These Brands Took a PR Beating in 2014

Posted on December 17, 2014

These Brands Took a PR Beating in 2014

By Paul Fulton, Jr., Vice President

Some brands are likely re-evaluating their PR strategies for 2015 after a less-than-stellar 2014. Fair or not, some aren’t coming out of the year on strong footing. These brands took a PR beating in 2014:

Abercrombie & Fitch

Oversize logos and overpriced clothing were replaced with less expensive fast-fashion newer-comers that painted Abercrombie & Fitch – once the king of teen social status – as an outsider among a new in-crowd. The brand that created controversy – remember those sex-hyped catalogs of the early 2000s? – found itself in real trouble in 2014 as it lost grasp on changing tastes. Although it removed the once iconic logo from most of its clothes and introduced a more affordable line in a larger range of sizes, earnings continued to tank. SCOTUS also agreed to hear a still-winding case that accused A&F of refusing to hire a Muslim woman because she wore a headscarf. Abercrombie’s controversial CEO, who once said A&F’s clothes are for “cool” and “attractive” kids, unexpectedly stepped down at the end of the year.


It was the customer service call heard ’round the world – what should have been a routine call to cancel service exploded into major embarrassment for Comcast, when an aggressive agent turned combative. Just like his service, the frustrated customer decided to cancel his patience and recorded the call. He put the audio on SoundCloud – and on blast. The rest goes down in viral history. Later in the year, a California man claimed Comcast got him fired from his job because of a bill dispute.


The Huxtable family’s famous lip-synch to Ray Charles’ “Night Time is the Right Time” will never be quite the same. What started as a media whisper more than a decade ago became a roar as dozens of women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault. As of this writing, he hasn’t addressed the issue in any substantive manner – only blaming the media and leading the public to demand a response that much more. Cosby still has his ardent backers, but the man we adored as the perfect sitcom dad in goofy sweaters, for now, is staring down an ominous legacy.


Consumers weren’t lovin’ it at McDonald’s as its profits continued to fall, and the fast-food giant’s identity crisis escalated. Although it’s cutting menu options and experimenting with customization, McDonald’s still can’t seem to keep up with consumer demand for healthier fare, fresher ingredients, quick service and reasonable price points. It also finally tried to publicly answer questions about McDonald’s food, including what’s in it. But, really, from a PR standpoint, we have to ask … if you have to ask …

National Organization for Marriage

It roared to power just a decade ago when ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage at the state level were among the most popular wedge issues. But the once powerful National Organization for Marriage has lost its footing – and is losing its war. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Last year, high-profile SCOTUS rulings overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and California’s Proposition 8. And support, especially among millennials, for marriage equality hovers near record highs. Yet NOM continues its tone-deaf battle. Its 2014 “March for Marriage” was dismally attended. It ended the year with a financial filing that indicated its once-full coffers are now $2.5 million in debt – and that half of its income originates from only two donors.

Reality TV Stars

Reality did indeed bite for several of the most established reality TV stars this year. The practical and once lovable Mama June of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” fame allegedly dated a child molester. Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson went on an anti-gay rant (again). Teresa and Joe Giuidice from the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” were convicted in multimillion dollar fraud cases. In 2015, let’s consider giving these folks scripts for their real lives.

Rolling Stone

Centering on the story of a woman it named only as “Jackie,” Rolling Stone’s bombshell article about allegations of unchecked sexual violence at the University of Virginia started a media firestorm. The magazine eventually issued “A Note to Our Readers” (on a Friday afternoon) backtracking from its story and admitting it had not vetted Jackie’s allegations against the accused. The fallout was swift. Maybe people will still trust Rolling Stone’s judgment in picking great music? Oh, wait.


It’s one of the most serious hacks in history, but nobody’s taking it seriously. Entertainment powerhouse Sony was hacked of a trove of drama – with scripts, story lines, A-list actors’ salaries and internal emails making a ripe story for mainstream media, tabloids and bloggers to jump on. Trying to contain the avalanche of coverage, Sony’s lawyers sent out a cease-and-desist to reporters. But instead of containing the coverage, they created more. And those pesky hashtags – #SonyLOL and #SonyLeaks and #SonyHack – didn’t help Sony’s reputation. End scene.


Hopefully, Uber’s reputation will turn around in 2015 – and not because a passenger tells it to. From surge-charge nightmares to threatening reporters, the once-beloved / now publicly beleaguered Uber made misstep after public misstep. It tracked its riders walks of shame – and seemingly boasted about the invasion of privacy in a now-defunct blog entry. Assault allegations were leveled against drivers. It faced mounting litigation. It was banned in countries abroad. And it was panned when surge-charge rates kicked in after a terrorist attack in Sydney, Australia.  Uber has been marked an arrogant company that’s not mature enough to handle the spotlight. While its on-demand kitten deliveries are cute, the company needs to work on its national and international reputation – like, uber quickly. 


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