In the world of Public Relations, it is crucial to build and maintain an organisation’s reputation, whether it being through product or service promotion, social media interaction or the exciting world of PR stunts. However, this industry is not all sunshine and rainbows and one’s reputation can fall a lot faster than it was built.
Here are 3 of the most ‘facepalming’ PR fails:
3. Tesla’s Self-Driving Crash
Tesla’s Model S included the autopilot feature that was ground breaking in the technological world and was intended to navigate cars hands-free, however this feature was proven to be an unreliable piece of technology that was created far before its time.
In May 2016, Tesla Owner Joshua Brown from Florida was using the autopilot feature whilst on the motorway and the technology was unable to distinguish the difference between a white 18-wheeler truck and trailer in front of them and the sky in the distance. This resulted in the Tesla crashing at a high speed into the back of the vehicle and killing the Tesla owner.
Tesla stated that this was the first fatal accident in 130 million miles where autopilot was activated and continued to compare it with statistics related to the amount of deaths in manual cars.
Tesla tried their hardest to shift all blame in a statement released after the incident and highlighted that the owner still has responsibility of the vehicle even when it is in autopilot:
“When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. Additionally, every time that Autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.” The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.”
This became the start of a PR pre-crisis due to other reports of death resulting from the same use of the autopilot feature in the same year. Tesla was asked to disable the autonomous self driving technology, however they declined.
Elon Musk did not accept responsibility for the fatal accidents and did not attempt to build upon his damaged reputation. Instead he waited for a full investigation to be under-taken.
Peter Berdovsky and VJ Aiwaz were hired by Turner Broadcasting Systems and Interference Inc to create a marketing campaign for Cartoon Network for their new project “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”, however, what was meant to be a publicity stunt turned into a day-long terrorism scare.
Both creators set up a number of battery-powered LED devices, that depicted the Mooninite characters from the new project, around Boston, Massachusetts and surrounding areas and cities as part of a guerrilla marketing advertising campaign.
On 31st January 2007 at 8:05am, police were notified by the public regarding suspicious looking devices that shared similar characteristics to IEDs (Improved Explosive Devices).
Police responded to the calls but were unable to figure out what they were and so back-up was requested in the form of ambulances, fire crews, armed police and the bomb squad.
Berdovsky had heard of the commotion and went directly to the scene but was told by his boss to keep his information on the down low and away from the police, instead he recorded the events unfolding and left.
It wasn’t until someone had recognised the characters depicted on the devices that they realised that they were no harm to the public and were dismantled and taken down.
Both creators were eventually arrested and charged with the violation of chapter 266: section 102A.5 of the General Laws of Massachusetts, that states you cannot create hoax devices that may pose a threat to citizens. Both of them were bailed for $2,500.
The companies who hired the two individuals were forced to pay $1,000,000 to both the Boston Police Department and Homeland Security to cover the cost of the operation that unfolded throughout the day.
The Vice President of Cartoon Network also resigned after the incident happened whilst under his authority.
1. London’s Gore Galore
In 2009, Capcom created a marketing campaign and PR stunt to promote the Friday 13th release of popular horror game Resident Evil V, that has been described as ‘bloody’, ‘gorey’ and ‘sickening’.
The campaign consisted of a treasure hunt at Trafalgar Square in London where the winner would receive a trip for two to Africa, the location that is featured in the game itself.
A series of body parts were hidden in secret locations within a square mile and were placed around bins, back alleys and other well-hidden places during the early hours of the morning.
However, an event that was meant to be a scary scavenger hunt soon turned into a PR nightmare after several of the body parts went missing and police started to receive reports of human limbs being found.
The body parts were extremely realistic and were created with the use of chicken liver to give them that added value of gore realism.
Capcom released a statement that told those who stole the human-like souvenirs to dispose of them carefully due to the contamination dangers of the chicken livers or to return them to the company.
Steve Long, a 26 year-old IT Consultant, was the winner of the hunt after scoring the highest amount of points and reaching Westminister Bridge by 11am. The scoring system was as follows:
Arms/Legs = 2 points
Torse = 3 points
Head = 5 points
Capcom have revealed that they are still missing 6 limbs, 2 torsos and one head and urge people to return the realistic props.
Although there were no arrests, Capcom created quite the stir in London, a place notorious for its dark history of serial murderers and body dismemberment.