A great social media marketing campaign can launch a brand into the stratosphere. It’s every marketer’s goal and dream to devise a clever, innovative and memorable social media campaign that will garner positive attention, be interacted with and shared, and take on a life of its own.
Yet not all social media campaigns are successful – there are plenty of failed social media campaigns that, for whatever reason, missed the mark.
FAST FACT: There are close to 2 billion social media users around the world, and this number is growing with no sign of slowing down. According to market research by Statista, 122 billion monthly minutes are spent on social media in the United States alone.
While brands that get social media marketing right are positioned for unprecedented opportunity and growth potential, blundering when it comes to a social media campaign can be a public relations nightmare for a brand.
Here to wrap up another year (where on earth did it go?), we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the biggest social media marketing fails.
Some of these were delivered to us during 2016, whereas others date from two or three years ago, yet deserve honourable mention for their epic proportions when it came to missing the mark.
- McDonalds famously got it wrong a while back when it attempted consumer engagement via Twitter with hashtag #mcdstories. Unfortunately for the chain, the stories shared were mostly negative and drove customers away rather than appealing to them.
- Razer, a competitor of Apple, tweeted about their featured SD slot in their Razer Blade laptop, compared unfavourably with the Apple MacBook Pro with what they thought was a funny double entendre but which instead offended vast numbers of Twitter users (not suitable to repeat here). Apologies were extended but within a day the tweet was deleted altogether. The concept was very clever but unsuitable for anywhere but the proverbial “locker room”.
- Airline Delta failed at social media when they tweeted a photo of a giraffe to represent Ghana during the World Cup in 2014. The idea was great – except that there are no giraffes in Ghana! Followers know this and a backlash ensued. Fact checking is crucial before you post to social media.
- Vera Bradley is an American brand that offers luggage, handbags, accessories and gift items for women. They totally missed the mark with what, on the surface, may have seemed like a good idea at the time. The campaign’s title was “Why it’s Good to Be a Girl”. They asked consumers on social media to share why they love being female. Published answers, to a large extent, didn’t resonate with a modern audience. Instead, responses like, “that moment when a gentleman offers you his seat” met with a mixed reaction, many criticising it as being more suited to a half century ago that to today’s woman.
- BBC journalist Ahmen Khawaja unfortunately sent out a tweet in 2015 declaring that the Queen of England had died. It occurred when Her Majesty was in hospital for routine tests. Panic briefly ensued. The journalist initially stated that her tweet announcement was a joke; the BBC was to later state that it was an “obituary rehearsal”. Eighteen months later, the Queen is alive and well, and the journalist involved faced disciplinary action by the BBC.
- Coca Cola sent out a tweet this year with a cartoon image of Russia. The point was to demonstrate how much Russians love drinking coke. The fail comes in that the marketers used a pre-WWII map of Russia. It depicted the Russian Federation with the Crimean Peninsula in its borders. The result? Very annoyed Ukrainians, and the resultant hashtag #BanCocaCola.
- Seoul Secret is a beauty brand that delivered an incredibly poorly considered social media campaign. In a campaign that would not have been out of place in America’s Deep South a century ago, skin lightening cosmetics were advertised with the tagline, “White Makes You Win”. Not only was a Thai model painted in blackface to advertise the skin whitening pills, a celebrity attributed her success to having very white skin. The campaign tanked in the biggest way.
- American Apparel, a US clothing chain brand, attempted to share a Fourth of July image for 2014 depicting clouds and smoke – with both of these hashtagged. Somehow (and one must imagine it was an error), instead of uploading an image of smoke and clouds, they uploaded a Photoshopped image of the Challenger space shuttle as it exploded in 1986. As you can imagine, it was not well received by the social media community.
- American Apparel did it again when they decided for some reason to take advantage of tragedy in the form of Hurricane Sandy. They ran a promotion offering 20 per cent off all stock for 36 hours for anyone who was bored during the storm. People are dying and losing their homes, but, hey, let’s go shopping! Um, no. Criticism of this campaign was very widespread.
- MTV Australia thought it was being funny when it tweeted that Latina actresses Eva Longoria and America Ferrera required English subtitles as they presented at the Golden Globes this year. Incredibly offensive, followers were angry and MTV Australia had to issue two separate apologies.
- Microsoft really messed up with a test of its artificial intelligence software with the release of the Tay chatbot on Twitter. It was designed to learn from its users via conversation. Thanks to internet trolls, within a day the chatbot was soon repeating offensive slurs that were both racist and sexist, including incredibly offensive tweets relating to the Obama administration. Microsoft was forced to shut the bot down.
- Yes, we are all tired of the US election, yet a classic example of social media FAIL comes from a tweet sent out by the GOP (Republican Party) in March 2016, on International Women’s Day. It criticised politician Tammy Duckworth for “not standing up for veterans”. The issue with the tweet was that Duckworth is not only an Iraq veteran herself; she lost her legs while serving in Iraq. She has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the US in the time since. The tweet by the GOP was greatly criticised, even among the general nastiness of a presidential campaign.
- Be very careful to not mix up corporate accounts with personal accounts. This happened when the corporate account manager for Twitter for Chrysler Autos tweeted on their corporate account that despite being known as the “motor city”, “nobody” in Detroit knows how to drive. Social Media FAIL.
A social media strategy requires planning and consideration. You need to be certain that what you send out will resonate in a positive way. Learn from the mistakes of others! Never post to social media when you are tired, angry, upset or inebriated.
Ensure your brand is not heading towards any social media marketing fails or faux pas, by strategising carefully, taking time, and being committed to your social media marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.
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