How Major Companies Responded To Backlash
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Before the internet, major companies didn't face much backlash for controversies their businesses created. Angry or frustrated customers could write to headquarters or call to complain, but garnering enough support to draw the attention of national news headlines and foster change was difficult.
Now, one disgruntled patron or client can quickly stir worldwide outrage just by sharing their negative experiences on social media. Although some large companies somehow still survive the disasters and scandals they endure, others are forced to change their ways or close their doors.
The items below show how major companies responded to the public backlash they received. While some owned up to their mistakes and made amends, others weren't so quick to form an apology.
- Photo: Roadsidepictures / Flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.01443 VOTES
After Mysterious Murders, Tylenol Recalled Its Product And Introduced Tamper-Proof Packaging
In the last few months of 1982, a series of seemingly unconnected deaths in Illinois became suddenly linked. First, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman and 27-year-old Adam Janus mysteriously passed on the same day in separate towns. Although the accidents seem unrelated, both had taken Tylenol earlier in the day. Soon after, two of Janus's relatives took a few Tylenol from the bottle in his home before also falling ill and perishing.
Not long after, investigators realized this brand of the pain-relieving medication acetaminophen was the common link, as all four people had succumbed to cyanide poisoning traced to the Tylenol, as did three additional Illinois residents.
Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Products immediately responded, recalling more than 31 million bottles of the product and issuing mass warnings through media outlets concerning the possible contamination. Authorities found other bottles laced with cyanide in a few other Chicago-area stores, but they had yet to be purchased. To provide an extra cushion of caution, McNeil also offered to replace any bottles that people had already purchased, and offered a reward for any information the public could provide concerning the crimes.
To prevent future contamination (not to mention possible company ruin), McNeil developed new ways to ensure its products were safe, including the packed cotton wad and tamper-proof foil seal now found on most ingestible bottled products. Additionally, it stopped producing Tylenol as capsules and made caplets instead, which are harder to contaminate.
No one has ever been convicted of the poisonings.
- 2391 VOTES
Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus Retired Elephants After Activist Protests And Numerous Cities Banned Their Performances
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has toured with elephants since P.T. Barnum purchased an Asian elephant and added it to his show in 1882. However, after fighting legal battles with animal activist groups like the Humane Society of the US and being banned from numerous cities due to alleged mistreatment of the large mammals, the circus closed its tent doors in May 2017.
The decision came after representatives from Feld Entertainment, the circus's parent company, realized that building the necessary enclosures to permanently house the elephants took less time than they initially expected. The 11 remaining performing pachyderms joined the 29 animals already living in the Florida-based sanctuary and two on breeding loans to zoos.
In May 2022, the circus announced it would return to the touring entertainment business in 2023 with revamped acts that don't include animals.
- Photo: Tomás Del Coro / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.03346 VOTES
After A Holiday Meltdown, Southwest Airlines Offered Customers Refunds, Reimbursements, And Reward Points
As holiday travelers flying with Southwest Airlines rushed through crowds to reach their assigned gates on time, thousands of travelers remained stranded at their terminals. From December 22, 2022 through January 2, 2023, Southwest canceled thousands of flights every day, causing chaos at airports and creating bitter customers denied the chance to spend the season with loved ones.
To repay their customers and save their reputation, the airline offered 25,000 frequent flyer points to each ticketed passenger whose flight was canceled between December 24 and January 2 - points with no expiration date or blackout dates. Reporter Zach Griff also noted in a Tweet that just a few hours after he submitted a reimbursement form, Southwest provided him a $39 refund, a $149 reimbursement, and a $250 travel voucher.
In an email to customers, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan offered an official apology:
I know that no amount of apologies can undo your experience. For those who have requested refunds, reimbursements and/or are waiting to be reunited with your lost bag(s), those processes are being handled with great urgency and we appreciate your patience.
- Video: YouTube4428 VOTES
After Viewers Claimed A Peloton Holiday Ad Was Sexist, The Company Stood By Its Choice Of Content
In 2019, Peloton released a holiday commercial that many people found sexist and misogynistic. In it, a husband gifts his wife a stationary bike for Christmas. She documents her progress over a year before tearfully telling her husband that she hadn't realized “how much it would change” her. Essentially, her gift was getting in better shape, and the husband's gift was having a slimmer wife.
Instead of apologizing for the ad's outdated undertones, Peloton stood by the commercial, stating:
We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them…
Our holiday spot was created to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey. While we’re disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial, we are encouraged by — and grateful for — the outpouring of support we’ve received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate.
Soon after, Peloton's stock dropped $942 million from its market value.
- Photo: mliu92 / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.05304 VOTES
Mattel Dumped Its SeaWorld Trainer Barbie After Animal Rights Protests
SeaWorld drew globally negative attention in 2010 after its longtime orca performer Tilikum caused the drowning death of his trainer, Dawn Brancheau; she also suffered blunt force trauma.
The release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish fueled anger and resentment toward the theme park as viewers witnessed an inside account of the death and the stark reality of a whale's life in captivity.
In a filtered response, Mattel discontinued the production of its SeaWorld Trainer Barbie. While the toy company's executives didn't precisely say why they stopped making this version of the doll, the announcement came at the height of the growing controversy. In a statement, Mattel spokesman Alex Clark addressed the choice:
We’re not making the doll anymore. Consumers may find it on retail shelves but we are not shipping and not producing the doll… A number of factors go into a decision like that. Their licensing deal expired, and we’ve elected not to renew it.
- Photo: Thomas Hawk / Flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.06310 VOTES
After A Questionable Documentary, McDonald’s Got Rid Of Its Super Sizes
American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Supersize Me exposed the health risks of eating McDonald's consistently after he learned of lawsuits against the chain for not being more forthcoming with nutritional information about their burgers and chicken nuggets. As the nation continued to push for healthier options, the fast food company quietly “simplified” its menu by taking super-sized burgers and fries off the list of options.
The company claimed the decision to make menu changes, including adding salads and fruit options, had nothing to do with the bad publicity. However, when executives launched the initiative, nationwide sales had flatlined. Regarding the documentary and their subsequent business moves, McDonald's went on the record to say:
[The documentary is] a super-sized distortion of the quality, choice, and variety available at McDonald’s… [and is] a gimmick to make a film… Now that sales have improved, it’s easier to pull things off the menu… When sales are declining, the corporation and the franchisees are terrified at the prospect of selling a few less 42-ounce drinks. When sales are on the upswing, it’s easier to admit that you can’t be everything to everybody…
The reason for reducing the number of fry sizes is to simplify operations and enhance our ability to deliver better service to our guests… [The 7-oz. fry option] will be eliminated as part of our healthy lifestyle initiative.