When there is a big public relations fail you just have to ask yourself, “what were they thinking?”

As a celebrity, everything you do becomes available for public scrutiny. Sometimes what they do can bring them good press and other times it can bring them bad press. Below is a list of some public relations fails:

Pepsi & Madonna 

In January 25th, 1989, Pepsi announced that it had brought on pop singer Madonna to appear in their TV ads. They would pay the singer $5 million and sponsor her upcoming world tour. Madonna has always been known to push the envelope. Pepsi released a commercial that featured her song, “Like a Prayer,” which they worked on together. Madonna then released her own video for the song. It included controversial imagery including rape, burning crosses, and cuts on her palms that resembled marks of crucifixion, which some consider sacrilegious.  Rev. Donald Wildmond of the American Family Association, a Christian group threatened to have Pepsi boycotted if they didn’t end their relationship with Madonna. The Pope banned Madonna from appearing in Italy and the Vatican censured Madonna’s album, Like A Prayer. There were some who felt she was making a mockery of Christianity. Pepsi canceled their deal with Madonna and removed their ad with her and Madonna kept the $5 million payment. Though it was a public relations nightmare it didn’t last too long. It was a rare occasion where a public relations fail was somewhat of a good thing. Though there was a lot of backlash, Madonna used it to her benefit making the album a success and her career continued to thrive. 

Madonna in Pepsi Commercial

Photo: Instagram

Milli Vanilli 

The well-known public relations disaster was the lip-syncing scandal with Milli Vanilli. The German R&B duo is made up of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. On March 7, 1989, they released their debut American album, Girl You Know It’s True, to chart-topping success. They became one of the most popular groups at that time. They even won a Grammy for Best New Artist following the success of the album. Suddenly, it all came crashing down around them. In 1990, it was revealed they didn’t sing a note for the album nor for the concerts. It was revealed, they were lip-syncing the entire time. The public was first clued in during a live performance on MTV in 1989. When the track skipped and kept repeating the same lyrics, it took a while for Milli Vanilli to catch on since they kept lip-syncing and dancing.  Once they realized their mistake they ran off the stage. 

In December 1989, when singer Charles Shaw claimed to be one of the three real singers on the album, Milli Vanilli’s record producer Frank Farian reportedly paid Shaw $150,000 to retract his statements but the damage was done in the eyes of the public. When Morvan and Farian demanded to sing live, Farian held a press conference where he outed the duo. He revealed that they didn’t sing on the album, but were male models who were hired to appear in music videos and lip-sync. As a result, they were forced to return their Grammy and faced class-action lawsuits by angry fans. Through a settlement, fans who attended their concerts or bought their album were refunded. Though they said they could sing, Pilatus claims they had their reasons, “we had nothing to eat, and we were unhappy. We wanted to be stars. And suddenly this guy gave us a chance, and we took it.”  They released a second album under the name Rob & Fab in 1993 but were never able to regain the public’s trust, so it was a flop.

Milli Vanilli accepting Grammy

Photo: Instagram

2013 MTV Video Music Awards 

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke cause quite a stir on social media after their joint performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. They were performing Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,”  where Cyrus began twerking on Thicke and it became quite suggestive. There was much criticism of the performance on Twitter. It was especially considered inappropriate since Thicke was married to actress Paula Patton and Cyrus was engaged to actor Liam Hemsworth. Not long after the performance did Patton file for divorce and Cyrus ended her engagement. It added more fuel to the fire of the bad press and their public images took quite a hit for some time.

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke

Photo: Twitter


In 2018, Snapchat released an ad for the game, “Would You Rather?” with photos of Chris Brown and Rihanna. The ad asked if you would rather, “slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown?” This was an extremely tone-deaf ad considering the domestic abuse past between Chris Brown and Rihanna.  The ad was quickly removed after outage from viewers and Snapchat issued an apology claiming it was an error. Rihanna made a post on her Instagram story, “Now SNAPCHAT I know you already know you ain’t my fav app out there! But I’m just trying to figure out what the point was with this mess!” the singer wrote. “I’d love to call it ignorance but I know you ain’t that dumb. You spent money to animate something that would intentionally bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it. This isn’t about my personal feelings, cause I don’t have much of them… but all the women, children and men that have been victims of DV in the past and especially the ones who haven’t made it out yet.” The Grammy winner continued with more posts, “you let us down! Shame on you. Throw the whole app-oligy away.” Some took her statement as a call to delete the app.  Snapchat stocks plunged by 4% percent costing the app nearly a billion dollars.

Rihanna Post/SnapChat Ad

Photo: Instagram/Snapchat

“Slavery was A Choice”

Rapper Kanye West came under fire in 2018 for what most considered to be racist comments. When he appeared at the TMZ offices he was recorded saying, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.  He continued to say, “you were there for 400 years and it’s all of y‘all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned. His comments were met by understandable outrage. He tried to explain himself on Twitter but still met with contempt. His support of President Trump and wearing the MAGA hat did not help his case since Trump himself is also known to make racist comments. He continued to stir up controversy with more tweets and interviews, including tweets about abolishing slavery by removing the 13thamendment which purpose was the abolishment of slavery.  He tries to clarify but is still unapologetically Kanye West.

Kanye West Tweets

Photo: Twitter

Everyone can make mistakes even in the spotlight, but some mistakes are bigger than others and can have a serious impact. Public relations fails are the kind of missteps that can change a career forever.

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Evelande Dufrene

Turning my thoughts into words for the culture.

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