Corporations have a tenuous relationship with consumers, and any hint of scandal or malfeasance can result in a major fail. Companies can make mistakes, just like individuals, but many of these PR disasters are a direct result of egregious and reckless behavior that puts consumers at risk.
These corporate calamities include misguided marketing campaigns that promised more than they could deliver, such as the infamous Pepsi Number Fever debacle; and tone-deaf public responses to company errors, such as United Airlines' unrepentant initial response when a passenger was jerked out of his seat on an overbooked flight.
Memories can fade and companies have recovered from PR fails, but some of the incidents on this list deserve to remain in the public eye.
United Flight 3411 was slated to leave Chicago's O’Hare International Airport for Louisville, KY, on April 9, 2017, when an incident occurred that would forever tarnish the company's reputation and relationship with passengers. The flight was full, but four United employees needed to be on the plane to work a connecting flight. United followed its usual protocol, first offering vouchers to anyone who would willingly give up their seat.
When no one offered, four passengers were randomly selected, including Dr. David Dao Duy Anh, a physician who refused to leave the flight because he needed to be at the hospital the following day. United employees called airport security, who physically dragged the screaming Dao from his seat, hitting his face on the armrest, which resulted in a broken nose and teeth.
Traumatized passengers filmed the incident, which quickly went viral as people around the world reacted with horror to Dao's treatment. United's CEO Oscar Munoz initially blamed Dao for being belligerent and described the practice of "reaccommodating passengers" as normal, but Munoz quickly became more apologetic as public outcry grew.
Munoz eventually testified about the incident before Congress, and United came to a settlement agreement with Dao, but the airline will forever be linked to the horrific video of officers dragging a screaming passenger from his rightful seat.Major fail?
A Mattress Store Went Out Of Business After Its 9/11 Parody Commercial
This might be the most tasteless advertising campaign imaginable, and it is difficult to believe that anyone working in the store would green-light such a premise. Miracle Mattress in San Antonio attempted to use the collective grief from the September 11 tragedy to sell its wares, creating a 20-second commercial that outraged Texans.
The commercial begins with the store manager asking, "What better way to remember 9/11 than with a twin tower sale?" Two store employees fall down on stacks of twin mattresses, set up side-by-side, knocking them both over while the store manager mock gasps. It ends with her saying, "We will never forget."
Local outrage was immediate, and sparked national condemnation of the store and its crass advertisement. Employees received death threats and Miracle Mattress ultimately closed its doors, unable to overcome the criticism of attempting to profit from 9/11.Major fail?
TFC Bank Discriminated Against A Man Depositing Money He Won In A Racial Discrimination Lawsuit
Sauntore Thomas visited his local TCF Bank in Livonia, MI, in 2019 to deposit checks totaling $99,000. The bank manager believed the checks were fraudulent, told Thomas they would need to be verified, and instead of calling to validate their authenticity, she alerted the local police. When the four officers arrived, they questioned Thomas; after he called his lawyer to confirm the checks were real, the bank manager still refused to deposit them, believing they were fraudulent.
Thomas, a Black man and US Air Force veteran, had recently sued his former employer for racial discrimination, and the legitimate checks he tried to deposit at TCF were from the settlement. He and his lawyer, fresh from their previous courtroom victory, sued TCF for racial discrimination, claiming that this type of humiliating treatment would not have occurred if Thomas were white.
TCF claimed that his behavior was suspicious, but their treatment of Thomas, reinforced by calling the police on a Black man, disgusted many Americans and revealed how racial profiling can take place anywhere.Major fail?
The CEO Of LifeLock Published His Social Security Number - Then Had His Identity Stolen 13 Times
LifeLock CEO Todd Davis was so confident in the efficiency of his identity protection company that he published his real social security number in its advertisements. He gave away his social because he "guaranteed" his service could stop identity theft.
The bold move backfired. Davis's identity was stolen on 13 separate occasions. His SSN was used in activities varying from obtaining a $500 loan from a check-cashing company to opening an AT&T/Cingular wireless account.
LifeLock's advertising and guarantees landed the company a $12 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission in 2010.Major fail?