How Brands Cover-up Failures with Online Reputation Management Campaigns

reputation management campaigns by famous brands

Launching a product is tough. An idea may sound amazing on paper, but may end up failing spectacularly. The competition is intense, and even the slightest mistake can be catastrophic. The ad campaign, customer service, or even a single tweet can decide the future that lies ahead.

That's part of the reason why the most prominent names in business, from Samsung to Google and McDonald's to Adidas, have had some of the biggest flops in the market.

When the damage is done, you can't fold your arms, sit back, and watch that viral video or a trending tweet take you to rock bottom!

No amount of public relations can solve the crux of the crisis. Although, many of the big names have opted for reputation management strategies to eliminate negative perceptions and bounce back.

What is online reputation management?

Those radio ads and big posters aren't going to work as they used to, especially if your brand umbrella wants to cover the whole freaking planet! The internet is undoubtedly the best place to start. Online reputation management is all about restoring the image and altering any negative perceptions about your brand. In simple terms, it's getting trust back from customers after the damage has been done.

A bad review on social media, a viral video about your service failure, or a tweet mocking your inability in the market is often a nightmare for marketers and can impact your brand reputation. This is precisely the reason why brands need a proper online reputation management plan in place.

We have listed 11 brands that failed big time but managed to get back on top, and what we can learn from their impressive online reputation management campaigns.

1. Kentucky Fried (No) Chicken

Have you ever considered a KFC with no chicken? Well, in February 2018, KFC had one interesting week!

But this is a happy story we're talking about here — a story where KFC turned a reputation disaster into a perfect crisis management example.

What happened?

Fast-food chain KFC ran out of chicken and had to close around 400 stores in the UK. Even KFC’s loyal customers had to resort to their biggest rivals, like Burger King.

KFC- No Chicken campaign

KFC made a switch in its delivery contract, moving to DHL. But, sadly, DHL was unable to complete the deliveries or had delays due to administrative problems.

They ran an apology advertisement which was pretty funny, especially to the younger audience, while addressing the ownership of the crisis.

Its customers widely applauded KFC for handling the crisis by using humour at their expense.

Social Media Reaction

There was a shift on the internet. This time, it wasn't the users, but the brand who won. Check it out!

[gallery size="full" columns="2" link="none" ids="54338,54339,54337,54341,54340" orderby="rand"]


Brand Response

KFC used a full-page spread in a newspaper to apologize for closing its restaurants. The ad won both online and offline media attention with the image of an empty KFC bucket that spelled “FCK,” along with the apology.

KFC response to No chicken incident

DHL owned up to the mishap and made their apology public while also mentioning that they weren't the only cause of the operating issues.

It was in keeping a sense of humour that characterized KFC’s success for the campaign. People focused on the fun and the "chicken crossed the road" joke over the mishap.

KFC tweet for No chicken campaign

The cheeky yet open and authentic apology touched everyone met by the "no-chicken" crisis. The fun campaign showed that KFC cares not just about the customers, but also it’s employees, suppliers, and franchise operators.

Key Things to Learn

No comment was never an option for KFC, and this is something not every brand gets right. Let’s go further into the key takeaways.

Humour + Social: Like fried chicken and coke, nothing is a better match for social media than humour. KFC used the fun side to tackle the situation, and it worked. And we love all the tweets from the experience.

Reflecting the customer’s feelings: The ad of an empty bucket with the chain’s logo reimagined grabbed attention immediately, with it hinting at a swear word. The ad assured the customers that KFC was also frustrated and maintained tongue-in-cheek that they "fck"ed up. Genius.

2. Colin Kaepernick & Nike

If you’re someone like me, who doesn’t necessarily follow American football or know much about what’s going on in the sports industry, then this ad may just inspire and motivate you.

But this isn't the full story. Let’s be clear; this is more of a planned controversy by Nike. It features Kaepernick, and not an unintended PR crisis. Even with strong reactions, Nike and Kaepernick pulled this off, and this deserves to be in our top ten list.

What happened?

Nike is no stranger to controversies. From ads featuring Maria Sharapova following a failed drug test to Tiger Woods amidst multiple scandals, the sporting brand has been involved in it all.

But selecting an American football player and a civil rights activist for their new global ad campaign was the most divisive one to date.

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49’s, remained seated for the national anthem during their preseason game. The protest was intended to draw attention to the issue of police brutality and other racial injustices. Kaepernick was kicked out and unemployed once he was embroiled in the controversy and, most importantly, for holding on to his beliefs.

Two years later, Nike, one of the clothing sponsors of NFL, starred Kaepernick for the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” campaign, with the powerful slogan:

"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

Kaepernick Quote - Nike

Due to the controversial nature of Kaepernick’s protest, Nike’s new campaign made a considerable stir in the media.

Nike’s share price went down by 3% as a response to people threatening to boycott the brand and other aggressive actions such as cutting out the Nike logo and burning trainers.

Here are a few headlines from the Nike campaign.

“City mayor bans Nike products from booster clubs, according to leaked memo” - USA Today.

"Mississippi State Police Agency Will No Longer Buy Nike Over Kaepernick Campaign" - Huffington Post.

"Nike Ad Featuring Colin Kaepernick Sets Off Social Media Firestorm" - Forbes.

"Colin Kaepernick doesn't have a clue about what 'sacrificing everything' really means" - FOX News.

On the other side, Kaepernick received support from several sports figures, including LeBron James and Serena Williams.

Social Media Reaction

[gallery size="full" link="none" ids="54352,54356,54355,54354,54353" orderby="rand"]

Brand Response

Nike and Kaepernick didn't apologize for the extreme reactions; instead, they stood still to execute the campaign. All Nike had in focus was to keep their head high and ignore the hate.

On social media, Nike opted for a no-engagement approach and didn't respond to any negative comments. Nike wanted to create awareness for its audience aged 18-34, and yes, the ad did all the talking for the sporting brand.

When all the dust settled, Nike revealed a whopping increase of 31% in sales, with the stock closing at an all-time high. While there were a lot of turnarounds, the ad worked pretty well with young audiences.

When people began burning Nike products and using hashtags like #Justburnit and #BoycottNike, Nike came up with an interesting print ad with instructions on how to burn their products safely.

#BoycottNike campaign

Nike knew that the campaign would create further controversy, and there would be protests in retaliation. Their responses reflected their tongue-in-cheek approach and a tagline to protest safely.

Key Things to Learn

Staying strong and solid was how Nike handled the crisis and needless to say, it worked pretty well.

Risk means business: Nike never shies away from making an opinion. The latest campaign was a massive risk, and it paid off. The ad not only got people talking, but raised awareness in the younger audience. The importance of strategic thinking and reading the risks is something Nike had to pay lot of attention to.

The campaign estimates an increase in sales by 31%.

Should other brands follow it?: Should brands take political stances? Not before having a strategic counsel in place, along with careful considerations for the cause you want to stand with. Making a stand just for attention will only do more harm than good. When standing for a cause, make sure it’s a worthy purpose and provides value to the people more than for the brand.

In the current socio-political landscape, There is a greater danger in saying nothing than reacting necessarily. There will always be a danger of risks attached to political issues. Give considerable thought on where you put your head and the things you could be sacrificing for the cause.

Larger Trend: Just like people, we expect businesses to have more authenticity and be more involved in the community. From the old paper and television ads, brands have the opportunity to make two-way communication through social media. Brands taking political stances build a personality for themselves since they stand for something they believe in.

In addition to Nike, major brands like Comcast and Patagonia have stood up for hot topics like the environment and DACA.

However, Brands need to be very careful since this can be a double-edged sword if not handled carefully. Using political topics for financial gain can affect how people see your brand.

3. Reese’s Christmas Candy

During the Christmas of 2015, Reese’s introduced themed chocolate that was advertised on the package as Christmas tree-shaped chocolate. Unfortunately, it looked nothing like trees!

What happened?

Making unique shaped candies for Halloween and other holidays is something Reese’s has dominated since 1993. They've created everything from pumpkin-shapes for Halloween to chocolate and peanut butter hearts for Valentine's day, all for their loyal chocolate-loving customer base. But, up until 2015, nobody really paid attention, and for the most flattering reason; the tree candy looks nothing like a tree, but more like a melted snowman.

Reese’s Christmas Candy - Reputation management

The fans took their complaints to Twitter, exclaiming that the shape was less festive and more fecal. The widespread criticism received a hashtag: #ReesesFail, and was titled as "tree shaming" on the internet.

The response? Reese’s defended their almost-tree-shaped chocolate, claiming it’s what’s on the inside that matters, not the outside. The campaign resulted in the brand laughing along with everyone rather than at them.

Social Media Reaction

[gallery size="full" columns="2" link="none" ids="54358,54359,54360" orderby="rand"]


Brand Response

With Christmas turning out to be a Halloween nightmare, Reese’s corporation pulled out the most ingenious response of all time.

In the initial stages of tweets popping up, the company explained to their fan base why the trees don't always look exactly like a perfect 10. Anna Lingeris, Reese’s representative, explained:

“They are soft peanut butter centers that are enrobed in chocolate, a process which by its nature creates a less distinct shape.”

Well, that's a boring response from a company creating candies, right? And yes, their fans didn't buy any of this.

This was when Reese’s decided to play fire with fire.

The social media team knows how to shut the haters. Reese’s did not deny that their trees were sloppier than usual, but instead ran a campaign to declare that all trees are beautiful and end “tree shaming.”

Reese’s came up with an epic slogan: #AllTreesAreBeautiful, something similar to what we've heard with Dove's campaign: Beauty Comes In All Shapes.

Reese’s also responded directly to consumers who were mocking their candies over Twitter. Most of the responses emphasized loving trees of all shapes and to go for taste, not looks.

Hours after the campaign went live, Reese’s started to see more positive sentiments over the internet, with stories headlining how they handled the controversy in the best way possible and their hilarious responses trending on Twitter.

Key Things to Learn

Here are the key takeaways from Reese’s engagement win:

Don't jump right into an apology: I know we had discussed going to an apology if you have messed up, but the story would have been very different if Reese’s had gone straight down this route. An apology could have ended with their loyal fans getting discouraged from making purchases.

When people share things on Twitter, in most cases, they want to have fun and read epic tweets. So in situations like this, and most importantly, a less controversial one, this is precisely how you should respond - hit back with epic tweets!

Respond to the Tweets

When controversies arise, most brands panic to respond on social media, with a fear of making further catastrophes. But in fact, this will only strengthen the story and increase reach and awareness.

The alternative? Respond to as many tweets as possible. This might be tough for large companies with a huge volume of messages pouring in, but neatly responded tweets could do the trick. An out of the box tweet means more views and more people retweeting your response.

On the consumer end, your response makes you a less robotic brand and someone who actually listens to people who are buying all your chocolates!

Reward Brand Advocates: Make sure to delegate some of the work from your social media team to brand advocates. For Reese’s, many brand advocates came up for defense during #TreeGate. Brand advocates will share their experience, stand up for you and even highlight your new products. This is why brand advocates are vital.

And for a reward, even a thank you works!

4. Samsung's Galaxy Note 7

This is not a list Samsung would love to see their product listed on. The South Korean electronics giants launched their large screened smartphone on August 2016 as a predecessor to the Galaxy S7. On the launch event, the Galaxy Note 7 was announced as “the best smartphone money can buy right now.” It didn't take long for Samsung to cover the headlines for their newly launched smartphone, but not for the right reasons.

What happened?

The big flagship phone had a small problem; it occasionally caught fire and exploded! Tales of the Note 7 began to spread initially with the 92 battery experiencing heating issues. Samsung received complaints in the US, followed by reports of burns and property damage. Samsung didn't give official feedback in the initial stage and defended that burning accidents may happen if the original chargers were not used!

If you believe that this is the appropriate time to blame PR, we would suggest waiting until you receive further information.

Following further scandals surrounded by the flagship device with overheating and exploding batteries, Samsung issued a recall. But things got worse as even the replaced phones started to explode. This was when a notable incident occurred where a Southwest Airlines plane evacuated in the United States. This was due to smoke from a Note 7, and followed with some big names in airlines requesting passengers not to bring a Note 7 onboard.

Samsung announced it has permanently ceased the production of Note 7 after this chaos. The brand lost over 30 points in the brand index and a severe hit in brand reputation.

Social Media Reaction

[gallery size="full" link="none" ids="54364,54367,54369,54365,54366,54368" orderby="rand"]


Brand Response

From questionable actions of not establishing an open communication channel to customers and mishandling the situation, Samsung has come a long way:

  • Samsung recalled over 2.5 million Note 7 smartphones to avoid further explosive incidents.
  • Samsung's CEO gave a heartfelt apology on October 13th to all involved in the situation, to restore consumer trust and the safety of future Samsung products.
  • On September 16, 2016, Samsung decided to cease the production of Note 7 smartphones, taking precedent on public opinions and sentiments on social media.
  • The company apologized again over social media, as they discovered that the Note 7 was still being sold and gave proper details about the product recall.

Product recalls occur often, but how you handle them is more important.

Samsung developed an effective social media strategy, responding with appropriate content according to the event or incident, monitoring social media activities, and expertly handling the crisis by not deleting any negative content.

But they didn't stop there; Samsung responded well by taking the faulty devices to new test labs to uncover what went wrong. Over 700 researchers were working on 200,000 defective devices to detect what went wrong.

Holding up their promise of safety assurance was the next big step. Samsung developed an 8-point battery safety check test, from component level to the assembly and shipment of devices with multi-layer safety measure protocols and a battery advisory group to ensure safety and innovation.

Key Things to Learn

Communicate! Be open to consumers, shareholders, the media, and give assurance to the company’s viability in the smartphone market. Apologize if you are wrong and provide details and evidence on what the brand is doing to resolve them.

Share information about your internal procedures with the public. Transparency on the changes they had made so far help gain back the trust.

Social media is the new voice of the public, and regardless of the tone of the comment, how the brand responds has a direct impact on the brand.

An appropriate spokesperson: In the case of Samsung, Dong-jin Koh, president of the mobile communications business, Samsung Electronics stepped up talking to the press on the issue with a heartfelt apology . They ensured safety during the crisis that got a thumbs up from the public.

Learn: Mistakes happen, and Samsung took the incident as an opportunity to improve. From the 8 point battery safety check to multi-level safety measures, Samsung had set a new quality standard in the industry.

5. United Airlines PR Crisis

“Flying the not-so-friendly skies.” From speeding through the runway to reaching that cruising altitude within minutes, that’s how quick United Airlines transformed their PR blunder into a major corporate crisis.

United Airlines flight 3411 was scheduled to leave from Chicago to Louisville. The flight was overbooked, and the airline wanted four people to give up their seats. Three people volunteered, but how they "re-accommodated" the fourth passenger will probably go down as the most prominent social media crisis of all time.

What happened?

On April 9, 2017, a 69-year-old doctor, David Dao, was forcibly removed from the flight against his will as they needed four people to give up their seat on an overbooked plane tipped to have a slogan “Fly the friendly skies.” According to a United spokesperson, priority to stay in the flight was given considering factors like frequency of flying, higher fare-paying passengers, etc. However, the final passenger was en route to see his patients and refused to leave the flight. This was when things got nasty.

10 April 2017: Obviously, everyone on the flight had a smartphone with active social media profiles, by the look of how the video of the incident went viral with more than 100 million views. Some of the passengers recorded the event and posted the video on their social media profile. United Airlines had no way of stopping it.

11 April 2017: CEO Oscar Munoz, who was only recently named PR Week's Communicator of the Year, did not offer a sincere apology and failed to acknowledge the suffering Dao faced during the incident. Instead, Munoz insisted that the airlines took the right security procedure and apologized only for re-accommodating the customers. Apart from this, an internal message from Munoz to the employees went viral.

The incident showed the power of social media, were the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos, attached alongside sarcastic memes like “not enough seating, prepare for a beating,” went viral.

The video gained a huge attraction in China, which was a key market for United Airlines. And the odds are having seen the footage; they would be less likely to opt United Airlines in future traveling. Additionally, the United stock price fell by almost a billion dollars.

Social Media Reaction

[gallery size="full" columns="2" link="none" ids="54373,54374,54375,54376"]


Brand Response

  • Oscar Munoz issued a second apology and took responsibility for the incident, promising to make things right to avoid situations like this happening in the future.
  • United Airlines decided to shift from a rule-driven culture to employee-driven culture, empowering them to make decisions on their own and avoid a crisis in the future.
  • United Airlines have made ten customer service policy changes following the incident from limiting the use of law enforcement in safety and security, yearly employee training, and increasing the compensation for customers in case of voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000, being the notable ones.

Key Things to Learn

Here's what we learned from the incident:

Empower Employees: Give power to employees to use their initiative and do what they feel right makes sense for your customers to be happy. Going by the rule book is not always the right decision.

Take responsibility: If you mess up, take responsibility. We all have the instinct to point the finger somewhere else and make our hands look clean. In a crisis, be open, honest, and ensure your customers that you will do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

Open communication channels: Maintain trust and transparency with customers by ensuring there's 2-way communication, quality dialogue, and that you're open to suggestions. Be consistent and active on social media - that’s where all the actions happen.

Plan your actions: Three apologies in two days don't sound right! Be quick with responding, but at the same time, be thoughtful about the statement you are planning to address and make it a heartfelt apology by considering the feelings of customers.

6. Pepsi - Kendall Jenner

Was Pepsi exploiting the #BlackLivesMatter campaign for commercial benefit or was it a marketing campaign aimed to project a global message of peace and unity done wrong?

The ad featuring Kendall Jenner showed the supermodel joining the protestors and approaching the cops with a can of Pepsi. A cop takes the can of Pepsi and smiles at her, then the crowd cheers. She ends a much politically charged issue with a can of Pepsi. But minutes after the video went live on youtube, Kendell Jenner was criticized for using her privilege to sugarcoat the event, and it got worse from there.

What happened?

On April 4, 2017, a campaign was launched by Pepsi aimed at providing a view on current political and social injustice in the US. Pepsi came up with a video ad, posted on YouTube, where TV star and model, Kendall Jenner, uses a can of Pepsi to resolve a much-debated political issue. Viewers strike hard for the video being tone-deaf and made real-life protests seem less important.

The two and a half minute video featuring a track by Skip Marley was viewed over a million times, receiving just above 2000 likes a whopping 14,000 dislikes in only a few days.

Pepsi was criticized as viewers interpreted the ad as a privileged white, young model using a drink to make peace with the law enforcement, exploiting the #BlackLivesMatter campaign for commercial benefit.

Social Media Response

Brand Message

A day after debuting the controversial ad, Pepsi released a message to viewers, which said: "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding," the company said in a statement. "Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."

Pepsi apologized for the controversial buzz they had created and removed the ad. However, the internet stuck on to their disagreement and Pepsi receive a whopping 7500% increase in brand mentions between April 3rd and 4th.

Key Things to Learn

Brand message, celebrity image - here we go!

Clear brand message: When you're marketing to a receptive target audience, always be sure you're using an appropriate message. Be clear about the values of your viewers and the chances of losing customers who might disagree with the stances you take on politically charged issues.

Using a celebrity image: Celebrity endorsement is nothing new for a brand like Pepsi. But selecting Kendall Jenner might not be the right choice as she had been involved in past controversies for appropriating black culture.

Brands must be careful about choosing public figures to represent a cause. It is imperative to have the appropriate person to convey the message.

7. Adidas chose unfortunate words

We’ve all been there. We've regretted sending an email that should not have gone out. But once it reaches the recipient, there is no going back. In 2017, Adidas had an unfortunate email marketing blunder. They used a poor choice of words in their email subject line when congratulating the Boston Marathon runners.

What happened?

In 2013, 26 people were injured, and three were killed during the Boston Marathon when a bomb was detonated.

Adidas sent out an email with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” just four years after the tragic incident occurred. They received a massive backlash on social media as the email was an insensitive reminder of the past terrible event.

Countless customers who received the email shared it on social media and many called the message from Adidas poorly worded. At least 2 of the survivors from the tragic event participated in the 2017 marathon, which makes it more likely that they also received the email congratulating their survival!

Social Media Response

Brand Message

Adidas quickly apologized for their email subject line with a statement saying they were "incredibly sorry" and apologized for the "insensitive" subject line.

The message read:

"We are incredibly sorry. Clearly, there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. The Boston Marathon is one of the most inspirational sporting events in the world. Every year we are reminded of the hope and resiliency of the running community at this event."

Given the fact that Adidas has been a regular sponsor of the Boston Marathon, it makes sense that they emphasized on creating a personalized digital experience for the runners.

Key Things to Learn

Here's our take from the incident.

Quick Reaction: Adidas responded within 3-4 hours of customers receiving the email. Their immediate reaction and heartfelt apology prevented the situation from getting worse. The incident could’ve been avoided entirely if the email marketing team had been more careful and doubled checked what they were writing before sending the email.

The response was quick, and the public relations department handled the crisis well. But this was a simple error that caught a lot of attention, and it was an avoidable one.

Personalized Video Content: Creating personalized content might not sound like a big deal. But how about personalizing it for 30,000 people who attended the marathon? Adidas’s customized video for the runners in Boston was a great comeback and a better memory for those to remember rather than the insensitive email.

Emotion is a core part of compelling content. The fact that videos were created for the individual runners made the campaign highly effective. This inspired a sense of excitement in the runners, and the videos were all over social media as they shared their moments online.

The lesson to learn? Bounce back strong!

8. The Taco Bell "Seasoned Beef”

If your company is hit by a high-profile lawsuit regarding your signature product, the news will probably make national headlines.

How would you react?

This is the scenario fast food giants Taco Bell went through. A lawsuit was filed against them, claiming that less than 40% of beef is used in their taco filling. How Taco Bell handled the allegation is a rulebook for potential public relations disasters!

What happened?

In 2011, a small law firm in Alabama took the headlines by storm, filing a lawsuit against Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, Inc. The firm claimed that Taco Bell’s beef wasn’t entirely beef and that only 36% is real meat. This was a cause for concern, making the remaining ingredients a mystery for the press and social media to guess!

So how did this lawsuit gain so much attention? Taco Bell gave a sassy response denying the accusations and ran a national ad campaign revealing the truth about their “seasoned beef.” The lawsuit stated that Taco Bell beef contained only 35 percent of beef, and the remaining percentage was a mixture of water, wheat, oats, corn starch, and various other substances—but not meat!

So how did this lawsuit gain so much attention? Taco Bell gave a sassy response denying the accusations and ran a national ad campaign revealing the truth about their “seasoned beef”.

Social Media Reaction

In terms of social media reactions, this one tweet posted by Taco Bell, covering all the fuss going on about their seasoned meat, won the online battle. Whoever handles their social media, you deserve an award!

Taco bell - Twitter reaction

Brand Response

Taco Bell made it clear that the claims disclosing that their meat ingredients were false. The print ads in Friday’s edition of the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal say, in huge letters, “Thank you for suing us. Here’s the truth about our seasoned beef”. The ads proclaimed their taco filling is 88% USDA-inspected beef and 12% seasoning and water for moisture.

Their printed advertisements were coupled with an aggressive online campaign via Facebook, Twitter and Youtube defending their quality of beef.

Taco Bell really stepped up the reputation management game as the ads cost over $100,000. Taco Bell even ran a campaign demanding a public apology as the accusation did a lot of damage to their brand reputation.

Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed said, "To so falsely and recklessly put these accusations out there and impact all these people is just so unacceptable. I think the public should be outraged."

Though the lawsuit was supposed to be damaging to their reputation, Taco Bell received many positive responses in retaliation from their consumers, which increased their positive brand image.

Key Things to Learn

Since the story dropped, Taco Bell’s social media pages were all dedicated to addressing the controversy by disclosing the ingredients and sharing the issue with media relations. Plain honesty or radical transparency? That’s a story to discuss another day.

Let’s dive into the details.

Strong social media presence: The team who handle Taco Bell’s social media need to get a rise! Taco Bell maintained a fun and engaging social media profile, even mocking its competitors, which their followers absolutely loved!

Taco Bell maintained a strong online presence with over a million followers on both Facebook and Twitter. Once the accusation was live, Taco Bell had its brand advocates defending them. Their social media presence made it difficult for negative comments and news to break through the internet.

It doesn’t stop here. Taco Bell offered free tacos in exchange for testing the quality of the meat they provide. This promotion was a centrepiece to the controversy, along with the fun social media presence, rather than just a boring email from the CEO addressing the issue.

Yes. This absolutely worked!

Tailor your response template: Public relations fiascos are different for every company. Before choosing a tactic, always consider the possible reaction of the public or what you may put at stake.

Dominate Search Engine Marketing: Clearly, Taco Bell appreciates a helping hand from search engines for the information Google had shown users. Immediately, when the lawsuit was announced, Taco Bell showed their side of the story for those searching on Google. They did an SEM campaign with paid ads, and the sponsored links only disappeared when the controversy went down.

Even now, when you search the keyword ‘Taco Bell meat quality’ on Google, it takes you to Taco Bell’s food fact page on their website, where they confirm their commitment to the quality of meat they provide.

Taco Bell used Google as a gatekeeper of information, ensuring that those who searched for stories related to the lawsuit were turned to their side by displaying this information.

9. Dove: Transformation

Ever wondered what causes a social media meltdown for big brands? Most often, it’s because companies didn’t think through their marketing plans.

What happened?

For those familiar with the Dove transformation story, Dove shared an ad for their new Dove body wash, where a Black woman removes her top and reveals her as a White woman. The backlash began when Naomi Blake shared sneak-peaks of the clip on Facebook.

Dove apologized for the campaign saying on twitter  “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully”.

The ad was then removed, but Naomi Blake, an American makeup artist, reshared the post, with the following caption:

“So I’m scrolling through Facebook, and this is the #dove ad that comes up… ok so what am I looking at,” she wrote as the caption.

Under the post, she asked if people would be offended if the white woman had turned into a black woman. She continued, “nope, we wouldn’t, and that’s the whole point. What does America tell black people? That we are judged by the color of our skin, and that includes what is considered beautiful in this country.”

What made the crisis worse was that this was not the first time Dove was involved with a campaign that caused mass outrage. Many people saw this ad an effort made by the PR team to elevate the beauty of white over dark skin.

The apology made by Dove failed, and social media users called out to boycott Dove products while conventional media outlets seized the story.

In the UK, the ad was debated on national TV, where they discussed how and why this ad passed the company approval process and if this is a broader problem of allowing racism in marketing.

Social Media Reaction

On Twitter, #BoyCottDove was trending among US users, with many tweeting talking about brands seeking to take benefit from racism for their marketing campaigns.

[gallery link="none" size="full" ids="54381,54383,54382" orderby="rand"]


Brand Response

There was no doubt in wondering how the ad was approved, similar to Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad discussed previously. What will be the long term impact? Even with the back-to-back chaos, because they are a massive brand, they are unlikely to suffer significant damage in the long run.

Dove’s response followed the golden rules of reputation management. They owned the mistake and made an apology sincerely and directly. Dove pulled the ad to clean the wound (to an extent.)

dove responsse

Despite the advertising fiasco, Dove found a long term solution, which was the most important part of their reputation management. Dove worked over the years to build a responsible campaign by running ‘Campaign for Real Beauty,’ showing a suitable approach to body image. It is now regarded as a top example of how to run an ad with a positive social message.

Key Things to Learn

Let's dig in:

Brand advocates: Brand advocates can be your superheroes when you need them. The mistake Dove made was inevitable. But the tone and weight of reactions depend on the audience’s perception. To a degree, this worked for Dove.

Audience testing: Audience testing should be seen as a fundamental requirement for marketing and ad campaigns. When you are dealing with an ad campaign that has a possibility of creating controversy, always test with a small audience before running it live.

Diversity in the PR team: It’s impossible to be sure how many people of colour were actually in that approval process.

Diversity in the workplace is a sensitive issue. These disastrous Ad blunders could have been simply avoided if there was a better diversity in the leadership and decision making roles.

10. JetBlue’s “Valentine’s Day Crisis”

JetBlue’s “Valentine’s Day Crisis” is a classic example of crisis communication done right.

Valentine’s day of 2007 was celebrated in hell by JetBlue employees, along with more than 130,000 customers due to bad weather. The fliers were trapped on the runway for hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy, with the delays leading to international media criticism and scrutiny!

What happened?

February 14, 2007, JetBlue experienced a blow to its well-maintained reputation of superior customer service.

It all started when officials of JetBlue airplanes made a false call that an ice storm would change, allowing the flights to leave. Other airlines had cancelled their flights, leaving JetBlue to hold their passengers stranded for 6-9 hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on a frozen plane. Many passengers reported about the overflowing toilets, lack of food and medicine, gaining mass media reactions within a short time.

February 15, airport employees had to call the police to handle the crowd at Newark Liberty International Airport following the delays in JFK.

With confusion on flights, in the control room and even employees displaced; the flights were either delayed or cancelled for almost a week. This resulted in millions of dollars in loss, reputation damage and a hole in their customer-focused philosophy.

Social Media Reaction

[gallery link="none" columns="2" size="full" ids="54401,54402"]


Brand Response

It’s not every day that we see a brand admitting a mistake, especially in a crisis like this, and when their pledge is all about superior customer service.

JetBlue admitted that it had waited too long to get the passengers off the flights, in the hope that the weather might turn around and flight could proceed.

On February 21, JetBlue announced a $30 million investment to improve the procedures of how they handle disruptions and to launch a customer “bills of rights” to provide superior customer service. Passengers received a full refund and a free round trip ticket as part of their crisis communication.

Key Things to Learn:

  • Lack of a pre-crisis management system resulted in week-long chaos for JetBlue. The airline was not prepared to handle the catastrophe, and poor communication with employees and passengers made the rest of the mess.
  • Accepting responsibility, immediate public apology, and compensating customers, JetBlue’s crisis response strategies had done it all to maintain its reputation for service and continue to regain its presence around the world.
  • JetBlue knows how to communicate with customers. From newspaper interviews to blogs, they have touched all marketing points to get them back on track with a clean image.

11. The Maggi ban

Nestle India is famous for its 2 minute Maggi noodles and has been a perfect quick-snack in India. Ushering the ‘two-minute revolution,’ the product was targeted at working moms. But more than that, the product appealed to young adults and children.

This was until 2015, where their business came to a near standstill. What began as a minor dispute on labelling, which could have been settled for around $400, spiralled into one of the worst public relations crisis in India.

What happened?

In April 2015, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) charged Maggi for using excess level of lead and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in its noodles. The second offence was not having ‘MSG’ on the packaging. They also launched their new Maggi Oats Masala Noodles without meeting the required standardization norms, making it three offences. The crisis was grave for Nestle India, who were dominating the market at the time.

The real crisis started when Maggi decided to play with fire. Nestle denied the allegation that Maggi was unsafe, and their social media accounts reported that there is no plan for product recall.

When further reports proved them guilty, these customers were not only furious; this also caused a breach for Maggi lovers and caused mass protests. Their share slammed to nearly zero from an 80% market share in the instant noodles segment.

Social Media Reactions

[gallery size="full" link="none" columns="1" ids="54403,54404"]


Brand Reactions

The initial response of Maggi was to reject the acquisitions, and they published a statement on both its website and social media profiles.

Their website said:

“The quality and safety of our products are the top priorities for our company. We have in place strict food safety and quality controls at our Maggi factories… We do not add MSG to Maggi Noodles, and glutamate, if present, may come from naturally occurring sources. We are surprised by the content supposedly found in the sample as we monitor the lead content regularly as a part of the regulatory requirements.”

Maggi social media message

After everything Nestle did to reassure that their noodles are 100% safe, the brand did a U-turn when they recalled their noodles produced in India. Nestle destroyed more than $50 million worth of Maggi noodles after failing safety tests.

On August 13, Nestle came back to the market after completing new lab certifications.

Even though the dust settled in, trust was a prime concern mostly for Indian mothers as they don’t want to feed something unhealthy for their children. Even the celebrity endorsers had turned their backs on the brand.

The comeback?

Nestle started with a storytelling video to gain back trust and loyalty. The videos showed gratitude to their fans for their support, followed by emotional overtones.

Nestle rolled-out a series of ads with the hashtag #WeMissYouToo, directing the video towards all of their consumer segments, from youngsters in hostels to moms who are feeding Maggi noodles to their kids

Nestle also tied up deals with Snapchat for their noodle fans to register for their limited period welcome kits. Snapdeal even launched a dedicated FAQ page to clear the consumer fears of MSG and lead and what is added in the product.

The campaign clicked on well, and Maggi started to make their foot back in the country slowly.

Key Things to Learn

Maggi had a long way to go to clear all the customer fears, but it’s safe to say they made a pretty good comeback.

Let’s start off with where they went wrong.

Pretty bad first response: Clearly, Nestle didn’t think this through. The first response to a crisis should not be a denial since the food regulation authority was involved in the statement that their Maggi contains MSG. This matched with their slow reaction with less action was a total disaster.

Lack of a Human Face: There was no human face involved in the communication. Not even in social media. The tweets from the Maggi fans were replied to using a template.

Nestle maggi tweets

(This is not how social media works, Nestle.)

Let's get to the good part.

Does Storytelling work? Storytelling cannot move the world, but it can help move negative stories. Maggi tried their best to show an emotional side to gain back trust. They expressed the message clearly and pretty well through storytelling. The success of your storytelling campaign depends on how well you target and if they are relatable to your audience, giving nostalgia or good vibes.

Summing Up

From ground to air, we have covered some significant brand blow-outs and failures. The internet is a different place from what it was a decade ago. From MySpace to AOL, social media has come a long way, and it is a powerful landscape for brands to communicate with their target audience.

People are searching for the latest products on Google, sharing reviews and their experiences with brands every day on social media. If you think this isn’t worth regular interactions with online platforms, think again.

How do you react to a reputation management scenario? Depending on the scope and matter of the problem, various measures can be applied.

Search Engine Optimization

Here's a scenario: what if there was an article about your brand, unfairly portraying your product or services?

What if that article is ranking well in search results for your top keywords?

That could potentially result in thousands of visitors leaving the internet with a negative impression of your brand.

Search engines are a significant player in restoring your brand reputation and image. If someone searches your brand or your product and a negative story or review comes up, that is a bad sign. The first thing every brand should do is increase the ranking of positive content, be it from you or a third party website.

If the unknown negative article is ranking well on SERPs, reach out to them and see if they would change it.

Review Removal

Removing reviews is a sensitive topic and should only be done under certain circumstances. If you received a negetive review, you should try to resolve it, this may mean improving the quality of your product and services or providing better customer support. Only if the review is unfairly biased, then you should opt to remove reviews. Here are certain scenarios.

  • If the content is trying to destroy your brand reputation rather than give negative feedback.
  • When the review contains improper language or content.
  • When a user's review or claim is false, and it can be proved.

A proper analysis is necessary before taking any actions regarding this issue - never remove subjective reviews.

Online Investigation

If your online reputation management efforts do not seem to be working, you can hire an online analyst or firm to investigate the root causes of the issue. Cyber investigations are the ultimate path for severe reputation management cases.

Because Google, social media and most importantly, the likes of millennials change, online reputation management is an ongoing process.

Comment below if you have read about any other reputation management strategies!

It's a competitive market. Contact us to learn how you can stand out from the crowd.

Read Similar Blogs

Post a Comment


Ready To Rule The First Page of Google?

Contact us for an exclusive 20-minute assessment & strategy discussion. Fill out the form, and we will get back to you right away!

What Our Clients Have To Say

Luciano Zeppieri
Sharon Tierney
Sheena Owen
Andrea Bodi - Lab Works
Dr. Philip Solomon MD