One wrong comment at the wrong time, one misstep from your social media team, or big picture decisions that are out of step with current trends in the wider world. PR disasters can have a massive impact on a business, destroying a brand image beyond repair in some cases. We’ve looked at 8 of the biggest PR disasters in the wake of the recent Molly-Mae Hague comments about how ‘we all have the same 24 hours in a day’, that led to a fierce backlash online and in the tabloids for the celebrity influencer.

It feels like the best place to start with PR disasters is to look at what was said by Molly-Mae.

  1. Molly-Mae Hague

The star of reality TV show Love Island came under pressure following controversial comments she made during a podcast (The Diary of a CEO, hosted by Steven Bartlett). Hague is also a successful businesswoman and is the creative director of Pretty Little Thing. On the podcast she spoke about how “we all have the same 24 hours in the day” when discussing how she has made her life a success. The podcast went live back in December but came to light to a wider audience after Bartlett joined Dragon’s Den as a new Dragon in January. He was previously an applicant to the show as a teenager, failed to get on screen and has since become a successful entrepreneur and author in the ten years since. He became the youngest Dragon, bringing the spotlight back onto the show, and crucially, his podcast.

The PR disaster for Molly-Mae comes from the fact that it is disingenuous to say anyone can get to anywhere they want if they work hard enough, as not every person has the same time resources and financial safety net as others to pursue their ‘dream’ job, or to do anything other than just survive day to day. Hague said in the podcast:

“When I’ve spoken in the past, I’ve been slammed a little bit, with people saying, ‘It’s easy for you to say that you’ve not grown up in poverty, you’ve not grown up with major money struggles. So, for you to sit there and say we all have the same 24 hours in a day is not correct.’ And I’m like, but technically what I’m saying is correct – we do.”

At a time where the gap between rich and poor continues to widen and the austerity measures that the UK has faced over the last decade continues to bite the poorest the hardest, these tone-deaf comments were sure to incite a backlash. It sure did, and Molly-Mae issued an apology for her interview.

  • Burger King and women in the kitchen

Let’s go back to International Women’s Day of last year, March 8th. It’s a day to celebrate women, to remove barriers that still exist in the world and to ensure that there is a better future for women everywhere. Burger King decided on this day to send out an ill-judged tweet that was quickly deleted but not before the damage was done.

It said, “Women belong in the kitchen”.

It was part of a twitter thread that was aimed at empowering women and encouraging a greater number of women into head-chef roles but seen on its own it was a bad look for the global fast food burger chain. At first, Burger King replied to the tweet itself, stating why women belong in the kitchen, but this clarification did nothing to slow down the instant backlash that was coming its way.

Burger King admitted that the tweet was intended to shock, but to shock the reader into clicking on the thread and seeing how it was written in a positive way. The problem with that approach is that the first tweet out of context only enforces a negative stereotype that International Women’s Day is trying to remove. A PR oversight perhaps, but one that quickly became a PR disaster!

  • Colin or Cuthbert the caterpillar

Social Media is a great way to build a brand and to manage the perception of your company. Last year the Aldi social media team did fantastic work in the face of legal action taken by Marks and Spencer over the Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake. Colin the Caterpillar has been sold by M&S for years, but you’ll find a similar themed cake in pretty much every other supermarket, so it was some surprise when M&S took legal action against Aldi.

It turned out to be a massive PR disaster for M&S, whilst Aldi took to social media to give a humorous angle to proceedings, with other supermarket socials joining in and ridiculing M&S. Aldi showed exactly how you make good PR from a bad situation, despite having to remove Cuthbert from the shelves at the beginning of the threat, whilst M&S suffered reputational damage to its brand, especially with a younger audience.

  • Air Force One photo op

The world changed forever after the attacks on New York City on 9/11, with a change to how city skylines were viewed. The US Department of Defense made a massive PR blunder then in 2009, when it organised a photo op for Air Force One (the President’s official plane). They did so without informing anyone, causing widespread panic in a city that had seen two passenger planes crash into the twin towers just 8 years previous.

To get a good photo, the plane flew over Manhattan at a low altitude. There were calls to the police and some offices began to evacuate people from the buildings in fear that another attack was in the middle of taking place. The government and the authorities were forced into a quick apology, a big PR gaffe at a time when the US government needed as much support as possible.

  • Nokia Lumia

One of the biggest PR disasters we can think of is the release of the Nokia Lumia phone. In 2011 the new line of phones was released to the world. In English speaking parts of the world this was not a problem at all, but the PR disaster came about because in Spanish, “Lumia” means prostitute! Now, who in the Spanish speaking world is going to purchase a mobile handset that’s called prostitute!

It is an honest mistake to make in the initial phase of development, of course, but the problem comes when a company of global size, trying to reach into new markets and increase customer numbers, doesn’t do research before the big release date. It could have been easily avoided with a localisation of the branding to make sure there were no cultural or linguistic faux pas involved.

  • BP apologise for oil spill

BP CEO Tony Hayward caused one PR disaster after another in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil explosion that killed 11 people and caused an environmental disaster in 2010. During an attempted apology to the residents of the US Gulf Coast he said, “I’d like my life back.”. It had been the worst oil spill in the country’s history, so this did not go down well with anyone.

There was a series of PR gaffes from Hayward, including taking part in the JP Morgan Asset Management round the island race on the Isle of Wight, the above statement when asked what he would tell the people of Louisiana, where the oil had then reached, and downplaying the environmental impact of the spill. Worst of all was an interview in which he insisted that BP was not at fault for the accident and subsequent oil spill, instead blaming the equipment and rig that was used as part of the project.

  • Exploding Samsung phones

In 2016 there was a lot of excitement about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 7. In fact, the previews promised it would be right up there as one of the best smartphones of the year. This optimism didn’t last that long however, after it was found that the phone had a tendency to catch fire on airplanes. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the new handset.

There was a massive effort to recall all the phones that had already been sold, and to launch a replacement programme. It wasn’t long though before the second batch of Note 7s, that had passed rigorous safety testing to gain certification, started burning up in the same way as the first batch. Samsung had no choice but to stop the model completely, losing around $5 billion.

  • Topman

In 2001 the UK men’s fashion chain Topman apologised after the brand director gave an interview where he criticised the customers of his brand! He had given an interview to the trade magazine Menswear where he said that “Very few of our customers have to wear suits to work. They’ll be for his first interview or first court case.”

Calling your customers football hooligans is never likely to go down well, and instead of a straight apology, David Shepherd instead said that his comments had been taken out of context and that he hadn’t meant any offence at all. Misjudging a line as banter is always a risky move when it comes to PR and brand reputation and Topman suffered as a result.

Get the right message across with Candy

A look at some of the top PR disasters shows you how important it is to send the right message at the right time. Making the wrong comment can lead to disaster, whether it’s a serious situation and poor communication in the wake of fatalities linked to your company or a badly judged tweet on International Women’s Day.

At Candy we know how to get your message across perfectly, building your brand image and reputation through a series of digital marketing techniques that won’t give you PR disasters to worry about. To find out more, speak to us on 0161 826 0123 or