Bold PR really works. From Netflix’s reputed $30m spend to win gongs for its art-house offering, Roma, at this week’s Oscars, to the Beeb’s multi-channel PR bombardment ahead of the return of Alan Partridge on BBC One, brands are prepared to stick their necks out in using PR to gain a commercial advantage.
But bold ideas can also bring unintended consequences. Here are we look at examples of good and bad recent campaigns.
Hark back to late 2018, and supermarket Iceland won plaudits and doubtless plenty of new customers, with its Christmas campaign with a conscience.
Its Christmas ad, an animation highlighting the negative effects of palm oil production on endangered orangutans in South East Asia, was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for being too political.
Yet the retailer capitalised nevertheless, making the most of coverage about the ASA’s decision, by launching Rang-Tan, a cuddly toy orangutan, with its own Twitter feed, to sell to raise money to help save the species.
By making it available only in-store only, it attracted first-time shoppers who wouldn’t normally have crossed their threshold, to sample the brand.
Iceland then went on to announce it would eliminate palm oil from all its products, retaining the high moral ground so many consumers like.
Just a week, ago we saw Honda’s PR meltdown.
On Monday 19 February, social media was awash with content saying the Japanese car giant was shutting down its Swindon plant. There was no word from the company.
Before long, mainstream broadcasters and newspapers had picked up on it, seeking and reporting reactions to the bad news from third parties such as the local council, not to mention stunned employees clocking off the dayshift.
One of the area’s MPs was even reported saying that, when upon hearing the rumours he contacted Honda for clarification, the company told him ‘an announcement will be made tomorrow’. The story was top of the evening bulletins.
The following day, Honda did indeed make its announcement, issuing a press release stating it would close the plant by 2021 with the loss of 7,000 jobs. Media covered it all over again, this time including packages with Honda’s UK boss, who by then was being put up for interview.
Did Honda think it could brief some stakeholders on Monday and get away with not mentioning it to the remainder, who included employees, a day later?
Whatever its rationale, the result was two days’ negative headlines at the top of the news when it could have escaped with just one.
Even the newest member of the royal family appears to have been embroiled in planned – or accidental – bold PR in recent days.
Firstly we had five ‘friends’ of Meghan, our new Duchess of Sussex, tell a mass-selling US celebrity magazine that she was suffering a bad press from the nasty British media; then her pal George Clooney went on the record warning she was being hounded ‘like Diana before her’.
Then we had an apparently private baby shower in New York turning very public. Sources close to Kensington Palace were at pains to point out the duchess had travelled without the usual entourage, including press officers.
Verdict: Too early to tell whether the public will love or loathe her
Finally: President Trump took to Twitter ahead of Wednesday’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, calling him ‘My friend’.
In the press conference that followed their meeting, the flattery continued, with the US leader declaring that N Korea could be poised to become the next Vietnam – currently one of Asia’s most buoyant economies.
Perhaps it was made on the hoof, to detract from shattering revelations being made about him back in Washington.
Verdict: Definitely too early to tell.