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Branding Agency Highlights 2017’s Biggest Brand Failures

Branding Agency Highlights 2017’s Biggest Brand Failures

As a branding agency, we have seen our fair share of branding failures. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned and companies pay the reputational price. Below are a few memorable examples of major corporations that dropped the ball in 2017.


United Airlines

2017 was a bad year to work for United Airlines as a public relations representative. United Airlines needed no help from their brand messaging in taking down their brand this year. They seemed to have forgotten that most people nowadays have smart phones when they physically removed a passenger by the name of Dr. David Dao from a plane, leaving him with a broken nose, a concussion, and a couple knocked out teeth.

This incident occurred on an overbooked flight where passengers were asked to voluntarily remove themselves from the current flight with an $800-dollar credit as an incentive. When no-one took the offer, United chose to act in a very questionable manner. Cell phone footage from the incident shows several “security” officers swooping in and forcibly removing Dr. David Dao from his seat, leaving onlookers feeling horrified. This was not the first PR nightmare for United in 2017 and yet they still managed to bounce back from these incidents as their stock prices rose after the fallout.



One of the most recognizable viral brand failures of 2017 came when two of the biggest household brand names, Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, joined forces to give the world a video ad that tried to tackle the issues of protesting in the political forefront. What could go wrong? Turns out, a heck of a lot. Pepsi missed the mark completely as they tried to portray protests in the same vein as the Black Lives Matter movement with Kendal Jenner leading the way.

Critics were quick to jump down Pepsi’s throats claiming that the brand was trivializing important social issues. The two-and-a-half-minute ad shows a diverse group of young individuals marching down the streets holding up signs saying, “Join the Conversation.” The problem with this was that everyone seemed to have expressions of being at a black party, not an important political protest. People were depicted dancing, smiling, and having a good time. Not typically something you would associate with a protest.

The icing on the cake came at the end of the ad when Kendal Jenner walked up to a line of Riot Police dispelling all tension by handing one of the officers a Pepsi. Despite having spent millions on the commercial, Pepsi was quick to pull the commercial. The damage was already done and Pepsi would soon find themselves to be the punch line to many jokes.



Apparently, the Adidas brand isn’t very accustomed with the saying “too soon.” It’s generally not a good move for a brand to piggyback off disastrous events. Adidas did not get this memo. April of this year officially marked 4 years since the horrific events of the Boston Marathon bombings that had left three people dead and more than 260 injured.

Adidas jumped on this as an opportunity to congratulate their customer base. Adidas sent out an email blast with the subject heading that read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” Yes, you read that correctly. Saying that Adidas missed the mark with this one is an understatement. It may have been four years since the incident, but some things simply don’t get funny with time. This PR nightmare could have most likely been avoided had someone simply proofread the email before sending it out. Adidas was quick to apologize and their brand didn’t receive any long-term negative effects.



The Dove brand has been a long-time proponent of positive body imagery. This year, the brand launched an advertising campaign that rolled out limited-edition body wash packaging. This packaging was meant to represent the diversity of female bodies. Some bottles were tall and skinny, while others were short, and plump. The list goes on, but the messaged remains the same. As it just so happens, people don’t want to be reminded of idealized body types on their morning shower routine. The jokes and concerns came pouring in, and Dove soon found themselves at the wrong end of a brand that went viral for all the wrongs reasons.

This wasn’t the first Dove failure this year either. In late October, the brand released an advertisement that portrayed a black woman removing her top to reveal that she transformed into a white woman. Following this, the white woman removed her top revealing a Middle Eastern woman showing the true racist power of Dove body lotion. Come on Dove, really? Did you really need the public to explain to you the racist undertones associated with this advertisement?



The Uber brand name was severely tarnished this year. The hits kept coming in 2017, with one PR nightmare after another. Uber started this year off early with a PR stunt that led to Lyft having more iOS downloads than Uber for the first time ever. Following Donald Trump’s controversial immigration ban targeting Muslim countries’ citizens, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a temporary strike for rides to and from New York Cities John F. Kennedy Airport. In response to this Uber announced through Twitter that they would be removing surge pricing at JFK for the duration of the protest. Their refusal to participate in the protest was seen an indication that Uber was in favor of Trump’s travel ban. It wasn’t long until #DeleteUber started trending on social media platforms.

This was far from the last time that the Uber brand was in the limelight for all the wrong reasons this year. Internal sexism problems and refusal to report data breaches would soon follow this incident and Uber has now found themselves dug in deep.


In summation, no brand is safe from critical backlash. However, it is quite simple to avoid this altogether by developing a well-thought out brand that relates strongly to your audience leading to positive brand perception. Avoid being on next year’s list of brand failures and let us do the heavy-lifting. Kraus Marketing specializes in creating unique brand concepts for a variety of clients. We conduct a series of in-depth interviews to fully understand your company. Afterwards, our team of creative designers and copywriters work to create a brand that represents the direction you want your company to go in. Contact our team today for more information.

*Content Updated: February 2, 2018