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3 Times Organizations Disarmed PR Fiascos with Humor

June 19, 2018 Jonathan Houghton

It’s never fun to admit that you’ve screwed something up. We all mess up at some point, and it’s always humbling to own up to a mistake and try to make things right.

In the world of PR, crisis management is an art form, as our own Jeff Bradford knows from experience. But not all PR crises are created equal.

Some are legitimately big problems that require a thoughtful communications plan. Others are more innocent mistakes that, more than anything, are just a bit embarrassing — and maybe even funny in hindsight.

KFC’s apologetic print ad replaced the “KFC” on a chicken bucket with “FCK” — a less delicate way of saying “We messed up.”

That’s why, sometimes, a bit of well-deployed humor can be the best solution for disarming a PR fiasco. Here are a few of our favorite examples:

1. Kentucky Fried Chicken runs out of chicken

When “chicken” is one of the words in your company name, the one thing you really don’t want to do is run out of it. Especially to the point when you have to temporarily close hundreds of stores. Yet, that’s the problem KFC found themselves in earlier this year when they switched poultry suppliers and ran into some unexpected hitches.

Yes, it was a fiasco, but it was a uniquely ridiculous type of fiasco. So KFC took the situation on directly with the appropriate level of self-deprecating humor: running an apologetic print ad that replaced the “KFC” on a chicken bucket with “FCK” — a less delicate way of saying “We messed up.”

2. A tempest over a teapot

JCPenney’s teapot.

How could a picture of a teapot possibly cause a PR debacle? Well, when that teapot has a very specific design, and when the picture of it is shot from a very specific angle. That’s what happened for JCPenney in 2013, when the retailer featured an image of a stylish new teapot in a print ad and billboard. It didn’t take long for some Reddit users to point out that the teapot bore a noticeable resemblance to, um, Adolf Hitler.

Though the resemblance was obviously accidental, you can’t ignore a situation like that and hope it goes away. Within days, JCPenney took down its billboard and removed the product from its website. On Twitter, the company’s response took the lightest, least offensive route possible in its style of humor: “Totally unintentional. If we’d designed the kettle to look like something, we would’ve gone w/a snowman :)”

3. When the Red Cross is #gettngslizzerd

The Red Cross is a serious-minded organization known for its life-saving work all around the world, which is why it probably came as a surprise to their Twitter followers back in 2011 to see the following tweet on the organization’s feed:

The unfortunate Red Cross tweet.

“Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd”

A Red Cross social media specialist turned out to be the culprit, accidentally posting a message that was intended for her private account. Although the post only stayed up for about an hour, that was enough time for it to be picked up by several blogs. The Red Cross quickly responded with a tweet that poked fun at the unfortunate mix-up:

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

In the end, some good even came out of the situation. Dogfish Head, the brewery mentioned in the original tweet, jumped in with a Twitter campaign encouraging followers to donate to the Red Cross — accompanied by the hashtag #gettngslizzerd.

One comment on “3 Times Organizations Disarmed PR Fiascos with Humor
  1. Cara G says:

    While looking at case studies during my PR education, we looked at this Red Cross debacle! I really appreciated how the Red Cross used humor but with a tinge of responsibility in their response to stay true to the organization’s mission. It was quick thinking to combat a potential negative mark on their organization by addressing the mistaken tweet and lightening the mood with humor.

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