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Social Media Gone Wrong: The Worst PR Disasters

With around 4.8 billion social media users worldwide, it is clear that social media can be an incredibly powerful platform for businesses. When used wisely, social media can help to increase brand awareness, improve your reputation, and help you build strong relationships with your target market. It can also be very easy to misuse social media and damage your reputation. This is a lesson that a number of brands have learned the hard way over the years. There are a few social media disasters that have backfired and caused significant damage to these brands. Here are a few of the most notable social media PR disasters to learn from. 

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One of the most notable social media PR disasters from recent times was from Pepsi in 2017. Pepsi released an ad with Kendall Jenner that was deemed to trivialise the Black Lives Matter movement, causing a significant backlash against Pepsi. The ad showed Jenner facing off against a row of officers (seemingly replicating the iconic Leshia Evans photo) and handing a Pepsi to one of the officers, solving the tension with a beverage.

The backlash was so strong that Pepsi pulled the ad and backtracked, making a comment that “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologise for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

The lesson here is to never use social issues as a way to promote your brand and never make light of issues that your customers will feel passionate about. 


In 2017, Dove had a PR disaster that they are still recovering from. The Facebook ad showed a black woman transforming into a white woman after using Dove body lotion, which obviously sparked a huge backlash against the brand. The company was slated as being racist and insensitive, and the ad spread across social media like wildfire. Dove quickly pulled the ad, but the damage was done.

Dove attempted to make amends for the disaster by issuing a public apology on social media, stating that they had "missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.”

The obvious lesson here is to always be culturally sensitive when developing social media marketing ideas and consider the possible interpretations of adverts. 


Peloton have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years helping many people to get in shape, but their stock took a hit in 2019 that took a while to recover from. This was because of the holiday ad which showed a woman receiving a Peloton bike as a gift with the ad titled “The Gift That Gives Back”. Many perceived the ad as sexist and accused Peloton of perpetuating body-shaming. In addition to the backlash, many memes and parodies were made, only making matters worse for the brand.

Peloton stood behind their ad but later acknowledged the criticism. They have since committed to incorporating the feedback into their future campaigns. Again, the lesson here is to consider how ads might be perceived and be aware of sensitivities.

These are three of the biggest social media PR disasters in recent years. There are important lessons to learn here, as disasters like this can be hard for both big and small brands to recover from. 

Learn more about social media marketing here:

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