Life is famously unpredictable – and even the best-loved brands and personalities can find themselves in the throes of a full-on PR crisis.
When things do go wrong it’s how you prepared you are to handle a crisis and how you react that determines, and hopefully limits, the extent of the damage to your reputation.
2018 was a year that some of our most famous corporate faces experienced the very worst of times, but it was a time of extraordinary and somewhat genius fight back too.
From KFC’s upfront ‘where’s the chicken?’ response to Tide Pod’s proactive safety campaign, here’s 7 of the best reputation rescue stories of 2018.
Smart, sassy and highly strategic, they’re a lesson to us all.
Styling it out KFC-Style – best reputation rescue
When a chicken chain runs out of chicken it should be an out and out disaster, right?
But fast food giant KFC tackled their potential PR crisis head on – styling it out and making fans laugh to boot. Instead of denying or trying to hide their supply problem, they acted quickly to own the situation; running their own full-page newspaper ad mocking their mistake and apologising unreservedly.
Their transparency and the cheeky tone reflected the brand’s image well and struck a chord with customers who remained loyal to KFC. A great timely, strategy, which made headlines for all the right reasons.
Southwest Airlines – recovering from a tragedy
American giant, Southwest Airlines, faced an unthinkable tragedy in April 2018. A passenger died on one of their flights after an engine failure blew out a window.
Customer’s confidence in Southwest Airlines dropped to 31%.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the airline’s PR team managed to respond quickly and sensitively, providing a measured but full response that won them global best reputation plaudits.
They made full use of on and offline channels, sharing information, keeping media and customers up to date and responding with humanity and empathy. And they offered passengers who were on board the flight cash to cover unexpected expenses and vouchers for future flights. In October 2018, a YouGov survey revealed that trust in the airline was at 44% in October 2018 – 3% higher than it was just weeks before the tragedy.
Tide Pods take control
The Tide Pod challenge became one of the most dangerous crazes to emerge at the start of 2018. It saw young people videoing themselves eating washing powder capsules then posting the films on social media. Health officials and doctors sounded the alarm over the potentially deadly challenge and Tide Pod had to react quickly and authoritatively to avert a reputational crisis in the making.
As well as adding disclaimers to all of their packaging, they created teen-friendly video content to dissuade people from doing anything silly. The multi-channel approach worked because it spoke to audiences in a language they could understand and allowed the brand to retain its wholesome, family-friendly and safety-conscious reputation.
Starbucks responds to race row
Arguably the world’s most famous coffee chain, a race-related incident threatened to permanently damage Starbucks’ corporate reputation – and affect sales. When two black friends visited a branch in Philadelphia they decided to wait for another mate to arrive before placing an order. The manager found this suspicious and called 911, in what many believed to be a racially-motivated incident. Both men were arrested and held without charge causing an outcry when the story went public.
So far, so damaging. But Starbucks were quick to respond; taking responsibility and making instant investment in real corporate change. Chairman Howard Schultz made a public, personal apology before announcing the one-day closure of 8,000 branches so that all staff could undergo racial bias training. As he put it: “We’re better than this.”
Going viral – Iceland’s ‘too political’ Christmas campaign
With the festive spending season fast approaching, supermarket Iceland invested heavily in a Christmas TV ad campaign. Telling the heart-warming story of a baby orangutan whose home is being lost to palm oil production, they hoped their £500,000 Rang-Tan film would be a big hit.
Unfortunately for them the advert was banned by regulator Clearcast on the grounds it was too political. Their PR and reputation team salvaged the situation by sharing the film on social channels and urging others to do the same – making sure ‘the film they didn’t want you to see’ received massive attention.
A petition to bring the film to TV has already attracted 300,000 signatures.
Crisis averted. And Iceland’s best reputation as an ethically sound supermarket has been given an accidental boost.
Nike – riding the wave of controversy
Nike took a huge risk when they made Colin Kaepernick, the American quarterback who protested against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem, the face of its new advertising campaign.
But the move paid off – with Nike reinforcing their reputation as a brand that understands its young and black and minority ethnic (BME) audience. When Colin’s appointment was announced it looked like there may be a sales backlash, with customers taking to social media to express their displeasure. Some even pledged to burn their trainers and refuse to buy from the company again and their share price fell by 2%.
Instead of retreating, Nike came back with a pro-active reaction – producing a tongue-in-cheek video that showed people how to destroy their trainers safely. In standing by their decision and tackling critics head on, Nike managed to retain their reputation as a brand that transcends sport and saw sales shoot up by 31%. As their ad says: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”.
Best reputation rescues
That’s our pick of the best reputation rescues in 2018. What are yours, and can any of us predict who will win, and lose in 2019?
Discover who made our 6 most shocking reputation disasters of 2018 here.