If you’re looking for Halloween-costume inspiration, look no further than PR calamities.
Crises such as a terrible marketing idea that evokes consumer backlash or a data breach that affects millions of consumers are enough to give any communicator a fright. Today, you can use that to your advantage and send your PR co-workers fleeing in horror.
Consider donning one of these costumes, inspired by several of the year’s top PR headaches:
1. Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad
Pepsi suffered widespread backlash for its marketing messages that depicted Jenner handing a riot cop a can of the cola, to the cheers of protestors.
To add insult to injury, the ad debuted on the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
Pepsi initially defended the “global message of unity, peace and understanding” that it meant to portray with its advertisement featuring Kendall Jenner as a model who leaves a photo shoot and joins a protest. The company defended itself against widespread criticism from viewers who believed the ad trivialized recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Even Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., responded to the ad, saying, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”
Even though Pepsi pulled the ad, screenshots and copies of the video live on—helping you to copy Jenner’s style:
Grab a friend to dress up as a police officer, and don’t forget the can of Pepsi.
2. Oscars ‘Best Picture’ goof
It was a blunder during Hollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony that made communicators cringe.
Feb. 26, 2017, marks one of the biggest flops in Oscars history, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the wrong movie as Best Picture. It wasn’t Beatty or Dunaway’s faults, though, the error was caused by PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant Brian Cullinan. He was working backstage during the awards show and his only job was to make sure the right envelopes got in the right hands — and he was specifically warned to stay offline so there would be no distractions.
Cullinan didn’t stay offline, however.
He handed Beatty the wrong envelope—a duplicate envelope from the previous award for Best Actress—because he was tweeting a photo from backstage. As a result, neither Cullinan nor his partner, Martha Ruiz, are allowed to handle the Oscar envelopes again.
Whether you go as Cullinan or Ruiz, dress up in formal attire—topped off with a “Best Picture” envelope, smartphone and sheepish facial expression.
3. Fake news
Facebook and Google are still working to stop the spread of stories meant to deliberately mislead viewers, but the growing problem of fake news has affected communicators of all stripes.
You don’t have to shorten your hemline for this costume, though. Instead, grab several newspapers, tape and a red marker to scrawl the offending sentence across your chest.
4. Data breach
Hackings and security crises are becoming commonplace. Yahoo’s data breach, which affected all of its 3 billion users, was rivaled by Equifax’s hack, which affected roughly 145 million people and included Social Security numbers.
The credit-reporting agency’s poor response to its crisis—which included tweeting out a link to a phishing website instead of its resource for consumers— garnered additional backlash.
For a last-minute costume that gives a nod to the growing security crises affecting PR teams, pair a green or black shirt with leggings of the same color, attach several glow sticks and open locks and carry a sign emblazoned with either Yahoo or Equifax.
You can also dress up as Rich Uncle Pennybags (the Monopoly Man) and reference the prankster who stole the show at the Senate hearing for Equifax’s chief executive, Richard Smith.
5. Martin Shkreli
Whether you wear a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, a suitcoat and button-up dress shirt, or a prison uniform, include handcuffs: In September, Shkreli’s bail was revoked, and he was put back behind bars for violating his parole after he published an ill-advised Facebook post.
The government sought to get Shkreli locked up as a danger to the community amid the fallout from his social media post, which read: “The Clinton Foundation is willing to KILL to protect its secrets. So on HRC’s book tour, try to grab a hair from her. I must confirm the sequences I have. Will pay $5,000 per hair obtained from Hillary Clinton.”
Though Shkreli’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, defended the “pharma bro’s” actions, he conceded that “[Shkreli] says things that are stupid.”
To adapt the costume to a pre-prison look, include a smartphone and tweet frantically throughout the day. Don’t forget the characteristic smirk of someone who is utterly clueless about how reputation management works.
6. Corporate apology
In 2014, a PR Daily article asked whether corporate apologies had worn out their welcome. A few years—and many more mea culpas later—that answer seems to be a resounding “yes.”
Though there’s a right and wrong way to apologize after a crisis hits your organization, many statements get slammed for being insincere and dismissive of blame. A bad apology can intensify a crisis, too: Take the online firestorm United Airlines faced after it dragged a passenger off a flight—and after its chief executive gave a lackluster apology.
Take your pick of meager reactions to PR crises to hang from your neck for this costume. Alternatively, you can dress as Taylor Swift from her music video, “You Belong with Me”:
What costumes would you add to this list, PR Daily readers?