Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Not every marketing idea is a good one. That’s a truism we’d all agree with, certainly. But how much time do brands really take considering the consequences of a misstep and preparing a response to those who are upset by that mistake?

Considering this potential result and knowing how to address it ahead of time should be part of the planning when developing a PR messages. Here are two brands that missed that step, for vastly different reasons, and what we can learn from their mistakes.

Cheerios puts the “i” in PR mistake

For tens of millions of music fans who grew up in the 80s and 90s, Prince was an absolute icon of the industry. They had “Purple Rain” on cassette or vinyl, and they still compare his Super Bowl halftime show to everything that’s come after. So, when he died, those fans felt it. For a moment, their lives stopped. They were flooded with memories of good times and great music … Then they saw the Cheerios social media message: “Rest in Peace” with the ‘i’ dotted by a Cheerio.

Prince’s massive fan base recoiled at what they saw as a cheap and insulting marketing ploy. Sure, Cheerios manufacturer General Mills is based in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, but that connection was completely missed. People were mourning, and all they saw was a tawdry attempt at product placement.

The lesson: Never try to capitalize on tragedy. Be there, be present, but be conscientious of what people are thinking and feeling. Grieve with them. Don’t try to get cute.

Samsung ignores crisis

We all remembers the reports of the Galaxy Note 7 catching fire. Customers flooded social media with videos and complaints, talking about dangerously overheating batteries. Samsung responded by suggesting customers return their defective phones for a replacement. Reports of fired continued to spread. Finally, Samsung halted production of the handsets and looked at ways to fix the glitch.

The problem here was Samsung’s underestimation of the severity and prevalence of the issue. A phone that catches fire is not like a headphone jack that slips out or a button that stops working. The company should have taken the issue more seriously when the initial reports surfaced. That led to more — not fewer — defective and dangerous phones being sold to the public.

The lesson here is to take the time to carefully and correctly assess public complaints and potential issues. Yes, that takes time and effort, but it’s better than having to explain why you chose to ignore public safety.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR a leading PR firm.