Long before PR even had a name, brands were being optimized. What did Apostle Paul do but increase visibility of the Christian brand? Were either of the World Wars anything but brandstrife, where the old guard of monarchy ended up being disrupted by republican government? Well, does an innovator crap on an ergonomic toilet? But history isn’t all PR successes. There’s a veritable buffet of failures:
4: The Siege of Baghdad
In 1258, after the encroachments of previous decades by Ogedai Khan, an estimated 120,000 Mongol troops amassed in Baghdad. The city was at that time the intellectual capitol of the Islamic world, but it was about the become the fail capitol of the PR world. The Mongols were ruthless. They attacked with flaming arrows and destroyed city defenses, before slaughtering every single member of the Abbasid Caliphate’s forces stationed in Baghdad. They also killed 2 million civilians, destroyed Baghdad’s intricate irrigation system, and obliterated its famed library.
Could you imagine being the Abassid spokesman? “Uh, our economic and academic center was just obliterated and over 2 million people were killed. But we have an exciting announcement next week!”. Yeah, there’s a reason the Abassids aren’t around today, and it’s got a lot to do with this public relations bungle.
3: The Hindenburg Disaster
Even millennial interns know about this one: In 1937, the skin of 36 passengers and airmen wasn’t the only thing melting: the reputation of Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei went didn’t do so hot either. No pun intended. Well, maybe a little. If people start associating your brand with radio hosts crying at the nightmarish sight of a slow ball of fire consuming dozens without prejudice, well, you may want to get an out-of-house designer to start sketching new logos. Oh, the humanity (of intangible asset depreciation that happened that horrible night).
2: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand
Some say this alone caused the Great War. Others say it was inevitable given tensions in the Balkans. What they can’t disagree on is the irreparable damage to the House of Hapsburg. The moment Gavrilo Princip’s bullets perforated Franz, the damage was done. Nothing hurts the brand of a royal house more than when people think they can’t raise an heir without him dying, either to an assassin’s bullet, or more commonly weird sex diseases. A better manager may have been able to spin this into a new beginning, but people in the past had no appreciation for diastertunity.
1: The Janet Jackson Super Bowl Wardrobe Malfunction
A lot of people make tasteless jokes about this. None of those people witnessed the carnage of that day. The innocent brands like Pepsi who experienced incredible loss of value. The spokespeople’s sleepless nights, answering for this horrific event. When that areola touched the antiseptic, cold air of Reliant Stadium, many knew the world had changed. The remnants of that day, from Pepsi’s older logo to the very name of the stadium are no longer with us. It is understandable to want to forget the horrors endured, but I defer to Holocaust survivor Primo Levi:
“We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”
Be thankful you didn’t live through this one.