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The top 10 most disastrous hashtag campaigns

The top 10 most disastrous hashtag campaigns David Zaleski
Twitter is like a college party, and certain brands are like boring middle-aged lawyers. If you bust in and try to dance with the kids, everyone will stop, stare, and eventually throw beer cans at you. Hashtag campaigns are a great way to get everyone to notice your moves. Sadly, they're not always graceful.  

We're counting down the 10 most disastrous hashtag campaigns ever executed by brands. If you're curious as to what a corporate party-crasher looks like, read on and let's enjoy some good old fashion schadenfreude together.

10. #AskJPM

Victim: J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Like most of these attempts, this one started out innocent enough. This massive financial company was feeling chatty and decided to slum it with the public by launching a live Twitter Q&A with Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee. J.P. Morgan was very excited about it.

What occurred next is something straight from the depths of PR hell: the public responded. Users decided to use this as a prime opportunity to ask J.P. Morgan some very poignant questions regarding its shady business practices, ethics violations, and internal corporate practices.

And thousands more.

#AskJPM went viral, and before it knew what happened, J.P. Morgan was in a very sticky situation. With the clock ticking and a high-level JPM executive on the social media chopping block, the company ultimately chose to cancel the live event.

To this day #AskJPM is still alive and kickin'. It's a good example of a brand whose social team lives in a bubble as to how the rest of the world perceives its client. I guess J.P. Morgan thought it was the Anne Hathaway of financial conglomerates: hatted only out of jealousy.

Lesson: If you took $13 billion in taxpayer bailout money, it's probably best to not inquire as to the public's opinion.

9. #SupportJapan = #fuckbing

Victim: Bing (search engine)

Sometimes the best intentions can lead to clumsy execution (see every Star Wars prequel). Case in point: Bing's well-meaning social media campaign in the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

How fun!

Bing did indeed achieve social media virality with their re-tweet campaign. The catch? It went viral with a very different and special hashtag. #Fuckbing began trending on Twitter from angry social do-gooders who perceived the campaign as a tasteless marketing stunt.

Ah, snap.

Bing eventually issued a tweet apology, but did not acknowledge the validity of accusations that it was attempting to use the tragedy to its personal advantage.


#Fuckbing is now common hashtag among Microsoft hatters. It's not creative, but it still stings.

Lesson: Gameifying tragedies = Jisatsu.

8. #QantasLuxury

Victim: Qantas Airlines

Brands love contests because they're an easy way to spark UGC. In 2011, Qantas Airlines learned a valuable lesson in "be careful what you wish for" when it launched a campaign to promote its luxury and first class amenities.

It seemed so harmless and simple. Who doesn't love airlines, am I right?

Like a flight from Tampa to Pensacola in early fall, the storm that this airline encountered was wild and totally expected. Many users took this perfect hashtag opportunity to voice their frustration at the entire airline industry. Or maybe just at Qantas specifically. I've never flown them, but its logo is a kangaroo, which doesn't put my turbulence-fearing mind at ease.

And thousands more.

At the very least, Qantas eventually acknowledged the hurricane of social activity with a little humor.

Not to worry. I think we we're all winners here.

Lesson: Don't volunteer as tribute for your industry.

7. #CLitFest

Victim: The Chester Literary Festival

Filed under "unfortunate but hilarious" is the infamous #CLitFest Twitter trend. This was a hashtag that popped up one day to supposedly promote the Chester Literary Festival. @ChesterPerforms has always denied that they had anything to do with it, but the genesis of the hashtag is thought to have started on its account and then quickly deleted.

In any event, this hashtag serves as an example of shorthand gone very bad. Whether it was intentional or a social media troll, brands should take this as a lesson in hashtag phrasing (just wait until you read about the Susan Boyle incident).

We'd show you some #CLitFest tweets, but we assume you're in a polite office environment. Search Twitter at your own risk. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Yeah, moving on.

Lesson: No brand (regardless the size) is safe from Twitter hijacking.

6. #AskThicke

Victim: VH1 & Robin Thicke

Many people hate Robin Thicke. Could it be because of his popular date-rape inspired theme song "Blurred Lines?" Maybe.

VH1 tried to hop on the Thicke bandwagon by launching a Twitter Q&A with the singer in 2014.

The questions VH1 received were certainly burning. The hate rolled in and users laid it on pretty, well, Thicke. Highlights include:

And millions more.

Did the barrage of hate stop the Q&A? Nah, this isn't J.P. Morgan we're talking about. Robin wasn't going to let millions of hatters stop his Thicke-a-thon. He and VH1 barreled through, even tweeting a sarcastic comment to brush off the bombardment.

Hahaha, people hate you.

Lesson: Pick your influencer partnerships wisely.

5. #ILoveWalgreens

Victim: Walgreens

Advertising opportunities should be approached with caution. (How's that for an original statement?) Walgreens learned this lesson the hard way in 2012 when it vainly paid a hefty six-figure sum to promote it's hashtag #ILoveWalgreens across the Twittersphere.

At the time Walgreens was in a bit of a negotiation war with the prescription drug insurer Express Scripts over its rates. Walgreens wanted public love. What they got was a social suppository.

The tacky self-love tactic rubbed users the wrong way, like an uninsured physical therapy session. The public was very vocal about their online digestive discomfort.

And thousands more.

It turns out people are very passionate about the organic conversation on Twitter, and if you inject your brand in a blatant way, revolts ensue. Like any doctor will tell you, going organic is always the better choice.

Lesson: When buying a Promoted Trend, be a little more clever with your hashtag naming.

4. #WaitroseReasons

Victim: Waitrose Supermarkets. (Let me save you the Google search: Waitrose is an English grocery chain.)

In social, not even polite British supermarkets are safe from a Twitter storm. Take Waitrose, for example. It started harmlessly enough when this retailer tweeted a request for fans to finish an open-ended sentence.

Waitrose was expecting proper dialogue and well-measured responses, perhaps highlighting its large selection of high quality meats, delicious dairy, and fresh leafy produce. I'd like to say the internet is a nice place, but social is no fairytale land.

Twitter took this opportunity to take a jab at the highfalutin and elite tone of this grocery brand. Apparently over in England, Waitrose is a pretty snobby place -- like the Gelson's of Britain.


Boom. I mean, Bob's your uncle.

Waitrose eventually responded to the frenzy in polite British fashion.

And then I'm sure promised never to mingle with the commoners again.

Lesson: This open-ended sentence structure is a big _____ on social media.

3. #McDstories

Victim: McDonald's

Once upon a time McDonald's promoted the hashtag #McDstories on Twitter's homepage and removed it in less than an hour. Why? Because it turns out that people have lots of McDonald's stories.

The campaign started like most others: with an innocent tweet. This one was meant to give a shoutout to its employees and suppliers.

McDonald's was (and still is) trying this new thing called "being likeable." Forget the low-paid jobs and blood-pressure-spiking food. McDonald's wanted you to know it appreciates you. The problem was that people didn't appreciate it. Like most big brands, McDonald's had blinders on to how most of the public perceives it and received a healthy dose of reality when the tweets began to roll in.

Things got even more awkward when McDonald's started responding.


Within minutes, #McDstories was hijacked and users took advantage to share disgusting fast food production facts, livestock conditions, and gross personal experiences. McDonald's backed off and removed the paid promotion on Twitter after a few minutes. Ironically, McDonald's was the one that thought things got too toxic.

Lesson: Public revenge: we're lovin' it.

2. #susanalbumparty

Victim: Susan Boyle, bums, parties, etc.

Susan Boyle's PR team dove butt first into hot water in late 2012 when they created the hashtag #susanalbumparty to promote the release of her new album "Standing Ovation" and a celebration. Either we all have our minds in the gutter or her PR team was shockingly naïve. Within seconds, the Susan Anal Bum Party really got started.

The embarrassing hashtag went so viral that many people started suspecting it was actually an intentional tactic to gin up sales.

However, based on the fact that the initial tweet has since been edited to #SusanBoyleAlbumParty:

It was most likely an accidental blunder on the part of a social media manager who should probably watch more HBO. When no capitalization meets no spaces, you can certainly create some magical hashtags.

Lesson: Proofreaders, people. Proofreaders.

1. #myNYPD

Victim: Every police department in the world

And the most epic troll-fest award goes to... New York City cops. In a priceless combination of bad timing and an unfortunate call-to-action, the NYPD unintentionally created a worldwide social phenomenon. It began with a simple goodwill tweet.

A fine idea, except tension between the police and the public was extremely high in 2014. The Ferguson protests were still occurring, and police brutality was a paramount topic in the country. Many people were itching to brand the police as racist, dangerous, and out of control. This clumsy campaign attempt gave trolls an opening to share their experiences with police brutality. The tweets that flooded the @NYPDNews account were overwhelming and violent.

Within hours the campaign took on a life of its own and spread to multiple cities and countries.

The trolling got so bad that eventually the NYPD was forced to respond.

This campaign serves as the best example of hashtag marketing gone wrong for three main reasons: timing, climate, and widespread participation. The hashtag formula "#my[insert police force here]" still continues to receive hundreds of tweets every day and has become a social media movement against police brutality and censorship.

Lesson: When the climate is hot, don't stir the pot.

We've all seen bad uses of hashtags by brands. These 10 campaigns were chosen and ranked based off the intentional strategy thrown behind them, the level of subsequent backlash, and ultimate brand damage/gain.

If we've missed a big hashtag campaign blunder, comment below and share.

"Hash tag brushed," "Organ offices in Canary Wharf in London," "Photo of Bing homepage on a monitor screen," "Qantas Airbus A330 plane," "Round bookshelf in public library," "Singer Robin Thicke performs on NBC's Today Show," "Walgreens sign on the store front of the building," "Female customer shopping at supermarket with trolley," "McDonald's Sign on June 14, 2013," "Susan Boyle arriving for the 2012 Pride of Britain Awards," and "Uniformed police officers," images via Shutterstock and pcruciatti, Gil C., ChameleonsEye, Debby Wong, dcwcreations, Radu Bercan, Featureflash, and A katz.       

David Zaleski is the Media Production Supervisor for iMedia Communications, Inc. and Comexposium USA. He graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Film & Television Production, specializing in editing, animation, and...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: David Zaleski

2015, February 19

Thanks for the kind words Henry! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Commenter: Henry Bendik

2015, February 19

I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an article this much. Thanks David, you presented this with precision and brilliant humour. Loved it.