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Year in Review 2017: The biggest business blunders of the year

After taking the time to compile last year’s list of top business blunders, we at Yahoo Canada Finance thought, “Surely, next year they’ll learn.”

Oh, how wrong we were.

This past year, it seemed that one company after another was trying to get in on the hold my beer meme by one-upping each other in the screw-up department. Racial insensitivity, accidental tweets, forgetting the past and just plain old beating up customers are some highlights from this year’s list.

So, here then are the seven biggest blunders by businesses of 2017:

No. 7: McDonald’s tweets, then deletes, anti-Trump message

Searching the word Trump on Twitter brings up no shortage of posts both for and against the divisive U.S. president, but businesses tend to try and remain neutral.

That was certainly not the case on the morning of March 16 when McDonald’s corporate account tweeted this message about President Trump:

Want fries with that?

The tweet was quickly deleted and McDonald’s claims the account was “hacked by an outside source.” Needless to say, the fast food chain wasn’t lovin’ it when this message popped up in their feed.

No. 6: East Side Mario’s bra-gate

East Side Mario’s waitress complains about manager’s demand that she wear a bra

This list wouldn’t be complete without a home-grown Canadian blunder. This one took place at an East Side Mario’s restaurant in Timmons, Ontario where server Genevieve Loiselle claims a manager demanded she wear a bra to work.

Loiselle, who describes herself as smaller-chested, says the manager, who is also female, told her the undergarment was part of the company’s work uniform.

Loiselle told the CBC at the time, “Some men have larger breasts than I do. You would never impose [a bra] on a male so why would you impose that on a female?”

After the story was published and East Side Mario’s head office got wind of it, there was an immediate backtrack and Loiselle was told she did not in fact have to wear a bra to work. But that didn’t erase the negative feelings the whole experience caused her.

“When it violates my values, then I have to take a stand,” she said.

No. 5: Adidas invokes Boston Marathon bombing

The 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon was an unspeakable tragedy that left three dead and several hundred injured. It’s something that companies would want to avoid bringing up under the wrong circumstances.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely what Adidas did after this year’s running of the historic race. After the event was over, customers of the athletic company received an email with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”

Unsurprisingly, the backlash on social media was swift and Adidas made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In the company’s defense, they did the right thing and accepted responsibility for the gaffe and publicly apologized. Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted told CNBC, “That is a consequence of living in a real-time environment. Of course, we hope the thing like this will not happen. It did happen. We apologized. And we hope also that the consumer will forgive us for that mistake, which we are thoroughly sorry about.”

The blunder was bad, but in this case Adidas was able to make a swift recovery by doing the right thing and owning up for making the error.

No. 4: Dove turns a black woman white

Dove has been working hard for over a decade to break stereotypes about women’s bodies, and to promote the fact that we’re all beautiful in our own unique way.

Given that, there’s no way the company would run an ad that shows, say, a black woman removing her shirt and magically turning white, right? Wrong.

In early October, Dove posted a short video on its Facebook page that showed just that. A black woman removes her top to reveal she’s now a smiling white woman:

It doesn’t take a genius to guess how the public reacted (angrily), and what Dove did next (backtrack and apologize).

The company stated that while the ad was meant to celebrate diversity, they clearly, “got it wrong.”

It’s worth noting that the black model who appeared in the ad, Lola Ogunyemi, said she “didn’t feel it was racist.” Unfortunately the damage had already been done and Dove’s 2017 will largely be remembered for this major gaffe.

No. 3: Fyre Festival fizzles

When the Fyre Festival was first announced, it was described as a music fest for the rich and privileged in the Bahamas. The festival, backed by Ja Rule and tech entrepreneur (bro) Billy McFarland, was supposed to feature top-level performers like Blink 182. Models and influencers like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner were paid to promote the festival, and pitched it to their millions of social media followers.

Instead attendees got, well, nothing.

The festival turned out to be a complete disaster, generating weeks of mocking headlines and angry tweets. Attendees paid up to $10,000 each to travel to a private island, stay in luxury tents and eat gourmet food. Instead, they got run down emergency huts, power outages and cheese sandwiches. Some were even calling it “Hunger Games for rich people.”

The more coverage the festival received, the more obvious it became that this was a huge debacle from the start. Leaked emails revealed that the organizers were looking for ways to cut corners during the planning process.

The President of Fyre Media, Conall Arora, at one point suggested reducing the number of toilet facilities in half to save cash, saying, “If we cut it in half, we would just have double the line wait? I’m seeing some sites that say we could get away with 75 toilets.”

Eventually, ticket holders were given refunds and the organizers admitted that they basically had no clue what they were doing, saying in a statement, “We thought we were ready, but then everyone arrived.”

That wasn’t the end of it though. Ja Rule and McFarland were hit with multiple lawsuits, and McFarland was eventually arrested on fraud charges. Rock on.

No. 2: Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad falls flat

She’s young, rich, successful…and completely tone deaf.

Back in April, Kendall Jenner appeared in a commercial for Pepsi that was pulled almost as quickly as it was posted. Why, you may ask? Watch and see for yourself:

The ad, which co-opted images linked to cultural movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March on Washington, was swiftly and immediately slammed. Protesters carrying signs reading generic terms like “join the conversation” and “love” were featured in the ad, which many interpreted as Pepsi trivializing the messages of social justice movements.

The commercial seemed to imply that a soft drink could instantly solve all of society’s woes. People were, understandably, not impressed.

Even Bernice King, the daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr, weighed in on the controversy:

If you’re still unclear as to why people got so angry, activist DeRay McKesson summed it up perfect when he told NBC News, “This ad trivializes the urgency of the issues and it diminishes the seriousness and the gravity of why we got into the street in the first place.”

Kendall broke down as she discussed the scandal. Copyright: [E!]

In the October premiere of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Jenner finally opened up about the ad and the following backlash, saying (while sobbing), “I trusted everyone. I trusted the teams. But after I saw the reaction and I read what people had to say about it, I most definitely saw what went wrong.”

Eventually Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi shared her thoughts on the ad, saying the fact that no one in the company saw the similarities to the Black Lives Matter movement before the backlash, “made me scratch my head.”

You, and everybody else.

No. 1: United Airlines passenger beaten, dragged off plane

The dubious honour atop this this list goes to United Airlines. Specifically the incident that occurred this past April when passenger David Dao was bloodied and dragged from a plane at the gate in Chicago.

The trouble started when United overbooked the flight, a practice that unfortunately many airlines employ. United asked for volunteers to to give up their seats. No one came forward. And that’s when things got ugly.

Dao, a doctor, was selected to leave the flight. He refused, saying he was needed in surgery the following day in his home state of Kentucky. What happened next isn’t completely clear. Officers were called onto the plane to remove Dao, who they claimed was acting aggressively. Dao’s lawyer, Thomas Demetrio, denies that was the case.

What is known, however, is that after refusing to leave the flight, Dao was dragged from the plane with blood streaming down his face. It was later revealed that Dao’s injuries were extensive. Demetrio said his client “suffered a concussion and a broken nose” and “lost two front teeth.”

Not long after Dao was removed from the plane, the hashtag #boycottunited started trending and Twitter users were having a field day:

The results of the incident were far-reaching. United shares dropped after the incident, and are still down for the year. The airline quickly settled with Dao out of court, although the amount has not been made public.

In October, two Chicago aviation security officers were fired for their role in the events of that day. One for escalating the situation, and the other for using “excessive force.”

The actions of United CEO Oscar Munoz didn’t help the situation either. His initial response was to defend the airline and the officers involved, saying that Dao was “disruptive and belligerent” before being forcibly removed from the plane. Munoz later appeared more apologetic when facing questions from a U.S. Congressional panel.

Even shareholder Warren Buffett weighed in on the matter, saying that Munoz made a “terrible mistake” in his handling of the incident. On top of that, the whole debacle cost Munoz a promotion to chairman of the board of United Airlines.

All in all, the whole thing served as an example for companies – or anyone, anywhere for that matter – of how not to handle a crisis.

So there you have it, the biggest goofs of the business world for 2017. Remember, people, at their core, these companies are people, and people aren’t perfect. Some are just much less perfect than others.