Bunnings snags and plastic bags: The biggest PR wins and fails of 2018

PR wins

From fails to fortune, 2018 has seen its fair share of organisations dominating headlines. While a business’ reputation takes time to build, a single action can see it shattered within minutes.

Change, technology, corporate sabotage, value misalignment and leadership pressures brought some of the nation’s savoured brands down, while corporate listening, giving and safety lifted some brands up along with some innocent gaffes.

Here’s a rundown of what made news this year.

PR fails

Cricket scandal

The year commenced with the blatant cricket cheating scandal that caused a global media storm. With players and the sport affected, and an independent review revealing a ‘win at all costs mentality’, a major rebuild of the culture of cricket is needed to reinstate public trust and connection with the sport and players.

Ban the bag

Coles and Woolworths faced public backlash in their attempts to minimise environmental impacts with the elimination of single-use plastic bags. The transition was clumsy and underprepared leading to frustrated consumers and negative press. Major change programmes require significant customer support and communication preceding a significant shift to consumer habits.

Facebook data breach

Facebook has long held a positive reputation in the global market. However, a data breach reportedly affecting over 50 million people, has shattered the brand, with hackers having access to personal information. Media headlines mid-year revealed Facebook’s value plummeted by $120 billion. Time, stringent security protocol and reputational repair is in order.

Strawberry crisis

In peak season, a needle was discovered in a strawberry that led to significant wastage, public health questions, major consumer fear and financial losses. With the perpetrator now identified and charged, some peace of mind has been restored. However, the lack of comfort and consumer information at store level dug a deeper pocket of mistrust.

The University of Adelaide

With its ‘mansplaining’ billboard, the University of Adelaide attracted adverse media attention. The university quickly cut ties in its involvement to the ad in an attempt to restore its image.

PR wins

Coles Little Shop

While the campaign commenced faced public scrutiny initially, due to launching at the same time as the bag the bag campaign, and despite some consumers remaining opposed, the collectables initiative reportedly provided involved brands with a 30% lift in sales. A cult following and market swaps and buys created huge engagement for the pint-sized products.

Cathay Pacific

You had one job! Just when you thought someone might have lost their job over the blatant misspelling of the brand name, the media exposure generated led to social sharing, reach and brand appeal.

New York Library

The revered library caught the attention of media when it announced it would lend job seekers a library card and clothing accessories such as ties and handbags to help give them a professional edge and support their quest in employment.


The brand prevented a potential uproar after an eight-year-old girl questioned the absence of girls on the back of a box. Commencing with its dictated customer reply, the brand took the request to heart with the announcement it would change its packaging to reflect its inclusive culture in 2019.


The humble sausage sanga made headlines and contributed to a national debate when Bunnings announced its intention to enforce a policy dictating the position of the onion. The positive and negative media coverage has no doubt enabled the retailer to gain praise for publically standing by its safety policy.

Lessons to help businesses avoid the fails

  1. Growing organisations need to ensure the business’ core values and ethics are instilled throughout.
  2. Change management programmes require a strategy, regular communication and support along with change ambassadors for a smoother transition.
  3. Transparency with your customers is vital to trust. While it can be tempting to cover up mistakes, be upfront, even if you don’t have all the answers.
  4. Product recalls that question public health should implement technology and in-store communication to ease consumer safety fears and protect the industry.
  5. While it can be tempting to speed through an advertising campaign, be sure the ad is tested with public segments likely to view it.

NOW READ: The PR sins and wins of 2017

NOW READ: The top 10 most complained about ads from the first half of 2018


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