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Sicily, United, Spicer: Public Relations Gone Bad

PR Nightmare, The Miniseries
PR Nightmare, The Miniseries
Jillian Deutsch

-Analysis-

PR disasters can happen anywhere to anyone.

While United Airlines is (not) doing its best to recover from the instantly infamous "re-accommodating" of a bumped passenger on an overbooked flight in Chicago, another somewhat smaller drama was playing out on the Italian island of Sicily.

Ahead of next month's G7 summit in the Sicilian town of Taormina, Italian organizers included a photograph of a shady-looking young man staring at a young woman as a welcome image for the island long plagued by the Mafia and macho-ism. The picture was condemned by the Sicilian regional president and quickly taken down, but the damage was done.

Meanwhile, United's damage can be measured in the $1 billion it has shed on its share price since videos circulated of the brutal removal Sunday of a passenger from a Chicago-to-Louisville flight.

The only way a company can get away with doing that kind of thing is if they're really doing something.

The accelerator of these and so many other tales of bad publicity is, of course, social media. Now former United customers convened on Twitter, vowing never to fly the airline again. The videos also went viral in China, the second largest airline market in the world, where some accused United of singling out the passenger because he was Chinese-born. Another United airlines incident a few weeks ago also sparked outrage after two women were banned from a flight because they were wearing leggings, which many said was sexist.

With all the indignation brewing online, some advertisers have attempted to tap directly into the political and social culture. Pepsi tried. A two-and-a-half minute video ad released last week featured model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner abandoning a fashion shoot to join some sort of generic street protest. It ended with Jenner handing a white police officer a can of Pepsi as a peace offering. #Fail.

"They're trying to present a product as a solution to a very large, very important, very serious cultural and societal problem," media studies professor Mara Epstein told New York Magazine. "The only way a company can get away with doing that kind of thing is if they're really doing something."

Perhaps the most extreme example of a company is Patagonia, which was once so message-conscious that it literally told people not to buy their product (for environmentally reasons), as the outdoors brand did in 2011.

In the current political and social climate, the dilemma won't be going anywhere soon. But at least United and Pepsi can be glad they don't have Sean Spicer speaking on their behalf.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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