could chew when Oprah announced that for 24 hours you could visit her website and download a coupon for free grilled chicken redeemable at any Kentucky Fried Chicken to celebrate the product’s launch. The response was enormous. At least 10.5 million coupons were downloaded and four million redeemed. The chicken joints just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Wait lines were long, people were turned away, and KFC had to issue rain checks for the free chicken.

If you’ve ever shown up for a product launch and had to leave empty handed, you already know the frustration people felt. Now imagine you’re a hungry person promised free food, who waited in a very long line, and there’s another six and a half million of you. Yeah – it wasn’t pretty.

There weren’t any riots, but there were a lot of angry, hungry, disappointed people, and that is exactly the opposite of what KFC intended when they tried to offer people some free meals. Even worse, when hungry people were turned away from KFC, they naturally ended up going to its competitors. KFC truly clucked up.

Woolworths Word Search

It was supposed to read FUNK.

It was supposed to read FUNK.

When imagining a wholesome, family oriented business, one could do much worse than to picture Woolworths. One of the original five and dime stores, Woolworths became so famously successful that the company that now bears its name in Australia – about which this entry is written and which has no historical link to the original company – co-opted the name to lend to itself an air of respectability and family appeal. And it has done that, becoming popular and successful itself, selling supermarket wares throughout the land down under and teaching little kids how to drop the F bomb.

One important aspect of public relations is customer relationship management. You want your customers to feel a certain way about you. In the case of a store like Woolworths, it wants them to feel like a member of the family. Like you’re not really just giving it your money and leaving with stuff, but more like you’re visiting granny’s house and raiding the cupboard and leaving some change on the windowsill. And so they have little gifts for kids. One of those is a word search.

And one of those word searches said “Fuck U.”

The cards in question were a limited edition collectors series featuring animals. They were meant to be collectable and trade-able by kids. Since it was a limited edition, Woolworths refused to reprint the cards in question. Many parents were angry, refusing to give cards to their kids… but those parents are really missing the long view, here. Some day those cards, like misprinted stamps, are going to be worth a lot more than the ones without mistakes.

According to Woolworths the puzzles were randomly generated by a computer, but I would prefer to think that some disgruntled graphic designer had the last word before his sacking and simultaneously created one of the greatest Australian public relations scandals of that year.

KDND Kills Listener For A Wii

wiiiiiiii

Know what’s really fun for a ten year old? Playing a Nintendo Wii. Know what’s even more fun for a ten year old? Watching a girl do the pee-pee dance because the bathroom line is too long. This is why I believe radio station KDND in Sacramento was run by ten year olds. I say was because KDND doesn’t exist anymore – it was sued into oblivion by the family of Jennifer Strange, a woman who wanted a Wii so badly that she held her bladder to win one.

In the admittedly humorously titled Wee For A Wii contest one of KDND’s shows challenged listeners to hold their urine until they were the last one standing. Jennifer Strange was not that woman. She didn’t win the Wii for her son, instead she up and freaking died. Her condition is called water intoxication and it’s a phenomenon that has been known to kill soldiers.

Jennifer’s family got sixteen and a half million dollars for her death, and her son certainly got a Wii out of the deal, so everyone wins!

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