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5 Scary Marketing Blunders of 2014

In the age of digital marketing, one incorrect keystroke, rogue employee, or lapse in judgment can lead to a PR nightmare. As a marketer, there is nothing more terrifying than seeing a well-intentioned campaign flop or backfire.

Though we’re celebrating Halloween this week, scary marketing blunders are, unfortunately, always in season. In fact, 2014 has been rife with social media slip-ups and marketing mishaps. In the spirit of the spookiest day of the year, we’ve rounded up some of the worst offenders. If these don’t send shivers down your spine, nothing will.


1. Joan Rivers’ Post-Mortem Endorsement of the iPhone 6

Days after the famous comedian died at the age of 81, she posted to her Facebook page and Instagram account about how much she loved her iPhone 6.  Though the post was clearly a pre-scheduled deal with Apple, an endorsement from the afterlife did not go over well with the media or her fans.

Lesson learned: If you use a social media scheduling tool, periodically monitor and audit the posts you have in the pipeline.


2. DiGiorno Pizza Fails at Hashtag Research


DiGiorno Pizza’s social media manager leveraged the trending #WhyIStayed tweet, not realizing that the hashtag was being used by victims of domestic violence in the wake of Baltimore Ravens’ player Ray Rice’s dismissal from the NFL. While the brand quickly apologized for the error, screen shots of the insensitive tweet went viral.

Lesson learned: Organically trending hashtags (i.e. hashtags that are trending because of actual use, not promoted by a paying advertiser) are often connected to important cultural conversations. Research trending hashtags before you use them to generate visibility for your tweet.


3. Walmart Offers Costumes for Plus-Sized Women in their “Fat Girl” Section

WalmartAlthough it’s still unclear how the error happened—whether the section title was a temporary placeholder that mistakenly went live or if their website was hacked—if a visitor to the Walmart website was looking for plus-sized costumes on October 27th, they would have landed in the “Fat Girl Costumes” section. Needless to say, Walmart spent much of Monday morning apologizing to Twitter followers and outraged online shoppers.

Lesson Learned: Your website is your most important marketing tool, and even small errors can have far-reaching consequences. To avoid embarrassing errors, implement strict processes for publishing and reviewing web and mobile web content.


4. Malaysia Airlines Launches a “Bucket List” Competition Shortly After Two Fatal Plan Crashes 

Just months after their two tragic plane crashes, Malaysia Airlines offered a promotion entitled “My Ultimate Bucket List.” Participants were asked to describe the items on their bucket list for the chance to win an iPad and economy class tickets. The promotion was quickly recalled after a public backlash.

Lesson learned: Even tried-and-true marketing strategies, like contests and giveaways, can be inappropriate in certain contexts. Before you launch your promotion, consider industry headlines, your company’s history, and trending news stories. Could the tone or content of your promotion be interpreted as offensive in light of current events? If so, postpone, cancel, or re-work the campaign.


5. NYPD Asks Followers to Share Pictures of “Memorable Moments”

The New York Police Department launched a campaign asking New Yorkers to post pictures of their “most memorable moments” with members of the NYPD. Though some followers posted positive stories and pictures of themselves with uniformed police officers, many posted pictures of violent confrontations between police and citizens.

Lesson learned: Engaging with your followers through social media is an open invitation, and marketers should have a contingency plan if the public doesn’t respond as anticipated.


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by McKinley Marketing Partners