Is there really “no such thing as bad publicity?

A long row of folded newspapers at the end of a press run with a generic headline that reads breaking news on the front page on an isolated white background; Shutterstock ID 248829895; name: Deb; Client: TCS; Publication: TCS; Story ID: Optimize Headlines

When working in PR, an age-old statement is guaranteed to crop up in conversation. Certain to spark debate, it will have you looking back at past campaigns, summing up pros and cons and most importantly, get those PR clogs in motion. So, what exactly is this mystery statement? Let’s see if you guessed correctly –

There’s no such thing as bad publicity

The idea that as long as people are talking about you or your brand, it doesn’t matter what they are saying.

Whilst it’s common knowledge that gaining masses of attention is great for brand awareness, sometimes this sudden surge of limelight can result in negativity and backlash. Just ask these next two brands who were victims of large-scale PR controversy.

Pepsi –

Cast your mind back to 2017, and recall Pepsi’s most infamous advertisement. The ad in question featured an unassuming member of the Kardashian’s approaching a police officer with a can of Pepsi in hand, in what can only be described as a racially diverse demonstration of peace.

Branded the ‘worst ad of all time’, the advert undermined and hijacked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and saw its leading lady, Kendall Jenner, admit its failings. Pulled from screens within 24 hours, the ad received countless mocking messages, including a spectacular response from the daughter of Martin Luther King who tweeted – “If only Daddy would have known the power of Pepsi. PR controversy at its finest.

Despite its clear moral failings, how did Pepsi’s terrible lack of judgement actually affect the brand?

On the day of the ad airing, 28% of consumers stated they would consider purchasing Pepsi the next time they were selecting a cold beverage. On the 12th April, this dropped to 20%, before recovering to 24% five days later.

Fran’s PR controversy rating – 3.5/5

Let’s see how our next company compares.

United Airlines –

When a company has a slogan of ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’, you wouldn’t be ridiculed for picturing an aeroplane filled with fun, laughter and a large helping of attentive customer service. In this case however, if you pictured the above, you would happen to wrong, very wrong indeed.

It all started when four passengers were asked to give up their seats on a plane, to make room for commuting crew members. Refusing to give up his throne on the over-booked flight, 69-year-old Dr David Dao was forcibly dragged out of his seat and off the plane, in full view of passengers and their many smartphone cameras (oh how United Airlines must be cursing modern technology).

Did this controversial PR nightmare affect the brand? Reputation-wise – absolutely, sales wise – in the long-run, not so much.

Fran’s PR controversy rating – 4/5

Learnings

So, heading back to PR people’s favourite question, is all publicity good publicity? We’re going to have to say a simple no. Whilst many brands, including the above, can somewhat recover from PR controversy, the image of an elderly man being dragged across a dirty aeroplane floor will forever be etched in our minds.

Be big, be bold, but try not to cause extreme public outcry. It may not affect your sales in the long run, but you may end up on Fran’s list of PR mishaps, and no brand wants that!

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