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Check Your Work Before You Hand It In

Published on November 15, 2019, at 10:45 a.m.
by Kennedy Schwefler.

Public relations professionals are expected to develop creative, new ideas for campaigns. At the same time, they are tasked with protecting their organizations’ brands.

If there isn’t a diverse group of leaders at the table, it is more likely that an idea may be miscommunicated and turn into a crisis. What may have seemed like a harmless idea for a commercial, social media post or a full campaign can backfire and harm the company’s image instantly.

Here are three examples of companies that didn’t think long and hard enough about their message strategy:

Photo by Akshay Bandre on Unsplash

1. Dove

Campaign: Dove developed a gif for its Facebook page of a black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman.

Reactions: The public took to their own social accounts which sparked conversation about how the ad looked like the black woman was changing into a white woman after using Dove’s body wash.

How the company responded: Dove posted messages on its Twitter and Facebook accounts apologizing for “missing the mark in representing women of color.”

End game: The hashtag #BoycottDove spread like wildfire the next Monday, two days after the gif was posted.

2. Just For Feet

Courtesy of Just For Feet

Campaign: Saatchi & Saatchi created a Super Bowl ad for shoe retailer Just For Feet. The ad featured a Kenyan runner being followed by a group of white men in a Hummer. They drugged him, he falls asleep and they put Nike running shoes on his feet. The runner wakes up and tries to shake the shoes from his feet.

Reactions: The public was astounded at how racist this commercial was.

How the company responded: Just For Feet sued Saatchi & Saatchi for advertising malpractice, as well as Fox, the network that aired the Superbowl.

End game: Just For Feet went bankrupt and whatever remained was sold for very little profit.

3. Pepsi

Photo by Ja San Miguel on Unsplash

Campaign: In the climax of the Black Lives Matter campaign, Pepsi developed a commercial with protestors holding signs that read “Join the conversation.” At the end, there is a line of police standing in front of the protestors. Kendall Jenner walks out of the crowd, hands one of the police a Pepsi, he drinks it, and everyone cheers.

Reactions: People reacted online and shamed Pepsi for how unrealistic the commercial was in relation to the Black Lives Matter protests. The most impactful tweet compared a picture of Kendall Jenner in the commercial to a Black Lives Matter protester.

How the company responded: Pepsi sent out a tweet responding to Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter’s reaction that reads: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we did not intend to make light of any serious issue.” The company removed the commercial from all platforms.

End game: The commercial received loads of negative attention because of its insensitivity as well as social media comments from celebrities and influencers.

We can only assume the groups approving these commercials were not including a diverse set of voices. If they had, they would not have posted or aired any of those campaigns. These decisions ended up hurting not only the brands, but also people of color.

These examples serve as a lesson to public relations professionals everywhere: Include diverse voices and tailor your message strategies based on their wants and needs.

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