PR Campaigns: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A successful public relations campaign can have lasting results on an organization. Campaigns can put an organization in the spotlight to receive praise or harsh criticism. Because of this risk, it’s crucial for organizations to carefully plan and execute their campaigns after much consideration.

Organizations can learn ample knowledge about creating a campaign by conducting research and analyzing other successful PR campaigns. Organizations should also study the PR flops to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes. Below I will analyze various PR campaigns, some good, some bad and some just downright ugly.


The Good

Airbnb: #LiveThere

This campaign urges travelers today to put away the selfie stick and live like a local. According to a study by Airbnb, 86 percent of travelers are looking for authentic and local travel experiences beyond the tourist hotspots. Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall told AdWeek he wanted the brand’s latest work to push back against the modern tourism industry and follow the idea that people shouldn’t simply go to a new place, they should live there, even if it’s just for one night.

I shockingly just recently used Airbnb for the first time. I went to Nashville for a weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We were excited to explore the cool areas and wanted to avoid the usual ‘honky-tonk” vibe usually associated with the town. Our Airbnb provided just that. Airbnb studied its audience and used the results to create a campaign to appeal to them. Other organizations can learn from this.


Game of Thrones: White Walkers Invade London

It was only July in London but “winter was coming.” White Walkers, the villainous characters from popular HBO series “Game of Thrones,” toured some of London’s most popular sites to hype people up for the newest season of the show. The campaign was ultimately successful due to the numerous reactions on social media. People were Snapchatting, Tweeting and posting on Facebook bout the White Walkers. To see some of the best tweets click here.

If I had been in London to see this sight, it undoubtedly would have made me excited for season seven of Game of Thrones. Even if I had never watched the show before, seeing this campaign would make me curious as to what the show was about and maybe even persuade me to watch it. This stunt was a form of guerilla PR that successfully drew attention to HBO’s desired message: winter is coming in season seven. Other entertainment and media outlets can learn from this awesome PR campaign.


The Bad

Starbucks: #RaceTogether

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, attempted to make a statement about the issue of race relations in America. His idea was to have baristas write “Race Together” on coffee cups to encourage a conversation about race between the barista and customer. Unfortunately the good-intentioned campaign received backlash almost instantly. According to an article by the Economist, baristas were complaining about the campaign on social media. This made Starbucks look bad because its own employees were not on board with the campaign. Customers also complained that they didn’t want to have to engage in deep conversation when trying to quickly obtain their caffeine fix.

While I understand that Starbucks was trying to improve an issue facing the United States, it appeared to be using this social issue for its own economic gain. This bad PR campaign shows the importance of analyzing the external environment before implementing your own campaign.


The Ugly

Pepsi with Kendall Jenner

Unless you are living under a rock, chances are you heard about Pepsi’s failed campaign with model and reality star Kendall Jenner. In the short video Jenner rushes away from a photoshoot to join a growing protest in the street. The protesters are holding signs symbolic of the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights, police brutality and more. At the end of the video Jenner hands a Pepsi to a police officer, uniting them with the protestors and solving all of the social issues being protested. People immediately spoke out about their disdain for the video. They claimed it trivialized the social issues being protested and was tasteless. According to Wired, “Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad was so awful it did the impossible: it united the internet.” Even Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted a photo of her father standing up to police with the caption, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” Pepsi immediately took down the video and released an apology, according to the New York Times.

I think Pepsi should have thought about its target audience and about the main character it chose to use for the video. This campaign was a great example of how not to approach social issues. It also can teach other organizations the importance of choosing the right spokesperson for your campaign. Jenner, a wealthy, white celebrity, was not the best choice for a character that ends issues of race and police brutality in the US.


As you can tell, much can be learned by analyzing past campaigns. Before implementing a new campaign make sure to brush up on campaigns in your market to learn tips and ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.

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