Marketing and PR Fails of 2017

This year was filled with great moments in advertising and PR, from Honda’s “Yearbooks” and the all-new HoneyBaked Ham company’s “KellyBaked Ham” commercial to the Domino’s Pizza wedding registry and BrewDog’s puppy parental leave, there have been a lot of spot-on moments. But all of these hits don’t come without some misses, whether it’s just a flop or if there were bigger issues at hand in the PR department. These were some of the worst fails in marketing and PR this year.

Pepsi and Kendall Jenner

Pepsi’s “Live For Now” spot aired in April and was pulled shortly after, when it was received as ill thought out and in poor taste of the current social and political climate. The ad features Kendall Jenner abandoning a modeling gig to join a protest. Tensions begin to mount between police and protesters until miraculously, Jenner’s opening of a can of Pepsi eases the conflict.  The ad was so unliked that Wired claimed it “united the internet”.

Adidas Boston Marathon

After finishing the Boston Marathon, runners received an email from the sponsor of the race, athletic brand Adidas. The message read “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” The responses to this message were quick and harsh, as many wondered how the messages deeper meaning had not been thought through. If you recall, in 2013 three people were killed and over 260 were injured during a bombing at that year’s Boston marathon. Adidas released a statement officially apologizing for the email

Walker’s #WalkersWave selfie campaign

Automated Twitter campaigns sound like a great idea, until they aren’t. British company Walkers Crisps launched a campaign to bring attention to the brand by having Twitter users send in selfies to be featured in the #WalkersWave, with a chance to win Champions League tickets. The selfies that ended up being submitted were, frankly, less than ideal. From mass murderers to disgraced TV stars, the PR stunt that was intended to be lighthearted and fun backfired in a way that was in one word: incredible. Walers issued an apology and shut down the campaign shortly thereafter.

The Oscars mix up

Following the botched announcement of the winner of Miss Universe, no one would have expected the same thing to happen on the biggest night in Hollywood. At the end of the night, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went onstage to present the award for best picture, and read the card with the results, one that stated “La La Land”. However, Beatty was handed the wrong envelope, and during the celebration of their win, the cast and crew were interrupted to announce that, “La La Land” was not, in fact, the winner, but the film “Moonlight” was. Mass confusion ensued, and PricewaterhouseCoopers the accounting firm that has overseen the Oscar ballots for 83 years issued an apology and launched an investigation into how the mistake was made.

United Airlines

2017 was rough for United Airlines, with multiple damaging PR situations including a violently removed passenger, overbooked flights and passenger dress code uproar. The United PR team and CEO Oscar Munoz have had lukewarm responses to all of the incidents. The non-apologies and disappointing initial responses caused United’s stock price to fall by half a billion dollars. Social media users spoke out about the airline’s policies and responses, and there didn’t seem to be a strategy to fix it, making this an even bigger PR disaster.


Dove has worked hard to align itself as a brand that is for everyone, especially with their “Real Beauty” campaign that has spanned a decade. But this year missed the mark in some pretty major ways, with the series called “Real Beauty Bottles” and an ad on Facebook that was immediately criticised as being racist. The bottles were an awkward misstep that meant to show inclusion and Twitter users ripped the campaign to shreds.  The ad for Dove’s body wash showing models removing a skin toned shirt to reveal another model was more recent, but since its release, the backlash surrounding it has caused Dove to issue an apology and pull the ad. You can read what one of the featured models thinks about the controversy here.

Fyre Festival

Who can forget the Fyre Festival? In April, the fallout from a failed blowout music festival in the Bahamas was astronomical. From lack of promised amenities to the infamous cheese sandwich, the festival that promised everything delivered nothing. Those who purchased tickets (with prices ranging from several thousand dollars up to $250,000 for deluxe packages) were either blocked from flying in or ended up stranded on the island. The organizers of the event have remained quiet, save for citing “unforeseen and extenuating circumstances” for the postponement of the event and promising free entry for next year to all of those who purchased tickets. There are currently multiple lawsuits filed against the event organizers which include accusations of negligence, fraud, failure to provide funds and breach of contract. Spin’s timeline of events outlines every misstep and incident from the very beginning.


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