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Visa’s own goal and other ill-timed PR mishaps


As sponsors of a certain global football event and long-term FIFA partner, Visa has been everywhere in recent weeks with its Zlatan Ibrahimovic adverts sharing the benefits of making fast payments with Visa.  

However, on the 1st of June, a card network crash left millions of people unable to pay for goods and services across Europe. Major retailers quickly started confirming card purchases were failing and huge queues formed at petrol stations and supermarkets across the country. Visa apologised later that day, stating they had fallen "well short" of their goal to ensure cards worked reliably at all times. So serious was the incident that the Treasury Committee Chair Nicky Morgan wrote to Visa's chief executive officer in Europe, Charlotte Hogg, to demand answers over what led to the failure. 

With the World Cup kicking off this week, you might say the system failure couldn't have come at a worse time. However, Visa isn't the only company to have been a victim of a badly-timed PR nightmare. Here we take a look at five recent publicity catastrophes that have hit the headlines. Prepare to cringe...

1. Snapchat mocks domestic abuse

In March, Snapchat came under fire when it ran an advert that mocked pop star Rihanna’s domestic abuse. Advertising an app called “Would You Rather?” it asked users, “Would you rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown?” Following a flurry of complaints from its users, Snapchat issued an apology and claimed the advert was approved in error and it was quickly removed. The PR nightmare didn’t stop there, with Rihanna posting a response to the advert on Instagram that condemned the app for its handling of domestic abuse: “Shame on you. Throw the whole app-ology away.”

 2. Lady Doritos anyone? 

During an interview on the Freakonomics Radio podcast in January, chief executive of Doritos parent company PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi discussed the differences between men and women when it comes to eating crisps. She stated that women “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public” and “don’t lick their fingers generously” or “pour the little broken pieces and the flavour into their mouth.” Nooyi said the company was brainstorming women-specific snacks that would be marketed and packaged differently. It didn’t take long for the jokes and the anger to spread across social media, with people asking why snacks have to be gendered. PepsiCo issued a statement to assure people that Lady Doritos will not become a reality: “We already have Doritos for women - they’re called Doritos."

3. London Dungeon's grim Valentine's tweets

Top attraction the London Dungeon found itself in hot water back in 2017 when its “Dark Valentine” social media campaign backfired following allegations of sexism and misogyny. The posts included jokes about Jack the Ripper and dead prostitutes (yes, really) and the company only made matters worse with an apology issued in the same branding as the offending campaign. People attacked the brand, accusing them of being insincere and misunderstanding the severity of the situation.

4. Currys PC World: Attention!

Proof that the actions of a few can affect many. Currys PC World came under fire thanks to an unfortunate sign that was hung outside of a branch in Wrexham. The sign in the bin area behind the store read: “Attention Tramps - stop looking for valuables in our bins and start looking for a job.” Needless to say that passersby were less than impressed and quick to share it on social media. The manager of the store Iain Yarwood said: “I apologise for any offence that may have been caused to anyone who may have seen this sign at the back of the store. It is in no way an official notice and is not representative of the company’s or the store’s views. The sign has been removed and the matter is being dealt with internally.” Oh dear.

5. Thameslink gets burned

Proving that brands always have to be careful when it comes to injecting humour into social media posts, Thameslink got into a spot of bother with execs at Poundland over a mocking tweet. Responding to a passenger, Thameslink tweeted appreciation that its service was “less Ferrero Rocher and more Poundland cooking chocolate”, which understandably got the back up of Poundland’s retail director Austin Cooke. He issued a statement directed at the chief executive of Thameslink’s parent firm, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which stated the retail outlet had successfully served 8 million shoppers last week: “But if we ever fall short, perhaps we’ll describe ourselves as a bit Thameslink. If you don’t want to hear from our extremely twitchy legal team, we suggest you remove your tweet.” Of course, Thameslink swiftly apologised for making the comment and deleted the offending tweet.

Despite the media furore around these events, the real story comes from how these brands recover from such PR missteps. Are you a PR or marketing professional looking for your next big challenge? View our latest marketing and PR roles today.