Twitter Fails & PR Disasters

15 Companies That Had PR Nightmares in 2017

View Slideshow
Twitter Fails & PR Disasters


In the age of social media, companies' public relations headaches come in all shapes and sizes -- a reality many airlines, for instance, have been grappling with in the past few years. Whether their troubles stemmed from full-fledged corporate malfeasance, tone-deaf advertisements, errant posts on social media or something in between, here are 15 companies that would rather forget 2017.

United Airlines


United touched off one of the biggest public relations disasters of the year in April when security officers violently dragged a man off an overbooked flight after he was already seated. While United ultimately settled with the man for an undisclosed sum, the damage had been done. A video of the incident went viral and the company was widely roasted, both for the mishap and the CEO's less-than-satisfying response.



Equifax quickly became one of the most hated companies in America when it revealed in September that hackers had stolen sensitive personal data on as many as 143 million people. The credit bureau offered free credit monitoring and identity theft protection, but is already facing a number of lawsuits from financial institutions, shareholders, and consumers.

Wells Fargo
Kristi Blokhin/shutterstock


After a disastrous 2016, which saw Wells Fargo admit to creating millions of customer accounts without permission, the massive bank became embroiled in more scandals in 2017. In July, the bank acknowledged charging car loan customers for unneeded insurance. It also faces lawsuits from customers who say the bank tinkered with their mortgages without permission, extending monthly payments and ultimately adding to the amount they owe.



Subway offers chicken subs -- or does it? Canadian Broadcasting reported in February that lab tests showed the sandwich chain's oven-roasted chicken is actually only 53.6 percent chicken. The rest, the report claimed, is soybean fillers. Subway, which says its own tests show only trace amounts of soy in its chicken, sued after CBC refused to issue a retraction.



Social-media users started urging riders to #DeleteUber in January when the company was accused of disrupting a taxi strike at a New York airport related to President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban. An estimated 200,000 users did delete the app, according to The Washington Post. The company got even more bad press about persistent accusations of sexual harassment and when CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on video arguing with a driver.



In April, German skin-care company Nivea rolled out a Facebook ad for invisible deodorant that showed a woman with flowing hair dressed in a white outfit. The all-caps slogan? "White is Purity." It attracted condemnation from many -- and, unfortunately, plenty of affirmation from neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Nivea quickly deleted the ad and released a statement saying it "was inappropriate and not reflective of our values as a company."



A simple marketing email caused a major public-relations headache for Adidas in April, when the company congratulated runners who had "survived the Boston Marathon." Social media users skewered the company for its insensitivity, considering that twin bombings killed three and injured more than 260 others at the marathon in 2013. Adidas apologized, saying "there was no thought given" to the email's offensive subject line.

Por Pratya/shutterstock


Nikon botched a September rollout of its D850 camera by using 32 professional photographers -- all men -- to test out the new model in a prominent ad campaign. Female photographers lambasted the company, which faced further backlash by claiming the women it had invited were simply "unable to attend."



In another branding message backfire, Pepsi did little to ease the nation's racial tension in April by rolling out an ad featuring Kendall Jenner calming protests by handing a police officer a can of soda. Activists blasted the commercial for trivializing a serious issue, and Pepsi pulled it off the air.

Papa John's
Jonathan Weiss/shutterstock


In November, pizza giant Papa John's found itself in the awkward position of picking up endorsements from white supremacists after founder John Schnatter attributed lower sales to the NFL's tolerance of player protests during the national anthem. The company later clarified that it believes in the players' rights to protest and honoring the anthem. It also tweeted a middle-finger emoji to neo-Nazis.



Dove touched off a backlash in October after posting an ad showing a black woman peeling off her shirt and morphing into a white woman. Commenters lambasted the ad as racially insensitive, and the company acknowledged that it had "missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully." Earlier in the year, it launched limited-edition bottles in different shapes and sizes meant to represent all women, a move that also didn't go over so well.



The social-media giant made several missteps this year. One of the most prominent was using a virtual-reality app and cartoon avatars to "tour" hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico in October, blasted as tone deaf considering the widespread destruction. The company was also under scrutiny for its reluctance to work with lawmakers investigating its role in spreading Russian-linked rhetoric and "fake news" ahead of the 2016 election.



Wendy's perennially edgy social media team got into hot water in January when a Twitter user asked it to tweet a meme, the fast-food chain's team put Wendy's iconic red hair on a picture of Pepe the Frog, a symbol co-opted by white supremacists. The company deleted the Tweet, saying it had been unaware of the meme's new meaning.

natthi phaocharoen/shutterstock


McDonald's had its own social media gaffe in March when the company's Twitter account blasted Trump, calling him "a sorry excuse of a President,"and maligning his "tiny hands." The tweet was pinned to the top of the official McDonald's Twitter page for about 20 minutes before it was deleted. The company said its account had been hacked.



Bodega, a startup consisting of vending machine-like "pantry boxes," got off to a rough start in September. Articles proclaimed the company's goal as killing off local mom-and-pop convenience stores, causing an intense backlash from people who felt the company was celebrating gentrification and aiming to extinguish largely immigrant-run businesses.