This Week in Public Relations Ethics (3/11/21): Stupidity, Stupidity and Well, More Stupidity

I like to tell my students that just because something is stupid, doesn’t mean it is unethical. But most stupid things can lead to great discussions on related ethical issues – and boy do we have a lot to talk about this week. From Royals to Racism to Fast Food and Kant, it was tough for me narrowing it down to just a few issues this week

  • Royals and Criticism – There are so many ethical issues arising from the Meghan Markle interview with Oprah this week it is tough to pick just one. From allegations of racism to the Piers Morgan inappropriate criticism controversy, I know we will be discussing this in my class for quite a bit.


  • Stupid Tweets and Racism – For the first example of a stupid tweet of the week – the American Medical Association tweeted “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?” This tweet was supposed to promote a podcast looking at racism in healthcare, but from all reports, beyond the tweet, the podcast did not feature those who had been impacted (another major failure) and failed from an advocacy and virtue-based perspective


  • Burger King thinks women belong in the kitchen – It feels like Burger King read the above tweet and said “Hold my beer.” For International Women’s Day, Burger King planned to highlight inequality and gender discrimination against female chefs. A laudable and good goal. I strongly support fighting against discrimination. But the execution was horrible and the response to criticism even worse. Going beyond the stupidity though this highlights the ethical perils of shock, and surprise and delight tweets where honesty and truth is buried pr revealed later to grab attention.


  • Did Hershey engage appropriately? – One of my colleagues brought this one to my attention. At least Burger King is giving scholarships. In this case, to tie into International Women’s Day Hershey is giving the first 1,000 people to come to each of its Chocolate World locations a special candy bar with the SHE highlighted (but not the HER). On the positive end, they are going to celebrate women in March on social. Can we take a page from Kant and say a categorical imperative should be “Brands should only engage around days and months raising awareness of systemic inequalities in authentic and meaningful ways?”


Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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