January 5, 2018 Andrew Woodcock

The Vandiver Group’s Top Five PR Moments of 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

The Vandiver Group’s Best PR Moments of 2017: Part One

By TVG Staff

Since we’ve entered 2018, we thought it would be fun to list out our favorite PR moments of 2017. Some of these moments are bona fide PR crises, some of them are marketing campaigns, and some are social movements. Some had a positive effect, while others did not. There were so many, in fact, that we are not able to cover each one. So, we settled on a top-five list.

Without further ado, here is Part One of TVG’s top-five PR moments of 2017:

5) The Pepsi Commercial with Kendall Jenner

Can you solve America’s problems with a can of cold, refreshing Pepsi? Using Kendall Jenner?

Let’s go save America—with a Pepsi!

Known for reality TV and fashion runways, Ms. Jenner appeared in a Pepsi ad as a protester, marching with a cheerful, diverse crowd. The climax occurs when Kendall walks through the crowd, approaches a line of police officers and hands one a can of Pepsi. As he takes a sip and smiles, the whole crowd enthusiastically cheers.

The backlash was swift and harsh.

Pepsi pulled the ad after just one day, and released the following statement: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

Our thoughts: Pepsi was quick to apologize, which is good. In most cases, as soon as a crisis starts to unfold, the first thing you have to do is admit fault and get to work fixing it. While an apology is not always necessary—like if a natural disaster strikes and causes damage—a quick response and assurance that steps are being taken to fix the issue are absolutely vital.

4) United Airlines

On April 9—ironically just five short days after the Jenner Pepsi ad ran—United Airlines asked a sold-out flight from Chicago to Louisville if anyone would give up their seats to accommodate four of their employees, who were needed to cover an unstaffed flight at their destination. Three willing travelers gave up their seats, but when United randomly selected a fourth passenger to give up their seat, he refused, and was forcibly removed from the plane by airport police.

Although people are forced to give their seats up fairly often, usually they aren’t forced by police to do so.

United posted to Twitter:

The use of the word “re-accommodate” reads as if the passenger was a luggage bag. On top of that, a day later Munoz sent an email to United employees, saying that the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent” and he stands behind the crew and the decisions they made.

Fun fact, CEO Oscar Munoz was named communicator of the year a month before this incident. True story!

Our thoughts: United’s initial response missed the mark. In an age where information can be sent to half the world in seconds, United waited a whole day to respond—after the videos went viral. By the time they released a second apology, it was too late.

When one PR crisis meets another.

Their top PR executive resigned amid the stress. Although the incident didn’t appear to have much effect financially, United Airlines will continue to have their brand associated with this incident for a long time.

3) #NuggsForCarter

This next PR moment of 2017 proves that anything is possible, as long as you have a Twitter account and a dream. And, a desire for Wendy’s chicken nuggets.

Sixteen-year old Carter Wilkerson from Reno tweeted to Wendy’s, asking how many retweets it would take to get a year of free chicken nuggets. Wendy’s responded immediately—18 million. (Wendy’s is famous for its internet humor,) so this kind of joke response wasn’t unexpected. But that wasn’t going to stop Carter from getting his nuggs.

Challenge accepted.

Before Carter came around, the most popular tweet was Ellen DeGeneres’s famous tweet from the 2014 Oscars, followed by tweets from Obama and the members of One Direction. Within a month, however, Carter’s chicken nugget tweet got more retweets. Celebrities (including Ellen) got involved, retweeting Carter’s tweet and giving it global attention. Wendy’s itself started promoting Carter and urging Twitter users to retweet.

On May 9, 2017, Carter’s tweet reached 3.4 million retweets, becoming the most popular tweet of all time. Even though he didn’t reach 18 million, Wendy’s awarded Carter a year of free chicken nuggets. Wendy’s also donated $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, for which Carter has been using his newfound popularity to raise money.

That is the face of victory if we’ve ever seen it.

Our thoughts: #NuggsForCarter is a prime example of a PR/marketing campaign done right—and it was started by a 16-year-old! The tweet is simple, funny wholesome. Participating is easy: just retweet. Brand awareness was naturally grown for Wendy’s. And in the end, that awareness brought aid to a charity. Couldn’t have done it better.


In Part Two of The Vandiver Group’s Top Five PR Moments of 2017, we will explore two more PR instances that we consider significant, for better or worse. Stay tuned, and let us know what you think! Email us or drop us a line on Facebook.

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