From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022

18 April 2023
Reading: 4 min

PR scandals with well-known brands always involve reputational risks, so companies try to avoid them as much as possible. But if the conflict has already happened, the main goal of any brand is to deal with consequences quietly. In most cases, the problems are of an ethical or moral nature. Our team worked through the highest-profile scandal stories involving major brands in 2022 to later look at affiliate marketing from the perspective of scandals too.

PR scandals of famous brands


In November 2022, the fashion company released a photoshoot of its new “Objects” collection featuring children. In the photos, the young models were swaddled in leather bandages similar to the outfit for BDSM events. The photo shoot was criticized for sexualizing a child’s image as well as showing prints from child pornography court cases. Representatives of the brand covered the tracks of this scandalous PR campaign, so you are unlikely to find a lot of footage of this case. Some more or less acceptable images can be found in media mentions or news reports.

As a result, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Bella Hadid were refusing to work with Balenciaga. In addition, the number of mentions of the brand by famous bloggers on social media greatly decreased, and some influencers posted videos of burning branded merchandise. The company tried to clear its reputation and remain innocent by suing the producers of the shoot, the set designer, and the screenwriter. However, It didn’t help, and the brand was haunted by a trail of shame for some time.

From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022

Ralph Lauren

In October 2022, the brand was at the center of a scandal among Mexicans over one of its jackets. It was decorated with indigenous ornaments of the country. Perhaps the loudest voice of dissatisfaction with the situation was the wife of Mexico’s president, who is the head of the cultural authority. She claimed that Ralph Lauren was engaged in cultural appropriation and did not even bother to pay a percentage of sales to local communities. Later, incidentally, the Chinese brand Shein was subjected to the same accusations.

The incident did not lead to a massive drop in demand for cooperation with the company. However, it became a significant blow to the brand’s reputation. Ralph Lauren apologized and promised to cooperate with indigenous peoples in Mexico in future campaigns.

From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022


In November, fast food lovers in Germany began receiving mass congratulatory texts about the “anniversary” of Kristallnacht, one of the first Nazi pogroms among Jews. It turned out that these messages were sent out by a bot that automatically used information about commemorative dates in the calendar. One problem, the algorithm did not sort out which events were really holidays and which were tragedies.

An hour after the first text message was sent, customers received a second one, but with an apology from the company. KFC has also stopped its mailing bot from operating in the country. But there was still some negative reviews towards the brand among customers. Everyone can make such mistakes: on the one hand, it is a technical issue, on the other hand, it is a human error. The KFC team should not have trusted the artificial intelligence entirely but should have checked its actions. As a result, such a seemingly small thing as a mailing led to a big scandal.

From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022


The company’s scandal first came to light in 2018. It’s all about a video that was leaked online. It shows a man trying to go to the toilet at a Starbucks coffee shop, but being forcibly removed from the establishment because he didn’t order anything. After the online hype, the company officially announced that its coffee shops are now open to everyone.

The brand experienced the consequences of this decision already in 2022, when the company had to close dozens of coffee shops in American cities such as Sacramento, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. The reason is that many homeless people lived there. When the brand opened their doors to everyone, they couldn’t cope with the influx of homeless people. Here the flip side of the scandal played against the company when they were led by public opinion.

From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022


In June, a scandal erupted in Turkey after the company used pictures of its brand sandals standing on freshly baked loaves of bread in its advertisements. A religious factor came into play: Muslims are not allowed to handle bread in this manner.

Interestingly, Zara was accused not only of disrespecting the feelings of religious believers but also of being indifferent to the hungry. This forced the company to change its advertising images, but it did not issue an official apology.

From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022


This company is known for its fitness equipment. During the pandemic, when everyone was sitting at home, their sales skyrocketed. But in 2022, there was an incident in which characters from two TV series, And Just So and Billions, died of a heart attack while working out on the brand’s fitness equipment. Of course, this created an unpleasant association and sales plummeted.

On the one hand, it’s just an episode of a TV show. But on the other hand, it didn’t end with the series alone, the episodes were featured in articles of well-known media like CNN about the heart attack. In addition, these cases from the shows began to be pitched as current examples of the risks during exercise classes. As a result, Peloton began to be associated with heart attacks.

This terrible product placement cost the company’s CEO and 2,800 employees their jobs because of a huge loss of over $430 million.

From Balenciaga to KFC: the Iconic PR Scandals 2022

All of these PR scandals remind us once again that before you advertise something, you have to make sure that you don’t break the laws of the country and that there are no subtexts or religious references in the advertisement. And if you take on product placement, make sure that your product will only be of benefit and joy.

What about the affiliate industry?

In affiliate marketing, such PR scandals are unlikely to happen. Most conflicts are due to one side not paying the other, or due to simple misunderstanding and inattention (poorly defined terms and conditions, or vague KPI requirements). Sometimes mistakes are made, when companies do harm to their competitors, for example, by copying conference booth designs and poaching guest artists. Although everything is limited only by the imagination of market players.

As for the year 2022, there was a place for affiliate incidents. Of the high-profile ones, for example, there was the unpleasant situation with Boomerang Partners. It was an affiliate program that refused to pay for its partners’ traffic, regarding it as low-quality. Several affiliate teams turned to ZorbasMedia’s editorial office at the time to sort out the situation. In the end, the conflict was settled peacefully.

There was also an incident with the mass theft of Telegram accounts. Fraudsters pretended to be employees of different companies: GeekBrains, Tinkoff, and even 1xBet, and offered cooperation on advertising, sending links and forms to fill out. Then the strategy changed and users started to receive notifications from a fake Telegram bot trying to log in from a new device. Underneath all these machinations was another scam.

Besides that, there were unpleasant situations with mass bot attacks on Telegram channels of affiliate networks and individual affiliates. This led to an abundance of spam messages, and if someone decided to unsubscribe, the bots clicked “Complain”. This can be called a kind of preparatory operation for account theft.


The perception of your brand, personal or company, means working with public opinion, with users and their reaction to the demonstration of your products. PR scandals due to contradictory subtext or complaints about the quality of work are all reputational risks that should be taken into account. After all, the public loves not only success stories but also stories of failure. The main question here is how you will cope with this failure and its consequences. And most importantly, do not forget that the Internet remembers everything.

Have a story to tell about traffic arbitrage?
Become a ZorbasMedia contributor!
Become an author