Oct 31st 2019

House of PR Horrors – when brands take a terrible turn

It’s Halloween, and it wouldn’t be Halloween without a blog filled with putrefying puns and comical content. So, true to tradition, please enter Babel’s House of PR Horrors, if you dare. Gather round with your hot cup of curiosity, as we explore the top five scariest brand horror stories from this year, and how they went from smart to shocking in the blink of a zombified eye.

  1. Nike explodes into crisis mode

It’s fair to say that most entrepreneurs go into business wanting to create something amazing; something that people will need and love to consume. But when that product or service fails, disappointment and embarrassment ensue. Now imagine living out that embarrassment in front of millions of people during a live sports broadcast. A living nightmare.

This is exactly what happened during a Duke and University of North Carolina basketball game in February of this year, when rising star Zion Williamson’s shoe split open just 36 seconds into the game. While most of us are not 6ft6, 129kg athletes in peak condition, we’d likely still expect our shoes to stay on our feet when we walk to work or attempt a spin class. Cue outrage memes-a-plenty and general abuse towards Nike on social media. At the very least, Nike issued an apology which acknowledged the incident and the rumours that Williamson suffered a knee injury during the game in question.

  1. (Don’t) Come fly with me

Most of us know what it’s like to have that soul-gnawing, sleep-depriving feeling that we didn’t do our best. Sometimes we find out we’ve overreacted and everything went well, other times, we get what we expected.

Ryanair doesn’t have the most glowing reputation at the best of times, but in August 2019 the airline came under fire again after it was named ‘the worst firm for customer service’ in A consumer survey. The survey asked 4,000 members of the general public about how 100 well-known companies make them feel, how helpful and knowledgeable their staff were, and how well they handled complaints. Ryanair came a stone cold last in the rankings, with a shocking customer service score of 4% overall. Why? According to those surveyed, the airline was perceived to be ‘greedy’, ‘sneaky’ and ‘arrogant.’ Perhaps it’s time to focus less on low-cost flights, and instead redirect their attention to cleaning up that skeleton closet filled with bad customer reviews?

  1. Waitrose commits ultimate faux-pas

There are a handful of mistakes that can truly haunt companies in the world of political correctness. It would seem that by now brands will have learnt to do their due diligence and spot the offending products miles away – sadly, that isn’t the case.

In Easter 2019, newspapers flocked to cover a story that was perhaps out of character for a brand as conservative and so beloved as the supermarket Waitrose. Jumping on the chocolate-bingeing season with its own range of festive delights, shoppers were shocked to see that a particular trio of chocolate ducklings had an inadvertently racist message. According to a report from Sky News, “originally, the trio of Easter ducklings included milk and white chocolates called “crispy” and “fluffy” respectively, while the dark chocolate was labelled “ugly”.”

Naturally, Brits had something to say about this tasteless comment. In response, Waitrose apologised for any offense caused, and swiftly removed and relabelled the trio of ducklings.

  1. Tilers don’t have the talent

Tiling companies across the world, beware! Don’t tick off the wrong celeb – or you might end up regretting it. Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden made the headlines this month after she became ‘so cross’ with a tiling company’s customer service, she decided to share the frustrating exchange on her Instagram and Twitter feeds. Holden even went as far as to shame one of the employees in her posts to hammer in her point, which then led to one of the employees from the company getting axed (see what we did there?).

The tiling company then issued an apology stating that the customer had been refunded one hour after the issue arose. Social media can be a scary proposition for most brands, particularly as consumers and celebs alike have no qualms with berating or belittling brands in the open. Let this be a lesson to any brand with poor customer service!

  1. I spy with Apple FaceTime

And finally, let’s end our 2019 House of PR Horrors roundup with a brand that needs no introduction, but still has a few things to learn about reputation management and customer service.

On one bone chilling January day, 14-year-old Grant Thompson came across a significant flaw in Apple’s iPhone products. He realised that by using FaceTime, he could actually hear his friend through his phone before the call was answered. Thompson’s mum reported the hack to Apple the next day, including emailing, faxing, tweeting, Facebooking (is that a verb yet?) and eventually set up a developer account to inform the brand of the far-reaching, major security flaw. But it wasn’t until a few days later that Apple raced to fix the issue, dubbed ‘FacePalm’ by security researchers. A FacePalm emoji would be suitable here for not just the security flaw, but the haphazard and sluggish response to quite a major security issue. The reaction from one of the world’s biggest tech brands is enough to make your blood boil!

No company is immune from criticism in a world of glass-box brands and naming and shaming on social media. The crucial thing is how to respond to an incident before it becomes a full-blown, insomnia-inducing, and hair-raising crisis. At Babel, we’re well-versed in helping brands in today’s digital economy manage their reputations and create campaigns that won’t dig their own graves. If you don’t want to be part of the 2020 list of House of PR Horrors, get in touch to see how we can support you!