media update’s Aisling McCarthy looks at three lessons that PR professionals can learn from some of the biggest PR mistakes made in 2018.

Here are three things PR professionals should keep in mind:

1. Don’t mock victims

What happened? In March, Snapchat made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The company ran adverts for a new app called ‘Would You Rather’, where players would have to choose between two unpleasant scenarios.

However, one of Snapchat’s adverts for the app gave users the choice to ‘Slap Rihanna’ or ‘Punch Chris Brown’. Considering the 2009 reports of Brown abusing Rihanna during an argument, the advert was received in bad taste.

After facing backlash for mocking the domestic abuse, Snapchat issued an apology and claimed that the ad was approved in error and removed as soon as the company became aware of the content.

Rihanna then posted a lengthy response on Instagram condemning the app for shaming domestic violence victims everywhere. Her social media rant ended with her saying: “Shame on you. Throw the whole app-ology away.”

What did we learn? When crafting any kind of adverts, don’t poke fun at victims.

2. Sexism isn’t cool

What happened? In a podcast in January, PepsiCo’s chief executive Indra Nooyi mentioned that the company was brainstorming women-specific snacks, such as ‘Lady Doritos’.

“As you watch a lot of the young guys eat chips... they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little, broken pieces into their mouth... Women, I think, would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little, broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth,” Nooyi said.

The conversation sparked numerous jokes, and anger, on social media with people being surprised that snacks could be gender-specific.

The company eventually issued a statement assuring the public that they would not be making Lady Doritos, stating “We already have Doritos for women – they’re called Doritos.”

What did we learn? Brands need to be careful about the assumptions that they make. 2018 has been a year with the issues of gender in the spotlight (with #MeToo and #NotAllWomen, among others on social media). Going forward, brands need to prioritise gender equality if they want to avoid PR blunders like this.

3. Don’t be racist

What happened? In January, H&M released a series of animal-inspired hoodies for children. However, they advertised one with the phrase ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’ being worn by a black child, which sparked a huge debate worldwide.

Part of the debacle came from the fact that no other hoodies were modelled by black children - and no other hoodie had slogans that could potentially be perceived as racist.

H&M, based in Sweden, apologised for the “insensitive association between the young model and the hateful slur”.

"This image has been removed from all H&M channels, and we apologise to anyone this may have offended," the company told the Daily News in a statement from its Stockholm headquarters.

Numerous celebrities, including The Weeknd and LeBron James, cut ties with the company following the blunder.

What did we learn? When it comes to adverts, companies need to consider how it would be received by a diverse audience. While a group of executives may not be offended, consider your consumers – particularly if your company has a global reach – and how they may perceive your adverts.

If you think your content could be viewed as offensive – DO NOT POST IT. Rethink your strategy and come up with a concept that will not alienate and upset your consumers.

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