Sometimes you just have to ask, “What were they thinking?” So far it’s been a doozy of a year when it comes to public relations disasters.

Insulting in any language

In June, Burger King in Russia released a misogynistic promotional ad featuring a very pregnant woman. They offered money, plus a lifetime of free Whoppers to women who became pregnant by World Cup soccer stars.

The Moscow Times translated the ad into English. It reads:

“Burger King, within the framework of social responsibility, has appointed a reward for girls who get pregnant from the stars of world football. Each will receive 3 million rubles [$47,500] and a lifetime supply of Whoppers. For these girls, it will be possible to get the best football genes and will lay down the success of the Russian national team on several generations ahead. Forward! We believe in you!”

The short-lived ad was quickly ash-canned. Burger King posted an apology on a Russian social media site. “We apologize for our statement. It turned out to be too insulting.”

Maybe the next time their creative team gets together to brainstorm they should stick to drinking coffee.

Daintier chips?

Earlier this year, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was interviewed on WNYC’s Freakonomics Radio. She was asked how women and men eat chips differently. “Guys … love their Doritos … they lick their fingers with great glee. When they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth … they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor and the broken chips in the bottom,” Nooyi explained. “Women … don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. They don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.”

When asked if PepsiCo was developing a “male and female version of the chips,” Nooyi indicated the company was getting ready to launch snacks designed for women “because women love to carry a snack in their purse.”

Social media had a field day. Twitter was especially funny.

News of the “lady chips” went viral. Afterward, PepsiCo told Ad Age, “We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day.”

Stunt fell flat

International House of Pancakes recently announced it was changing its name.

“For 60 pancakin’ years, we’ve been IHOP. Now, we’re flippin’ our name to IHOb. Find out what it could be on 6.11.18. #IHOb,” the brand mysteriously tweeted.

After all the hype it turned out the “b” stood for burger. The brand insisted on being called the International House of Burgers.

The publicity stunt garnered plenty of negative attention. Twitter called it “a reason not to eat at IHOP” and “a stupid marketing stunt.”

Competitors had fun with the flip-flop.

Wendy’s tweeted: “Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.”

TGI Friday’s extended a friendly invitation to the restaurant, since they were getting picked on: “@IHOb, We’re just around the corner if you need a drink.”

A month into their identity crisis, IHOP ended the experiment.

“We really appreciate the burgerin’ loyalty, but we’re back to @IHOP again. We’d never turn our back on pancakes (except for that time we faked it to promote our new burgers).”

When planning a publicity stunt or marketing campaign, keep in mind getting attention can be hard. Getting positive attention can be harder.

Don’t fall into the trap of “it doesn’t matter what people are saying about you — as long as they’re saying something.”

History is littered with publicity stunts more memorable for what went wrong than what went right.

Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations and marketing consultant. She can be contacted through her website

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