What better way to entertain the kids during the school holidays than to enlist them in the KKK! That would be the Krispy Kreme Klub obviously, what were you thinking?

It’s half term, and brands have prepared a host of child-friendly activities. Krispy Kreme was no different, offering a Wednesday club for kids to decorate (and eat) their own doughnut. Head office quickly sent the memo around its multiple branches to update the blackboards. But it didn’t take long for people to notice the unintentional Ku Klux Klan reference.


From the Hull, St Stephen’s store board.

To err is human, to associate your brand with a famous racial hate group is an epic PR fail. One has to think, how many people saw it, including the person who wrote it, and still thought everything was fine? Always remember to look at ideas from somebody else’s shoes. What makes perfect sense to your brand, could be something completely different to your customer.

This recent blunder had us thinking about some of our favourite PR fails.

Pure (tap) water

Why drink the tap water you have already paid for when you can buy a bottle of it at a premium price? Yeah, everyone else thought that too. In 2004, Coca-Cola GB made a rather large oopsy daisy when it launched Dasagi, its brand of ‘pure bottled water’. A £7million marketing budget claimed the company was using NASA technology for a new level of pureness; only to be revealed it was water from a tap in Kent. Didn’t Rodney Trotter warn them it wasn’t a good idea? Pretty bad PR fail, right? Wouldn’t it have been absolutely terrible if a month later all of Dasagi had to be pulled from the shelves as it was contaminated with cancer-causing chemical bromate? … Ah. Read more. Well, it’s not like they would just wait a decade and try pushing a pure water brand again, is it Glaceau Smartwater? Oh.

Those Beyonce photos

You know when someone asks you to do something and it just makes you want to do that thing even more? Well, that. During Beyonce’s performance during the 2013 Superbowl some rather unflattering photos were taken. This is not an uncommon problem with photographing high-energy performances. And most people will forgive a derp face from Beyonce while she’s killing Single Ladies. However, it all started to go wrong when Beyonce’s publicist got in touch with new outlets and picture agencies asking them to delete the bad pics. Telling a journalist outright not to use a story or picture will just get it used faster. Within hours, unflattering photos of the singer flew across the internet and formed the basis of many many memes – popping up in  every news page, blog and social media feed. This is the literal definition of a PR backfire.


Love thy product

You can spend however long you want saying your product is wonderful, and people will take it with a pinch a salt and judge for themselves before, hopefully, agreeing. It takes your chief executive just once to say a single product is ‘crap’ and your customers will treat your entire brand with disdain. Gerald Ratner was the chairman of the multi-million jewellery store chain Ratners. While giving an after dinner speech to the Institute of Directors in 1991, he called one of the popular decanter sets ‘total crap’, and continued to say a pair of earrings were ‘as cheap as an M&S prawn sandwich, but probably wouldn’t last as long’. From there, the group plummeted more than £500 million, nearly collapsing the business. Ratner resigned as chairman, but kept the role of chief executive for around a year before leaving completely. He said his comments were never meant to be taken seriously. In 1993 Ratners rebranded to Signet Group.


Left: Samsung SmartTV privacy policy, warning users not to discuss personal info in front of their TV Right: 1984. From Parker Higgins (@xor) February 2015

Orwell television

Attentive tweeter Parker Higgins was one of the first to spot the similar comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984 and the new smart TV privacy guidelines from Samsung. The entertainment company has warned customers not to have private conversations in front of their TV. Voice recognition technology in smart-TVs comes from a third party. Your voice is transmitted to an American company through the in-built microphone, who translate it into a command for your television. But this means private information can be heard as well. Samsung has done the right thing by informing its customers, but it it’s more than just a little creepy to think that someone is listening in. The feature can be turned off, but that means losing the voice recognition.