Why trying to capitalize on news headlines can be a bad idea

There are some news events and trends that lend themselves nicely to media relations for your client or product. For example, if your city is experiencing a huge snowstorm and your company delivers groceries to shut-in seniors, you could have a great pitch. If an election is underway and your restaurant is having a burger poll of the top candidates, you could get some media attention. But if a war breaks out, a natural disaster is wreaking havoc, or say, an airplane full of passengers disappears and is presumed to have crashed, that may not be your best opportunity for a pitch.

And yet, it happened. Last March, when Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared with all passengers presumed dead, TeamWork Online, a US sports industry job network, decided it was a good opportunity for them to market themselves. With thanks to @unmarketing, check out this tweet from @TeamWorkOnline:

Why trying to capitalize on news headlines can be a bad idea


Yikes! The backlash was pretty immediate, and TeamWork Online soon changed the tweet’s text, but it was too late. One marketing blog called this:

“One of the worst examples of bad taste I have ever come across.”

Another said:

“This one will go down as one of the worst examples of newsjacking since newsjacking was invented. Or, maybe since anything was invented. The idiocy is simply incomprehensible.”

I’m going to give TeamWorks the benefit of the doubt and assume they don’t have a PR specialist on their team. So let’s chalk this one up to another good reason why you need good PR advice at all times, and why anything in the public eye needs to be thought out strategically. Because when you don’t do that, you do this kind of “idiocy.”

In a bilingual country, your messages have to work in both languages

CPT121_ODDITY_Bottle_Top_20130919You would think a company as big as Coca Cola, which operates in so many countries and so many languages, would know better. But then, companies are only as smart as the people who work there, and I guess someone dropped a ball on this one.

A campaign for Coke-owned Vitamin Water put randomly generated words on the bottle caps, one in French and one in English. Customers were supposed to collect the caps to combine words into humorous sentences. The intent was that Anglophones would use the English words and Francophones would use the French ones. All well and good, but some words just don’t cut it in translation.

An Edmonton woman opened her bottle to read “you retard.” Her younger sister is developmentally delayed so she and her hubby were particularly upset at the slur. But if you know French, you’ll know that “retard” means late en français. It just means something else entirely in English. And apparently there were also caps with the French word for shower, “douche,” which of course has a whole other meaning in English. I’m sure if we put our minds to it, we’d find a bunch of other words that give offence in the other language.

To Coke’s credit, once they were called on it (by a public letter from the Edmonton woman’s father), they immediately canceled the promotion campaign and apologized properly. They told Canadian Press that the mistake was:

…an oversight on our part during that review process.

Besides cancelling the campaign, the spokesperson said the company will destroy all of the caps with words printed on them.

How much money was wasted on this word game just because no one thought to review the word list in both languages?Reminds me of a travel company I know that posts signs they see with bizarre translations.

Israel-no-swimming-sign Office-of-Mayhem-600x281 cash-or-Octopus


Don’t make light of big world events

Kenneth Cole, the fashion house famous for its shoes (at least in my closet!), really put foot in mouth during the Arab Spring. At the height of the demonstrations in Egypt in 2011, the twitter account credited to the designer posted this:


You might remember how important Twitter was during those demonstrations, when internet access was often blocked and organizers used the #Cairo hashtag to connect with supporters. Maybe not so much to shop for shoes.

Needless to say, the internet masses turned on Kenneth Cole. Those who had been using the #Cairo hashtag outside of Egypt to keep up to date on news were pretty vicious.

  • WTF is wrong with you, @KennethCole ? http://twitter.com/#!/KennethCole/status/33177584262971393
  • @KennethCole Totally poor taste. People are dying in the streets and you want to advertise your fashions? #boycottKennethCole
  • I have to say the #Kennethcole tweet made me giggle; they had to know there would be backlash.. They are now in a PR nightmare. Intended???

And within minutes, a parody @kennethcolepr account was created, and the #KennethColeTweets hashtag took off.

  • “People from New Orleans are flooding into Kenneth Cole stores!”#KennethColeTweets
  • Hey #Mubarak: Perhaps it’d be easier to step down with a pair of ultra-comfy loafers from our spring collection! #KennethColeTweets
  • Going to a cross burning? You’ll hate cutting eye holes in our 600 thread count cotton sheets. #KennethColeTweets
  • Horrified by the discarded shoes at Auschwitz? You’ll never part with anything from our new line—not over your dead body! #KennethColeTweets
  • Don’t be a slave to bad fashion – Celebrate Black History Month with our new Spring line! #KennethColeTweets

Kenneth Cole did post a kind-of apology:


But still, not the kind of PR you really want, is it? Despite the apology, the tweet generated negative coverage for weeks. Just goes to show that just because you’re fashionable doesn’t mean you exhibit good taste. 😉

Obama Chia isn’t racist?

Sometimes you hear a story and you’re sure someone is making it up, but in fact it’s true. This is one of those.

picture_18In 2009, Barack Obama was President of the Free World, I mean the USA, the first black man to hold the post ever. So some genius at Chia Pets (come on, sing with me, ChChCh Chia…..) thought it would be a good idea to offer a Chia Obama for sale. The ad says it’s a symbol of “liberty, opportunity, prosperity and hope.”

And when some groups suggested that it might be racist to grow a big chia afro on the head of a statue of the first black president, the Chia Pets spokesperson said:

…he was stung by suggestions that there was something racist about Chia Obama, which, if left untrimmed, appears to give the 44th President a healthy, if very green, Afro.

“Since when is an Afro racist?” asked Pedott, a Republican who voted for Obama. Owners can trim Chia Obama’s “hair” to any length they want, he added.

Retailers like Walgreens pulled Obama Chia from their store shelves soon thereafter, but you can still buy it online today.

Wouldn’t it have been fun to be the PR person around the table when that product was introduced?