Sunday 25 February 2018

One PR disaster can turn your big brand into damaged goods

A customer tries to with cash at Ulster Bank on Dorset street, Dublin. Payments into and out of Ulster Bank accounts have been disrupted since last week. Photo: Fran Veale
A customer tries to with cash at Ulster Bank on Dorset street, Dublin. Payments into and out of Ulster Bank accounts have been disrupted since last week. Photo: Fran Veale

As Ulster Bank struggles to restore normal service, Roisin Burke recalls other landmark firms hitting the self-destruct button

THERE'LL be no champagne and strawberries for Ulster Bank parent RBS this year. The financial institution, which prides itself on its heritage (not to mention the 'royal' part of its title), cancelled its traditional lavish Wimbledon hospitality plans following the disastrous systems meltdown that's likely to cost it €120m.

Almost a week after a fat-fingered techie hit the wrong keys, delayed salaries, missed mortgage payments, frozen access to cash, missing-in-action direct debts and being stranded abroad without money are still the lot of 150,000 Ulster Bank customers.

To add insult to injury, services for 99 per cent of accounts at British sister banks Natwest and RBS were restored pretty swiftly, while Irish customers remain in limbo. And at the beginning, the bank was less than communicative about what was going on.

Ulster Bank joins the dishonourable club of brand-damaging blunderers that includes some of the biggest companies in the world. Here's a flavour of PR cock-ups at home and abroad...

Nike puts its foot in it

St Patrick's Day -- a perfect time to launch your new runners (drum roll please). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... the Black and Tan.

Nike's new skateboarding shoe was named for a popular US drink (a half pint of ale with a stout head) rather than for the murderous British rag-tag militia that terrorised Ireland during of the War of Independence.

Though the shoe was never sold here, Irish tweeters heaped ridicule on the sports brand giant, which apologised.

Starbucks twitstorm

"Show us what makes you proud to be British," suggested Starbucks Ireland in a recent tweet to its 2,000 Irish followers, during the Queen's diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Whoops. The response was a major backlash online and apology from Starbucks as punters threatened a boycott.

Talk Talk spoils party

You've just given 575 staff their cards, so what do you do next? Throw a huge lavish party, if you're called centre operator Talk Talk.

The company announced the job losses and closure of its Waterford centre, then just five days later, it sent out an email inviting staff to a big bash in the UK. Rapper Tinchy Strider performed, there was free booze and food, massages and clay pigeon shooting and amusement rides at an English stately home. All this cost around €600,000. Not exactly tactful. Just 32 of the Irish staff attended the party.

Toyota in image crash

Once famed for reliability, 20m cars have been recalled since 2009 by the Japanese automaker.

Problems with sudden acceleration were blamed for 37 deaths, and this, along with sticky pedals and brake issues, dented the Japanese giant's image as the maker of the 'best built cars in the world'.

The problems seem to be continuing, as last week tens of thousands of trucks in Japan were recalled after reports of malfunctioning exhaust and fuel pipes.

Perrier goes flat

It sold itself on its "natural purity" so the ultimate fizzy water icon of the Eighties suffered a disaster after a contamination scare when traces of the chemical benzene were discovered in some bottles.

More than 160m bottles were recalled but there was an information vacuum as the company struggled to tackle negative publicity effectively.

The sales slump lasted through the Nineties -- and a global revival has yet to happen.

'Services for 99 per cent of accounts at Ulster's British sister banks Natwest and RBS were restored pretty swiftly, while the bank's Irish customers remain in limbo'

Blackberry on silent

Before becoming the favourite of rioting hoodie types thanks to the instant messaging facility, Blackberry mobiles were famous as one of the earliest providers of email by phone, even dubbed 'Crackberrys' because they were so addictive to fans.

A four-day international network outage that left Blackberry users around the world unable to email and message or use the internet occurred in October. It was a disaster for the phone maker, Research In Motion (RIM), which was already enduring the rise in popularity of iPhone and android phones.

RIM recently booked an €80m writedown on its stockpiled unsold phones and analysts have doubted its ability to survive.

7Up kicks Keane ads

In the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, testy Corkonian footballer and Ireland team captain Roy Keane scored a lucrative €620,000 sponsorship deal with soft drinks brand 7Up. It made him the face of the soft drink in Ireland, with his image appearing all over the country on posters, and an expensive TV ad campaign was made.

When Keane was sent home from Saipan after team manager Mick McCarthy dubbed him a "disruptive influence," fans began defacing the posters and 7Up took them down.

It said it was "shocked and disappointed" by the clash. And out of pocket too, probably.

Black mark for BP boss

After gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, causing an economic and ecological catastrophe and killing 11 men on the rig, British Petroleum boss Tony Hayward uttered the immortal line: "You know, I'd like my life back."

Earlier he had referred to the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico during the worst environmental disaster in US history as "tiny".

Later he was pictured on his yacht having flown back to Britain, in the middle of the crisis, for a glitzy sailing event. He grovellingly apologised.

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