Business, Marketing, Public Relations, Strategy
September 19, 2019
Our favourite PR Fails so far in 2019
Our favourite PR Fails so far in 2019

No one is perfect – and that includes the people behind some of your favourite brands. Mistakes will be made. However, there are some PR fails that could easily be avoided with a little forethought into the strategy behind them.

Here are three PR fails and how they could have been avoided (AKA don’t make the same mistakes they made).

Forever 21 and their bad brand partnership

In July, Forever 21 ran into some issues when customers took to social media to complain that the brand was body shaming them. Forever 21 had developed a brand partnership with Atkins and they had included an Atkins snack bar with orders that were delivered direct to consumer. At first, people thought it was just included in the plus sized orders, but it turns out it was included in all orders.

PR Fails

The situation received mixed reactions, but it’s safe to say that any time an apparel brand makes a customer feel body shamed, it’s not really a great outcome for anyone involved. It also raised many questions about why Atkins isn’t a great partnership with a brand like Forever 21 that is geared towards a younger audience.

Brand partnerships are a tricky thing. You want to make sure that you aren’t alienating any of your customers, but incentivizing new customers to buy into what you’re selling. As with any partnership, you should look for a few key things:

  • Shared brand values: You don’t want to be caught supporting a brand that supports a cause or opinion that doesn’t match your own.
  • Similar target audience: The relationship should allow you to amplify your reach to potential customers.
  • Shared or similar business goals: Whether you are looking for new customers, to add value to existing customers, or something else, a shared goal will help you work towards it together.
  • Open communication: Honesty works best when you have someone else in the picture.

Chex Mix and their terrible meme

Memes are great. Period. However, sometimes meme culture just goes too far, and when brands are involved, it can have a very negative effect. A couple of weeks ago, Chex Mix launched a new trending meme where you use random things as a bookmark instead of a bookmark. They, of course, used Chex Mix, which would have destroyed the book. Vitamin Water, Oreo, Gushers, and other brands followed suit.


While you might think this meme would be innocent enough, social media users – and publishers and book stores – were quick to point out that destroying books for social media likes was not only irresponsible, it completely ignored the fact that books have become a privilege, not a right. The hashtag #BooksnotLikes was launched with a larger discussion about how so many underprivileged classrooms are in need of books, which the teacher will have to purchase with their own money if they want to teach them.

Adding to the negativity, the brands dug in deeper and made jokes about destroying the books even though there was so much push back.

There is something to be said about staying on top of the latest marketing trends to engage your audience in fun and fresh ways. However, sometimes trying to stay on top of the trends without thinking about consequences can leave a bad taste. The lesson to be learned here is that you should always stay on top of current events and what matters to your audience before launching something new.

Bstroy appearing to capitalize on tragedy

There are always a handful of brands that launch tone deaf marketing campaigns each year on the anniversary of tragedies like 9/11, any number of the mass shootings that occur, natural disasters, days celebrating veterans and their service to their country, and many others. And there is always at least one brand during Fashion Week that seems to find the most offensive thing to put on the runway. Bstroy, a streetwear brand out of NYC unveiled their 2020 spring menswear line over the weekend with a series of Instagram posts of models walking a runway.

In what can only be described as a terrible choice, some of the models were wearing sweatshirts with the names of schools where deadly mass shootings occurred. The material had also been distressed to look like bullet holes.

While it turned out that the brand was trying to bring awareness to the issue of gun violence in schools, they went about it the wrong way. When you are trying to do something provocative as a brand that could be received negatively, it’s important to do a bit of leg work before doing it. Talk to some of the victims, get involved with the foundations that are working to exact change. If this statement had been made in conjunction with any number of organizations that support the victims and their families or the activists addressing gun violence, it would have been received very differently.

Not everyone can bounce back from a massive PR fail, but you can definitely learn from those that have come before you. And if you’re just not sure, email us at

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