We all watched in horror as Ryanair’s ever-popular lost cost flights were cancelled one by one over the summer. It dominated business and general headlines, as such a huge multi-million-pound company failed to prepare contingency plans for such events as ‘pilots taking last-minute holiday days’. The airline is certainly not unfamiliar with a little bit of harmful and sometimes slanderous claims about the quality and reliability of their service but, even for them the outlook was fairly bleak in the wake of such a scandal.
It begs the question, is all press really good press? In this case, certainly. Studies of the market immediately after the worst of the scandal suggested that not only would passengers not be discouraged from booking with Ryanair again but more they would actively seek to fly with them, anticipating even further price cuts on their already cheap flights. Traffic for the airline has increased 10 percent year over year in September and has stood firm whilst rival airline Monarch fell into to administration.
Is this actually then a perfect example of a well-executed PR stunt? Probably not, but the predicted profit gain from such an event would suggest otherwise.
So, we decided to assess the very best PR scandals in recent times and their effects on business, profit and the brand reputation.
United Airlines: How NOT to deal with an overbooked flight
We have all seen THAT video, a seemingly calm, normal passenger being unceremoniously dragged through the aisle for refusing to leave an overbooked flight. The video was an instant internet sensation and hence unavoidable for the American airline.
The company was forced to issue a string of defensive statements, they reported an 85% decrease in the number of travellers being ‘involuntarily denied’ seats and made extensive promises, such as increasing the incentive payment for voluntarily giving up a seat to $10,000.
As a result of the grovelling response, United suffered no major profit loss. In fact, their 3-month profit from April to June was up 39% on the previous year. Plus, if you hadn’t heard of United Airlines before, you certainly have now.
Donald Trump: Social Media in Power
The President of the United States is naturally always prepared with a team of people to any scandal the world can throw at him. However, he often sends his PR team into unprecedented overdrive with his stream of unfiltered tweets. During the wake of the devastating Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico which saw the entire country without power, Trump decided to inform the people of Puerto Rico that they should ‘not believe the Fake News’ being reported, after media outlets discovered the government might not be taking the necessary and urgent steps to aid the country. It took mere seconds for fellow users of the app to point out that victims couldn’t do such a thing even if they wanted too, as they were in relative cultural darkness without even running water let alone access to any information from the outside world.
However, interestingly it seems Trump and his team take a fairly confident approach to such blunders with @realDonaldTrump amassing 40 million followers on the social site and never apologising for the mistakes or ill thought out remarks he can often make.
Protein World’s Beach Body Ready Campaign
In 2015 health and lifestyle brand Protein World launched their summer campaign which saw huge yellow billboards plastered all over the UK capital asking the question; ‘Are you beach body ready?’ this sparked an army of body image campaigners to tear into the ads claiming they were exceptionally damaging to body image among women, by suggesting that should you not look like the image in the ad you shouldn’t go anywhere near the beach that summer. The discriminatory and mentally damaging nature of the ad forced it to be banned in the UK. The CEO however claimed response to their campaign had been incredible and reacted rather aggressively to tweets they received from offended consumers.
That being said it seems for them and in this case they were able to capture a school of thought that was essentially offended by the offense taken to the ad and as such rolled out the campaign all over the US.
They are now one of the biggest lifestyle brands in the US, holding much more profit than the UK market and working with some of the most famous faces as their own personal social influencers.
Pepsi Ad Scandal
Even the biggest brands can fall short of the mark in terms of their ad campaigns and no one is safe from the wrong message or interpretation. Ad campaigns are often subject to external factors and what can seem like a winning idea in the boardroom, can fall flat due to being released to the environmental factors at play in the real world. Pepsi provided the business world with a harrowing warning of such issues with their most recent campaign starring Kendall Jenner. The ad essentially suggested that the ever-popular soft drink could and would be the answer to huge peace problems all over the world, heralding well-known reality star Kendall Jenner as some kind of mediator.
The ad was horrendously received by almost all media outlets and social channels, with the internet instantly bursting with memes, videos and defamatory comments on the nature of the ad and the unbelievable misjudgement by Pepsi.
Pepsi immediately withdrew the ad it all its forms and issued a stripped back, heartfelt apology across their social and digital platforms.
Despite the PR storm they experienced, Pepsi reported a 2% profit rise in their latest quarter and no significant drop in volume sales.
With the power, social media now holds within our society, any brand scandal big or small can become viral in minutes. At the heart of every brand lies everyday people who, unfortunately, can make mistakes, often this helps to show the true personality of a brand and can in many cases make them seem a lot more relatable to their audience. Having said all that, this only works when you can formulate a well thought out comeback.
Our top tips for the perfect PR rescue mission:
Admit you were wrong
Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, in fact, the silence can often become an issue in its own right. Admit you’re human and you made a mistake, most audiences will appreciate the honesty from brands as it makes them more relatable.
Whatever your strategy is to combat the problem, do it fast. Brief your social teams and make sure everyone in direct contact with your audience has the relevant response to any questions you expect from the fallout. You might even want to beef up your websites and ensure any increased traffic can be dealt with effectively.
See the funny side
With smaller errors and scandals often it can go one of two ways, a lot of brands will make mistakes or misprints (especially on social) as a way to formulate new campaigns, making light of the situation or even make fun of themselves. If it goes well, your own response will be all people eventually remember about the whole situation.