Blame it on humour gone wrong, sloppy copy or plain misfortune – these brands somehow couldn’t put their best feet forward when communicating with users online and offline. In 2015 we saw well-intentioned campaigns failing due to poor timing, disgruntled employees taking over company’s official Twitter account, nauseating Twitter polls + content that didn’t simply hit the right note with the audience. Here, we share 10 such incidents that were talked about – but not in a good sense.
NY Times is known to come up with innovative social media campaigns based on sensitive issues, but the one they rolled out in 2015 probably takes the cake as one of their most disturbing Twitter campaigns ever. The magazine ran a poll on Twitter asking readers whether, given the chance, they would go back in time and kill baby Hitler. The concept of the campaign is outright cringe-worthy to say the least, and while it received its share of mockery from Twitter users, what was most disturbing was that the highest percentage of participants (43% to be exact), expressed an interest in committing the murder. The few replies that suggested more docile alternatives like kidnapping baby Hitler and bringing him up with love and care didn’t quite neutralize the acid spread by the campaign.
Suggesting that a particular beer is the perfect way to remove “no” from one’s vocabulary for the night is not a very safe thing to say these days, where rape and proper consent are being discussed everywhere. Bud Light learned this the hard way when their 2015 #upforwhatever hashtag campaign was trashed by angry Twitteratis, with many pointing out disturbing undertones in the hashtag, as well as the slogan that accompanied it. Not surprisingly, Bud Light was forced to just call the whole thing off.
CEO Howard Schultz’s endeavour to start a conversation between Starbucks’ employees & customers on race didn’t evoke the response he wanted. Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign, launched soon after the shootings of unarmed teenagers Eric Garner and Michael Brown by the police, was severely ill-timed. The fact that it was launched by a white CEO turned it into even more of a PR nightmare, forcing the coffee giant to stop writing “Race Together” on customers’ cups.
Back in April, Apple launched its new set of emojis. Clorox, a leading manufacturer of household bleach, decided to piggyback on the hype. Using an image of a bottle of Clorox made up of emojis, the brand tweeted – “Where’s the bleach?” The only problem – the emojis were racially diverse, and Clorox’s tweet sustained widespread backlash for being racist. The company quickly deleted the tweet and apologised for what was obviously a marketing oversight in the rush to be punctual.
Social media can be goldmines for brands that connect directly with their audience. However, as Sea World learned it hard way, that sometimes social media can also leave a lasting scar on a brand. The #AskSeaWorld campaign was launched soon after there was public uproar over the company’s ill treatment of animals and allegations of hiring unskilled animal handlers. Not surprisingly, the campaign was met with enthusiasm of a different kind by the audience, many of whom left scathing questions for the brand to deal with. SeaWorld could have resolved the situation, or at least taken the impact down one notch by being polite, but instead they chose to be feisty, challenging commenters on the social platform. Chaos ensued, obviously!
In August 2015, Nancy Jo Sales, a Vanity Fair writer, published a story “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse'”. It was centered on how hookup culture is making the dating scene way more awkward and unpleasant than ever before, as well as how apps like Tinder are not exactly improving the situation in any way. Tinder took offence to this and struck back with a barrage of tweets at the writer and Vanity Fair, calling their research “incorrect”. The result? Not only did Tinder’s tweets receive widespread criticism, they also drew the attention of people who might actually have missed the story, thereby compounding the effect of negative publicity on the brand.
NYPD sought to improve its image among the general public through some positive publicity with its #myNYPD hashtag campaign in early 2015. However, their plan backfired when photos of police brutality flooded the Twitter feed of the hashtag. Initially, the publicists attempted to counter a few of the remarks, but soon realised that they were up against a Twitter tsunami.
The British entertainment company laid off about 60 employees in 2015. However, the problem in HMV’s case was that one or more employees had access to the company’s Twitter account. They took to Twitter to vent their anger – stating how the company had mistreated the laid off employees, comparing the layoff with “mass execution”. They managed to post 7 such messages before the company regained control of the account and deleted the posts. The company was eventually forced to discuss its internal policies with Twitteratis, something it was clearly not planning to do, ever.
If a company does not trust its own product, why would others? That was the implication, when the tweet posted by BlackBerry to promote their new Twitter app was sent through an iPhone! The tweet was deleted shortly afterward, but not before Verge captured a screenshot and shotgunned it all over the Twitterverse. While this was an unforgivable faux pas on behalf of BlackBerry, the tweet ironically did its intended job, encouraging BB users across USA to download the new Twitter app anyway.
On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 2015, Seattle Seahawks posted a photo of their quarterback, Russell Wilson, with an inspirational quote from King. Equating football with the life’s struggles of the legend. It did not go down well with the fans, with many of them posting scathing replies to the tweet within minutes of posting. SS deleted the tweet and issued a formal apology later that day. Got something you think should have been on the list? Share it with us.