From Gillette piggybacking the #MeToo movement, KLM’s hat-trick of social media own goals and the use of private jets by Prince Harry to Prince Andrew’s interview with Emily Maitlis; 2019 has been quite a year for PR faux pas.

But let’s start at the beginning of the year by taking a closer look at Gillette’s “The best men can be” advertising campaign. Airing three months after the #MeToo movement had garnered widespread attention across social media, Gillette’s ad implied toxic masculinity is widespread across society.

The decision by Gillette to align the brand with the positive messages of empowerment associated with the #MeToo movement was naïve if we’re being generous, but really a case of virtue-signalling at play. The company’s buzz score on the YouGov BrandIndex dropped by nearly six points to -3.4 in the week after the ad aired, and it also fell to the bottom of the list of 45 health and beauty brands.

Fast forward to the summer and it was a bumpy ride for Dutch airline KLM, after the company caused online outrage following its response to a Facebook post from a customer in which the company said mothers might be asked to “cover up” if breastfeeding during a flight.

KLM then faced a second major PR crisis when a customer service email about the breastfeeding debate revealed that staff would also act if anyone on a flight felt uncomfortable about there being a same-sex couple on board. However, that wasn’t the end of the PR nightmare for KLM; after all they do say bad things come in threes.

Inexplicably, the company’s Indian division posted a tweet stating that place to sit on board a flight in order to give yourself the best chance of not dying during a crash is the back of the plane. The tweet was quickly deleted, but not before it had been screenshotted and gone viral.

Away from the corporate world, it would be an understatement to say 2019 has been a bad year for the Royal Family on the PR front. Back in September, Prince Harry faced uncomfortable headlines when discussing his involvement with Travalyst, an eco-tourism initiative backed by a number of organsiations within the travel sector.

The problem for the Duke of Sussex was that media got wind of the fact he and his wife Meghan Markle had used four private jets in the space of 11 days, including for a family holiday. Hypocrisy was naturally the main accusation levelled, with commentators curious as to if Harry was well placed to moralise about the impact of climate change while seemingly regularly using private aircraft.

However, it’s tough to look past the controversial interview Prince Andrew gave to BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis just last month when it comes to the biggest PR failure of 2019. The Duke of York was urged by his PR adviser at the time not to do the interview. His priority should have been to speak to the US authorities investigating the offences of convicted sex offender and former friend of Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein, rather than try to clear his own name of any wrongdoing through the press.

Having decided to go ahead with the interview however, it was remarkable not to see any real remorse or sympathy towards the victims of the horrendous crimes committed by Jeffrey Epstein. The reaction was swift, with a number of corporate sponsors and universities abandoning their ties to the Duke of York, while he himself has since made the decision to step away from royal duties.

Let’s see if lessons have been learned as we head towards 2020.

James Meredith

About James Meredith

James is Head of Strategy and Planning at Liberty Communications.

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