Through the power of social media combined with clever marketing, brands today are able to reach millions of consumers in a matter of seconds. Pair that instant connection with today's 24-hour news cycle, and we're left with many marketers waiting, with baited breath, for the next breaking story that they can tie into a tweet or a Facebook post to relate to consumers. Although success can be sweet, a hasty social media post can backfire and spread surprisingly fast.
Here are 10 shameful examples of social media marketing from this year (and a few from years past) that resulted in a lot of brand exposure -- and not necessarily the good kind.
KFC's infamous hashtag (#iatethebones) became an integrated campaign crossing over into TV, mobile ads, and all the usual-suspect social media outlets, asking customer to send in pictures of their disbelief at eating all the bones.
But the company's playful intention took a turn to the dark side and incited people to post morbid tweets and disturbing memes, associating the brand with serial killers and bad behavior. Eating a piece of fried chicken might never be the same.
Bank of America
In most cases, instant customer service via automated response on Twitter can work wonders for all parties. But not in the case of an angry citizen berating Bank of America's lack of empathy for regular Americans. No, this was not a good time to pull out the ol' staple tweet to take care of a customer's needs -- who turned out to not even be a BOA customer. The tweets continued, and BOA kept tweeting back its robotic responses -- sparking more anger and making the company look even more out of touch.
With lots of references to military garb swirling around in early September, Kenneth Cole couldn't help but incorporate the catch phrase "boots on the ground" into its fall Twitter roll-out. Although the brand got a lot of backlash and admitted to hiring a crisis management firm, the company unapologetically stood by the provocative tweet that upset a lot of customers. Controversial social media is not new for this brand, and it refuses to let a marketing faux pas disrupt its promotions.
An immediate condom delivery service sounded like a good idea to the brand Durex, until it polled Facebook asking what city would be most in need of instant protection. The contest was an open forum, with no parameters or choices for voters to pick from. The campaign took a bad turn when it was revealed that the conservative Turkish city of Batman (yes, this is a real place) took the top prize. It was forced to shut down the mockery-ridden campaign, and it inadvertently brought negative attention to a city's modest culture, offending many just by the association. This rubber campaign wasn't able to bounce back, ending in a total loss for Durex.
Referencing a memorial day on social media sites can be a slippery slope for marketers, and this was especially true for AT&T's interesting tweet this past Sept. 11. The company's controversial picture caused many people to take to Twitter and Facebook to criticize the phone company for taking advantage of product placement. Although the company issued a public apology, the incident still cast an insensitive stigma on the brand -- something consumers won't easily forget.
Pepto-Bismol's candid tweeted question (below) was, needless to say, already turning heads, but it was the misplaced comma that really got people going. People immediately responded to the odd comma placement with retweets and snarky responses like "log out forever." Although we're getting a good laugh at its expense, Pepto-Bismol shook off the minor blunder.
Offering food as a way to console someone in mourning might be fine in some cases, but not when a company is trying to sell scones -- in 140 characters or less -- following an act of terrorism. Epicurious (a food and menu site) curiously posted tweets following the Boston Marathon bombing in hopes to boost sales. Not surprisingly, that pissed off a lot of people. Regretful tweets were then issued after scathing remarks were made by the brand's followers. But, for some, it didn't excuse the company's initial intention to monetize the tragedy.
It wasn't Kmart's "thoughts and prayers" message to the victims of the Newton School shootings that had people upset. It was the hashtag toy promotion (#Fab15Toys) embedded in the tweet that people found offensive. Maybe Kmart innocently overlooked the hashtag inclusion. Maybe it thought customers wouldn't notice the shoutout to its promotion, which happened to coincide with a shooting at an elementary school. Either way, it looked bad.
Here's an example of a brand using bad weather to promote its website. Unfortunately, the storm turned out to be the monster Hurricane Sandy that resulted in fatalities and left thousands without electricity and many homeless. The company issued an apologetic tweet, backpeddling regarding the message of its original tweet. Damage control aside, many people were offended and didn't hold back in saying so.
The McDonald's hashtag promotion, #McDStories, turned into a runaway marketing train when customers decided to share unpleasant stories about the brand and its employees. In theory, the concept sounds like a fun way to get people buzzing about why they love your brand. The obvious downside is managing the haters who will jump on any chance they get to make heckling comments. This McDonald's marketing story is one for the books: Control your social media before it controls you.
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"OOPS!" image via Shutterstock.