Who remembers the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad? If you don’t, then you must have been living under a rock (or maybe you’re just not a huge social media fan). Chances are, many of us can remember that campaign purely because of the uproar and controversy it caused. 

Living in the digital age, news travels at a breakneck speed. This means that bad publicity spreads even faster than before. For this reason, brands need to have a solid crisis management plan in place. 

PR crises all unfold in a similar fashion these days, with millions of eyes waiting to see what the next move is —That’s the power of social media at work.

So, what are some brands that a PR pro can look at for inspiration when your brand needs to get out of a corporate bind?

Let’s find out: 

Lesson 1: Managing Nike’s bust-up

The crisis

In February 2019, Zion Williamson, a player for Duke university’s Blue Devils, experienced a wardrobe malfunction that caused waves worldwide. 

Why? The athlete’s Nike shoe split in half only 33 seconds into one of the most-viewed games of college basketball ever

*Image courtesy of Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

If you’re thinking ‘it’s just a shoe, what’s the big deal?’, let’s unpack why this was making headlines.

Firstly, Zion was presumed to be the Duke’s number one draft option, meaning that he was most likely to become a professional basketballer. However, because of this malfunction, he sprained his knee. 

This led to him not being able to continue playing and his team ended up losing that game. This left many supporters (including former USA president Obama) perplexed and ready to take to Twitter with memes galore.
Nike's stock dropped by 1.8% on the next trading day. Talk about a major blowout

The response

Following this incident, Nike issued a statement in double time, expressing their concern and wishing Zion well in his recovery. 

The statement read, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.” 

Next, Nike reportedly met with Duke officials to gain clarity on the situation to try and understand what caused the malfunction. 

The brand then flew some of its executives to China, where the shoe is made, to oversee the production of a more durable and sturdy shoe. Following this, Nike gifted this new and improved version to Zion. 

What can PR pro’s learn from this? 

Nike was quick to act after negative press began to spread from this bust-up, which is easily one of the most important steps to take after a crisis ensues: Respond quickly

The longer you leave a crisis to fester, the more traction it gains online. Don’t wait for things to just ‘blow over’; they probably won’t and will make the situation 100 times worse. Why? Because consumers want you (the brand) to be accountable and rightfully so

Secondly, Nike went the extra mile to rectify the issue and mend the relationship with both Duke University and Zion. This showed its consumers that they care about providing a quality product and do not shy away from criticism. 

Lesson 2: Tide Pods' unexpected viral crisis

The crisis

Who remembers when teenagers were challenging each other to eat Tide Pods? Yeah, that wasn't a fever dream — people were actually daring each other to consume laundry detergent. (It gets crazy on social media for sure!)

This social media challenge kicked off in January 2018 and depicted people filming themselves biting into one of these detergent pods. This inspired more memes than you can count, but the issue was more serious than the Internet was making it out to be.

*Image courtesy of Twitter

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the first 11 days of this challenge saw 40 reported exposures to Tide Pods by teens in the 13 to 19-year-old age group. 

Although the Tide pod challenge was predominantly a joke online, the harm this could potentially cause its participants cast the brand in a less than favourable light. 

The response

As far as PR crises go, the Tide pod challenge is by far the most unexpected. Despite this, it is reported that Procter & Gamble, Tide’s parent company, has a solid crisis management plan in place.

What should Tide Pod be used for? DOING LAUNDRY. Nothing else.

Eating a Tide Pod is a BAD IDEA, and we asked our friend @robgronkowski to help explain. pic.twitter.com/0JnFdhnsWZ

— Tide (@tide) January 12, 2018

The brand issued two posts across their social media platforms cautioning the public to not consume the detergent pods. They even included American footballer Rob Gronkowski in their campaigns in an attempt to influence the youth. 

Additionally, the brand issues a statement that reads “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of people who use our products. We are deeply concerned about conversations related to intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs and have been working with leading social media networks to remove harmful content that is not consistent with their policies.”

What can PR pro’s learn from this?

First and foremost, this should teach you to prepare for the unexpected. You never know what is going to land your brand in hot water — sometimes it won't even be your fault. 

Secondly, use humour! Although the content was serious, the brand conveyed their warnings in a funny way, the better approach when trying to reach younger generations. Humour is effective in humanising a brand and making it more authentic in the eyes of the consumer. 

The brand’s official statement on the matter further solidified its authenticity and care for its consumer base. 

Moreover, the brand didn't shove this warning down their audience’s throats, they know better than to tell a group of teens what to do, after all. This proved the importance of knowing who you’re directing your message to, and tailoring it accordingly.

Lesson 3: Uber’s crash crisis 

The crisis

Even the biggest brands in the world are not immune to a corporate calamity, case in point — Uber. 

In 2017, the hashtag #DeleteUber began to gain traction online after it was revealed that the company’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick, had ties to the former president of the United States, Donald Trump. Around this time roughly 500 000 users deleted their Uber accounts. 

This, however, was just the beginning of the brand’s problems. Reports of sexual harassment and discrimination from a former female employee also rose to the surface during this period, leading to the departure of some of the companies top executives

A month later (yes, this all happened in the same year) a video surfaced of Kalanick yelling at his Uber driver.

A multitude of lawsuits, a few resignations and a handful of personnel crises later, the brand has caused its fair share of scandal online. 

And on top of that Uber tried to cover up their missteps by launching campaigns to repair their image without apologising or taking accountability. 

The response

Following this rough patch, it became clear that Uber’s problem was in leadership. In June 2017, Kalanick announced his resignation as CEO of Uber. This decision was reportedly due to pressure from Uber’s investors. 

Additionally, more than 20 employees were fired following the investigation into sexual harassment and gender bias in its workplace. 

What can PR pro’s learn from this?

Although some may argue that Uber’s crisis management could use some work, there is still a lesson to be learnt here — leadership matters

Although your brand’s CEO, executives and employees are not the entirety of your brand, they are the most recognisable part of it. For this reason, you need to employ people that reflect your company's views and values to avoid any personnel mishaps.  

Since Uber also came under fire for trying to cover up their missteps, it is also important to remember not to use a ‘band-aid’ approach to mend a crisis, as this will just make your brand appear as dishonest. 

Which crisis management masterclasses have caught your eye recently? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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If you want to learn more about crisis management, then be sure to read Five people you need on your crisis management team
*Image courtesy of Unsplash