Five Pop Culture PR Crises

By Sydney Tipton

In today’s society of quick views and global campaigns and the entire world of media at the click of a button, celebrities and corporations alike have fallen into scandals or made wrong choices that earned them backlash from the public. Some celebrities and companies have reacted quickly when they mess up, forming quick solutions and healing their relationship with the public, while others have fallen short and faced the consequences. Here are five PR crises that went viral in the last decade and how the famous faces and brands recovered.

Adidas’s Boston Marathon Email

The athletic wear company – Adidas –  was a sponsor of the 121st Boston Marathon. At the end of the race in 2017, Adidas sent an email to the racers reading “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” which was received poorly after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and left over 250 with injuries. The brand reacted quickly in a statement to TIME magazine, with a spokesperson apologizing for the insensitive title line. This served as a quick recovery, with Adidas giving respect to the impressive race and all the racers who had come before. 

The Tide Pods Trend

Companies showcase campaigns in cities as a form of PR and this can lead to crisis.

Around the early 2010s, a trend was circulating around social media involving the consumption of Tide Pods. This trend quickly took a deadly turn as it became more well-known and popular, and Tide regained control of the situation very early on, creating graphics and even utilizing Rob Gronkowski in a video posted on social media to tell teens and any other trend followers to not eat the laundry-intended pods. By catching the trend before it got out of hand, Tide was able to maintain its reputation and quickly push out reminders to keep consumers alert and smart about their decisions.

Uber’s Surge Pricing Scandal

The popular ride-share company faced life-threatening backlash after their surge-pricing mechanisms put users in danger in 2022. Surge pricing is where rides are in extremely high demand, therefore the prices and rates per ride increase. This is an algorithm, so when ten people were shot in the Brooklyn subway in New York, Uber rates soared for users trying to escape the premises. People took to the media with their disdain for this problem, and this led to Uber sending out a statement that they would refund users after the incident and would adjust fares. Uber didn’t say they would adjust the surge pricing algorithm overall, but they made sure those affected by the prices paid an appropriate amount and apologized publicly.

Ulta’s Kate Spade Email

Another badly-worded email came from the cosmetics company Ulta, when an email newsletter was released encouraging consumers to “come hang with Kate Spade.” This tagline was insensitive and met with an outcry from the recipients, as the line was ignorant of the designer Kate Spade’s death, as she was known to struggle with mental health and committed suicide in 2018. The company sent out a subsequent email apologizing for their word choice and promising customers that the incident will not occur again. 

Coke and Christiano Ronaldo

At a UEFA Euro 2020 press conference before a match, the world-renowned football star Christiano Ronaldo moved two Coca-Cola bottles from in front of him, telling the audience “agua” or to drink water instead. The company took a hit, dropping in market value by 4 billion dollars and a spokesperson communicated that people have different tastes and needs and that players are offered water as well as Coca-Cola or sugarless Coca-Cola at the press conferences.

PR mistakes and accidents are bound to happen in the speed and accessibility of the current media, and oftentimes these are hard to control, like how Tide’s issue with the consumption of their pods began completely out of their influence. What corporations can control is the recovery and outreach that they react with after and that can make all the difference.