- Terence Cullen New York Daily News
These companies probably wish they could have a do-over for 2017.
Some brands commissioned advertisements that sparked fury and ire — while others faced PR nightmares which shook their company’s foundations.
Here are some of the year’s biggest brand fails, offering a guide for other companies on what not to do.
Pepsi hard arguably one of the worst ads of the year, which faced international backlash for its insensitive nature.
The soda company launched a high-priced ad in April featuring model Kendall Jenner, who decides to hit up a protest — seemingly against police violence — after finishing a photo shoot. She’s joined by a diverse group of well-dressed demonstrators, who are facing off against cops in riot gear.
Then the high-paid model cracks open a can of Pepsi, hands it to a cop and cures a swath of society’s ills with the fizzy drink.
The ad went flat nearly as soon as it premiered. Pepsi was accused of being tone deaf to movements against police violence, trivializing a major social issue.
The soda giant canned the ad after a few days, but grappled with backlash for weeks. Jenner, who took a brunt of the criticism, laid low for several weeks and reportedly threatened to walk out of interviews at Coachella if the ad was brought up.
-- Papa Johns --
Better outreach. Better PR. Papa John’s.
Perhaps that’s the internal slogan the pizza chain could embrace after founder and ex-CEO John Schnatter made waves for blaming protesting NFL players for his slumping sales.
Schnatter told shareholders during a November conference call that NFL leadership was doing a poor job at blocking players from kneeling during the national anthem. Papa John’s is a major sponsor.
Players began kneeling during the anthem last year, when then-San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest acts of police violence. But the protests picked up in September as a rebuke to President Trump, who trashed the practice during a rally — saying it was unpatriotic and leading to poor viewership numbers.
“The NFL has hurt us,” Schnatter said on the call. “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”
The statement made the company’s shares plummet, prompting the ouster of the company’s most recognizable face. Papa John’s later apologized for the remark, saying the company supported the right to protest.
-- McDonald’s --
McDonald’s came under fire in the United Kingdom for a lengthy, unsettling commercial about a young man trying to bridge a connection with his deceased father.
The 90-second spot featured a British boy rifling through his father’s belongings. Then his mother laments on how handsome, athletic, big-handed and well-kept the father was as the awkward teen realizes his traits don’t line up — from his small hands, inability to kick a soccer ball and dirty sneakers.
But at least there’s always their shared love of McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, along with dribbling tartar sauce down their chins.
Advocacy groups for bereaved children in the U.K. slammed the ad, which they alleged capitalized on a boy’s misfortune.
“This was by no means an intention of ours,” a spokesman for McDonald’s U.K. told the BBC after the ad ran in May. “We wanted to highlight the role McDonald’s has played in our customers’ everyday lives — both in good and difficult times.”
-- Dove --
All the soap in the world couldn’t clean up this mess.
Dove ran a GIF on its Facebook page in October that almost immediately sparked outrage.
The ad began with a black woman removing her brown shirt to reveal a white woman — after using Dove’s body lotion — who then removes her shirt to reveal a Middle Eastern woman.
But that first segment sparked fury, implying black woman should cleanse themselves and become white.
It came months after competitor Nivea ran a racially suggestive ad in April that proclaimed: “White Is Pure.”
Dove pulled the ad, which was roasted on social media with a wave of memes, apologized and admitted it “missed the mark.”
“Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity,” a spokesperson reportedly said.
-- Uber --
Rideshare behemoth Uber spent the better part of 2017 swerving and crashing along a road full of PR nightmares.
The company was marred from the top down, seeing its CEO depart, tough relations with local governments and rampant sexual harassment accusations throughout the firm.
Travis Kalanick left the company he built up in June, saying he needed to grieve his mother — who’d recently died in a boating accident. Dara Khosrowshahi later replaced Kalanick at the company.
A video released in February showed Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver about how recent policies hurt rank-and-file workers.
“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own s—t,” Kalanick shouted at the driver before leaving his car. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”
The company was also hit with allegations of sexism and harassment, which prompted the firm to tap former Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the Silicon Valley giant’s workplace culture. It came after Amit Singhal was fired in February, after just five weeks on the job, for not revealing sexual harassment allegations while at Google.
An Uber-sanctioned diversity report also revealed its employees on the tech side were overwhelmingly white men. The company committed to ensuring more worker diversity in the coming years.
But the hits didn’t stop there. The Department of Justice opened an investigation in May into Uber’s “Greyball” software, which allegedly helped drivers avoid local regulators trying to clamp down on the rideshare service. It was also revealed this year the Uber reportedly used another service dubbed “Hell” that allowed it to track drivers from competitors such as Lyft. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that the FBI is looking into Uber’s “Hell” program.
Uber also hit some roadblocks in London, where the city’s transportation department decided not to renew the company’s license in September. London officials were concerned about Uber’s background check process as well as reporting criminal histories. Because Uber is currently appealing the decision, its drivers can still operate in the city.
Can’t get much worse, right? Uber officials revealed in late November that it paid hackers $100,000 to stay mum after they breached personal data for 57 million users. Executives didn’t inform its customers nor regulators when the hack took place in October 2016, causing more backlash for the embattled company.