PR disasters that started on YouTube

Twitter and Facebook aren’t the only social media platforms where PR gaffes occur. As these brands learned, problems can arise on YouTube, as well.

Social media is a brilliant tool for brands to engage with their customers, and it generally makes the world more transparent.

However, sometimes brands can get called out badly or make massive mistakes that social media amplifies. It happens on a regular basis, and the most terrifying thing for brands and businesses is that it can all kick off in a matter of minutes. All it takes is one tiny message from a single employee or an unhappy customer.

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While TV stations and traditional media used to be the only source of video content that could call out brands, billions of us now walk around with smartphones in our pockets that can capture HD quality video. This is a nightmare for brands as they are only one click away from being filmed and shared on YouTube.

Here are five brand disasters that happened on YouTube:

Domino’s Pizza

In 2009, before Domino’s Pizza had a social media presence, it got into trouble when two employees in its Conover, N.C., franchise uploaded a video to YouTube of themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich before it went out to delivery.

The video went viral. Immediately, Domino’s was under pressure, but since it had loyal fans alerting it to the video, the company took action.

The brand took a number of actions to deal with the crisis, including the release of an official video statement from Domino U.S.A. President Patrick Doyle.

United Airlines

Dave Carroll, a Canadian country and western singer, was traveling with United Airlines when baggage handlers damaged his acoustic guitar. After a long, private back-and-forth with United, he took action by releasing a music video titled “United Breaks Guitars,” which became a viral hit.

When it reached almost four million, United Airlines took notice and offered to pay the cost of repairing his guitar and flight vouchers worth $1,200. Carroll told the airline to donate the sum to charity.


When a video about rats in KFC’s restaurant appeared online in 2007, the video immediately went viral and presented a number of headaches for the brand. A problem arising from one KFC location became a national story in which KFC responded poorly.


Sometimes old content can come back to haunt you. In 2011, GoDaddy Chief Executive Bob Parsons faced criticism after videos of him hunting big game in Zimbabwe went viral. One graphic video showed him bagging an elephant, while another from 2009 shows him in pursuit of a leopard that eventually he shot dead.

Parsons became the target of numerous animals rights groups, which campaigned to boycott GoDaddy until Parsons agreed to abandon the annual hunts.


Sometimes there are actions that are inexcusable. FedEx came under major criticism last December after a video surfaced showing one of its employees chucking a Samsung computer monitor over a fence to deliver the package. The video racked up more than one million views in approximately 24 hours. The company spent the holidays apologizing for the incident.

To see 15 more social media gaffes committed by brands, visit Simply Zesty.

Niall Harbison and Lauren Fisher are the founders of Simply Zesty.


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