Top PR Disasters of 2017 … So Far


2017 has been a year filled with controversy, corporate gaffes, and tone-deaf advertisements. Let’s take a look at the top three public relations disasters of 2017…so far.

3. Pepsi Superbowl Ad with Kendall Jenner

Easily one of the most high-profile and widely seen PR gaffes of 2017, Pepsi’s Super Bowl ad featuring Kendall Jenner is worth mentioning. The ad features footage of Jenner, musicians, and social activists enjoying an ice cold Pepsi Cola. A problem emerges when Jenner offers a Pepsi to the riot police, suggesting that all of the civil unrest that has been mounting across the country can be solved with a simple soda. Critics suggest that the ad trivializes the Black Lives Matter movement and makes fun of a serious situation.

After the ad garnered considerable backlash, Pepsi pulled the “Live For Now Moments” commercial from all channels and Jenner distanced herself from the brand.

2. United Airlines Passenger Removal Scandal 

In March 2017, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was named PR Week’s “Communicator of the Year.”  Just one month later, United Airlines was embroiled in its biggest PR disaster to date.

A viral video shows a seated passenger of a United Airlines flight pulled off the flight by airport authorities. The man is in clear distress – he’s bloodied, screaming, and dragged down the aisle.

The passenger was forcibly removed after the flight had been overbooked and the airline needed to make room for other passengers. Typically, incentives are offered for passengers willing to give up their seats. However, this PR disaster shows airport police forcibly dragging a paying passenger from his seat and off the plane.

The real controversy occurred when United Airlines took more than a day to respond and take responsibility for the incident. Munoz did not offer an apology in the first statement — a move that outraged social media users.

Eventually, Munoz and United Airlines apologized and promised to make changes to ensure that such an incident never happens again. However, by that point, much of the damage had been done and the company’s stock dropped in value over $1.4 billion — virtually overnight.

  1. Harvey Weinstein Sexual Misconduct Allegations

In perhaps one of the biggest falls from grace in Hollywood history, Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. fell from the cosmos in an epic crash after allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against the famed executive.

The story first broke in The New York Times, and since then, dozens more women have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein. Prominent Hollywood actresses like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have come forward with their own allegations, as well as many other actresses and professionals in the movie industry. However, these allegations have been a part of an “open Hollywood secret” for years.

Since the allegations first surfaced, the Weinstein Co. as separated from its namesake, removing him from all company operations and even plans to change the name of the company.

The allegations against Weinstein have spurred many others to action – allegations of sexual misconduct have flooded the Hollywood and political spheres. Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Republican candidate Roy Moore are among the accused. Many women — and men — now feel safe to come forward with their accusations against powerful people.

As the story unfolds, more and more are coming forward with their stories. Not only did this scandal tank Harvey Weinstein’s career as well as his company, but also the careers of many other famous individuals.

So, what do you think has been the biggest PR disaster of 2017? Let us know in the comments below.

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1 Response to Top PR Disasters of 2017 … So Far

  1. Carli Engers says:

    Hi, Elan!

    I also think the biggest PR disaster was the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations. The allegations have destroyed the Weinstein Co. and its stock value in its entirety. Without changing the name of the company, their product is useless, and they will be unable find willing actresses to film for their movies. Ben Affleck, who is known to be close friends with Weinstein, has even refused individual interviews for his new movie Justice League. This prevents him from being placed in any situation where he can be questioned about Weinstein and reveal any knowledge he is rumored to have about the situation. As his peer, this could damage his reputation as well. Removing his name and cleaning house are two wise moves for the company’s executives. Rebranding with new leadership is the only way these professionals can expect to keep their major motion picture company afloat.

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