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TODD SMITH — Biggest brand, PR & reputation blunders in 2015 2.0

TODD SMITH

TODD SMITH

The Spin Cycle has reflected and contemplated the biggest challenges and blunders on how companies, organizations and people handled their brands, reputations and crisis management in 2015.

There were some pretty epic PR blunders last year! Last we explored Nos 10-5. This week, The Spin Cycle reviews the Top 5 PR bloopers of 2015 from PR Newser:

5. Starbucks Race Together.

When you’re at Starbucks, the first thing you want to discuss with your barista is race relations, right?

CEO Howard Schultz admitted “we didn’t expect universal praise” for the ham-handed idea of stimulating conversation and compassion around race in America. However, what happened on Twitter was unlike anything the beloved brand has ever seen. In fact, Starbucks PR chief quit Twitter because of the mess.

Baristas wrote #RaceTogether on cups, mockery and trolling ensued.

4. 19 Kids and Counting.

Probably no other reality TV show captured the heartstrings of this country more than TLC’s 19 Kids & Counting featuring the affable Duggar family. Enriched with more high moral fiber than a box of toasted mini wheats, the Duggars were enveloped in a cloud of wholesome adoration by millions of fans. And then the cloud burst and the rain fell. Hard.

Jim Bob and Michelle were immediately caught in a quagmire of PR angst when their eldest son Josh admitted he molested several underage girls, including some of his sisters. Jim Bob did his best to hide that whole drama to salvage the family’s reputation and that handsome paycheck from TLC, which incidentally had been oddly quiet amid these claims for two months until they finally canceled the show. To add extra fuel on this PR fire, Josh was among one of the many names leaked by hacktivist group Anonymous when they cracked the code of infidelity website Ashley Madison.

Today, Josh and Anna are on the splits. Jim Bob and Michelle are on the rocks. And the Duggars are on the unemployment line.

3. Jared Fogle (but not Subway)

He was once considered the darling of TV pitchmen. Jared Fogle was a real-life customer of Subway who wanted to lose weight desperately. So, he took that “Eat Fresh” moniker to heart and ate only the fresh menu of the world’s largest franchisor. That was 1998 when he weighed 425 pounds. It took 11 months but he lost 245 pounds and the rest is history.

Subway, and easily its PR department, saw the tugging of heartstrings here and heard some sweet music. They didn’t think about having him fill out his W-9 and answering “Are you possibly a twisted sicko pedophile?” He now finds himself divorced, disgraced, and dissolved into the U.S. Penal System for 16 years of hard labor. Fogle has been heard on tape bragging about his sardonic interests. He has been seen discussing how great it is to have “dates” with underage boys. And the jokes about Subway’s measured sandwiches came rolling in.

Good thing Subway rolled out quickly and began investing a completely different ad campaign.

2. Volkswagen Sucked … or Blows.

Professional athletes aren’t the only ones who have to cheat on their tests to stay ahead and keep up a front. Evidently, so do car companies, and no other automotive manufacturer cheated worse than Volkswagen. After getting a terse phone call from the EPA, Volkswagen admitted it intentionally and knowingly installed software on its test vehicles to cheat emissions tests. This issue – and the respective findings from the EPA – uncovered 482,000 cars in the U.S. only, but a whopping 11 million cars worldwide.

This “defeat device” was supposed to mask the amount of pollutants put back into the environment by its vehicles. Too bad it didn’t mask the VW headquarters address because following the admission of guilt, Volkswagen was forced to pay a fine of $37,500 per car. For those scoring crisis communications at home, that’s a maximum fine of $18 million. The scandal had immediate repercussions with a damaging 25 percent drop in sales brand wide.

VW America boss Michael Horn was quoted as saying, “We’ve totally screwed up.” That’s one talking point that should appear on every case study from now on.

1. The Cos and His (Spiked) JELLO.

No one fell harder and faster from grace than the once beloved — and now, bemoaned — Bill Cosby. The man owned television in the ’90s and is still considered one of the most influential comedic storytellers in history. The 77-year-old comedian has previously been held in the PR fail spotlight with rumors of womanizing and the potential rough stuff, but no one saw this coming.

Well, no one outside the more than 50 women that have accused him of having a 30-year campaign of alleged sexual assault.

His apologists spoke up and were quickly silenced as more and more women went public. His commercial partners pulled the plug. His numerous friends in higher education yanked their honorary doctorates from the man. And even the hallowed The Cosby Show and Fat Albert is no longer aired in syndication.

Today, he is hated and beguiled like most politicians. And soon to be forgotten like most of them too. When the mighty fall, it really makes a thud. Hey. Hey. Hey.

White House Joins Snapchat Revolution

After expanding access to President Obama’s State of the Union address by making it available on Amazon for on-demand streaming, the White House is now targeting the younger demographic with the launch of an official account on social media service Snapchat. White House’s director of product management Josh Miller cited Snapchat’s strong user numbers – including more than 100 million daily actives, 60+ percent of who are between the ages of 13 and 34 – as part of the reasoning behind the launch of the new account.

The White House is post to its Official Story, offering Snapchat users a behind-the-scenes look at the State of the Union prep, including additional footage and camera angles not offering through other channels, including TV broadcasts, its YouTube channel, or elsewhere.

The White House, of course, is no stranger to embracing social media, having already established a presence on Facebook, Twitter (including the recently launched @POTUS account), and it has posted live GIFs on Tumblr, short videos on Vine, and photos on Instagram.

According to data from Pew Research, Snapchat is now the No. 3 network for teens, behind Facebook and Instagram, with 41 percent of teens 13 to 17 using the platform. It also appeals to young adults – and in particular those of college age, where, according to one study, four out of five college students are now using the app.

Crimson Mic | Alabama Rolls To National Championship, Continues To Cement Brand

The Alabama Crimson Tide beat the undefeated Clemson Tigers 45-40 in one of the most thrilling national championships, taking the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. The Crimson Tide (14-1) victory earns Coach Nick Saban his fifth national title, including four within the last seven seasons.

Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry carried 36 times for 158 yards and scored three times while tight end O.J. Howard had 208 yards receiving and two touchdowns – and vastly strengthened his NFL timber. Deshaun Watson kept the Tigers even into the fourth quarter before the Alabama sealed the game with a 24-point fourth quarter, and looked incredibly Heismanesque. The University of Alabama, Coach Saban and the Tide nation take a Crimson Mic for a golden brand-building performance!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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