Beloved Companies That Disastrously Let Us Down


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If you’re a major company with the good fortune to be embraced by consumers, you’re due for a hearty pat on the back. Unfortunately, the longer you stick around, the more likely you are to run into problems.

What follows is our list of companies beloved by consumers that really stepped in it at one time or another, with disastrous PR implications. All of these companies are still around, but for those who remember these disasters from when they happened know it can be hard to forgive and forget.

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In 2017, the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining traction, so the good people at Pepsi decided to — ka-ching! — cash in on it. They made a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner that takes place in the middle of a protest. In a move that was perhaps intended to recall the 1967 Vietnam War protester who put a flower in a National Guardsman’s gun barrel, Jenner gives a cop a can of Pepsi. The ad was considered oblivious, ignorant and offensive and was pulled just days after it’s debut.

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United Airlines

Calling United Airlines a “beloved” company is pushing it, since everyone hates the multiple-hour ordeal known as commercial air travel. Still, whatever goodwill United Airlines might have had evaporated in the wake of a 2017 incident. Four passengers on an overbooked flight were asked to get off to make room for airline employees who needed their seats. One of them, David Dao, was a doctor. He refused to deplane because he had to go home and see patients. Security officers proceeded to remove him by force, all of which was caught on video, causing United Airlines what can only be called “bad optics.” Have they considered not overbooking flights?

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If you want to know what the face of PTSD looks like, sneak up behind anyone who was employed by the Coca-Cola company in 1985 and whisper, “New Coke.” They will react as though it was just yesterday that their employer made the baffling decision to change the beverage’s taste — which had been the same for almost 100 years. Not to be hyperbolic, but literally everyone hated it. Three months later, the original Coca-Cola made its triumphant return to store shelves. The damage was done long ago, but the scars remain, and we may never heal.

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In 2015, the folks at Starbucks decided it wasn’t enough to sell customers the coffee they had become hopelessly addicted to. Starbucks would become a hub for discussion and discourse, which the company would initiate by having baristas engage customers in conversations about race. This was an initiative called “Race Together.” Customer backlash was immediate, whether because it was a thorny topic or because no one wants to talk about anything at 7:30 in the morning while they’re on their way to work. Also, putting baristas on the front lines of this effort was viewed as cowardly, as some believed it should have been Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz going out on this particular limb. A week later, it was over.

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Ford Motor Company

The Pinto was a subcompact car the Ford Motor Company made in the 1970s. Due to a design flaw, the fuel tank could rupture in rear-end collisions, causing potentially deadly explosions. Rather than initiate a recall and fix the flaw, Ford conducted a cost-benefit analysis showing that it would be less expensive to pay settlements to the horribly charred motorists. This was detailed in a document known as the “Pinto memo,” and while the 27 fatalities related to this defect was a relatively low number, the damage to Ford’s reputation took a long time to undo.

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For many years, the Subway sandwich chain was represented on television by Jared Fogle, who claimed that he’d lost almost 250 pounds thanks to a regular exercise regimen and a diet that included Subway sandwiches. He appeared in hundreds of commercials and was synonymous with the chain, which caused some problems in 2015 when it was revealed that he was a sex offender. Fogle was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and amazingly, the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that there had not been a significant adverse effect on the chain. They may have let people down with their choice of spokesperson, but that grilled chicken on toasted Italian bread is scandal-proof.

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The Gap

In 2012, the clothing chain known as the Gap decided to manufacture a T-shirt with “Manifest Destiny” in big, bold, uppercase letters that you could probably read clearly from two blocks away. If you don’t see how this would be a problem, we’ll explain it to you. “Manifest destiny” is a concept dating back to the 19th century that amounts to, “Yes, American settlers, God wants you to expand further westward and colonize every square inch of this great land, even though there were already people living here for centuries before you showed up.” The designer, Mark McNairy, apologized on the platform then known as Twitter, and with great haste, the Gap stopped selling the shirt.

Image Credit: The Gap.


In 2018, the clothing retailer H&M posted an image to their online store featuring a Black child model wearing a sweatshirt that bore the legend, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” The backlash was immediate and the company removed the image from its website and the shirt from stores, but the damage was done. The Weeknd, a pop star of Ethiopian heritage, ended his relationship with them right then and there.

Image Credit: H&M.

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson was founded in 1888 and has made a name for itself as a trusted company for such products as Listerine, Imodium AD, and Band-Aids. In 2016, a Missouri jury ordered the company to pay $72 million to the family of a woman who had used the company’s baby powder for years and later died of ovarian cancer. The company said no link between their product and the illness could be proven. However, in May 2024, a study in The Journal of Clinical Oncology found that there was “a positive association between use of intimate care products, including genital talc, and ovarian cancer.” Johnson & Johnson has continued to deny any such link.

Image Credit: Amazon.


In 2016, Samsung landed in hot water when it was reported that Galaxy Note 7 smartphones had a propensity for suddenly bursting into flames, causing injury to anyone who happened to be holding it to their face at the time. The company immediately issued a global recall and spent months studying the problem, eventually disclosing that it was due to the device’s batteries overheating. To the company’s credit, they acted swiftly and responsibly, enlisting 700 engineers to test 200,000 devices and 30,000 batteries until they isolated the problem. Samsung mobile communications chief D.J. Koh said, “We are taking responsibility for our failure to identify the issues arising out of the battery design and manufacturing process prior to the launch of the Note 7.”

Image Credit: Samsung.

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