Running a successful corporation can’t be easy, which is why they’re typically well-oiled machines kept on tight leashes. But every now and then, companies commit shockingly terrible blunders that will always be remembered as masterclasses in what not to do.
Reddit users have recently been reminding others of some of these historic mistakes, including the biggest PR disasters we’ve watched unfold, so we’ve gathered the worst stories down below. Enjoy reading about these trainwrecks that you can be glad you weren’t responsible for, and be sure to upvote the ones that must have required significant damage control!
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Nestle convincing thousands of women in low income countries that they should wean off their babies and substitute breast milk for extremely expensive formula because breast milk wasn’t fully nutritious, but also forcing new mothers to spend 30% of their income JUST on baby formula, which made them try save it to last way longer than it should and ended up killing their kids from malnutrition.
Image credits: parangolecomuna
Can’t believe the Hoover flights to America promotion from the early 90’s hasn’t come up yet. They offered a pair of return flights to America worth £600 if you spent £100 or more on their stuff. Turned out people thought £100 for a return flight with a free vacuum cleaner was a hell of a deal and it was a disaster that cost the company millions
Image credits: Tim6181
To hear more about how this conversation started, we reached out to the Reddit user who posed the question, “What are some of the worst corporate blunders or PR disasters in history?”, and lucky for us, they were kind enough to share some insight. Apparently, their question was inspired by the fact that it was recently the 10 year anniversary of Microsoft’s “disastrous” XBox One reveal event.
According to Business Insider, some of the glaring issues with the XBox One at that time were the fact that it required a constant internet connection, it was not compatible with used games, every Xbox One would come with a Kinect motion sensor, and the Xbox One was priced at $500 when it launched (which was $100 more than the PlayStation 4).
One of Swedens biggest firms for building managing is called Locum. In the late nineties it was very cool for companies to have logos where their names were spelled in lower caps. So the logo was “locum”. One Christmas Locum took out big ads in the biggest papers wishing everyone a merry Christmas and conveying the love that they felt for Sweden. How did they decide to do this? By replacing the “o” in locum with a heart of course.
So big ads that looked like this: “l❤️cum”.
Blackberry thinking that they are the top in the mobile market so they didn’t need to innovate to compete with those new iPhone things from Apple.
Image credits: TechyDad
“I wanted to see what other similarly disastrous corporate/PR blunders happened in history, their impact, and how the company recovered (if at all),” the OP told Bored Panda.
And as far as what causes these disasters, they noted, “I think most blunders are a result of poor planning – from logistics to being ignorant of specific cultures where a promotion happens, or just general lack of awareness to understand when certain ideas or innovations are ready to be received by the public.”
Digiorno trying to make the hashtag “Why I Stayed” be about making pizza at home.
Image credits: scottfpaul
One funny one that always springs to mind is the Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle releasing her first album and her management coming up with a twitter hashtag to promote it: #susanalbumparty
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It trended number one but not because of the actual album lol
Image credits: Insanegirl_throwaway
In Canada, when the Conservative Party merged with the Reform party they called themselves the Canadian Reform Alliance Party or as all Canadian comedians realized “C**P”. It was hilarious for 48 hours before the changed it. Never forget C**P
Image credits: Mahovolich13
Sears dominated the mail order industry for over a century with their catalog. In 1993, they decided that mail order was on the decline and discontinued the catalog. Less than a year later, Jeff Bezos would found Amazon.
Image credits: BlueRFR3100
Not the worst certainly but the one that makes me smile whenever I think of it.
I work for a pretty big company with offices in pretty much every country. Billions in profit every year and one of the leaders in our field. About 15 years ago there was an internal announcement that we were going to rebrand in a couple months.
A guy who I vaguely knew was already on his way out the door but before he left he grabbed the domain name that the company would definitely want to have as part of their rebranding but had not yet reserved. So a week later when they finally got around to trying to reserve it they found it occupied with a tiny website that only had a gif of a character dancing with the caption, “I got your domain!”
I have no idea what they had to pay him to get it.
Image credits: GrumpiestOldDude
Celebrities singing “imagine” at the beginning of the pandemic.
Image credits: KickiMinaj
Gerald Ratner calling his own company’s (jeweller) products “c**p” and saying that “a prawn sandwich would last longer” than their earrings at a conference. The company’s value fell by £500m and he had to resign.
Image credits: Onion_Heart
When Game of Thrones botched the most anticipated episode in the series history of one of (the?) biggest shows in history by making it in borderline pitch black. Then explaining themselves by saying people need better TVs….[https://nypost.com/2019/05/01/game-of-thrones-cinematographer-blames-dark-episode-on-bad-tv-settings/amp/](https://nypost.com/2019/05/01/game-of-thrones-cinematographer-blames-dark-episode-on-bad-tv-settings/amp/)
Image credits: teflonjon321
JC Penney tried to eliminate the tons of sales and never-ending discounts on their products by just pricing them at what they would normally be, aiming for a “fair and square” price model. Instead of marking a shirt up to $10 and then having it basically always 40% off, they just priced it at $6, for example. They also ended their prices in solid dollars instead of $0.99 intervals to make it easier to calculate.
No coupons, no sales, but the same price. People always complain about how stuff gets marked up just to get put on sale and how cheap of a gimmick it is, right?
Well turns out people actually love feeling like they’re getting a deal even if they objectively know it’s just set dressing, and JCP lost millions from the strategy and their sales dropped by around a third.
Image credits: soulreaverdan
Supposedly years ago, there was a Pepsi slogan “Come Alive with Pepsi” that was mistranslated in Chinese as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead.”
Image credits: xain_the_idiot
Blockbuster refusing to buy Netflix
Image credits: hate_mail
Have you heard of the [Osborne Effect](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_effect)?
TLDR: Company in 1981 has one of the first home computers on the market, it sounds fantastic and everything. At the launch, CEO says the next version will be so much better…. So everyone decided why buy this version if the next version will be better? We’ll wait for V2.
So V1 sold terribly, company folded, there is no V2.
Image credits: BIllyBrooks
There was a diet product called “Ayds” before the sound-alike disease. Not at all a blunder, but an unforeseeable, unrecoverable disaster.
Image credits: artwells
Trying to decide which was worse: Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal India that killed 4-8k people and injured maybe 100k, or Chiquita (under a former name) overthrowing the legitimate government of Guatemala with help from the CIA.
Image credits: toocleverbyhalf
When U2 made us all have their album on our ipods.
Image credits: samit2heck
The Ford Pinto’s propensity to explode when rear-ended.
And Ford making the business decision not to recall because their “cost benefit analysis” showed that lawsuits for injury would be cheaper.
Here’s one happening right now: HBO is rebranding as “Max”.
HBO is a premium brand with decades of quality programming behind it.
Max is generic, vague, and makes me think of soft core p**n.
Image credits: watchingsongsDL
Bud Light pissing off both sides of a stupid culture war.
Instead of backtracking, they could have said nothing, and conservatives would have moved on to the next stupid thing they get triggred by.
Coca Cola tried releasing a bottled water product in the UK called Desani which went terribly.
People in the Uk expected bottled water to be spring mineral water. Coca-cola’s water was bottled local water. Even though it wasn’t malicious, the public essentially thought it was a scam.
Basically Coca-Cola didn’t realise that the Uk public wouldn’t accept bottled tap water.
The Pepsi Number Fever promotion in the Philippines went really terribly! They basically never recovered in the market there. It’s really interesting actually! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepsi_Number_Fever
[U.S. Army tweets, “How has serving impacted you.”](https://www.npr.org/2019/05/27/727254720/a-u-s-army-tweet-asking-how-has-serving-impacted-you-got-an-agonizing-response). I actually learned about this one watching it unfold in real time on Reddit.
Image credits: USArmy
Currently on r/games:
Don Mattrick and his disastrous Xbox One reveal event in 2013. A tone-deaf presentation almost devoid of actual games in favor of “TV! TV! TV! SPORTS! TV!”…capped with always online requirement, restricted game sharing, and Mattrick himself saying if you want an offline console, get an XBox 360.
Sony capitalized hard on this PR disaster, receiving standing ovations for announcing very basic console functionalities one would expect: no online check-in, buy and share/sell physical game copies, etc, in addition to a short cheeky game sharing commercial. Plus the PS4 launched at $100 less than the X1.
The XBox brand was ruined and is still trying recovering today.
In the art field there are a lot of bad predatory software that people use (ahem adobe ahem) but one of the most well respected softwares was something called clip studio paint. It was single purchase and had amazing features and is something I personally still use. In the last year the company proceeded to go back on it’s word and force you to get a subscription or pay several hundreds for a license, add ai art support (which if you don’t know, ai art takes art from real artists for their samples which is a huge no no in the field), and most recently they are restricting offline access to paying customers and locking them out if they don’t have a credit card on their account. Company went from having a huge loyal fanbase and one of the best reputations in the entire art field to losing everyone who supported them and now are having a piracy crisis which is encouraged by most artists
I still remember when Dr. Pepper thought they could a) market a specifically 10 calorie soda and b) do so with the slogan “It’s Not For Women”
I mean this was 2011, the idea of feminism and antisexism was by no means obscure or fringe. The whole marketing campaign was so bizarre I wonder how on earth a large marketing team looked at blatant, unapologetic sexism and went “yeah sounds great this will sell us lots of soda for sure”
Image credits: Donteventrytomakeme
So this came from a U.S. state instead of a company, but it was such a masterpiece of P.R. failure that Id argue it qualifies. The U.S. m**h epidemic hit the midwest and south especially hard, and South Dakota’s situation was particularly bad per capita. Their genius idea to try to mitigate some of the damage to tourism (yes, there are actually people dumb enough to go there willingly, I was shocked too) and commerce was to put out an ad campaign assuring people they were addressing the issue. The slogan they landed on? “M**h, we’re on it”
The Victorian Taxi Association (Australian) had a 2015 social media marketing based around people sharing their good news stories of using taxis. It took a matter of days for it to be overwhelmed by the not-so-good stories. Turns out rather a lot of people had stories that ranged from hiked up fares and smelly taxies, to out-and-out sexual assaults by cabbies. All now being shared under the campaigns hashtag.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion was pretty bad on many levels. One of the largest environmental disasters in history.
Image credits: ThereWasOnceADJ
Wizards of the Coast and the open gaming license earlier this year.
Worst handling ive seen. Literally caused dozens if not hundreds of companies to pull away from creating content for the company to making new games that will directly compete with them while alienating their fans at the same time.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill
The deep water horizon oil spill
Pepsi company offers a harrier jet fighter for 7 million Pepsi points, equaling to close to 700k when the jet itself costs about 30 million.
One of the movie directors for the Flash movie basically said ” This movie will be so AMAZING you’ll forget about all the things Ezra Miller did.”
Image credits: Ex_Fact
“Do you guys not have phones?!?”- Blizzard
Powell Motors creating The Homer. Forbes dubbed it “the blunder of the century”.
EMI Music executive telling the Beatles after their audition that EMI wasn’t interested because guitar bands were on the way out?
Three Mile Island’s little situation they had – the actual nuclear disaster wasn’t that bad, but the media coverage was. It’s been described by many as possibly the worst PR disaster in history.
Met-Ed had horrid communication with the plant during the media frenzy, and both Met-Ed and TMI had bad communication with the government, so everyone was saying things that contradicted each other with every word, pretty much.
Highly recommend the video by Kyle Hill as part of his series “Half Life Histories,” this video specifically goes in-depth into TMI: https://youtu.be/cL9PsCLJpAA
Image credits: At_omic857
Gillette’s toxic masculinity commercial. They lost over 8 billion dollars because they directly attacked their target audience. Good idea
Image credits: plain-plainsman
Harry and Meghan (hides under table). It seems like they had the whole world at their feet but every move they make is read by the public as wrong, demanding, spoilt etc. They’re darned if they do and darned if they don’t at this stage.
ETA: their PR has been a disaster from start to finish
SEGA’s North American advertisement department not advertising the SEGA Dreamcast. Now Sonic the Hedgehog, who was ironically created to be the anti-Mario mascot, now makes Nintendo richer. The Dreamcast would have sold so much better had people been aware it even existed.
Yahoo not buying Google!
Captain Edward Smith’s decision to steam Titanic full-speed at night into a field of icebergs because he didn’t want to disappoint investors by being late to New York must be regarded as one of the worst corporate decisions in history.
What made it so terrible is that on the surface it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. It was a clear night, and Titanic should be nigh unsinkable anyway. But this was the ship’s maiden voyage, the crew wasn’t used to the ship, the view from the bridge was quite poor, a ship that large doesn’t turn quickly, and the captain left less experienced officers on the bridge while he went to enjoy a private party.
All of which resulted in a bit of a PR blunder for the White Star Line.
Two stick out. IBM deciding they would not write the operating system for PCs. Hello Bill Gates.
Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) was a huge player in main frame computers. Mr Olsen, it’s CEO said we are not going to make home computers. No one is going to want a computer in their house.
So never believe everyone all the time.
Kodak shunning digital photography
Image credits: uvaspina1
Xbox One’s E3(?) announcement.
It was basically a TV box, hardly any mention of video games, and who could forget the infamous “fortunately, we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, it’s called Xbox 360.”
Squirrels are rats with good PR.
Nokia, once the biggest phone company in the world, failed to move with the times and switch to Android/smartphones.
VW diesel gate has to be up there.
WTH were they thinking… lol.
* Coke making New Coke
* Kodak refusing to go digital believing people would stay true to film
* Toys R Us neglecting their online sales experience
James Corden thinking that doing an AMA on Reddit would go any other way than it did
Back in the 90s Hormel Foods went on a Cease & Desist spree against anyone who was making jokes about Spam because they felt the brand had been damaged and needed to be rebuilt.
The last straw was when they threatened to sue Jim Henson Studios over the character Spa’am in Muppet Treasure Island. That turned people against them pretty quick. It turns out if you want to rebuild your brand in the public eye, suing one of the most beloved entertainment franchise of two generations was a bad way to go about it.
Eventually the dropped all the C&D stuff and changed their marketing strategy, instead deciding to lean into it and proclaiming that there are always going to be jokes about Spam so they might as well be in on them.
Target’s expansion into Canada. Collapsed in 2 years and cost 7 billion.
The [Atari E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game burial](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_video_game_burial) is a big one
Well that schizophrenic guy who held up a Domino’s because he thought the ‘Avoid the Noid’ commercials were directed personally at him pretty much killed the campaign
Pfizer wanted a word meaning “dog who takes RIMADYL”.
They came up with “[RimaDog](https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.reutersevents.com/pharma/commercial/pfizers-rim-dog-raises-more-few-eyebrows)”.
AOL-Time Warner merger. Ted Turner told them it was a blunder at the time, but hey why listen to him.
Apple Computer throwing away its position as the leader in computer games.
I know this is a bit before many people here were born, but the Apple II was the leader in terms of computer games from roughly 1977 to 1984. It was a great hobbyist computer, thus had a lot of the early computer games, many of which were influential and would create the companies and brands we know today, while the IBM PC (what we know as PCs today) was a computer for the corporate world.
Steve Jobs decided he wanted Apple to pivot from being seen as a hobbyist device which would play games (the horror!), and the Apple III actually put extra chips in the device to block functionality that was already there, so that many of the computer games would not run.
Image credits: behindtimes
Fyre Festival…poorly organized, no infrastructure…wire fraud charges.
Ford spend millions on marketing for that mid a*s car that almost nobody liked and it almost drove the company to an early death
That Pepsi and Kendal Jenner ad.
Image credits: 77Columbus
Bhopal Disaster is a doozy
The “Driver” tutorial level was so hard that many, many people were unable to even get past it. You had one minute to do a bunch of poorly explained tricks and it wasn’t skippable.
Subway spokesperson turns out to be a paedo.
Bowing 737 Max – two planes had crash before they admitted what had happened.
Not sure how Samsung survived this:
[2016 Note 7 Recall](https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2016/Samsung-Recalls-Galaxy-Note7-Smartphones)
Surprised no one has mentioned the Bhopal disaster.
EA Games Star Wars “Pride and Accomplishment” Reddit Post. Truly one the most inept PR posts.