Top 10 PR disasters of 2011

Given the never-ending pressure on brands to stand out from the crowd, sending out 55 goldfish appears, at first glance, a striking point of difference.


Unfortunately for Advantage SA, the body tasked with promoting South Australia, such a plan backfired horribly this week when reports came in that scores of goldfish, sent to media agencies across the country with the tagline “Be the big fish in a small pond and come test the water”, quickly perished


Advantage SA’s CEO Karen Raffen insists that every goldfish was alive on delivery and suitable provisions were made for the animals’ welfare, stating: “Advantage SA took the utmost care delivering the fish.”


“Every single fish was happy and healthy when it arrived at its destination, and was left in the custody of someone who had agreed to care for it.”

“Advantage SA has offered to find suitable homes for any unwanted fish. It was never our intention to cause any harm or distress to the fish, and we unreservedly apologise for any concern this has caused.”


Raffen can take small consolation from the fact that 2011 has been a particularly busy year when it comes to public relations disasters. Businesses have been shooting themselves in the foot with alarming regularity.


Here are the 10 worst PR gaffes of the year.



1. Qantas

A pretty obvious choice given the highly controversial grounding of its fleet in October, but this year has been a particularly gruesome one for Qantas all-round.


In August, Qantas awarded free flights to two competition winners who ‘blacked’ themselves up, to appear similar to their favourite rugby player.


Things just got worse. In November, Qantas sent the following message out on Twitter:



The Tweet provoked a furious response from Twitter users, with the hash tag quickly used to berate Qantas for everything from cancelled flights to executive pay.




2. Gasp

Opinion was evenly divided over whether Gasp pulled off a PR coup or mishap over the recent customer complaint furore.


While the stunt certainly made headlines for Gasp, they were almost entirely negative. It’s pretty safe to say that not only allowing your staff to be rude to customers but also publicly defending them with further insults is a monumental error that no start-up should repeat.




3. Yahoo

While most PR disasters occur when a particular stunt backfires, your brand can also be trashed by something that you imagine would leave your workplace.


When the Yahoo decided to fire their outspoken CEO Carol Bartz via the phone, it wasn’t just a shoddy personal management decision. It also proved a terrible PR mis-step, with Bartz sending a widely leaked email to staff stating: “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board.”




4. Group buying complaints

The mushrooming group buying industry may be worth $400 million in Australia, but could this be the year when the Aussie public began to tire of daily deals?


A flood of complaints has hit the sector over unfulfilled deals and spurious advertising, as well as anguish from merchants claiming to have been misled as to the benefits of daily deals.


In response to the continual barrage of negative headlines, the eight major group buying players cobbled together a code of conduct.  But will it be enough?


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments