Innocent Drinks PR Stunt: What Happens When A PR Stunt Backfires

Another week and another PR stunt, this one went from epic to apology very quickly, after Innocent, one of the nation’s favourite smoothie brands, announced the launch of “Conker Milk”.

The characterful brand decided to support its new range of nut milks with a seasonal addition – “Conker Milk” – and announced it via its social media channels.

Not long after, the company ended up eating its words after less informed sections of the Great British public thought the product was in fact real. The only problem being that conkers are poisonous to humans and will give you an upset stomach at the very least.

Innocent rescinded its words on its plant-based gaffe with an advert-style video and series of equally cheeky social posts on why “Conker Milk” was a bad idea and that, instead, you should try its range of other nut milks, rather than the fictional one mocked up to grab the news headlines.

This product-led PR stunt backfired on the brand, however its experienced PR and marketing team were swift to attempt to undo the work of an earlier, over-ambitious brainstorm. Innocent’s quick thinking was able to protect its brand and manage its reputation, and earn it a whole lot of social interaction, engagement, retweets and likes in the process.

We looked at search trends data for the term “Conker Milk”, before and after the stunt, and saw a spike in search engine traffic for the term on 17 October, the day the announcement was made – previously search volumes around the term were non-existent. We can also see a small spike in searches on 15 October, which is when we’re guessing the stunt and photoshopped images were conceptualised. Although there is no secondary smaller spike, before launch, when PR stunt due diligence should have been done.

Why is this a bad example?

Many will argue that, despite the negative coverage that this stunt has generated, brand awareness and visibility will remain high.  But nothing that risks the public’s health, or puts a company in the legal firing line, can be deemed a success, no matter how aggressive the brand manager.

This is a bad product-based PR stunt but strong crisis management response, and one that we can all learn from – be adventurous, but don’t put people at risk, or be legally irresponsible. Have a back-up plan and crisis communications strategy in place if your PR stunt backfires. Now what other bonfire-based pumpkin-spiced public relations stunts can we come up with?

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